Mac OS X's 9 lives: The InfoWorld tour

In 21 years, Apple's reinvented Mac OS has pushed computing in vibrant new directions. Now a new version is imminent

Celebrating two decades of Mac OS X
Celebrating two decades of Mac OS X

Apple will release OS X Mountain Lion later this month, the ninth version of OS X in its 21-year history. In 2001, OS X was a bet-the-farm move by an Apple that was on death's door, having squandered the magic of 1984's original Mac. Despite a rocky start, OS X proved that co-founder and returning CEO Steve Jobs could reinvent the Mac.

There's only one more digit in OS X's 10.x series -- 10.9 -- and many believe that will be the last OS X before it merges into iOS. We'll see whether this comes to pass. One thing's for certain: Even after OS X's nine lives, there's clearly more to come with Apple's computer innovations.

Mac OS X Cheetah (10.0)
Mac OS X "Cheetah" (10.0)

Reign: March 2001-September 2001

Key new capabilities: First Mac OS to be based on Next's NextStep rather than the original "classic" Mac OS

Notes: Cheetah was considered a slow, incomplete product and gained little adoption, but it was Apple's first realized attempt to reinvent Mac OS after five years of failed attempts. It was based on Mac OS X Server, released in late 1999, as a version of Unix with a modest graphics front end and heavy reliance on Web-based access to server tools.

Mac OS X Puma (10.1)
Mac OS X "Puma" (10.1)

Reign: September 2001-August 2002

Key new capabilities: Faster performance, zero-configuration networking protocol (Rendezvous, later renamed Bonjour), image-import utility for scanners and cameras (Image Capture), color management API (ColorSync), DVD playback

Note: This was the first OS X version to be the default Mac OS.

Mac OS X Jaguar (10.2)
Mac OS X Jaguar (10.2)

Reign: August 2002-October 2003

Key new capabilities: Quartz Extreme graphics-rendering engine, systemwide contacts management (Address Book), Unix-based (CUPS) printer drivers, support for Samba open source protocol for Windows networks, instant-messaging client (iChat), major attempt to include accessibility services, handwriting recognition engine for use with pen tablets, discontinuation of the original Mac's "happy Mac" icon at startup

Notes: This was the first version of OS X to be officially branded with its code name. It was also the first OS X version to garner a strongly positive reception.

Mac OS X Panther (10.3)
Mac OS X Panther (10.3)

Reign: October 2003-April 2005

Key new capabilities: Safari browser, Exposé window manager, FileVault folder encryption, videoconferencing support added to instant-messaging client, improved Windows interoperability and PDF rendering, systemwide font manager (Font Book), fax support, ability to switch among active user accounts, X11 support for X Window Unix applications, introduction of brushed-metal Finder styling

Mac OS X Tiger (10.4)
Mac OS X Tiger (10.4)

Reign: April 2005-October 2007

Key new capabilities: Spotlight search facility, RSS integration in Safari, smart folders and smart mailboxes (criteria-matching), Automator workflow-creation tool, VoiceOver capability for the visually impaired, Dashboard for widgets, PDF creation added to the print engine, enhanced QuickTime engine (QuickTime 7), Intel Mac support, systemwide dictionary and thesaurus, support for 64-bit address spaces and partial support for 64-bit processors, Core Image graphics and Core Video APIs for faster rendering, Core Data API for common application functions like Undo

Mac OS X Leopard (10.5)
Mac OS X Leopard (10.5)

Reign: October 2007-August 2009

Key new capabilities: Time Machine backup utility, full support for 64-bit processing, Quick Look preview facility, Back to My Mac remote access service, Stacks navigation of documents in the Dock, Boot Camp utility to run Windows in a separate boot partition, introduction of Sidebar and CoverFlow view in Finder windows, syncing of invitations between Mail and iCal, RSS support added to Mail, secure guest account, application-layer firewall, kernel-level sandboxing, Core Animation API, discontinuation of PowerPC hardware support and Mac OS Classic environment

Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.6)
Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.6)

Reign: August 2009-July 2011

Key new capabilities: Multiple changes under the hood to adopt Cocoa APIs in OS X's native services and apps (including QuickTime X); support for Exchange ActiveSync in Mail, iCal, and Address Book; multitouch trackpad support; kernel-level multicore support for applications; OpenCL graphics processing; App Exposé view of an application's open folders; discontinuation of AppleTalk network protocol

See InfoWorld's slideshow: "Mac OS X Snow Leopard: What's new for all users"

Mac OS X Lion (10.7)
Mac OS X Lion (10.7)

Reign: July 2011-July 2012

Key new capabilities: Integration of iOS gestures, autosave and versioning capabilities for documents, Launchpad and Mission Control navigation views, iCloud syncing, zero-configuration file sharing via Wi-Fi (AirDrop), conversion of Mac OS X Server into an add-on application, FileVault whole-disk encryption, autohiding scroll bars, adoption of ASLR (address space layout randomization) boot security, adoption of Apple Push Notification Service, full-screen apps, Mac App Store, Recovery System, and discontinuation of PowerPC support (Rosetta) and of physical OS X installation media

See InfoWorld's slideshow: "Mac OS X Lion's Top 20 features"

OS X Mountain Lion (10.8)
Credit: Apple
OS X Mountain Lion (10.8)

Reign: July 2012-present

Key new capabilities: iCloud Documents, Notification Center, iMessage protocol for instant messaging, social networking share capabilities, AirPlay screen mirroring, Gatekeeper application security, enhanced Chinese language and services integration, automatic update installation, document renaming in title bars, and discontinuation of built-in RSS support

Notes: This is the first version of OS X to formally lose "Mac" in its name and the first to debut since Steve Jobs' death.

See InfoWorld's slideshow: "A sneak peek at OS X Mountain Lion"