Mac Operating Systems - Everything from Mac OS X 10.0 (2001) to macOS 14 Sonoma (2023)

While the Mac OS 1999 operating system, which was released in 9, was still being supplied with updates, the basis for a completely new Mac experience was laid in 2001 with Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah and Mac OS X 10.1 Puma. Mac OS X got off to a rocky start, but eventually spawned a new system with innovative features. With each new major version, contemporary technologies, improvements to the user interface and new apps were introduced. I have worked up the history of the Mac operating systems from 2001 to 2023 for you. Here you will find the resulting overview.

Note: This article may be updated as new Mac operating systems and information about them become available. It currently reflects the information status in July 2023.

The All You Need to Know posts by Sir Apfelot

Here in the blog I have repeatedly published my research results on the various Mac operating systems since Mac OS X 10.0 over the past few months and years. Here is the "Everything You Need to Know" series came out. The individual contributions usually follow the same pattern, so that the information on the respective systems can be easily recorded and compared. 

So before I go into all Mac operating systems from 2001 to 2023 as well as the individual contributions, here is their most frequently observed pattern (sometimes supplemented by additional information and further sections):

  • Introduction with basic information about the operating system
  • Information about the innovations and changes including a video of the first presentation
  • List of compatible Mac models or minimum hardware requirements
  • Download and/or purchase options for using a boot stick
  • Download wallpaper (desktop background) in 5K and 6K resolution
  • Available manuals and instructions for the presented system

Mac History: From Mac OS X 10.0 to macOS 14 Sonoma

In March 10.0, Apple paved the way for the reorientation of the Apple Mac and its uses with the Mac OS X 2001 operating system, which was code-named "Cheetah". It got off to a rocky start and the system failed to deliver what was previously promised. In the same year, however, Mac OS X 10.1, codenamed "Puma", was able to fix a few bugs.

Subsequently, new main versions came out at comparatively irregular intervals. Starting with Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar (August 2002), these not only got better and better, but were now also marketed with their big cat names. Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger was released in 2005 and was updated until 2007, during which time it accompanied the switch from PowerPC to Intel processors. Starting with OS X 10.9 Mavericks (2013), locations in California were used instead of big cats to name Mac systems. 

From version 10.12 Sierra (2016) "macOS" was used as the name of the operating system instead of "OS X". The next big change was the release of version 10 in 2020, when macOS 11 Big Sur was released, which coincided with the switch from Intel processors to the Apple silicon (M chip) went hand in hand. To date, other Mac operating systems have followed, the most recent of which is currently (July 2023) still in beta - macOS 14 Sonoma. 

Here is a list with information on all 20 systems and links to the detailed individual articles that follow the structure shown above:

  • Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah: Appeared in March 2001 and brought with it the so-called Classic environment for using Mac OS 9 apps. The Aqua UI initially caused problems, but with the dock, the Port, the integration of PDF use, the Sherlock search, the Mail app and other new functions and apps, a picture of the Mac future has already been drawn. Launch was hampered by poor performance, kernel issues, and missing features like DVD playback and CD burning.
  • Mac OS X 10.1 Cougar: Released in September 2001 and brought performance improvements, software for DVD playback, the ability to burn CDs and DVDs, extensive printer support, 20% faster graphics via OpenGL and other improvements. Furthermore, the dock could now also be placed on the sides of the display, and for the first time there were system status symbols on the right-hand side of the menu bar.
  • Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar: Appeared in August 2002 and brought with it over 150 improvements and innovations. In addition to new background technologies, changes that are visible to users have of course also been integrated. This included better networking with Windows PCs, faster use of the finders, operating aids such as the keyboard mouse, warning notifications, read-aloud function and Co. as well QuickTime 6 with MPEG-4 support. For faster setup of network devices Rendezvous integrated. Contacts and calendars could now be synchronized with Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones, among other things, via iSync. The iChat app was introduced for private exchange over the network.
  • Mac OS X 10.3 Panthers: Released in October 2003 and previously announced with a plethora of over 100 new features and improvements. It is the first Mac operating system to use Safari as a Web browser used. Previously, Internet Explorer developed by Microsoft was used. The Finder got a user-oriented design, and Exposé offered a better overview of open program windows. Thanks to FileVault, there was now hard disk encryption and with Xcode, Apple created its own developer environment. iChat AV added audio and video capabilities to built-in text chat.
  • Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger: Released in April 2005 and brought with it the switch from PowerPC to Intel Macs along with new technologies, new features and apps. There were over 200 major and minor changes compared to Panther in total. So e.g. B. the Spotlight search was introduced, RSS feeds were added to Safari, iChat AV got a few more improvements, Automator was introduced for system macros, QuickTime 7 added support for the H.264 codec for the first time, and so on.
  • Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Released in October 2007 after 10.4 Tiger received updates over the period of the transition from PowerPC to Intel processors. 10.5 Leopard brought over 300 new features to compatible Mac models, including the 3D Dock, which supported Dock folders for the first time. Program windows became more uniform and you moved further and further away from the Aqua interface. The Finder got a new sidebar and smart folders. With Boot Camp, Windows could now be installed alongside Mac OS X, the new dashboard was used to display widgets, and Time Machine should make backup as easy as possible.
  • Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Appeared in August 2009 and, as the name suggests due to its similarity to the predecessor, mainly brought improvements and bug fixes. In addition to the fine-tuning of system processes, there were also a few innovations and additional functions that were directly visible: the Finder and the preview app became faster, Safari 4 brought new features and QuickTime X had HTTP streaming in its luggage, among other things. Snow Leopard is the last system designed for emulating PowerPC apps Rosetta had integrated.
  • (Mac) OS X 10.7 Lion: Appeared in July 2011 and was only initially called Mac OS X, in the course of marketing it became OS X (without "Mac"). It is the last Mac operating system that was presented by Steve Jobs - under the motto "Back to the Mac". What was meant was the implementation of new functions that resulted from the development of the iPhone and iPad. Among other things, Mission Control emerged from this idea, but also the Launchpad. Lion was the first Mac system available through the Mac App Store.
  • OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion: Released in June 2012 and the name, by its similarity to the previous version, again indicates that the focus was on system improvements and fine-tuning. More than 200 minor and major innovations have therefore been announced for Mountain Lion. For example, app and service synchronization was implemented in the iCloud introduced in 2011, the messaging app for iMessage including HD video functions came to the Mac, app notifications were displayed more uniformly, and the share button celebrated its debut. OS X 10.8 was the last big cat system for the Mac.
  • OS X Mavericks 10.9: Released in October 2013, it was the first Mac operating system to be named after a California location or region. In addition to the adjustments "under the hood" (App Nap, video scaling, OpenGL 4, Compressed Memory, etc.), the visible innovations consisted primarily of adjustments to the Finder, Calendar app and Mail app. In the finder z. B. Finder Tabs can be used to combine multiple windows. In addition, several full-screen displays could be used on different monitors for the first time. 
  • OS X Yosemite 10.10: Appeared in October 2014 and brought with it a completely revised interface. Apple wanted to finally say goodbye to the Aqua era and rely more on flat and partially transparent "materials". To date, the design is still quite similar, which also applies to the dock. A new today tab in the notification center provided current information and could be expanded with widgets. Other innovations included Continuity (known locally as "Integration"), HTML5 in Safari, iPhone calls on the Mac, and more.
  • OS X 10.11 El Capitan: Released in September 2015 and mainly brought improvements for the innovations introduced in Yosemite. After all, El Capitan is a monolith in Yosemite National Park – so the same logic as for (Snow) Leopard and (Mountain) Lion can be applied here. There were a few performance improvements thanks to the Metal technology, among other things, and the graphics API from iOS 8 was integrated. There was better file management and revamped search features in Finder, Mail, and Spotlight. El Capitan is the last Mac operating system to be called "OS X".
  • macOS 10.12Sierra: Appeared in September 2016 and brought the new APFS file system to the Mac for the first time, which was supposed to replace HFS+. Sierra also introduced the ability to unlock the Mac with the Apple Watch. The Photos app was also redesigned and Siri could be used on computers for the first time. Apple Pay also made its debut in Safari. With the update to macOS Sierra 10.12.4, the Internet Recovery of the system allows. 
  • macOS 10.13 High Sierra: Released in September 2017 and set APFS as the default file system for SSD hard drives. There were also many other improvements and adjustments to features of the previous version (as the name suggests). What was new, however, was the support for the photo and video formats HEIF and HEVC. In the notes app, individual notes could be pinned and tables used for the first time. The H.265 codec was implemented for videos and Safari could now block autoplay content.
  • macOS 10.14 Mojave: Released in September 2018 and brought with it for the first time a system-wide dark mode and, in this context, dynamic wallpapers. In order to see them better, the files and folders lying on the desktop could now be placed in stacks. Other major changes affected the Finder and the "Quick Look" function. In addition, external graphics cards (eGPU) were supported for the first time. 
  • macOS 10.15 Catalina: Released in October 2019 and was the last Mac operating system designed purely for Intel processors. Accordingly, it was also the last system in the series of ten, which began in 2001 with Mac OS X 10.0. Compared to its successors, Catalina still supported relatively old Mac, iMac and MacBook models. One of the biggest innovations was the splitting of iTunes into the Music app, the Podcasts app and the TV app. Since then, iPhone backups have been created and used in the Finder. To use the iPad as a Mac display Sidecar introduced. And Where is? found its way to the Mac.
  • macOS 11 BigSur: Released in November 2020 and initiated the transition from Intel Macs to M-chip Mac models. It is the first 64-bit exclusive Mac operating system that also introduced the use of secured APFS volumes. In addition to a few visual adjustments that did not completely overturn the design that has been maintained since Yosemite, there were innovations for messages, maps, Safari and other apps. Support for iPad apps on the Mac has been further expanded.
  • macOS 12 Monterey: Released in October 2021 and can also be used on some Intel models in addition to Macs with Apple Silicon. The SharePlay function was introduced for the first time with Monterey, with which multimedia content can be viewed together with others (also via iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and tvOS 15). Thanks to Universal Control, the mouse and keyboard can now be used across devices on Mac and iPad. There are also new note options, Siri shortcuts, 3D audio, Live Text, a system-wide translate function and more.
  • macOS 13 Adventure: Released in October 2022 and brought new ways to work with Apple mobile devices in addition to performance improvements. One of the most noticeable changes was the redesign of the system settings, which now match the settings on the iPhone and iPad. For many, this was a big deal and took some getting used to. A revocation function and delayed sending were introduced for e-mails. Metal 3 should provide better gaming experiences. The iPhone can now be used natively as a webcam. Since Ventura, Live Text can also be used in videos.
  • macOS 14 Sonoma: Was presented at WWDC23 and will be released in fall 2023. In Sonoma, widgets can be placed on the desktop. The same can be freed by clicking app windows. And through the Game Porting Toolkit Gaming on Mac to be further expanded. For online meetings there is now the moderator mask, which keeps you in the foreground without a green screen, while graphics can be placed in the background. MFi hearing aids can be connected to the Mac from Sonoma onwards. PDFs can be used in the Notes app and Safari with profiles divided into areas of work or interest. You can find much more in the linked article.
  • macOS 15 and above: As soon as there is official information about newer Mac operating systems, this list will be expanded. 

More articles about the Apple Mac in the Sir Apfelot Blog

You will always find posts here in the blog about the latest versions of macOS, the technology in the Apple Mac and useful apps for everyday use. An example would be the monthly app recommendations. If you don't want to miss these, get them Sir Apfelot app and/or subscribe to the weekly one Newsletter . By the way, there is more about the topics Mac OS, Mac OS X, OS X and macOS in these articles:

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In the Sir Apfelot Blog you will find advice, instructions and reviews on Apple products such as the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, iMac, Mac Pro, Mac Mini and Mac Studio.