Apple’s Mac computers are known for their beautiful external design and powerful hardware, but one of the most visible constants that’s accompanied them over the decades is the operating system, and it’s been with us for an incredible 38 years. MacOS has evolved dramatically since the release of the first Mac back in January 1984, and now Nobel Tech’s made a wonderfully nostalgic video that shows just how far it’s come with a visual tour of the system over the years.

For many of us, MacsOS, as we now know it, has been part of our day-to-day for much if not all of our lives. Taking a trip back in time to see every version compared in order brings back memories but also shows just how rapidly the UI has evolved – and how much today’s OS also has in common with the original. 

If you’re looking for a new Mac, make sure you start following our roundup of the best Amazon Prime Day Apple deals to find the best prices. In the meantime, let’s take a trip down memory lane with this visual tour of the history of Mac OS all the way from 1984’s System 0.97 to Ventura.

The video, created by Martin Nobel (opens in new tab) from Nobel Tech and spotted by Macworld (opens in new tab), captures in 10 minutes the incredible journey that Apple OS has undertaken. Yes, that blocky monochrome graphical system that we see at the start of the video was seen as an absolute revolution in technology and design at the time I was starting primary school.

What was then simply called ‘System’ launched on the first Macintosh Advanced Personal Computer, released in January 1984. That machine with its nine-inch black and white screen cost $2,500 – a staggering amount at the time. Those of us too young to remember it should bear in mind that PCs at this time had no such graphical OS – they used CP/M and MS-DOS command lines. So a computer that gave you a smile on startup and showed icons of folders like a physical filing system was truly radical. Goodness, it even had different typefaces!

The video shows the Finder in each version of the software, from System, through the feline-named systems of the 00s the more recent systems named after California landmarks. We see several other parts of the UI too, including the About This Mac menu, the Control Panel (later System Preferences and now System Settings in Ventura) and QuickTime. It’s a fascinating visual recap of how the system’s evolved. 

There are things that have been lost along the way and will bring back memories for some, like the ‘puzzle’ in the Apple menu and the Font Mover app. And the changes in QuickTime and Control Panel in particular show the drastic improvements in what’s possible technologically.

But while MacOS has clearly evolved, those early graphical systems are by no means unrecognisable. The history lesson also shows how Apple has stuck to key UI principles to ensure that users upgrading with each update can intuitively find their way around. Would a user from 1984 be able to negotiate MacOS 13? They’d be blown away by the graphics (and just the presence of colour alone), and they’d be bamboozled by the sheer quantity of applications, but that trusty menu bar would still give them somewhere to get started.

Check the best current prices on Apple’s latest MacBooks below if you’re looking for a device with the latest version of MacOS. And if you want to learn more about good UI and UX design, sign up for our 100% online UX Design Foundations course to get a complete grounding in the subject.

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