BitDepth 752 - October 12

The anniversaries of the Apple Laserwriter and Mac OS X.
Two notable anniversaries

Screenshot of Mac OSX Public Beta from

Ten years ago, Apple cocked the trigger on the pistol it would use to end its first era of operating system software development.
In September 2000, it released the first public beta version of Mac OSX, a wholly new approach to it’s flagship operating system that left behind the entire codebase the company had used since 1984 for a new product based on even older code.

Until then, Unix was largely a product used by university tech professionals and Internet backrooms. It had little commercial potential beyond those realms for mainstream software developers and was largely regarded as too confusing for the general population to run on their personal computers.
That was before Apple slapped a shiny PDF-based graphics front-end on Unix and reintroduced it to the world.

The advantages were obvious. Unix was a mature product by then, endlessly tweaked for performance and stability in high pressure software environments by coders utterly disinterested in what software looked like, it was a robust engine onto which to bolt the pretty chassis that Apple dubbed Aqua.
That strength would also prove to be a disadvantage. Despite heroic first efforts at making Unix palatable to admittedly fussy Mac users, the Mac OSX Public Beta was a disaster, only mildly tempered by the fact that it was free.

It was clear that much of the first version of OSX was Unix with a hasty paint job. Complicating matters was Classic mode, which allowed existing Macintosh software to run new OS...sort of.
While this was a problem, it’s worth seeing the situation in the context of the year 2000. For years, Apple had been tweaking and fussing the last few versions of its original OS to version nine, which had remained largely unchanged since System 7 in 1991.

Efforts at creating a more robust alternative to Mac OS9 had completely failed when Apple bought the assets of NeXT, grabbing in one fell swoop the code that had run NeXT computers and the CEO who would, with irascible determination, turn the faltering computer maker’s fortunes around.

Ten years later, the Mac OSX has largely fulfilled the promise of its earliest incarnation and OS9 is history. OSX is stable and well-supported by developers and while Windows remains the dominant OS in use on personal computers, many of the more attractive attributes of Windows 7 echo features and chrome that first appeared on a Mac desktop.

That isn’t the combative kind of remark it might seem. Both operating systems are the better for their version by version feature jousting, which ultimately benefit computer users.
If the hiccups of the first Mac OSX are just a memory, the legacy of the LaserWriter is still with us today. 
Twenty-five years ago, Apple introduced its first LaserWriter, one of the first toner based printers in a world of chattering dot-matrix devices.

Announced a year after the Macintosh and on the same day as Aldus’ PageMaker, the 300dpi printer made it possible for designers to consider doing their own typesetting and the new Postscript page language allowed designers to print a full-page of graphics; something that the PCL based printers of the day just couldn’t manage.
The LaserWriter wasn’t perfect. The one we had at the Guardian in 1990 choked on graphics heavy pages and was, even by the standards of the day, disturbingly slow.

The 77 pound device was also expensive, costing US$7000 when it was introduced, but it was also networkable, using Apple’s Localtalk, a slow but functional protocol that ran over ordinary phone cables.
The LaserWriter would spark a revolution in design and a long decade of documents created by folks who couldn’t understand why using fifteen fonts on a page was simply a bad idea.
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