Apple has been making computers for several decades at this point, and it has been making operating systems for them for just as long. From the first graphical user interface of 1984 to macOS Ventura in 2022, the history of Mac operating systems is long and varied.
Reading this history is a great way to see how far we’ve come with the Mac and how much Apple has grown as a company. We’ve outlined the history below, and we hope reading it helps you appreciate that growth the way it did for us!
A List of Every Version of Mac OS X and macOS in Order
As a quick overview, here is every version of Mac OS X and macOS in order of their release:
- Mac OS X Public Beta Kodiak (2000)
- Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah (2001)
- Mac OS X 10.1 Puma (2001)
- Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar (2002)
- Mac OS X 10.3 Panther (2003)
- Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger (2005)
- Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard (2007)
- Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard (2009)
- Mac OS X 10.7 Lion (2011)
- Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion (2012)
- Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks (2013)
- Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite (2014)
- Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan (2015)
- macOS 10.12 Sierra (2016)
- macOS 10.13 High Sierra (2017)
- macOS 10.14 Mojave (2018)
- macOS 10.15 Catalina (2019)
- macOS 11 Big Sur (2020)
- macOS 12 Monterey (2021)
- macOS 13 Ventura (2022)
There have been a lot of them! Below we’ll go into more detail on the various operating systems, including ones that came before those listed here.
Pre-Macintosh Operating Systems
The Apple I, Apple’s first computer, didn’t actually have an operating system. It could save programs to cassette tapes, but it was the Apple II that had an internal disk operating system that could organize, read, and write on floppy disks.
The first of these systems was Apple DOS, and its successor was Apple ProDOS (also known as ProDOS 8 and ProDOS 16 when updated).
The first non-disk operating system by Apple was GS/OS. GS/OS had Finder built into it and could support multiple on-disk file systems.
The Apple III’s OS was Apple SOS, and the Apple Lisa used Lisa OS. Steve Wozniak called Apple SOS “the finest operating system on any microcomputer ever,” and Lisa OS had protected memory. But the operating systems that followed proved to be much more impactful down the line.
Classic Mac OS
The Macintosh computer was released in 1984 with an OS known as Macintosh System Software, or System 1. System 1 helped popularize graphical user interfaces, where people clicked on icons instead of typing in code to use their computers.
System 1 introduced the menu bar to Apple computers, along with “desk accessory” applications like the Calculator and Alarm Clock. System 2 was released in 1985 and added support for AppleTalk networking protocols. System 3 and System 4 came out in 1986 and 1987, respectively, which allowed Macintosh computers to work with more external devices.
In late 1987, System Software 5 finally allowed Mac users to run more than one application at a time, which System Software 6 improved upon in 1988.
Big changes came when System 7 arrived in 1991. It had virtual memory support, built-in cooperative multitasking, and added aliases. It also added new applications and changed the user interface quite a bit.
The naming system of Mac OS changed with an update to System 7. This update was called Mac OS 7.6, and the “Mac OS” naming trend would continue into Mac OS 8 and Mac OS 9 in 1997 and 1999.
Mac OS 8 wasn’t very different from 7—it was named 8 to terminate third-party manufacturers’ licenses to System 7 and stop the manufacturing of Mac clones. It did add HFS+ and the ability to clone files in the background.
Mac OS 9 improved wireless networking support and introduced Remote Networking, on-the-fly file encryption, and an early version of multi-user support.
Mac OS 9 ended the era of “classic” Mac OS, passing features along to Mac OS X (X being the Roman numeral for 10), and the modern macOS.
Mac OS X and Modern macOS Versions in Order
It’s easier to discuss each version’s highlights one by one to understand this era of operating systems for the Mac. So, let’s get started:
Mac OS X Public Beta Kodiak (2000)
Released in 2000, Kodiak was sold to users so Apple could get feedback on the new OS format. The beta stopped working once Cheetah hit the market.
Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah (2001)
Despite its name, Cheetah was a slow OS and didn’t come with many applications. Still, as bugs were corrected, it became a solid base for the new Mac OS X line.
Mac OS X 10.1 Puma (2001)
Puma, released six months after Cheetah, added missing features from 10.0, like DVD playback.
A few months after Puma came out, Apple announced Mac OS X would become the default OS for its computers. Upgrading from classic Mac OS versions cost users money at this time, but at least upgrading from Cheetah to Puma was free.
Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar (2002)
Jaguar had better performance than its predecessors and better compositing graphics, allowing iChat and Address Book to work on Macs.
The “Happy Mac” face was retired in this update after 18 years. Going forward, users would see the Apple logo when they turned on their Mac instead.
Mac OS X 10.3 Panther (2003)
Panther added in Safari and FileVault, allowed faster user switching, and included a Finder update. It also added a brushed-metal look to the interface, influencing future design choices for a while.
Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger (2005)
Tiger could only operate on Macs with a built-in FireWire port. Panther had not worked on the Power Macintosh and the PowerBook; this meant even more Apple computers were losing OS support.
Tiger added Spotlight, Dashboard, Smart Folders, Automator, and VoiceOver though, and updated Safari, Quicktime, and Mail. As Apple started building Intel-based Macs, Tiger functioned on these new devices the way it did on existing PowerPC Macs.
Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard (2007)
A large update, Leopard, could work on PowerPC and Intel Macs, but it needed a G4 processor with a minimum clock rate of 867MHz and at least 512MB of RAM to install and function. It was the last OS to support PowerPC architecture.
Apple’s Time Machine backup software, Spaces, and Boot Camp came pre-installed in Leopard, along with support for 64-bit applications. New security features and yet another new look rounded out the OS.
Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard (2009)
Snow Leopard was the last OS available on disc. Apple pushed out future software updates via the Mac App Store, which was introduced in Mac OS X 10.6.6.
Snow Leopard didn’t change much appearance-wise, but it seriously sped up Finder, Safari, and Time Machine backups and took up less disk space than previous versions when fully installed.
Mac OS X 10.7 Lion (2011)
More multi-touch gestures became usable in Lion, allowing you to use Launchpad on the Mac for quickly finding and opening apps.
Lion also introduced Mission Control, a unifier of many earlier apps, and let apps open in the same state they were in when they were closed.
Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion (2012)
Mountain Lion was deeply influenced by updates in iOS. Apple added Game Center and Notification Center to the Mac, along with the Reminders, Notes, and Messages apps.
Apps like iCal updated to Calendar, following iOS updates. All of this was joined by more app syncing between iOS and Mac devices too.
Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks (2013)
With this version of OS X, Apple shifted its naming convention from big cats to Californian locations.
Mavericks improved battery life and added even more iOS apps to Mac, like iBooks and Apple Maps, with more iCloud integration.
This OS update was completely free, as all Mac OS updates and upgrades are to this day.
Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite (2014)
With the Continuity and Handoff features, Yosemite saw even more integration between iOS and Mac devices. Users could now answer calls and texts and edit Pages and Numbers documents on whichever Apple device they wanted.
Mac apps like iPhoto and Aperture combined into the Photos app, matching the iOS Photos app, as Yosemite’s UI elements matched with that of iOS 7.
Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan (2015)
El Capitan refined and improved features rather than adding new ones. Some examples of this were the addition of public transport options in Apple Maps and the Notes app getting an updated UI.
macOS 10.12 Sierra (2016)
Mac OS X was officially renamed macOS with the Sierra update. Sierra saw Siri and Apple Pay come to Macs, along with iCloud improvements that allowed more file access between Macs with the same Apple ID.
macOS 10.13 High Sierra (2017)
With High Sierra, Macs could now support HEVC video and more forms of VR. Many applications were updated, and Apple shifted Macs to Apple File System (APFS) while also introducing the Metal 2 API.
macOS 10.14 Mojave (2018)
Dark mode and Dynamic Desktop arrived with Mojave, allowing the visual elements of the operating system to shift depending on the time of day. Apple also introduced Stacks for desktop organization with this version of macOS.
macOS 10.15 Catalina (2019)
Catalina split iTunes into Music, Podcasts, and TV apps and redesigned apps like Books and Find My. It also introduced Sidecar, allowing users to use their iPads as second screens or graphics tablets with their Macs.
macOS 11 Big Sur (2020)
Support for 32-bit apps ceased when macOS updated to Big Sur, making some older applications no longer useable or forcing users to update to later versions of apps.
It also finally changed the version number of macOS from 10 to 11, a change that seems to be continuing.
macOS 12 Monterey (2021)
Monterey includes tons of new features, like SharePlay and Universal Control, and it’s brought Shortcuts to Mac. Focus and tab grouping in Safari greatly improved productivity on the Mac. Also, Features like the Shared With You and Visual Look up united iOS, iPadOS, and macOS devices more than ever.
macOS 13 Ventura (2022)
Released in 2022, Ventura introduced the new productivity tool Stage Manager while also allowing Mac users to use an iPhone as the webcam via the Continuity Camera feature.
macOS Monterey features like SharePlay and Handoff are expanded in Ventura too, and Mail finally got an overhaul. Apple also brought its official Weather app to the Mac with this version.
Macs Have Come a Long Way Over the Decades
Apple computers have seen tons of different operating system versions over the years. They reflect the state of computers at the time and show where things might shift in the future.
We hope you found his jaunt through history illuminating and that you’re in awe at how far Macs and computers, in general, have come in just a few decades.