Systems and Technologies

Mac OS X

What is Mac OS X?

Mac OS X is Apple's next-generation operating system, which combines Macintosh simplicity with UNIX power and stability. Mac OS X was announced at the Apple World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) in spring 1998 and first shipped to in March 2001.

While Mac OS X can tap the power of UNIX, no UNIX knowledge is needed. If you are comfortable running a Mac OS 9 or Microsoft Windows system through the graphical interface, you can run Mac OS X.

There is a very complete description of Mac OS X at the Wikipedia site.

What programs can Mac OS X run?

ITS has a list of Software for Mac OS X.

In general, Mac OS X can run software like:

  • "classic" Mac applications, although it will take best advantage of programs that have been updated specifically for the new OS (in some respects, this situation is like the shift from 16- to 32-bit programs in Microsoft Windows, or Apple's move to the PowerPC processor years ago)
  • much of the programs -- with minimal changes -- designed for UNIX and Linux systems
  • updated programs previously written for the NeXTStep/OPENStep operating system (from the former NeXT Computer, Inc., which Apple acquired in December 1997)

What versions are available?

Apple has produced the following Mac OS X versions:

  • Mac OS X 10.0 ("Cheetah")
    Released March 24, 2001
  • Mac OS X 10.1 ("Puma")
  • Mac OS X 10.2 ("Jaguar")
  • Mac OS X 10.3 ("Panther")
    Released October 24, 2003
  • Mac OS X 10.4 ("Tiger")
    Released April 29, 2005
  • Mac OS X 10.5 ("Leopard")
    Announced at Apple WWDC 2005 as the next major version of Mac OS X, scheduled for "the end of 2006 or early 2007")

Getting Mac OS X

All new Macintosh computers come with an operating system license that is current at the time they ship. Staying up-to-date can help you run the latest applications software and get the best support that both ITS and Apple can provide. (However, not all computers can run every update of the operating system; you should check the system requirements for that version before you attempt to upgrade on your own. We also provide a list of Mac OS X system requirements to assist.)

Mac OS X is an important reason why many RIT departments have chosen to participate in the "Apple TAP agreement" when they need to keep licenses up-to-date. The TAP agreement provides a combination of flexibility, manageability, and low predictable cost for operating system licenses.

Faculty and staff whose departments are covered by RIT's Apple TAP agreement are also eligible for home use. (See the link above for more information on the TAP agreement.)

Students -- and those who are not covered by the Apple TAP agreement -- are eligible to purchase educationally-discounted copies of the system software at the RIT Campus Connections bookstore. An RIT ID is required. These shrinkwrapped and boxed retail packages provide one specific major version of the operating system, but do not imply upgrade rights to any future version.

Using Mac OS X

At its heart, Mac OS X is a multiple-user operating system. This feature cannot be turned off (as it could in Mac OS 9). A user may have "normal" or "admin" privileges, granting different levels of control over the computer's operation. "Normal" user accounts are sufficient for almost all tasks. Each user account can be further restricted.

Advanced features like virtual memory, multi-processing, and protected memory are also part of the core of the system, and cannot be disabled. High-end 2D and 3D graphics, as well as audio frameworks, are integral parts of the Mac OS X experience. All applications can benefit from this technology. You will see the greatest benefits from Mac OS X with applications that are written for the new system. Apple has provided a way for developers to bring Mac OS 9 applications to Mac OS X; such applications use the Carbon libraries so that they work natively on OS X. It is important to keep these things in mind while using the first few versions of Mac OS X, and the new applications coming to the platform.

One of the biggest benefits of the new technology in Mac OS X is that you will not need to reboot as much as in Mac OS 9. The productivity savings can be quite significant. Mac OS X tends to be much more stable than Mac OS 9 -- so if you do experience a crash, it rarely requires you to reboot the computer. Instead, you just re-launch the program that accidentally quit. Most software installers do not require reboots in Mac OS X. In fact, you can run many software installers in the background on the new system, and quite a few applications can be installed without using a full-fledged installer program -- you just drag the program to your Applications folder (much like Microsoft Office 98 and later are installed in Mac OS 9)!

Mac OS X's multitasking is much better than Mac OS 9's, as well. You can usually run more applications simultaneously on Mac OS X -- without running into memory problems and slowdowns -- than you could on Mac OS 9. In addition, if one program is taking a while to complete your command (like Internet Explorer loading a large, complex Web page), you can easily switch to another one to do other work. The last program will continue working in the background, but meanwhile, you can get something else done. This is especially true on faster Macs, and those with multiple processors -- a Power Macintosh G5 can be a multi-tasking powerhouse with Mac OS X.

We have more information for "Mac OS X help", if you need it. This includes a complete list of Mac OS X-related articles we have posted.

You can also find out answers to frequently-asked questions in our Mac OS X FAQ.

Section: Maintain a Macintosh, Set up a Macintosh, Use a Macintosh
Keywords: mac os x
Question: What is Mac OS X?
FAQ item: true
Score: 500