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A Technical History of Apple's Operating Systems 244

An anonymous reader writes "As part of his 1680-page book Mac OS X Internals: A Systems Approach, Amit Singh of wrote a very detailed technical history of Apple's operating systems. Since he had to cut down on the history chapter because of the book's already too-large size, most of this chapter didn't make it to the printed book. Singh has made available the history chapter as a free PDF. The file is 140 pages long, and is generously filled with figures and screenshots. It starts with the internals of the original Apple I and goes through a tour of all operating systems Apple dabbled with, including internals of A/UX, Lisa OS, and such. It even covers details of outside influences like the Xerox Alto, STAR System, Smalltalk, and Sketchpad, and closer to home things like Mach, NeXTStep, and OpenStep."
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A Technical History of Apple's Operating Systems

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  • Apple ][ (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @10:49AM (#15776030) Homepage Journal
    One of the coolest things about the Apple I and Apple ][ was that Apple Computer included the schematics for *all* of the motherboard and CPU design. Everything was documented so that users could build interfaces with both the software and the hardware with a minimum of fuss. So, even though Amit Singh calls the manual included with the Apple ][ as a "preliminary manual, it was remarkably complete.

    Despite how far we've come, there are time I really miss my old Apple ][.

    • Re:Apple ][ (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Whiney Mac Fanboy ( 963289 ) * <> on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @10:55AM (#15776066) Homepage Journal
      was that Apple Computer included the schematics for *all* of the motherboard and CPU design.

      God, we have come a long way haven't we - now Apple will cease & desist you for linking to their Service Manual.

      God, how I miss the old Apple :-(
      • God, how I miss the old Apple :-(

        Translation: I miss the days when home computers were the domain of elitist hobbyists and their collected technical specs instead of the general public.
        • Re:Apple ][ (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Mattintosh ( 758112 ) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @01:25PM (#15777160)
          If companies would package their products to include tech specs and schematics, people who don't want to mess with their purchased property wouldn't have to, but the people who want to modify, repair, or extend their purchased property could do so with ease.

          And don't give me the old, tired, whiny excuse that people would simply build their own from the specs they got from a friend. It's not true. As you alluded to, most people aren't hobbyists and don't want to be bothered to build their own. And there isn't a problem from a commercial competitor, either, since patents and copyrights are there to protect against this exact form of abuse. There are adequate legal protections against ripoffs.

          Companies should be required to include specs with every electronic and mechanical device they sell, whether it's as small as a wristwatch, or as large as a car.
        • Oh yeah...I miss the days when people had to wait one at a time for the BBS line to open up, just so they could rant away at a smokin' 300 baud...
        • Translation: I miss the days when I could actually get all the information that I needed to modify my car any way that I chose.

          Oh, wait.
    • Re:Apple ][ (Score:5, Interesting)

      by beadfulthings ( 975812 ) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @11:22AM (#15776245) Journal
      My Aged Mum, now in her eighties, bought the first Apple ][ ever sold in her small Southern city and shortly thereafter traded up to the ][c. She was an artist by trade. The first thing she did was to construct a couple of cables that she needed for her work (video was one that I recall). Then she sat down with the manuals, learned Applesoft BASIC, and wrote a program or two that enabled her to generate patterns for complex weaving with a large loom. Eventually she acquired an interface that allowed the Apple to actually drive the loom--it was a complicated system of switches and relays that raised and lowered the various harnesses or frames on the loom. She did all of this when she was past fifty and with no prior training at all, though she was regular in attendance at users' group meetings once a users' group was formed.

      I still have (and treasure) bits of cloth of complex, intricate design, created and produced with the aid of that Apple. She truly made it an extension of herself.

    • by Space cowboy ( 13680 ) * on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @11:28AM (#15776292) Journal
      For me, the best 8-bit computer ever was the BBC micro - I doubt it ever gained any traction over here in the US, but *man* was that a well-designed and elegant machine.

      The OS was fully vectored and modular, the BASIC language had procedures and functions, as well as a built-in assembler that could access BASIC variables, but the hardware design was what made it stand out. It had every i/o port under the sun - serial, parallel, "user i/o", other dedicated ones for a network (Econet), to support floppy disks and hard disks, and even plug in a second co-processor (there were 8086, Z80 and 32000 variants I think). You could get Pascal and C for it, and it supported 80-column text on a monitor.

      And to bring it slightly back on-topic, the documentation was simply excellent - the "Advanced user guide" told you just about everything you needed to know about the machine, from the event i/o to interrupt-programming, documenting the OSxxx calls, and all the port i/o etc.

      Nothing since has come close to the flexibility of that machine given the design limitations at the time, and it's a tribute to the designers.

      Of course, such largesse can be abused [grin] See My first and only virus-writing incident [] ...

      • I had[1] a copy of the original BBC manual. It was hard backed, and had hand drawn circuit diagrams for the board in an appendix. A classic bit of documentation.

        The BBC was the only computer of the era that I used with an analogue input device, which was fun for connecting potentiometers to in various projects; you could quite easily make a digital etch-a-scetch with a BBC Micro, two potentiometers, a DC power supply and a few dozen lines of BBC BASIC.

        One of the projects that CDT students at my school d

        • A classic machine, and a superb teaching tool. If I had had to learn on PCs, I doubt I would be as interested in computers as I am today.

          I worked in a school back in 2000. Even then, there was one program which was used by the science department for demonstrating something (I forget what exactly) which nobody had found an equal to on the PC. So once a year, when the relevant class had got to that point in the syllabus, the BBC was wheeled out, the dust blown off and the program fired up.

          I would not be in
    • The Commodore 64 also had a schematics fold-out in the back of the system manual. They appeared to be quite complete.
      • The Commodore 64 also had a schematics fold-out in the back of the system manual. They appeared to be quite complete.

        At least some Amigas came with them as well, I think at least all the OCS Amigas, but I only had a manual for my A500. I'm pretty sure A1000 and A2000 also came with schematics.

        • They were still doing this in 1991, when I bought my A500+. And I remember thinking "Damn, this thing's barely documented" when I got it. Full circuit diagrams, and a guide to Workbench 2.

          I don't think I got a printed manual at all with the Thinkpad I bought a few months ago, just a fold-out set-up card.

    • "One of the coolest things about the Apple I and Apple ][ was that Apple Computer included the schematics for *all* of the motherboard and CPU design."
      1. Apple didn't make the cpu. MOS did. It was a 6502 just like the one that runs Bender.
      2. At no time did apple include the "schematics" of the 6502.
      My Commodore64 also came with the schematics and the pin outs of all the ports.
    • And then Apple themselves came out with an ad that said, "to use a PC you have to read all of this!" A huge stack of manuals would then fall in front of a PC. They would then point out that, "to use a Mac you only have to read this!" At which point a tiny little manual would fall in front of the Mac. From that time forward products only came with a few instructions (if you were lucky your manual might even be written in English -- instead of just having pictures showing you what to do) and the 800 number yo
  • I remember making "awesome" games in the 40x40 graphics mode. Not too easy to make a game in a couple hours anymore ;) []
  • Amit's Book (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @10:55AM (#15776062) Journal
    I did a technical review of the book, and I can thoroughly recommend it (I got a free copy). It's very technical in places (lots of code snippets) but does a very good job of explaining the 'why' as well as the 'what' and 'how' of XNU.
  • by ettlz ( 639203 ) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @11:14AM (#15776191) Journal
    Then, the UNIX came, bit it got too big and fragmented, but it didn't die out, and turned into BSD.
    Then Steve Jobs came, and he brought forth NeXTStep.
    And then Apple bought up NeXTStep, added some more BSD, and gave it some pretty clothes and called it OS X. I couldn't believe it. They opened the closet, took out the best eye candy, and walked straight into town...
  • by OakDragon ( 885217 ) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @11:15AM (#15776199) Journal
    From TFPDF:
    Lisa was discontinued in 1985. In September 1989, Apple buried about 2700 Lisa computers in the Logan landfill in Utah. The value of the computers had depreciated so much that the tax break received from scrapping the computers resulted in more money for Apple than could be obtained by selling them.

    Anybody feel like digging? :)

  • by DavidD_CA ( 750156 ) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @11:18AM (#15776225) Homepage
    This is what happens when you get a contract that says you're paid by the word.
  • Lisa OS (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MooseDontBounce ( 989375 ) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @11:18AM (#15776226)
    My CS Prof. at the time (Summer of 1982 or 1983, an old retired IBM'er who worked on the first computers for the Military) had a daughter that worked for Apple on the Lisa project. He had a pre-production model on his desk with a serial number under 300. She needed Steve Jobs personal okay to send him the computer for his testing. (So I was told) I remember it was the coolest thing I'd every seen back then. We took the cover off and his daughter's name was one of the names inscripted on the inside cover. Blew away the Apple II & Trash-80's we were using at the time.
    • You are talking about the Lisa, or the Mac?

      For 10K, the Lisa certainly SHOULD have been better than a TRS-80.
    • My father had a Lisa at his office back when Apple was doing some external distribution and I used it to make the display collateral for my science fair project (trying to find the exact year...) which won in the junior division. Folks at the science fair had never really seen graphics and typesetting like that... some didn't believe I actually made it myself on a personal computer.
  • This article is information overload in the extreme. What does Apple II DOS have to do with OS X? Or why Wozniak chose the 6502 over the 6800? Or the Apple III SOS or Apple II Prodos? Or Apple transitioning to PowerPC chips in 1994? Some of the newer stuff is interesting to know, for historical reasons, like the failed OS development projects that led up to OS X, but there's no way this should have been 140+ pages. It doesn't bode well for the rest of the book.
    • Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. -- George Santayana
    • Believe it or not, there ARE people out there who are interested in this kind of detailed history. Simply because you're not interested doesn't mean that others don't want to read it.
    • I wish there was *more* information. It might not be your cup of tea, but there are those folks who like the history of computers and operating systems as much as others are interested in the American civil war, WWII, dinosaurs, whatever.

      One person's curio is another person's obsession.
  • "The Apple I was introduced at a price of $666.66." Coincidence? Conspiracy? Nah, just a good price.
  • As the new maintainer of the A/UX FAQ [], I keep hoping to learn more about it. Unfortunately the author didn't bring up anything I didn't already know. That said, the page or two he had is a good summary for those that have never used A/UX before.

  • I pre-ordered this book and I received it maybe 10 days ago. It is a very good book.
  • I think it would be cool if more authored did this - releasing the "deleted scenes", so to speak, of their works for free, as a promotion for what they kept... especially if they were still high quality. It probably increases sales quite a bit (I wasn't even considering buying this book until after looking at the sample), and gives something useful directly to the community.
  • Word? The random choice of fonts, and crappy layout makes it clear that this highly skilled engineer, "Doesn't know LaTeX!"
  • by Solr_Flare ( 844465 ) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @04:31PM (#15778976)
    GSOS and the Apple IIGs was quite the sophisticated platform and I'm surprised the author left out the little bit about how Apple alienated a large majority of its customers thanks to the Apple IIGS. The GS was my first "real" computer as a kid. My parents had and I had dabbled with an Amiga long before the GS, but the GS was my first real "work" computer where I did word processing and more with it. It was also my entry point into the early days of the internet and the first computer I ever upgraded with double density disk drives, a 40mb hard drive, various dial up modems, etc.

    For me the AppleIIGS was really the "begining" of my current career in the computer industry. It was also a really slick operating system. But the most significant impact the AppleIIGS had on the market was it was the start of Apple's trend of abandoning old technologies. Almost as soon as the AppleIIGs was released, Apple had abandoned it and the Apple II platform for its new Macintosh systems. When Apple did this they abandoned the large majority of their customers. The early Macs were relatively expensive versus the bargin prices on Apple IIs, and a number of schools were deeply invested in the Apple II platform.

    When Apple abandoned the II with the GS it was the start of the first major shift in the personal computer marketplace. A number of Apple customers felt gilted by Apple so they began to look for alternatives. Compared to the expensive Macintosh, the relatively cheap PC clone industry seemed like a huge bargin. It was at this moment that Microsoft really took control of the Operating System/platform market as a large portion of Apple's customer base abandoned the company and switched over to PC clones powered by Microsoft's Operating Systems. In truth, it has only been with Mac OS X and their Mactel platforms that Apple has truly succeeded in significantly expanding their marketshare since the AppleIIGS fiasco.

    As I said, for an operating system and product that had such a profound impact on the future of Apple, I'm surprised to see so little mention of the AppleIIGS and GSOS.

The absent ones are always at fault.