The original Mac OS X beta, way back in 2001, a Steve Odessy, was code-named Kodiak, after the Alaskan brown bear. After that, Apple switched Mac OS X codenames to the big cats, starting with 10.0 Cheetah and 10.1 Puma. But then… a funny thing happened on the way to the keynote stage. Steve Jobs decided to use the private codename… as a public marketing name. Instead of OS X 10.2, he oh so proudly proclaimed OS X Jaguar. Technically jag-wire! But, why?
See, for hardware projects, Apple typically uses dry letter and number strings. Kinda like Sony does for their actual product names. The original iPhone was M68, the original iPad was K48, the original Watches, N27 and N28, you get the idea.
For overall experiences and software projects, though, Apple goes full on codename. And I love it. Like, Top Gun call signs meets X-Men aliases. ALL CAPS love it. The Intel Mac was Marklar, after the South Park aliens, Swift Playgrounds was Serenity, but not Firefly or Caldwell, and CarPlay was Stark… after Tony… You get it!
And people inside Apple live on those codenames. So much so, they might not even know, care, or realize what the release version names are, because by then they’re already off and onto other, newer projects with shiny new codenames. Literally living a couple years in the future.
So, how did something so always private become so uniquely public, but just for macOS? Well, hit subscribe and buckle up.
Because, after the beta bear, Apple switched Mac OS X codenames to the big cats, starting with 10.0 Cheetah and 10.1 Puma. But then… a funny thing happened on the way to the keynote stage. Steve Jobs decided to use the private codename… as a public marketing name. Instead of OS X 10.2, he oh so proudly proclaimed OS X Jaguar. Technically jag-wire! Not just for Apple internal but for the whole entire world… external. For everyone. It was just way cooler sounding. Especially compared to Windows XP. And after nearly losing the company before buying NeXT and getting Steve Jobs back, well, Apple could do with a little cool. Or a lot.
But it did create a problem. At Apple, there’s no such thing as a public codename. So, with the big cats burned, the software engineering organization, in the midst of transitioning from the leadership of Avie Tevanian to Bertrand Serlet, had to come up with a whole new theme. And, of course, they turned to wine.
10.3 became Pinot in private, Panther in public. The PowerPC version of 10.4 was Merlot and the first public Intel version, Chardonnay. But both were branded as Tiger.
10.5 Chablis became Leopard. But then… then came 10.6 Snow Leopard. Which never had a wine codename. It was always just Snow Leopard. Because it was always just meant to be a refinement of Leopard. It didn’t have no new features, it had Grand Central. ActiveSync, and a ton of real under-the-hood type stuff. Just very few user-facing new features. And Steve Jobs didn’t like the idea of trying to sell that on stage, not at all. So, Apple marketing decided to slice that Gordian knot by leaning in, all the way in, and it became the… keynote mic drop of “no new features”. The myth was made and now every year we have people asking for another Snow Leopard year, even though those kinds of under-the-hood updates are exactly the ones that sometimes end up biting all of us right in the apps. But, whatever. That’s how myths work.
10.7 Barolo brought the wine back and became Lion, the king of the OS X jungle, and 10.8 Zinfandel, Mountain Lion.
With 10.9 Cabernet, though, Apple looked at what was left of the big cats, saw they weren’t so much with the big any more, and promptly decided to retire the brand… Sorry Lynx. So sorry Ocelot. And the crack marketing team, as current software engineering head Craig Federighi loves to call them, switched things up to California landmarks, and OS X Mavericks. Almost… almost like Top Gun call sign Maverick! No Iceman X-Men cross-over next, though. 10.10 Syrah became Yosemite.
Then, with OS X 10.11, the Mac team changed direction, the wine retired to a vineyard, because of course it did, and the new program management at Apple decided to switch… to Apples. Literal. Garden of eden. Sir Issac newton. Pie and crumble. How do you like them Apples. Starting with Gala, as in Royal. Released as El Capitan.
The crack marketing team wasn’t going to be up-staged… or out-switched though, so with 10.12 they decided to escalate again. Not by going with OS X Weed as Craig so delightfully dad joked. But by changing the name of the operating system itself, from OS X to macOS. And so Fuji became macOS Sierra.
10.13 Lobo… not Lobo… Lobo. Made Sierra High… High Sierra.
But then Apple changed things up again, this time across the codename board, dropping the OS specific themes and adopting a… sign-of-the-darkest-timeline theme for all their operating systems. iOS was Peace. WatchOS was Glory. tvOS was Hope. And macOS 10.14 — that was Liberty. But… it got released as Mojave, because dark mode.
10.15 Jazz didn’t continue the zoom out, zoom in pattern, didn’t go with Death Valley or anything like that. Much to my personal emo goth chagrin. It went with the much cheerier Catalina instead.
Then came the most symbolic change in the history of the modern Mac. One they didn’t make for Intel transition — nope — but absolutely did for the Apple silicon one — they finally took macOS to 11. And it was Golden. Not Golden Delicious. GoldenGate. Which, maybe they should have used for the marketing name too? But, wherever, bygones, they called it Sur, Big Sur.
And now Apple is letting the macOS fully loose. No more incremental versioning. No… 11.1. Built that, shipped it last year. Now it’s a full version each year, just like iOS and watchOS and every other OS has been getting… every year.
Including this year, in beta now and going into general release this fall. macOS 12. Star. Monterey.
And a full rundown on that, see my preview right here, or check out this other video YouTube thinks you may just like better. It’s me vs. the algorithm, so let me know which one you choose and I’ll see you in that next video!