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I am writing server software that gives administrators options that apply only to Mac OS X clients. When naming those options, I need to decide how I am going to refer to such clients. I can see three choices:

  • Mac OS X
  • Mac
  • OS X

In context, I feel that "Mac OS X" might be a little clumsy: "Default protocol for Mac OS X clients"; "Change Mac OS X protocol". In discussing with my boss, he suggests "OS X", as that's the name for the OS itself, while I think that "Mac" is more recognizable. While "OS X" is technically correct and is what Apple recommends, I feel that it has a lot less name recognition than "Mac"; in particular, administrators who work in a Windows-only environment may not even recognize "OS X" and wonder what the options is about, while I think everyone knows what "Mac" refers to.

In looking at what several popular pieces of software choose, I see that Microsoft has "Office for Mac". Adobe calls it "Macintosh" (which sounds very outdated, I believe that Apple stopped using that "Macintosh" years ago). Firefox uses "Mac OS X". Google has "Google Software Downloads for Mac". I don't see many popular pieces of software that refer to it solely as OS X; it seems that either "Mac OS X" or "Mac" is used most often. Apple does refer to it as OS X, but I think the fact that it's coming from Apple provides the disambiguation that you need, so it's not confusing coming from them, while it may be in another context.

Is there any good solution for this? Should I just use the somewhat clumsy "Mac OS X" everywhere (or at least, the first time I refer to it in any given screen)? Obviously, my boss has final say, but I'd like to be able to provide a coherent argument.

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Does it really matter if the Windows admins don't know what it is? They shouldn't be picking an option that they don't know ;) –  Austin Henley Dec 10 '12 at 0:00
@AustinHenley Clearly they shouldn't be messing with options they don't know about; but we've run into problems in the past where people have turned off all available Mac protocols (now we check for that and given them an error if they try to). Of course it would be nice if our users did the right thing, and didn't try out things that they don't understand, but I'd like to give them the best chance possible at getting it right. –  Brian Campbell Dec 10 '12 at 20:31

6 Answers 6

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I think a good choice is the clumsy Mac OS X, for the following reasons: 1. Indeed, the word Mac makes everyone to think instantly to Apple's product, no doubt. 2. Apple changed the name to OS X, because I believe they won't drop the OS X (they have iOS, OS X - they are modern names), but you will be able to drop the Mac also from your name, after the OS X has entered in the mind of all IT workers as the Apple OS.

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This is the answer I wound up going with, for pretty much this reason. While OS X is the official current name, it just doesn't have the brand recognition that Mac does. The name of the OS was "Mac OS X" until this past summer (when Mountain Lion was released), so this is still the correct name for many of the client machines. It's a little clumsy, but not too bad. –  Brian Campbell Dec 10 '12 at 2:53
Fair enough... you do need to consider you target demographic. –  jb510 Dec 10 '12 at 5:05

"OS X" is the current Apple official way of referencing it in all their documentation: http://www.apple.com/osx/

It's also worth referencing that Apple has extensive guidelines: https://developer.apple.com/library/mac/#documentation/UserExperience/Conceptual/AppleHIGuidelines/TextStyle/TextStyle.html




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I'd also add that it makes you look more professional when you use the official name. Just look at all of the most reliable products out there and you can see the difference. When I see someone spell MSWindows instead of, let's say, "Windows XP", or when I see "FaceBook" instead of "Facebook", I know the company is likely extremely extremely, small, too small to pay attention to details. –  jmort253 Dec 10 '12 at 0:46
Agreed and while the official change from Mac OS X to OS X is recent, I'd also argue it's more appropriate for future proofing since it's unlikely Apple will switch back. –  jb510 Dec 10 '12 at 5:06

OS X is just fine. Moreover, it is the official name.

If somebody doesn't recognize it as an Apple product, at least the final X may indicate that this could have something to do with Unix (and keep frightened Windows admins out of the way).

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Not to mention that X has nothing to do with Unix, it is 10, a major version... In the future it could as well become XI or 11. –  user11408 Dec 10 '12 at 5:53
@VladLazarenko - ... or just fall off, so that Apple could name its products after flower names or whatever. –  mouviciel Dec 10 '12 at 8:10

Since nobody has linked to it yet, here's the official reference: the Apple Publications Style Guide. Unfortunately, it hasn't been updated since 2009, and Apple has changed the preferred naming convention since then...

Here's the current convention as I understand it:

  • "Mac" is the preferred term for Apple's computers (i.e. the hardware), not the OS. Example: "I'm running Windows 7 on my Mac."
  • "Mac OS" the APSG doesn't say so, but without "X" this is pretty much only used to refer to older versions (Mac OS 9 and earlier).
  • "Mac OS X" is the preferred term for Apple's OS versions 10.0 through 10.6, although it is also acceptable for 10.7-10.8. It is also preferred when referring to multiple versions, when at least one 10.6-or-older version is included.
  • "OS X" is the preferred term for Apple's OS versions 10.7 and later. When referring to a specific version, including the code name is preferred (as is shortening it to just the code name on subsequent references). Example: "This program supports both OS X Lion and OS X Mountain Lion; under Mountain Lion, several additional features are available..."

In your case, I'd say the "correctest" answer depends on what versions of Mac OS X your server supports. If it works with 10.6 (or even older versions), call it "Mac OS X"; if it only works with 10.7 and/or 10.8, "OS X" would be better.

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10.7 is still called "Mac OS X"; I am running 10.7, and if I select "About This Mac", I still see "Mac OS X" across the top. This is a pretty comprehensive answer about what is Apple's official guideline; the trouble is, it doesn't address what users are actually going to recognize the best. –  Brian Campbell Dec 10 '12 at 4:10
@BrianCampbell: I wrote the exercise book for the OS X Support Essentials 10.7 class, and I'm taking the wording recommendations they gave me as authoritative. Apple doesn't always follow their own guidelines. For example, the DL page for the 10.7.5 update consistently refers to "OS X Lion", but the following supplemental update uses "Mac" in some places. And of course the Lion installer was named "Install Mac OS X Lion.app". .. –  Gordon Davisson Dec 10 '12 at 4:53

The official name for the operating system formerly known as (too many to list …) is "OS X", pronounced "Oh Ess Ten".

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Can't go wrong here - "OS X" is Apple's official name for the operating system post-Mountain Lion. –  Chad Thompson Dec 10 '12 at 3:20

The "X" refers to the major version number which is currently 10 so unless there's a specific reason to include the version number, I'd just go with "Mac OS".

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Maybe I'm old, but when I see "Mac OS" without an "X", I'd think you might be referring to the pre-10 incarnations of the OS. The "X" is part of the product name, not the version number, hence "Mac OS X 10.4". –  grahamparks Dec 10 '12 at 0:17
@MartinJosefsson After 10.9 comes 10.10 and 10.11 in the usual versioning system for computer programs. It's more obvious when there's 3 numbers (10.9.0, 10.10.0, etc...), but it's not strictly required that the combined number be sequential - they're major and minor version numbers, sequential when taken separately. –  Izkata Dec 10 '12 at 2:56
@Izkata is right. I've heard plenty of well informed folks express the shared assumption that OS X will continue past 10.9 to 10.10 and on. –  jb510 Dec 10 '12 at 5:10

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