Eight years and counting

In case you’ve lost track of time, Tuesday marks the eighth anniversary of the release of Mac OS X (version 10.0.0). In that time, there have been 52 different releases of OS X, counting the public beta as well as major and minor updates. So in honor of this eighth birthday, here are eight great things about OS X.

With more than 300 new features in Leopard alone, I know the following list is going to disappoint some of you—picking just eight means I’ve certainly overlooked a number of key features, probably including many that you feel should be listed here. So please, feel free to share your list of eight favored OS X features in the comments.

  1. Stability: Remember the days of unexpected restarts, a single app bringing down the entire OS, and troubleshooting extension conflicts? Neither do I! OS X has, barring certain hardware failures, put an end to my worrying about the stability of my machine.
  2. Multitasking: Assuming you’ve got enough real RAM, OS X does a wondrous job of multitasking. On my Mac Pro, after doing a Macworld Video project, I’ll often be surprised to find that I’ve got 15, 20, or even 25 apps open. As the project progresses, I just keep opening the apps I need, not really paying any attention to quitting others first. Even when I exceed the 8GB physical RAM limit on my machine, OS X does a decent job at swapping virtual memory, making the process not nearly as painful as it was in prior versions of the OS.
  3. The Unix underpinnings: Sure, not everyone is going to use Terminal every day, but even if you don’t, the stability and multi-tasking goodness in OS X comes from its solid, long-developed Unix core. Add in the ability to access that Unix system via Terminal—not to mention running many Linux applications, such as GIMP, natively—and OS X emerges as a do-it-all OS for pretty much any type of user. If that’s not broad enough coverage, of course, you can use Boot Camp (and/or a virtualization application) to run Windows on your Mac as well.
  4. The bundled applications: Sure, I can occasionally grouse about some of the bundled apps—hey, Apple, did you know people actually play more than Chess on their Macs?—but by and large, the overall quality of the OS X bundled apps is quite impressive. Sure, some are overly simplistic (perhaps Snow Leopard will include thousands separators in Calculator!), but many can ably compete with paid-for solutions. Dictionary is a useful utility to look up words locally or by tapping into the power of Wikipedia. iCal is a reasonably powerful calendaring solution. iChat is probably the most-used application on my Mac. iTunes handles most all all of my media needs (which are admittedly simple), Mail has handled probably hundreds of thousands of messages for me over the years, Preview has evolved into a multi-talented image- and PDF-handling utility, and Safari is simply the dominant browser on the Mac.

    Once you throw in iLife (which is included free with all new Macs, so it’s more-or-less like the included applications), the bundled software suite on the Mac is an impressive collection of applications.

  5. Drag-and-drop install: Although more complicated applications often run via an installer, I love being able to install most applications with a simple drag-and-drop. Sometimes this simplicity causes troubles for new Mac users, but I love it.
  6. Built-in PDF support: After eight years, I take this for granted…until I’m using Windows and realize that you can’t, by default, convert anything you want into a PDF without jumping through some hoops. I use this feature daily, saving Web pages and documents in a format that I know I’ll be able to look at for years to come—even if the application that created the PDF is long gone.
  7. System-wide keystroke capture: No, I’m not talking about some sort of spyware or malware that records your passwords and sends them on to third parties. Instead, I’m talking about the ability for top-level programs to trap your keystrokes, and then do useful and interesting things with them. Programs such as Butler, LaunchBar, TextExpander, and TypeIt4Me are great examples of what you can do by trapping keystrokes. Sure, this was possible in OS 9, but it was seemingly more complex, and certainly more prone to cause system errors.
  8. 512 pixel icons: In order for Leopard’s Cover Flow view to display crisp icons at larger sizes, OS X now supports icons that are up to 512x512 pixels in size. To put that size in perspective, the first Mac’s screen was only 512x342 pixels! Browsing a folder full of these large icons in Cover Flow mode is a joy, and you can really see the detail work that went into creating the icons. Sure, they don’t have much impact on my day-to-day work, but they’re gorgeous and, I think, reflect an attention to detail across the entire OS.

So that’s my list of eight of OS X’s features that I find most interesting. While there are things about Leopard that annoy me, I’d still rather use it—or any version of OS X, for that matter—over either Windows or Linux. So much for my list…which eight features would you include on your list?

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