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The history of Apple Mac OS X

The origins of Apple's successful OS

Ten years after its beta debuted, we look at where the ultra-successful Apple Mac OS X operating system came from

From NeXTSTEP to Rhapsody

It wasn't long before Jobs found himself in the driver's seat of Apple as interim CEO. He appointed his trusted and accomplished NeXT brethren to important posts within Apple, including Avie Tevanian, who became vice president of software engineering. Jobs cut dead weight in stagnant product lines and steered Apple toward calmer seas.

Apple engineers quickly began work on a new OS for Apple based on an older one: they used NeXTSTEP 4.2 as the starting point and began a three year process of Apple-isation that would transform the advanced but generally unknown UNIX-based OS into a consumer operating system that anyone could use. The project gained a code name – Rhapsody - which stemmed from Apple's mid-1990s penchant for using classical music themed names for OS prototypes.

The goal of Rhapsody was to take the NeXTSTEP's robust foundations and overlay a look and feel that would be familiar to long time users of the old Mac OS while also retaining some measure of backward compatibility. It wasn't long before Apple developed a prototype that functioned mostly like NeXTSTEP but possessed graphical elements borrowed from the 'Platinum' theme of Mac OS 8. Apple put this version, called Rhapsody Developer Release, into the hands of developers in August 1997 so they could begin porting software over in preparation for the great OS transition.

But all was not well. Apple met significant resistance to the new OS from Adobe www.adobe.com/uk , a key developer who produced graphic design tools that were so vital to the design-centric Mac user base. Apple originally wanted to channel all new development for Rhapsody through a programming system they called 'Yellow Box', which was essentially an updated version of the OPENSTEP development environment from the NeXTSTEP days.

Yellow Box would have allowed applications developed for Rhapsody to be easily ported to other operating systems (like Windows) and even between processor architectures like PowerPC and x86. Unfortunately, developers would have had to abandon any investment they put into building Classic OS applications; all Rhapsody versions of Mac software would need to be re-coded from scratch.

Adobe balked at Apple's plan for Yellow Box and refused to port its software over to Rhapsody. This lack of support from a key third party developer, in addition to grumblings from other developers, ultimately sent Apple back to the drawing board, and after a few more developer-only revisions, Apple pulled the plug on their original Rhapsody plan in 1998.

Rhapsody wasn't truly dead, however. In its place came murmurs about 'Mac OS X' (X being the roman numeral for 10, making it the clear successor to a planned classic OS release). Under the name Mac OS X Server 1.0, Apple released the first and only commercial version of Rhapsody in March of 1999. It retained the classic platinum interface of OS 8 (and the Rhapsody prototypes) but its heart beat with the rhythm of NeXTSTEP.


  1. The origins of Apple's successful OS
  2. The NeXT connection
  3. Rhapsody
  4. Enter OS X
  5. The OS X legacy

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