Why does Apple name its OSs after big cats?


Cheetah, puma, jaguar, panther, tiger, leopard, snow leopard and lion. Zoo exhibit? Animal Planet lineup? Actually, these are monikers for each version of Apple's OS X operating system. Cheetah was released in March 2001 and the newest incarnation of OS X, Lion (v10.7), was released in January 2011.

Apple isn't the only computer company to name its offerings after images easily conjured by the general public. Google, for example, names its Android operating systems after sweets like cupcakes, gingerbread and honeycomb [source: Sutter].


While Google isn't likely to run out of dessert titles anytime soon, there are a finite number of big cat species -- and Apple's already named an operating system after almost all of them (they've got Lynx and Cougar trademarked, too). There are, however, still a couple dozen species of small- and medium-sized wild cats whose names are still up for grabs, like the ocelot and jaguarundi.

With Apple's penchant for consistently naming its products, odds are they'll want to continue with feline-friendly labeling. It's the same approach the company took when it slapped a lowercase "i" at the fore of a new product line: iPhone, iPod, iMac, iWork, iLife and iPad.

But why choose symbolic names instead of numbers? After all, it's all ones and zeros to operating system architects anyway. Turns out, the catchy OS names are chosen with consumers in mind. It's less confusing to remember a name like Lion instead of a number like 10.7. Lengthy combinations of letters and numbers seem to be particularly difficult to remember. Quick, what printer model do you own?

Still, Apple's never revealed the impetus behind its naming strategies. It hasn't escaped the attention of Mac followers that some of the operating system names correspond with World War II German armored vehicles, such as the Panther and Tiger [source: Tank Museum]. Some critics believe Apples OS names were inspired by British Mac-clone-maker Shaye, a competitor that gave Apple a brief but powerful run for its money during the mid-1990s. Shaye's computers were named for lions, panthers, tigers, leopards, jaguars, pumas and cheetahs, among others -- similar to the titles that Apple has used for its operating systems since 2001.

Microsoft -- one of Apple's chief rivals -- has oscillated between naming its operating systems with numbers and names. For example, it released Windows 1.0 in 1985, Windows 95 (version number 4.0) in 1995, Windows Vista (version number 6.0) in 2006 and Windows 7 (version number 6.1) in 2009 [source: Microsoft].

Today, Apple ranks fourth among the world's largest computer companies, behind HP, Acer and Dell, but is gaining ground with the popularity of mobile devices like the iPad [source: Brodkin]. And that's a lot of sales, no matter what the product is named.


Frequently Answered Questions

Which operating system named its version after large cats?
Mac OS X

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  • Bilton, Nick. "Is it Time for Apple to Retire the Cats?" NYtimes.com. Feb. 10, 2010. (Aug. 15, 2011) http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/10/is-it-time-for-apple-to-retire-the-cats/
  • Brodkin, Jon. "Apple's iOS Doubles Operating System Market Share." NetworkWorld.com. May 2, 2011. (Aug. 15, 2011) http://www.networkworld.com/news/2011/050211-apple-ios-share.html
  • EveryMac.com. "Mac Clones: Shaye." (Aug. 15, 2011) http://www.everymac.com/systems/shaye/index-shaye-mac-clones.html
  • International Society for Endangered Cats Canada. "Big Wild Cats." (Aug. 15, 2011) http://www.wildcatconservation.org/Big-Cats.html
  • McKracken, Harry. "The Amazing World of Version Numbers." Technologizer.com. July 14, 2009. (Aug. 18, 2011) http://technologizer.com/2009/07/14/version-numbers/2/
  • Microsoft.com. "A History of Windows." (Aug. 15, 2011) http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/history
  • Morgan, Charles. "Name that Cat: What Breed Should OS 10.7 Be?" Gigaom.com. Sept. 16, 2009. (Aug. 15, 2011) http://gigaom.com/apple/what-breed-of-cat-will-os-10-7-be/
  • Rose, Michael. "Where OS X 'Big Cat' Code names Really Come From." Tuaw.com. March 10, 2007. (Aug. 14, 2011) http://www.tuaw.com/2007/03/10/where-os-x-big-cat-code-names-really-come-from/
  • Sutter, John. "Why Does Google Name its Android Products After Desserts?" Feb. 4, 2011. (Aug. 15, 2011) CNN.com. http://articles.cnn.com/2011-02-04/tech/google.honeycomb.android.names_1_google-android-android-os-randall-sarafa?_s=PM:TECH
  • Tank Museum. "Military-Historical Museum of Armored Vehicles and Equipment." (Aug. 15, 2011) http://www.tankmuseum.ru/p6.html
  • Wehner, Mike. "Mac OS X Turns 10: Screenshots of every Revision from Cheetah to Lion." Tecca.com. March 24, 2011. (Aug. 15, 2011) http://www.tecca.com/news/2011/03/24/mac-os-x-10th-anniversary-screenshots/