The Mac operating system is the second most widely-used operating system targeted for Apple's Mac family of personal computers. It's praised for the straightforward graphical interface and high security but criticized for updating problems and hardware limitations. We will walk you through three categories of Mac operating systems-macOS, OS X and Mac OS X, from the lastest the the oldest.
List of macOS version releases
Here’s an overview of all versions of macOS and Mac OS X Apple has released along with public and internal code names (if available):
Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard (Chablis) - 26 October 2007
Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger (Merlot) - 29 April 2005
Mac OS X 10.3 Panther (Pinot) - 24 October 2003
Mac OS X 10.2: Jaguar - 24 August 2002
Mac OS X 10.1: Puma - 25 September 2001
Mac OS X 10.0: Cheetah - 24 March 2001
Mac OS X 10 beta: Kodiak - 13 September 2000
Apple changed the name 'OS X' to 'macOS' in 2016, adopting the nomenclature they were using for their other operating systems, iOS, watchOS, and tvOS. As the latest series of Mac operating systems, let's see what's new here.
(1) macOS 12 Monterey
MacOS 12 Monterey has its public beta released at the beginning of July 2021. It’s mainly focused on apps such as FaceTime and Notes that users share with iPhones and iPads. The headline-grabber is the Universal Control, which allows people to control multiple Apple devices with a single mouse and keyboard. However, this feature is not running in the public beta of Monterey yet.
Users can use Airplay To Mac to stream audio and videos from other devices to an iMac display. The improved handling of tabs in Safari will simplify life by allowing people to open and close entire tab groups as needed quickly. Live Text and Short Cuts are also added to this new version.
These macOS 12 powerful features intrigue people to see the final release of Monterey with all the problems fixed. It is compatible with all Macs with Apple silicon and some models with Intel CPUs. Notably, it doesn’t support Macs featuring Nvidia Brand GPUs. If you want to know more about the solutions for current bugs, read macOS Monterey Problmes and Fixes.
(2) macOS 11 Big Sur
MacOS 11 Big Sur was released on November 12, 2020, named after a coastal area in California. It is a step of cohering its user experience across Apple devices. iPhone and iPad users may feel newly familiar with Big Sur since the redesign adds up to an aesthetic that is closer to iOS. MacOS Big Sur update and Apple silicon transition that happened subsequently were two significant events in 2020. Big Sur is the first macOS for Macs powered by the M1 chips that natively run iOS and iPadOS applications. It also allows faster backups on APFS-based Time Machine.
The interface with full-height sidebars and refreshed Dock accommodating uniform square icons with rounded edges display its main design change. Safari, Maps, and Messages are all updated with useful new features such as providing guides that allow you to discover new palaces to explore and cycling directions that you can send to your iPhone.
Moreover, the Control Center that we enjoyed for years on iPhones is finally on Macs. You can now access the controls you use most such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, AirDrop controls, Do not Disturb, and more, with a simple click on the Control Center button from the menu bar. Unfortunately, Big Sur dropped support for some Macs released in 2012 and 2013.
If you encounter data loss when updating, please read How to Fix macOS Big Sur Problems.
(3) macOS 10.15 Catalina
Released in 2019, macOS Catalina comes with three striking new apps: Apple Music, Apple TV, and Apple Podcasts. These three apps provide you with beautiful songs, fantastic movies and TV shows, and exciting radio broadcasts. What's more, tired of switching from your iPad to MacBook? Don't worry! Catalina now can create Mac apps from the iPad apps you run for daily use. This design connects your iPad and MacBook, which achieves the integration of the Mac operating system.
Catalina also brings some problems. First, it is incompatible with MacBook Air and Pros before 2012. Second, Catalina ends the support for 32-bit applications. You'll have to find replacements for these apps if you still want to run them with the Catalina operating system. Third, just like its predecessor, Mojave, the enhanced security of Catalina keeps requiring you to confirm to run certain apps.
(4) macOS 10.14 Mojave
Apple released macOS 10.14 Mojave on June 4, 2018, with new features including the brilliant introduction of dark mode, which is refreshing for users, image-management features built into QuickLook, a more informative App Store, etc.
The Mojave operating system also has its flaws. With increased security measures, the user has to give apps permission to do things they've been doing all along, which can be annoying. Also, every new operating system may face incompatibility with previous software, which could cause data loss after updating to macOS Mojave.
(5) macOS 10.12 Sierra and macOS 10.13 High Sierra
Released in 2016, new features of macOS 10.12 Sierra include the addition of Siri, optimized storage, and updates to Photos, Messages, and iTunes. The introduction of Siri can be a ground-breaking design for Mac operating system. With the help of Siri, we can quickly find the documents and get access to the file without wasting too much time.
MacOS 10.13 High Sierra was released one year later. Like OS X El Capitan and OS X Mountain Lion, this operating system is also a refinement-based update having very few new features. Nevertheless, sometimes it's the small change that makes a big difference. The highlight of this version is the use of the new Apple File System(APFS), which changes how data is stored and organized.
Apple shortened the name 'Mac OS X' to 'OS X' in 2012 and switched to landmarks in California to name operating systems since OS X 10.9 Mavericks. Here are some representative operating systems from OS X.
(1) OS X 10.11 El Capitan
Released in 2015, instead of introducing significant changes, Apple described OS X 10.11 El Capitan as containing 'refinements to the Mac experience' and 'improvements to system performance' rather than new features. OS X 10.11 El Capitan offers battery and speed improvements, improved language support, and mission control for its pros. Separate windows make it more convenient for users to switch from one to another.
As for the cons, though El Capitan has enhanced security, however, you can't have your cake and eat it. Because of the enhanced security, some functions don't work anymore. For example, new security features in El Capitan prevent some free utilities from changing default folder icons, and the old paste-into-Get-Info method doesn't work either.
(2) OS X 10.10 Yosemite
Released in 2014, Yosemite features a redesigned user interface similar to that of iOS 7. It also features the new concept 'handoff,' enabling users with iPhones running iOS 8.1 or later to answer phone calls, receive and send SMS messages, and complete unfinished iPhone emails on their Mac. These features bridge the gap between the computer and the smartphone.
As for its weaknesses, first, the system font won't likely cater to everyone's taste. Second, notifications can pile up and may drive you crazy if loads of things are waiting to be done.
(3) OS X 10.9 Mavericks
Released in 2013, the highlight of Mavericks was that it was a free upgrade to all users running Snow Leopard or later with a 64-bit Intel processor. The changes of Mavericks included the addition of the previously iOS-only Maps and iBooks applications, improvements to the Notification Center, and many under-the-hood improvements.
For its cons, though you can see the links shared by others with the revamped Safari, shared links in Safari don't support Facebook, and you might feel offended if you are a Facebook lover. Also, though Mavericks tries to fulfill the target of multitasking, it still feels limited when you run the computer.
(4) OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion
Since the release of Mountain Lion in 2012, Apple started to offer new releases of the Mac operating system on an annual basis as its iOS updates. Critics praised the new Notification Center, Messages, and speed improvements but condemned the unreliable iCloud and Game center lacking games.
It's worth mentioning that Mountain Lion introduced more Chinese features, including support for Baidu as an option for Safari search engine, QQ, 163.com, and 126.com services for Mail, etc. AirPlay Mirroring is an exciting feature borrowed from iOS, but it supports only a subset of Macs compatible with Mountain Lion.
Mac OS X
The first desktop version of the Mac OS X operating system was Mac OS X 10.0, released in March 2001. Except for the first Mac OS X beta, Apple named all Mac OS X series versions and OS X 10.8 after big cats from Cheetah to Mountain Lion. Here, we will introduce the last two legendary OS X releases that's still in use.
(1) Mac OS X 10.7 Lion
In 2011, Mac OS X 10.7 Lion presented Apple’s first step to bring iOS concepts to Macs. For example, reverse scrolling and auto-hiding Scroll bars that disappear when not in use. It also introduced an easily navigable display of installed applications called Launchpad and, more importantly, documents auto-save by default. You don't have to struggle for the unsaved documents anymore!
Apple has allowed free downloads of Mac OS X Lion since June 2021. Nevertheless, Many minor modifications, including gestures, scrolling direction, visibility, and different way of resizing windows, may frustrate long-term Mac users. And it abandoned Mac OS X software written for the PowerPC processor that works fine with Snow Leopard.
(2) Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard
Released in 2009, Snow Leopard meant to be a refinement for its predecessor, Leopard.
Most of its changes, such as rewriting the Finder application, are not intended for users to see. Therefore, users may experience few changes in the user interface. It received positive feedback for its low price and increased performance and efficiency.
However, like Leopard, Snow Leopard does not support macOS 9/Classic software at all. The release of Snow Leopard also marked the switch of distribution from the optical disc to the App Store.
Which Mac operating system is the best so far?
The answer to this question may vary from case to case. Generally speaking, the best macOS version is the latest one that your Mac is eligible to upgrade to. There are a couple of reasons for that conclusion:
- Apple updates operating systems annually with improved features and better security. The latest version is more likely to save you from bugs older versions can’t fix.
- As App developers updating their products, older versions of operating systems will roll off the supporting matrix. If your operating system is incompatible with the upgraded apps, you may find yourself stuck with the old ones.
However, if you need to run some legacy apps on Mac, Mojave is the final version of macOS to support 32-bit software.