Welcome to the Mac: Revisiting OS X's welcome movies

I bought an iMac G4 the other day; you’ll get to meet her soon in Think Retro, but she’s just wonderful; I’ve wanted to own one from the second I saw them. This column’s not about her, though.

Even though the chap I bought it from had carefully—responsibly!—erased his personal data from it, the first thing I wanted to do, of course, was install a clean OS. I couldn’t find any Tiger install discs, but I knew I’d created disc images of at least some installers and stored them safely on my Drobo. I couldn’t burn the image to a DVD, but that might be because the cake of blank DVDs I unearthed is many years old and so may be degraded.

I spent ages trying to come up with a combination of drives and cables that would let me prep the installer and then boot the iMac from it; I have a FireWire 400 hard disk (remember, PowerPC Macs have to be booted over FireWire, not USB) but not a FireWire 400 to 400 cable. (This is why you should never throw a cable away, Phin!)

My eventual solution was to swap out the SSD in my 2008 MacBook Pro for a spare 2.5-inch hard disk I found, reboot it into FireWire target disk mode, then connect it up to my Mac mini over FireWire 800, use Disk Utility to restore the 10.4 installer CD image to that drive, then using a FireWire 400 to 800 cable (how did I have one of those but not a 400 to 400?), connect the MacBook Pro to the iMac G4 and boot from there. Phew.

The OS installed easily, and just as the iMac restarted I remembered I would shortly see a thing I’d completely forgotten about: the welcome movie you used to get after you’d installed a fresh copy of Mac OS X.

(One for the pedants: I do definitely mean “Mac OS X” there, because although Apple dropped the Mac when referring to its desktop OS, it wasn’t until after they’d abandoned the tradition of the welcome movie.)

You can see the movie I then saw above. A quick trawl around YouTube and you can find the other welcome movies from OS X’s earlier days. Here’s the one that you got all the way to Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar, resplendent in its Aqua glory:

And then with Mac OS X 10.3 Panther came a slicker, sharper welcome video, with its thumping soundtrack by Röyksopp:

Finally—and in widescreen!—came the dizzying roller-coaster-in-space that was the welcome video for Mac OS X 10.5 and 10.6:

(Of course, if you happen to have a Mac running these versions of OS X, you can dig out these welcome movies for yourself; we showed you how nearly a decade ago.)

I know that a lot of people found these unstoppable movies irritating—techs especially, setting up fleets of Macs—but I look back at them fondly. It’s not just that that pulsing Aqua blob was so very new and unexpected after the flat Platinum of OS 9, promising an experience that was even a little unsettlingly unlike what you’d been using before, or that they made the process of setting up your new Mac just a little bit more of an event.

No, the thing that I especially love about these movies is that they say “welcome,” and that they say it in many different languages and scripts. Where I live in the UK, you can go days without ever seeing anything other than English or Roman text, but back then world languages seemed even more exotic, and I’d get a little thrill as I started identifying them—before quickly getting out of my depth.

Seeing different languages and different writing systems underlined not just that the Mac could take this polyglot approach in its stride but that everyone was welcome. This wasn’t just a computer for “the rest of us,” it was a computer for all of us. Under Tim Cook’s stewardship, Apple has begun to make its commitment to equality even more overt, but it’s been a part of Apple for a long time—as these movies, whose very existence I’d forgotten, have reminded me.

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