FAQ: Which Version of Mac OS X Do I Have?

And why does it always seem to be named after a cat?


Apple updates its operating systems aggressively, adding things and making changes every few Apple updates its operating systems aggressively, adding things and making changes every few years. This is terrific because it provides exciting new features and performance improvements to the security of Unix which forms the basis of Mac OS X, but it can be confusing to new users or those unfamiliar with the vocabulary.

How to Find What Version of Mac OS X You Have


To see which version of Mac OS X you have, go to the upper-left “apple menu” on your machine and pull down to “About this Mac.” A screen will appear which tells you which version of Mac OS X you have, expressed as three digits. For OS X the first digit will always be “10″ followed by a decimal point and another single digit. After this is a second decimal point and a version number.

Paid and Free Upgrades


Major changes in the Mac OS X are indicated by the middle digits (after the “10.”) and usually involve a paid upgrade. Mac OS X upgrades are generally about US$130 or US$200 for a five-machine “family pack” which you can use at your home (but not in a business). A full upgrade comes on a CD or DVD which can be used to boot and install onto any Mac which meets the minimum hardware requirements. Once you have upgraded to a new, full retail version of Mac OS X, you may legally sell or give away your old version, provided that you transfer the original media as well. This makes it possible to buy “used” versions of Mac OS X to upgrade older machines that cannot take the latest and greatest.

Incremental upgrades do not usually add major features, but are free, providing slight increases in performance and “bug fixes.” If you go to your upper-left apple menu and select “Software Update…” incremental upgrades will appear here. You may also go to Apple’s support area for downloads and check for upgrades there. If you download a full update from Apple, it is always best to get a “combined updater” which will include multiple upgrades in one package, is more thorough and saves time.

Why All the Cat Names?


Apple’s main rival during the development of Mac OS X was Microsoft, who at the time was also developing an operating system. “Longhorn” was the Microsoft codename for Windows Vista, so Apple adopted the convention of naming OS X after big cats, not anticipating how many years it would be before Vista was released. Apple’s public beta of OS X was codenamed “kodiak,” with 10.0 codenamed “cheetah” and 10.1 codenamed “puma.” As Macintosh rumors of these codenames made it outside of Cupertino, Apple decided to use them as trade names. What began as an internal joke thus became part of Macintosh culture, and has been an OS X tradition ever since.

Mac OS 10.2 “Jaguar”



  • Released August 23, 2002
  • Minimum requirements: Stock G3 or higher with 128MB physical RAM (except original PowerBook G3)
  • Terminal release was version 10.2.8

Mac OS 10.3 “Panther”



  • Released October 24, 2003
  • Minimum requirements: G3 or higher with built-in USB, 128 MB physical RAM
  • Terminal release was version 10.3.9

Mac OS 10.4 “Tiger”



  • Released April 29, 2005
  • Minimum requirements: G3 or higher with built-in FireWire, 256 MB physical RAM
  • Terminal release was version 10.4.11

Mac OS 10.5 “Leopard”



  • Currently scheduled for Friday, October 26, 2007
  • Minimum requirements: G4 867Mhz or higher with DVD drive, 512MB physical RAM
  • I am currently NOT recommending Leopard for any non-Intel Macs

Apple Up-To-Date Program


Apple has a longstanding program called “Apple up-to-date” which has historically provided all Apple resellers with “CPU drop-in” copies of the newest OS for brand-new machines which shipped with an earlier version installed. Customers who purchase new Macs this month shall be entitled to a such a CD, and may order one from Apple for a $10 shipping charge.

Replacement Media


Apple has historically not offered replacement media for lost CD’s or DVD’s, so if you need a copy of an older Mac OS, you will probably have to buy one second-hand online or from another Mac user.

What Version Is Best?


What version of Mac OS X is best for you depends on a lot of things: your machine, your needs, your peripherals and what your plans are for the future. For over a year now I have been encouraging all of my clients who don’t have excellent reasons to keep aging machines to abandon all versions of Mac OS earlier than 10.3 if they possibly can. Some people have a cash register which will only run on OS 7 or fonts that only work with a discontinued version of Quark on OS 9, but if that is not you, I would encourage you to reconsider.

With the release of Mac OS 10.5 “Leopard” this month, it is a good time to look at your current needs and if this may be the time to consider upgrading to 10.5 or buying one of the many older copies of OS X that shall be coming available.

For help with this and other decisions, please consider phoning Mac Rory at (360) 695-6929.

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