The end of OS X: A modest proposal

Spinal Tap amps go to 11

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They’re going to collide eventually. iOS is on track for version 9 this year, and if Apple continues incrementing OS X versions, we’ll be heading for 10.11. And, again barring any change in philosophy, in the summer of 2016 we’ll be talking about iOS 10 and OS X and things will get weird.

But this is an era where Apple appears to be amenable to change on many fronts. Tacking the lowercase letter i on the front of product names appears to be a thing of the past—hello, Apple Watch. (And while it would be bold for Apple to change the name of iOS to Apple OS, I can’t see it—it’s powering the iPhone and iPad, and those names aren’t changing anytime soon.)

So let me make a proposal. As long as Apple is showing a willingness to change, let’s get off 10 and take this one to eleven.

What’s in an OS name?

In 2012, Apple decided to change all of its references to Mac OS X to just call it “OS X.” I’ve never really heard an explanation for this change that makes sense to me. Did Apple want to reserve the word Mac for its computer hardware alone? Did some faction inside Apple think that OS X might power some devices that weren’t Macs? Was there a plan to merge iOS and Mac OS X into a single, unified OS that couldn’t have Mac or “i” in the name?

osx yosemite round logo

What if Yosemite was the last OS to cling to the X?

Whatever the reason, the fact is that Macs run OS X, the iPhone and iPad (and iPod touch) run iOS, the Apple Watch runs Watch OS, and the Apple TV… well, it runs iOS, but shhh, nobody is supposed to know that. And it doesn’t look like Apple’s really interested in unifying these two operating systems, ever.

Could we all survive the collision of iOS 10 and OS X? It would create some confusion in terminology and cognitive dissonance–I still stop myself when I mention iOS 8 because of all those years using Mac OS 8–but I’m sure we could all power through it if we had to.

But in advance of the mildly uncomfortable name collision of 2016, maybe it’s time for Apple to put the X to bed and move on to something new. Remember when Apple changed all the PowerBooks to MacBooks? Steve Jobs said he thought the word “power” had gotten tired. I feel like the totally extreme “X” branding is similarly wearing a bit thin.

So my proposal to Apple is to put the X into retirement–no, nobody needs to hold a funeral for it like Steve Jobs did for OS 9–and swing the naming pendulum back to the Mac. Call the next version of the Mac’s operating system Mac OS Santa Cruz, or Mac OS Big Sur, or Mac OS Capistrano, or whatever California place name you prefer. (Just don’t name it Death Valley.)

Mac OS is a name with a proud history that bridged the gap from the latter days of the original Mac operating system through the first decade of OS X. It does what it says on the tin–it’s an operating system that runs the Mac. The phrase “Macs run Mac OS” makes sense. OS X is never going to run anything that’s not a Mac. Let’s embrace it. It’s the Mac OS.

And by jettisoning the X, Apple can finally increment the digits that have been slowly increasing since the start of the century, and call Mac OS Kings Canyon or Mac OS Shasta version 11.0.

With this change, Mac OS and iOS can keep on incrementing happily, and ten can go back to being just a number, not a brand name. Given that Microsoft is claiming that it’s going to use “Windows 10” for the long haul, maybe it’s time to take a page from Nigel Tufnel’s book and push it right over the cliff by going one louder.

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