Revealed and Explained: Who Owns the Mac OS Operating System?

Revealed and Explained: Who Owns the Mac OS Operating System?
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Who Owns the Mac OS Operating System?

It is quite obvious for most that Apple likes to keep a certain level of control over their software and hardware. This is no different for their Mac OS system, which has now getting close to its OS 10.7 (or ‘Lion’) release. However, who really owns the Mac OS operating system? Obviously, Apple does, but where does the Mac OS come from and how tight is Apples’ control on Mac OS? Find out by reading further.

The Classic Mac OS system

By ‘classic Mac OS’ basically every version of the operating system preceding the latest, OS 10 or X, is meant. Although it took until the 7th version of the system to really be identified Mac OS, all versions dating back to 1984 were dubbed ‘Mac OS’.

Although it is a relatively new trend to ‘accuse’ Apple of controlling their system too tightly, the classic Mac OS system was the only one that was truly developed by Apple’s very own code. Therefore the question should really be split into two, namely ‘who owns the Mac OS operating system’ and ‘who owns the Mac OS 10 operating system’. Now that the former question has been answered, we will have a look at what the deal is with Mac OS X.

Mac OS X: Unix and Open Source Darwin

Although Mac OS X is simply the 10th iteration of the operating system, it meant a complete departure from the code previous Mac OS operating systems were built on. With the return of Steve Jobs to Apple, the company also purchased much of Jobs’ work done with his former ‘NeXT’ company, which included the open operating system ‘NeXTSTEP’. This system was quickly changed to ‘Darwin’, which is basically NeXTSTEP with small updates. As NeXTSTEP was open source, Darwin was left that way and remains so until this day.

Darwin is part of Unix Operating System tree, a system that is integrated in a lot of open source operating system, most notably Linux system. OS X’s similarity to the Linux system is also derived from this heritance. The most obvious sign of this is the ‘Terminal’ application, which allows for ‘command line control’. This feature was not included in classic Mac OS. Darwin itself is being used as the blueprint for OS X, as version 11.0 (the latest Darwin release) corresponds with the upcoming OS 10.7 release.

Apple’s Tight Control on OS X

Whereas Darwin and Unix are an open source systems, OS X most definitely is not. Essentially OS X is built around a Unix core with Apple’s modifications defining what makes the operating system unique. It is these modifications that Apple copyrighted, resulting in the closed source Mac OS X.

It might seem odd that Mac OS X is such a tight system, almost to the point where you’d forget where it’s roots are. The answer may lay in that OS X is a consumer product, fit for simple out-of-the-box usage, lacking the complexity that often defines open source operating systems. While purists may not always like a closed source approach, there is no denying that in the end OS X became an operating system many learned to use and love.