Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Twenty Years Ago, Steve Jobs Showed Off the Aqua Interface for the First Time

Stephen Hackett:

Aqua was a huge leap over the classic MacOS’ Platinum appearance, and far richer than anything on Windows at the time. It felt alive, with subtly pulsating buttons and progress bars that looked like they were some sort of modern-day barber poles, turned on their sides.

I remember seeing Aqua for the first time in its Jaguar iteration. By then, the roughest edges of the earliest implementations had been ironed out and Mac OS X was finally fast enough on a family friend’s Power Mac G4 that the system felt like it was supposed to.

I was young; I knew none of this. All I knew is that the copy of Windows XP that I used at home was, in an instant, hilariously outdated.

Windows remains a spectacular example of tasteless and unrefined user interface design. Meanwhile, MacOS has aged gracefully with basically the same interface elements as twenty years ago. Even the old stuff still holds up — mostly. The pinstripes of the earliest versions of Mac OS X are pretty garish, and the dark drop shadows behind seemingly every UI widget and menu label are pretty heavy-handed.

But you could have shown me a copy of Catalina fifteen years ago and told me that this was the way the next version of Mac OS X was going to look, and I would have entirely believed you. That’s evolving gracefully. That’s refinement.

See Also: Jimmy Grewal of the Macintosh IE 5 team. IE5 was demoed by Steve Jobs as an example of a Carbon app on Mac OS X using the Aqua user interface elements. Only two caveats: first, Carbon apps did not automatically inherit Aqua UI components; and, second, the IE5 team independently arrived at an Aqua-like UI without ever having seen Aqua.