Not ready for Lion just yet

I’m glad to see the theme for next week’s Apple announcement is “Back to the Mac”. I’m something of a Mac enthusiast myself, and while all the iGadgets are very cool and revolutionary and magical and whatever else, the Mac is my main area of interest. Lately — I’m not the only one who’s thought this — Apple’s interest seems to have been elsewhere.

Welcome back.

One thing that does give me cause for slight disquiet, though, is the glimpse of a lion’s face barely visible through the small “opening” in the invitation sent out to media. It’s certainly in keeping with the trend of naming Mac OS X releases after big cats — but isn’t it a little early?

The sequence so far — Cheetah, Puma, Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard — hasn’t really been in any particular order. It’s possible but not at all certain that, somewhere in Cupertino, there’s been a piece of paper all this time with the entire sequence of code names spelt out. How could it have been known back in 2001, for instance, that by about Mac OS X 10.5 people would be getting a bit tired of the pace of upgrades and 10.6 really ought to focus on performance improvements and getting the code base settled on Intel? Maybe, but I don’t think so.

Nonetheless, even without the notion of a pre-ordained sequence of big cats, I had always assumed that “Lion” would be the last of them. It’s the King of the Jungle, the biggest of the big cats, the mighty Mufasa. What could possibly follow it? Whatever version of Mac OS X comes after Lion would have to be a step down in rank, wouldn’t it?

So I expected that Lion would be Mac OS X 10.9. “Lynx” and “Cougar” have not been used yet, nor have some lesser big cats such as “Bobcat” or “Clouded Leopard”. OK, maybe that last one wouldn’t have been so great. And you might argue that a cougar and a puma are the same thing, but a jaguar and a panther are the same thing too and that didn’t stop Apple. (For that matter, leopards, lions and tigers are all types of panther and in genetic terms a snow leopard is actually a tiger — but let’s not get technical.) I thought there’d be something in between 10.6 and Lion is all I’m saying.

I assumed that whatever followed Lion in the sequence of Apple’s operating system releases would not be a big cat — it would not, in fact, be OS X but whatever it is that will follow OS X.

The original Mac OS lasted from its first introduction on the Lisa in 1983 to its last significant update in 2000 — after that it was just tweaks to improve the compatibility of the “Classic” environment in Mac OS X. 17 years is actually not a bad life for an operating system.

When Mac OS was replaced with Mac OS X it was a complete transplant — Mac OS X is not a version of Mac OS, it’s a version of Unix that looks like Mac OS.  Gil Amelio put the mockers on Mac OS when he killed the Copland project in 1996 and started looking for something to acquire instead. With the acquisition of NeXT, OpenStep (formerly NeXTStep) was renamed Mac OS X, but out of nostalgia more than anything else.

Will what follows Mac OS X even be called Mac OS? I can’t help but wonder, given Apple’s toying about with the name of the operating system on iPhones and iPads. “iOS” is a terrible name and surely can’t stay for long, but “Mac OS X iPhone” has already been tried and dropped — will iOS go Back to the Mac?

All of that is pure speculation of course and I invite you to excoriate me for it on MacTheForum.

My point, though, before I got sidetracked, was that I believed we had another two versions (three to four years) before we got to Lion, and a couple of years of Lion before we found out what would be next. That would have put whatever follows Mac OS X around 2017 — 17 years after its introduction. Seem like a familiar number?

Of course it’s by no means a given that Mac OS X will be “replaced” in the way Mac OS was. Mac OS X has roots dating back several decades. Its underpinnings are tested, proved, and solid. Where Mac OS lacked capabilities that were required of a modern operating system, Mac OS X shows no such lack. Its adaptability even to the radically altered world of touch-based mobile computing is testament to that.

Still you can’t help wondering. And I’m far from the first pundit to wonder about it. But didn’t you think we had a little more time before we had to know the answer?

Discuss this with me in MacTheForum!