Versions of Apple Mac OS

1984–2001

Overview

Here is a brief chart of the versions of the operating system made by Apple prior to the introduction of Mac OS X in 2001. This software is now known as Mac OS or Mac OS Classic. The versions of Mac OS shown below are what ran on all Macintosh desktop computers (including those with secondary names like Centris, Performa, and Quadra), iMac and Power Mac desktops, and all PowerBook and iBook laptops of the era.

For the first three years following the debut of the Macintosh computer in 1984, the operating system didn't really have version numbers, because it wasn't marketed or sold at retail. The operating system simply consisted of two monolithic program files (the System file and the Finder), each of which had their own unrelated version numbers. These could fit on a floppy disk, and you could get updates for free from any Apple dealer if you brought in your own disks. Every one of these updates ran on every Macintosh made from 1984 through 1987.

Later that year, upon release of the System file 4.2 and Finder 6.1, Apple got serious about tracking a version number for the package of files and related utilities, calling it System Software 5.0 in their documentation. Later, Apple retroactively assigned System Software version numbers to previous releases (from 0.97 to 2.0.1, with no 3.x or 4.x, for some reason). These retroactive numbers are not listed here, because Apple's own documentation on this is confusing and inconsistent.

After OS X was released in March 2001, Apple pre-installed both OS 9.1/9.2 and OS X on new Macs for a few years. This was mainly to support the vast base of application software people wanted to use that would not run on OS X.

All of the below operating systems are obsolete, and no longer supported by Apple.

Macintosh System Software / Mac OS Version Chart

Version Date Price Processor
Pre-System 5.0 Jan. 1984 N/A 68000 & 68020
The system software that came with the original Macintosh didn't support SCSI, AppleTalk networking, LaserWriter printers, expansion slots, or color displays. System and Finder updates were released as necessary to support these new features as the hardware became available.
Macintosh System Software 5.0 Oct. 1987 N/A 68000 & 68020
Ran on any Mac except the original Mac 128K. Introduced multitasking through the new MultiFinder extension; previously, you could only run one program at a time, and couldn't even use the Finder when an application was open.
Macintosh System Software 6.0 Apr. 1988 N/A 68000, 68020 & 68030
Dropped support for the Mac 512K. Added support for 1.44 MB floppy drives. Improved MultiFinder, a few new features such as the MacroMaker, and some internal improvements for software developers. Despite terrible interface limitations compared to modern expectations, some users stayed loyal to System 6 for many years due to its simplicity and speed, even though most applications in the 1990s required System 7 or later.
System 7 May 1991 N/A 68000, 68020, 68030 & 68040
Introduced to support the new Quadra desktop and PowerBook laptop; dropped support for Mac 512Ke. First version to support more than 8 MB of RAM. First version available on CD. Integrated support for virtual memory and 32-bit operation (while staying compatible with existing computers and applications). Multitasking is also integrated, phasing out MultiFinder. Vastly improved user interface and menus. First version to support aliases (shortcuts). Added support for TrueType fonts. AppleScript replaced MacroMaker, and is still included in Mac OS to this day. This was a significant upgrade, with a software footprint much bigger and slower than System 6.
System 7.1 Aug. 1992 $79 68000, 68020, 68030, 68040 & PowerPC
First version sold as a retail product, and no longer available for free. First version that can run on a PowerPC microprocessor, which was incompatible with the 68000-series microprocessor that powered all previous Mac computers prior to the Power Macintosh (applications written for the 68000 could run on PowerPC computers, but only in a slower emulation mode). The Fonts folder appeared, as well as multiple language support. Also, as Apple was releasing many new models at this time, this version introduced support for System Enablers. This allowed Apple to simply create a System Enabler for each new computer and add that on to the System software, instead of having to compile a new version of the System software itself (although Apple continued to produce minor updates for specific high-end models for several years after).
System 7.5 Sept. 1994 $135 68000, 68020, 68030, 68040 & PowerPC
Launcher (similar to the current Dock in OS X), Extensions Manager, Stickies, and integrated support for the TCP/IP protocol. The Control Strip, which had appeared on certain PowerBooks prior, was included in this System software release for all computers. Finder can now actually "find" files (by name) using a search function (introducing Apple command key logo+F). System 7.5 was met with a bit of tumult, as it was even slower, especially on older Mac computers, than previous releases. Universal enabler eliminated the need for computer-specific enablers.
Mac OS 7.6 Jan. 1997 $99 (CD), $129 (floppies) 32-bit clean 68030, 68040 & PowerPC
Dropped support for all remaining early Mac computers not dropped by previous upgrades, by requiring hardware support for virtual memory. With this, though, the operating system also included many internal performance improvements.
OS 8 Jul. 1997 $99 68040 & PowerPC
Noticable improvements in usability, especially the spring-loaded folders, context menus (Ctrl+click or right-click), and a multi-threaded Finder that doesn't seize up the system when copying large files. New colorful, modern-looking desktop. Added access to folders and printers shared over TCP/IP networks.
OS 8.1 Jan. 1998 $99; free for OS 8 users 68040 & PowerPC
Added support for HFS+ file system, UDF, and long filenames on Windows-formatted floppy disks; included both Microsoft Internet Explorer 3 and Netscape Navigator 3.
OS 8.5 Oct. 1998 $99 PowerPC
While this can only be installed on PowerPC-based computers, this still supports applications written for the 68000-series microprocessor through emulation as it had since OS 7.1. New Sherlock indexing/search utility, which quickly searches files by name, contents, and Internet search engines AltaVista, Encyclopedia.com, Infoseek, Lycos, and Excite (Yahoo! was a hand-built directory at the time, and Google existed but was relatively unknown). New Application Palette and System Profiler. Improved multi-tasking. Included Internet Explorer and Outlook Express version 4 from Microsoft, and Netscape Navigator 4.
OS 8.6 May 1999 $99; free for OS 8.5 users PowerPC
Mostly internal improvements for the PowerPC G4 processor, as well as ability to read DVDs.
OS 9 Oct. 1999 $99 PowerPC
Many new features we still see today: Keychain to save passwords, Software Update applet, user accounts, file encryption, and file and printer sharing. Sherlock 2 added Internet search channels such as Movies, Stocks, Books, and eBay. The 9.0.4 update included iTools, a precursor to iCloud. Much improved network browser.
OS 9.1 Jan. 2001 $99; free for OS 9 users PowerPC
Added the Window menu to the Finder, and CD burning without third-party software. Internal updates to support co-existence with OS X, either in the Classic environment (running within OS X), or in a dual-boot configuration.
OS 9.2 Jun. 2001 Provided with new Macs only PowerPC G3/G4/G5 only
Update required to support the slate of G4-based Macs released in 2001; only came with new Mac computers, and was never available at retail or for download.

Click here to see the version chart for Mac OS X.