the end of an era

Mac OS X Public Beta was installed on a PowerBook G3 in my backpack one night in September 2000. I had been playing with it for maybe a week, in the middle of living in a corporate apartment after having been turfed out of my house and my relationship by a “tornado-like event” (I think they call that a derecho in the DMV now). And one drunken night at the Four Provinces, I forgot my backpack, which disappeared forever. I’ve never taken my work backpack to a bar since.

I suppose at some level we’d been waiting for Mac OS X ever since it was a notional System 8. Copeland, then Gershwin, then maybe purchasing BeOS, then the NeXT acquisition and the return of Steve Jobs, who turned System 7.6 into MacOS 7.6 and turned versions 7.7, 7.8 and 7.9 into Mac OS 8, Mac OS 8.5 and Mac OS 9. And NeXTStep became Mac OS X, coming Real Soon Now, and finally providing the modern features like protected memory and preemptive multitasking and multiple users and a POSIX-compliant command line environment. Mac OS X was supposed to unlock the potential of the G3 processor, the OS to match the futuristic new iMac hardware, the spark that would light the fire of Apple’s comeback. The huge photorealistic icons, the translucent dock, the whole look and feel that was different from anything in computing…it really felt like the future, just in time for the twenty-first century.

I didn’t think at the time that we’d have twenty years of Mac OS X. I guess technically we didn’t, because they started referring to it as macOS a few years ago. But the version numbers remained the same, from that original 10.0 all the way to the 10.15.6 beta on one of my work laptops.

Until today.

Sure enough, there it was, and I had a little bit of a moment when I saw the “About This Mac” dialog box in the demo that read “version 11.0”. At long last, after two decades, this one finally goes to eleven. And fitting, I suppose, because this is the one that will bring ARM hardware to the Mac and complete Steve’s ultimate vision in so many ways. He was fond of that Alan Kay quote about how people who are serious about software should make their own hardware, and he meant it – before he died, the iPhone and iPad were running on Apple’s own A-series system-on-chip processors. The last decade has basically been about getting Apple silicon good enough to become “Apple Silicon”, and I don’t know at what point it got good enough for the secret squirrels on Infinite Loop to try to build the macOS for the A-series – 

– but wait, didn’t the iPhone originally run on a cut-down version of Mac OS X? And hasn’t every release of macOS ever since they went to an annual schedule more or less corresponded one-to-one to an iOS release? And don’t the “this one is good/this one is shit” tick-tocks generally work the same? iOS 11 and macOS 10.13 were both shit on toast, iOS 12 and macOS 10.14 were both refreshingly stable, iOS 13 and macOS 10.15 could both have used a little longer on the smoker? If we’re honest about it, hasn’t the OS already been running on Apple’s own silicon from the day that Gray Powell lost that prototype iPhone 4 in Redwood City?

There may just be the ultimate tweener on the way. Look at the iPad Pro with the wackadoo new folding keyboard, and then look at the MacBook Air with the prospect of an ARM processor, and tell me this doesn’t end with a 12” touchscreen laptop running one OS that can run macOS or iOS apps interchangeably with an interface that can work like either the tablet or the desktop, depending on how you feel…and that’s almost certainly called a plain old MacBook.

Wherever you are, Steve, they finally got there. It’s only a matter of time.

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