OS X Turns 10 Today: Last Birthday for the Aging Cat?

Apple (s aapl) is celebrating a big milestone today, as its Mac OS X operating system turns 10. That’s 10 years since the first beta of the successor to Mac OS 9 was introduced. On the Mac side of things, OS X played a key role in the reinvention and reinvigoration of Apple, a company that had seen a lengthy stint of turmoil and trouble up to that point.

The first iteration of OS X, 10.0, was ironically named “Cheetah,” despite obviously being the slowest in the series now. After Cheetah came Puma, Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard and now, Snow Leopard. Each big cat nickname represented a major point update to the operating system (e.g., 10.1, 10.2, etc.). A screenshot below shows you what OS X 10.0 looked like, so you can see how far it’s come visually if you aren’t familiar.

I hope I don’t get any longstanding fanboys jumping down my throat by admitting this, but I came in around the Panther/Tiger point in OS X history. As a child, I’d used earlier iterations of Mac OS, but I wasn’t ever a Mac owner until I got a used eMac running Panther, which I upgraded soon after to Tiger. Even though I’ve only experienced a truncated version of OS X’s update history, it’s safe to say I’ve seen things change a great deal for the better.

Snow Leopard was released over a year ago, in August 2009. Leopard was released nearly two years prior, in late October 2007. Snow Leopard has the distinction of being an upgrade that didn’t really bring a ton of new features to the table, but rather optimized and enhanced Leopard, a distinction which resulted in much lower upgrade pricing for existing users.

OS X 10.6 is the cherry atop the lovely sundae that is Apple’s latest operating system. It’s a fond farewell to a cat that’s grown rather long in the tooth, and I don’t think we’ll see a 10.7 in the series. Why? Apple has another OS it’s pushing, and it’s clearly serious about it. I’m talking about iOS of course, which recently got a name change that makes it much more platform agnostic than the original iPhone OS. Sure, that’s because it’s on the iPad now, but if you think Apple doesn’t have plans beyond that device, you’re kidding yourself.

We probably won’t see a major update to the OS Macs are running before next year at the earliest, but when it does come it probably won’t look too much like it does today. It’ll have to stand astride two worlds, the world of Macs we know and love now, and the world of the touch-based devices of tomorrow.