A Time Machine trip to the mid-'90s

Danny Allen, one of my colleagues across the hall at PC World, is working on a story about computer products that never quite made it into the hands of customers. As you might expect, Apple has its share of those products, and so Danny and I spent some time talking about legendary (and not-so-legendary) vaporware products from Apple, and I volunteered to dig up some information about a few of them.

The most talked-about and hyped Apple product to never exist is probably Copland, the first Mac OS 8. Those of you who weren’t following the Mac in the mid-’90s might be shocked to discover that the Mac OS 8 we remember today was not supposed to exist. Mac OS 8 as we know it came together only after one of Apple’s first attempts to replace the classic Mac OS crashed and burned. That project was code-named Copland, and Apple spent more than a year promoting it as the future of the Mac. (Somewhere in my archive I’ve got an “OS 8: Hands-On Experience” T-Shirt from Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference. Attendees of that conference ended up being just about the only ones who ever got hands-on time with Copland.)

In any event, just outside my office lurks a metal filing cabinet full of CD-ROMs containing digital data for every issue of Macworld for more than a decade. And so in order to help Danny out, I dug out files from the July 1996 issue of Macworld, featuring an up close look at the Mac OS 8 that would never come to be.

This isn’t to say that elements of Copland didn’t end up in the final Mac OS 8. The new grayscale interface look migrated to the eventual OS 8, as did some features. (Most of the major technical underpinnings promised by Copland wouldn’t arrive on the Mac until half a decade later, with the arrival of Mac OS X.

But as I waded through the old files, what struck me was one of the promised features of Copland I had completely forgotten: an automated backup system that now resonates as a first hint of the Time Machine to come.

Copland Guide

The Macintosh Guide window lets you choose Assistants to automate various tasks, including 'backup my files.' Also note the option to automatically check your eWorld mail! Kids, if you don't know what eWorld was, ask your parents.

Choose Your Assistants

Among the things the Computer Custodian can do is automate your backup. It can also rebuild your desktop! Talk about things I don't miss doing in Mac OS X.

Computer Custodian

Picking a disk for Copland to use for backup is not that different from what you do to pick a disk for Time Machine. Of course, it's a hard-drive picker. How complicated could it be?

What to back up

From this window, you'd choose what you want Copland to back up. This is more reminiscent of the .Mac Backup utility's options for backing up subsets of your files than it is of Time Machine's whole-disk backup option.

Choose your notification

Finally, you can let Copland tell you when your backup is complete via a pop-up message that appears like a floating sticky note when the job is done.

Amid the many Copland screen shots I dug out of that filing cabinet, there was also the first suggestion of something like Spotlight, a system-wide search function that went beyond simple file-name searching.

Proto-Spotlight
A proto-Spotlight search interface allows you to search filenames and text.

Now would these features have been as advanced as what we've got in Leopard? Of course not. It was the mid-'90s. But it is interesting to notice that even back then, there were forces within Apple that were trying to make backing up your hard drive a more convenient process. But it was not to be. And now we only remember Copland when someone's working on articles about famous products that never, ever reached the hands of the general public.

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