What Next for OS X?

by Hadley Stern Jul 12, 2010

I still remember, with fondness, the first time I installed the OS X Public beta sometime back in 2000. It was an odd and exciting experience-you had to create an account! Everything was so shiny and lickable! And slow... But it was clear, even then, that this was the future of Apple's operating system. Even as I toiled day-in and day-out in OS 9 I knew that someday soon OS 9 would be dead. It would a number of years later (more than people thought) until Apple symbolically buried OS 9 in a coffin, and now, here we are still using OS X.

Just as it took Apple longer than expected to bury OS 9 , so too it took longer for OS X to become a usable everyday operating system. This didn't really happen until Tiger in 2004. That gives us 6 years with a usable operating system from Apple.

OS 9, released on the cusp of OS X lasted about 3 years before Apple officially dumped it. OS 8 lasted 2 years, OS 7 (co-operative multi-tasking!) 6 years, and OS 6 3 years.

Of course, what was different about OS X was that, at least in terms of the underlying technology, it was a completely different operating system. OS 6, 7, 8, 9 were iterations of a similar core.

What was not different about OS X was its use of the graphical user interface.

Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to state that if you compared the original Macintosh operating system (neé OS 1.0) to Snow Leopard (and also to Windows 1.0 and Windows 7) the basic premise is all the same: double-clicking on icons open things. With windows you click and drag things around with a mouse. All the rest, Aqua, multi-tasking, Cocoa, are iterative.

Put another way the Macintosh operating system hasn't really changed since 1984.

Now Apple's marketing machine and fanboys would have you think differently. And in a way they are right, of course. You can do so much more with today's Mac than you could with the one in 1984 (although I still love the original Mac). But that has as much to do with Moore's law regarding processor speed, ram and hard drive space as it does with the underlying kernal.

"What Next for OS X ?" has an entirely different feeling when we posit that things haven't really changed all that much since 1984.

In many ways Apple has answered this for us in the past 9 years. With the advent of the iPod (2001), iTunes, and now the iPhone and iPod Apple has dropped "computer" from its name. It doesn't derive the majority of its revenue from the Mac, and hasn't for years.

Some have proposed that the iOS will replace OS X on the desktop. I only see this happening if the iOS matures in a number of key areas, including a file-system, true multi-tasking, a dock that can hold more than 4 (or 6 icons), and so much more.

I'm afraid that with the iOS devices dominating revenue Apple has little incentive to innovate on its desktop operating system and this is a shame.

What is probably next for OS X then, is probably a series of rather mundane updates. Things will be fine-tuned pixel-wise, at the kernal level, and otherwise-but nothing revolutionary.

For those of us who are transitioning more and more of our computer time to mobile devices including the iPhone and iPad this is good news. But for those of us looking for something above and beyond the GUI metaphor of 1984, it is a shame.

One can hope that deep within the bowels of Cupertino there is a project that isn't focused on the next new media player, TV player, iPhone, or tablet computer. Rather, I dream of a project that looks to reinvent the way we interface with machines much as Apple did with the original Macintosh.

I'm not quite sure what interaction models it would use. Gesture-based seems ill-informed at worst and hokey at best-the stuff of over-excited geeks and gimmicky game systems to come.

The voice model of Hal too has been overhyped as the dominance and efficiency of the keyboard shows.

With 3D taking off in the cinema, and, as every television manufacturer hopes, the living room perhaps the newest computing paradigm will be in real 3D as opposed to the fake 3D BumpTop Google recently acquired.

Gesture, voice, 3D and how they relate to Apple's next operating system is probably a stretch at best. Apple isn't known for just jumping on the bandwagon a la Microsoft for the bandwagon's sake. Apple does it with measured product design, and big profits in mind.

And lastly, to name another latest trend is that wonderful misunderstood thing called the Cloud. Google's operating system, Chrome, is going to rely heavily on Cloud services. Even Microsoft is having to move in that direction, albeit very slowly on the client operating system side. Could it be that the new Mac OS X with be a Cloud operating system that actually works?

I return then to what I stated a few paragraphs ago with a somewhat heavy feeling in my heart. OS X, with its seemingly never-ending cat-coded names is likely going to see a series of maintenance upgrades.

I've named a number of options and choices here. What do you think the future of Mac OS X is?



  • I think that the future of the Mac is iOS.  I think Apple is going to phase out the desktop as we know it, and the pro-apps along with it.  It’s all going to be touch-based and you’ll have to get everything through the App Store.

    In a lot of ways, this is the fulfillment of Jobs’s life-long dream.  The total user experience that Apple controls all the way down to what apps you can install.  And so far, it seems to be working.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jul 12, 2010 Posts: 2220
  • I think the comments on http://www.applematters.com/article/whats-next-for-apple-os-11/ pretty much sum it up, Especially the comments from Nick grin

    Nick had this to say on Jul 12, 2010 Posts: 2
  • iOS may be on most Apple devices, maybe eventually on the iMac too, but I think there is a role for some heavier machinery in the consumer space just waiting for Apple to bring a low-lying cloud into the home.

    Wanted soon: “iHome.” It requires an updated scheduler of multiple cores within OS X, one that can support several users that can use the same machine simultaneously. Unix has had this capability for large machines for decades, so this is more of an evolutionary addition.

    Most future computer devices will be mobile. Services from the cloud will certainly come, but broadband will be a bottleneck for quite some time, especially with our mobile devices. For years, the cloud will operate slowly enough that most consumers will just have to wait, wait, and wait for results to come.

    Apple could help eliminate much of this waiting, at least in our homes. Consider what I call the “iHome,” a muscle machine placed near the HDTV, which also feeds dumber devices, often mobile ones, for each family member. For software that it can run quickly, but the user’s device cannot, the iHome removes the disadvantage of using the cloud by placing it nearby. Very easy functions for the user’s device, which of course depends upon the device, are done on the device itself; very difficult functions are done in the cloud outside of the home; the many, many intermediate ones are done on the iHome. When interacting with the iHome, the user just senses that she has a powerful virtual machine all to herself.

    The iHome creates a new home Apple ecosystem for the entire family: a no-muss, no-fuss network for the home, whose hub is its own internal cloud. Now, for a 4-person family you have one, say, $4-5K machine + 1 MacBook + 2 iPads + 2 iPhones + 2 combos of wireless Monitor-Keyboard-Mouse, all of which operate independently and potentially simultaneously, and all of it is less expensive than 4 fully outfitted MacBooks + cellphones. Good for the family’s wallet.

    These home-wide economies of scale also bring family members into the Apple ecosystem that had otherwise resisted, say workers in a Windows-centric job. The same ecosystem could also be employed in small businesses or small departments. iPads or Monitor-Keyboard-Mouse combos are then available, too, to those that want them. Good for Apple’s wallet.

    The iHome also adds greater functionality for shared music, video, photo storage for the family; greater power for computer-intensive tasks; control over TV and pay-per-view for the household; syncing of devices and common data (e.g., calendars); and access to info in the cloud outside the home. Good for each user.

    To construct iHome, Apple can start with what it has already: 8-core (6-core, 12-core) MacPro, 1-4T storage / AppleTV / Airport Express / OS X Server. Then it adds:
    an updated scheduler that allows up to 8 (6, 12) simultaneous users, where each user has highest priority for one core and Xgrid allocates unused capacity in other cores.
    an application with Tivo functionality (Apple can do much better)
    an application merging iTunes and Pandora
    Wouldn’t every Apple family of 3 or more want one? Sounds profitable to me.

    What do you think?

    gametheoryman had this to say on Jul 12, 2010 Posts: 2
  • I’m hoping for a cloud movement.

    Basically merge my MobileMe & iTunes account, and sync my Mac data with the cloud. Log in to any iPad, iPhone, iMac and have access to my music, documents, movies, apps, email, calendars everything. Same access on any Windows machine via some hybrid of iTunes/Web/Safari (iOS for Windows?)

    I want to know that if my laptop is destroyed in a freak harvester accident, I can buy a new one, put in my username, and have my whole system available to me immediately (slowly re-caching). It also NEEDS to have a full copy locally - the best of local & cloud.

    Behind the scenes is complicated. On my main machine a synced copy. Other machines (laptop or iPhone) syncing a subset of my data from either the cloud or the main machine.

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Jul 15, 2010 Posts: 228
  • i just think applemac is not woking so right.. i call call ‘hEllo i hear beep ‘wat? she say.. mine son he thinking to tell hte papers but is slow het hought.. plees help she speking ‘bep

    dakratzman had this to say on Aug 01, 2010 Posts: 2
  • Computer technology develops faster and faster and analysts say that soon enough, the most common business will be a private cloud provider. We will externalize a lot of services that we currently use on our own computer.

    IBMdude had this to say on Sep 21, 2011 Posts: 50
  • My opinion is that the future of the IT industry is linked to private cloud services. Any company who wants to be successful in the future, will have to offer this kind of service to its clients.

    annekingsy had this to say on Oct 14, 2011 Posts: 22
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