HelloSystem – OS with original Mac philosophy with a modern architecture

298 points18
grishka16 hours ago

Original Mac philosophy, yet attention to detail in the UI is severely lacking. The paddings are all over the place, the gradients on buttons and the menu bar are an absolute eyesore, the menus have a 1-pixel white line to the right of the highlight, etc.

wk_end15 hours ago

The simple sad reality is that Apple's attention to detail was 1984, on lower resolution screens, in monochrome, on computers that did substantially less, when riding high off Apple ][ money, with radical vision, for hand-selected elite full-time workers being crunched to the bone by said radical visionary.

I'm not sure if all the ingredients necessary to brew up that magic could ever come together in quite the same way again. HelloSystem is dealing with a vastly harder problem with vastly fewer resources; it's no surprise that they're not there.

mrcwinn14 hours ago

Whoa, whoa, and whoa.

The technical hurdles they had to overcome - despite targeting lower resolutions, non-color screens - was considerably higher and more impressive because none of the scaffolding was there to support the work, and the system resources were also far, far less. You're significantly discounting that effort. It's also worth reminding you that — even among the engineers who left or felt too much pressure — nearly all of them say the emotional investment was both necessary and worthwhile in retrospect. There are very few ex-Macintosh-team detractors in the world.

Taking nothing away from this open source project, but let's not rewrite history.

wk_end12 hours ago

I don't think I'm discounting that effort at all! To be honest, given that I mentioned both that they were exceptionally talented ("elite" and "hand-picked") and worked incredibly hard, I'm not sure where that interpretation came from. And retro game programming is a hobby of mine, I know all too well what it's like to write bare metal 68000 assembler and squeeze every last gasp of performance you can get out of an 8MHz CPU and handful of RAM.

A comparison I might make, then, is to video games then and now: despite extreme technical restrictions, in the 80s, a single person or at most a small team could make the equivalent of a AAA game in a matter of months in their basement. But precisely because those technical restrictions have now been lifted and so much more is now possible and expected, such a thing these days is absurd, and it instead takes teams of hundreds years of work and tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars to put together a modern AAA game. But observing that fact in no way discredits the talent, hard work, and ingenuity of those basement coders of bygone days; nor does it mean that I think game devs these days are orders of magnitude less competent, either.

My intention was never to say that what the Macintosh team did was easy; but it was possible (clearly) with the enormous effort they put in, and I don't think what HelloSystem is trying to do really is, especially not with the resources they have. After all, Apple can't even do it these days, and they have virtually all the resources in the world.

xixixao3 hours ago

I’m not sure the analogy stands. Getting consistent margins is not as hard as building an AAA game imho. It’s more about building the right abstractions and having consistent attention to detail.

OnlyMortal2 hours ago

Quite a bit of Macintosh was written in Pascal. Quite a bit is assembler too (BlockMove been a good example).

I assume MPW Pascal was used once the OS could be booted.

LeFantome8 hours ago

Really solid example

juliendorra2 hours ago

Apple did it again between 2005 and 2007 when creating the UI for the iPhone. Using a similar playbook! They for example had to find the exact minimum touch targets (57x57px square), amongst many other UI explorations. The iPhone platform was much more complex than Macintosh of course, and had to inherit OS X kernel and some APIs.

I’d argue that Palm was also a similar success at the time.

You are right that it’s not easy and probably impossible for a too small independent team or an open source project, it needs as you say a very focused goal, a small cohesive team.

And for example Meta totally failed to ship a great UI/UX for Quest (it’s ok, but with incredibly bad parts like inviting other users, typing text, inconsistent controls between apps and games, no standard UI library, etc. they really need to just start from scratch now, IMHO). So pure ressources are not enough.

n8cpdx14 hours ago

High DPI and a full color palette are no excuse for not getting margins right.

Attention to detail is still doable, it just isn’t something that is valued by MBA/PM types.

(Being an ambitious personal project made in limited free time is a better excuse, and I commend the project author’s efforts)

andsoitis9 hours ago

> valued by MBA/PM type

Or by folks who are not seasoned in user experience. Just because you use something doesn't make you an expert - UI is often thought of that way, but it is a real discipline.

jahewson8 hours ago

It’s true, though most UI/UX people are not experts in their field. Often they’re less useful to listen to than people who actually use the software. Now an expert - that’s a different matter. An expert will transform your entire sense of what a product even is.

kybernetyk5 hours ago
chongli14 hours ago

I don’t know. Sure, we may likely never see such a crack team of programmers and designers driven by a radical visionary again. But we do have vastly more computing resources than they had. Can’t we solve some of these problems with software?

Since everyone gave up on native software in favour of web frameworks and the browser, there has been precious little innovation in native UI frameworks.

So my point is: couldn’t most of the attention to detail in Apple’s Classic Mac OS be replicated with a UI framework that understands design concepts such as proportionality, spacing, Schelling points, etc?

wolverine8762 hours ago

> we may likely never see such a crack team of programmers and designers driven by a radical visionary again

Why not? Nothing is stopping them - but statements like yours.

LeFantome8 hours ago

ChatGPT, create a modern ClearType font in the style of the 1984 Mac that scales well with high DPI displays….

chongli6 hours ago

It's hard to tell if you're being facetious but the original Mac used bitmap fonts that were hand-designed by drawing individual pixels on a grid. Any sort of "modern ClearType" font would be anti-aliased and therefore not at all like those bitmap fonts.

numpad06 hours ago

Here’s a website where TrueType font in style of 1984 Mac that scales well can be downloaded: http ://freefonts.liftedfrom.behindpaywall/macos.html

grishka14 hours ago

It's not a matter of hardware capabilities or human resources. Sane paddings and proportions and pixel-perfect controls are no different on a modern XDR retina display than they were on a monochrome CRT. You do have more color and pixels to work with, but the underlying principles are all the same.

My own standards are high enough that I'd never even show such a screenshot to a friend, let alone put it into the readme to my project for all of the internet to see.

grumpyprole3 hours ago

> HelloSystem is dealing with a vastly harder problem

I really don't think so. The original Mac had 128K.

malermeister14 hours ago

I feel like elementaryOS [0] comes a lot closer to the original mac vision when it comes to UX.

Too bad the project is going through some drama from what I understand.


kitsunesoba14 hours ago

elementary also unfortunately shares some GNOME-isms, such as avoidance of menubars in favor of hamburger menus, which goes against Mac UX. Menubars serve as a central index of application functionality under macOS and are a central pillar to its UX.

PaulDavisThe1st11 hours ago
malermeister14 hours ago
lelanthran2 hours ago

> Too bad the project is going through some drama from what I understand.

What drama?

jdkee3 hours ago

There is also Haiku OS.


grogenaut8 hours ago

I had to reproduce wx-widgets on a new platform (PS3) as a port. Doing so and reading the original UI guides for Mac it's amazing how much research went into things like click targets and mouse zones for buttons, scrollbars and nested menus. Windows is lacking here but once you notice it it informs you why many 2010 era js native widgets like nested menus were hot garbage. I spent a month getting the feel on nested menus right by adjusting zones, and a similar amount on scrollbars targets and zones. I dredged up those original mac guides and they were very helpful.

peoplefromibiza8 minutes ago

which are mostly from NextSTEP as described in the "NextSTEP user interface guidelines" first published in 1992 and later by Sun as "OpenStep User Interface Guidelines" in 1996


layer86 hours ago

Yep, I spent an insane amount of time in the aughts to emulate native-feeling menus in JS with submenus and proper focus behavior for both keyboard and mouse.

If only browsers had used the past two decades to provide a comprehensive set of well-behaved, uniform, native-feeling UI controls for 95% of the use cases. Instead web devs still spent a lot of time reskinning and re-implementing basic controls.

grogenaut6 hours ago

In many cases they did I'd argue... They just weren't pretty enough.

asiachick5 hours ago

VSCode's popup menus are hot garbage because they don't take those guidelines into account. You try to move the mouse, move one pixel in the wrong perfect direction and the popup disappears.

wrldos15 hours ago

As always, these things look like an average xfce theme.

jahewson8 hours ago

I think that setting out to build something using “first principles of interaction design” on top of existing open source software that was not created using those principles is only ever going to be an exercise in futility.

ricardobeat6 hours ago

I have a feeling the "white line" is meant to be a bevel. This was pretty common back then.

boxed13 hours ago

I switched to the mac (back before the intel transition) because I became more productive writing apps after ~1 week of hobby fiddling, than I was at my day job doing win32 programming that I had done for several years.

This project doesn't tackle the reason macOS was so great: Cocoa.

pjmlp3 hours ago

You would have achieved the same via Delphi, C++ Builder, VB6, .NET.

I do Windows since version 3.0, and very seldom have touched raw Win32 other than for some university projects where I had no choice to do otherwise.

Having said that, NeXT and Apple frameworks are great.

ShredKazoo11 hours ago

I understand that the Supreme Court said in Google v Oracle that the use of APIs is fair use. Does that mean HelloSystem could re-implement all the Cocoa APIs and have Mac apps compile & run seamlessly?

brirec10 hours ago

Theoretically, sure! But that's an enormous effort. This is actually what the goal of GNUstep is and has been from the start, and I kind of doubt there's even a single codebase (apart from, maybe, example code) that will compile on both Xcode and GNUstep without major changes.

Edit: To be clear, GNUstep is something like 6 years _older_ than Mac OS X, so it's had plenty of time to catch up. The problem is really that these APIs are constantly changing and being extended. The goalpost is moving far too fast to ever meet it.

kmeisthax9 hours ago

Microsoft tried porting GNUStep to Windows as part of the Windows 10 "iOS Bridge". They gave up, which is actually kind of sad.

tymscar9 hours ago
TheBrokenRail7 hours ago

Well, there is the Darling project.

adjav10 hours ago

Considering Wine and ReactOS exist, I assume that'd be doable.

whartung14 hours ago

I was kind of hoping this was something based on MacOS 9-.

Sort of reading it as "Original MacOS Philosophy".

In the early days, there actually was a "better" MacOS. It was the Apple IIGS. The GS system software was second stab at what was MacOS, but with a bit of "clean slate" ethos to it to fix some of the early issues.

Its hard to appreciate the marvel and hoops the system and the developers had to jump through on early machines that lacked memory protection. The IIGS was a nice little sojourn further on in trying to make that kind of system a little bit better. The IIGS memory/process manager (which is kind of the heart of all of this) on top of the 65816 is a pretty neat piece of kit.

WorldMaker13 hours ago

> I was kind of hoping this was something based on MacOS 9-.

I miss proper spatial navigation sometimes. As a Windows owner I was often envious of MacOS up 9's spatial navigation. I briefly had my own spatial navigation on devices I owned in OS/2 WARP and that one time I was running Gnome-based distributions when Nautilus still had a somewhat buggy spatial navigation mode (which I admittedly compromised some of the design reasons behind spatial navigation by eventually switching to a tiling window manager). When I was old enough to finally own a Macintosh and a PC I was disappointed that Mac OS X had dropped some of the things I liked when working on a Macintosh such as spatial navigation.

chungy13 hours ago

Could you explain what is meant by "spatial navigation"? Searching the web for that term and even including "mac" in the search terms doesn't reveal it for me.

WorldMaker12 hours ago

Spatial navigation is the idea that folders and files have a consistent "place". The basic idea is when a folder opens back up exactly "where" you left it (window position, size, background wallpaper, other details) and files are arranged inside them however you want to leave them without necessarily adhering to a grid or a standard order or anything like that.

There are definite trade-offs to it: manually arranged files and folders without strict grids can create a lot of cluttered "mess". (Add to that ideas of custom per-folder wallpapers and the "mess" gets even more chaotic.) It can be confusing if you aren't expecting it, and teaching it is sometimes hard (even though some of it is more "intuitive"). The mess can sometimes hide/"lose" important files.

But the interesting benefits to it involve sometimes superior muscle memory for frequently accessed folders, a better recall of "where" you left things, and somewhat better uses of some of our human visual data processing systems for visual wayfinding via distinct "landmarks".

chungy12 hours ago
scarface749 hours ago

I just happen to know that John Siracusa has been talking about it for two decades

And an HN thread about it:

karmakaze13 hours ago

It doesn't really say what parts of the MacOS philosophy it's aligned with. Seems more like riding on coattails. What is listed are a number of differences that apply to most any Linux/BSD distro. I think 'philosophy' here means surface appearance of the desktop.

And if it's about openness, why link to the branding pages rather than the source repo? I couldn't even find a link searching for 'source' on the page.

HeckFeck12 hours ago

Reminds me of PrismWM.

Something like it would be a revival of the OS9 theme and philosophy.

Unfortunately the thread was started 2 years ago with no reference to a public repo and no updates from the author since. Maybe it was always vapourware :(

cmrdporcupine14 hours ago

IMHO the "better" MacOS was the LisaOS, and came before the Mac. Cooperative multitasking, memory protection, task/object oriented user interface.

MacOS took much of the concepts, but was deliberately made "worse", so it could fit in the Mac's tiny ROMs, and not use an MMU. It was built as if it was a one-off with no serious consideration for the future (not an uncommon theme in the time, many companies hadn't really caught onto the "platform" concept yet).

(Re: the IIgs, building an elegant OS on the 65816 is annoying as hell with its banked memory architecture, tiny stack that can only be in the bottom 64k of RAM, poverty of registers, and lack of e.g. memory protection mechanisms. But the IIgs stuff was really a valiant effort, pretty cool.)

SkyMarshal14 hours ago

I appreciate the intent here and don't want to be overly critical, but this appears to be attempting a nicer UI for FreeBSD. Not a bad goal, but I'd like to see a page somewhere that lists not just the grievances with Apple that led to this project, but also how this project improves on a standard Linux config. Or better yet, a Linux config hardened as much as possible without losing compatibility with its software ecosystem or with Wine/Proton.

Replacing Apple with a more privacy-preserving alternative is not really about UI minutia. UI/UX is mostly solved, for 2D displays at least. Gnome, KDE, Elementary OS's Pantheon, and others all offer usable and customizable variations on this tech that get you 90% of the way to Apple's standard. Incremental improvements in 2D UI/UX are reaching a point of diminishing returns, where it's more annoying for users to have to learn new interaction mechanics than to simply stick with the ones they know, even if the new mechanics are slightly better in some way.

Rather, I think the area that really needs focused developer attention, and with bigger and more meaningful payoffs, is in bringing the most secure and hardened base systems up to full compatibility with the broadest possible application ecosystem/s. The best option for that right now appears to be Linux + Wine/Proton, ideally using a hardened Linux base like Qubes or SEL4 or similar and Nix/Guix-like reproducible builds, while integrating the extensive work already put into existing UI/UX/DE's. I think if hackers want to achieve this objective, then that's where they need to start and build a community around.

ShredKazoo11 hours ago

>Rather, I think the area that really needs focused developer attention, and with bigger and more meaningful payoffs, is in bringing the most secure and hardened base systems up to full compatibility with the broadest possible application ecosystem/s.

Do you have thoughts on the idea of HelloSystem re-implementing the Cocoa APIs so that it can run Mac apps "natively"?

SkyMarshal3 hours ago

That would be pretty cool, though they only mention Cocoa once in their entire site [1], so it doesn't sound like it's happening soon.


pjmlp2 hours ago

They would go the way of GNUStep, always playing catching up and never delivering the full experience of the original.

nine_k8 hours ago

I think OpenBSD has a lot to offer in this department: pledge(2) and unveil(2), various kernel-hardening features, and tother

But for mnacOS-like experience, much of this also needs integration with the GUI.

nequo4 hours ago

Unix-like WMs and DEs have an unceasing fascination with replicating the Windows and MacOS UIs. But one of the things that made MacOS/NeXTSTEP noteworthy was its out-of-the-box thinking. It would be much better to experiment with what the UI could be rather than copying what it was.

To some extent GNOME seems to be doing this. I haven’t used Windows in too many years to count. But as I recall it, the GNOME of today bears little resemblance to it. Keyboard focused, minimalistic, yet has a modern aesthetic and it is multi-monitor ready.

It would be good if there were more DEs that were courageous or experimentative enough to follow suit and break with Windows and MacOS UIs. Do something that’s different. Something that’s neither GNOME nor those things. That would be the original Mac philosophy.

pjmlp3 hours ago

They never replicate the developer experience, of whole stack frameworks with quite nice productive tooling and modern languages.

I guess nowadays KDE is the only one that comes close, GNOME doesn't really know what they want to be and everyone else never cared about full stack experience.

The way pixels are rendered is a tiny part of the OS experience.

oneplane14 hours ago

Sigh, here we go again. These keep popping up and a few months later the projects are dead again because it turns out this isn't all that feasible without both massive engineering capacity and an ecosystem to go with it.

Most of them that manage to get to the point of a UI that doesn't look like Fischer-price fail on the ecosystem (i.e. they have no ecosystem at all, or they try to shoehorn an existing one on top like a standard ports/apt/yum repo from another distro).

Besides that, the FUD in the README doesn't really help anyone since the masses care very little, and even if they did care, they almost never have what it takes to look at the sources, and even the small subset that does is practically not even checking a single package's sources.

If they just stuck to a "we want something that feels like 2005 apple" tagline it would have been a fine project to fiddle with for fun, but as soon as grand statements are made ("reinvent the Mac") we're back into generic "things few people care for"-territory.

jackson144213 hours ago

Agreed. And even in their cherry-picked screenshot there are several UI bugs/inconsistencies that would drive me insane as a daily user.

I'll just take KDE plasma.

smm116 hours ago

I'll be good if that Linux install I did in maybe 2000 that used full-screen Navigator as the file manager and desktop itself came back to life.

colanderman17 hours ago

OS X "Aqua" theme, 20 years on, looks dated to me in a way that the 40-year-old Susan Kare-era design of the original Mac OS does not. I can't put my finger on why, but I think it has something to do with "arbitrariness".

joshmarinacci15 hours ago

While it was garish its purpose was to stand out and attract attention so the the Mac wouldn't die. It worked. I think the toned down version of Aqua released only a couple of years later for Snow Leopard still looks pretty good today.

Rimintil13 hours ago

I always preferred the 'platform' for the Dock vs. the background we currently have.

I do wish windows rolled up into a bar like MacOS Classic did it.

kitsunesoba16 hours ago

I don't think "modern" flat UI designs will fare any better with time, and maybe even worse. Already, the earlier variations of flat UI (Windows 8, iOS 7, OS X Yosemite, Material 1.0) to my eye look more dated than Aqua during its prime (OS X 10.6-10.9) does.

TheOtherHobbes15 hours ago

Aqua had a lot of aesthetic positives. 3D skeuomorphism blends more easily with the real world compared to flat UIs, which lack presence and make computing feel less tangible and more disposable.

You could easily manipulate the scroll bars in Aqua, which is a useful feature that has been lost in recent updates.

And it was just plain fun and relatable, while flat UIs are more corporate and functional.

Flat reminds me of 1950s/mid century corporate design - inoffensive, but claustrophobic.

BuckyBeaver14 hours ago

There's a happy medium, though. Overly-photorealistic controls are actually counter-productive, especially when incompetently chosen. For example, at the height of Apple's cheeseball skeuomorphism was Game Center, which featured such things as "velvet" card-table surfaces with "painted" labels on them... but those labels were actually controls in some cases. Now who sits at a blackjack table and tries to interact with the paint on the velvet in front of him?

Another example was the "LCD" display at the top of iTunes, depicted as having a transparent cover over it with a sheen and highlights. Unbeknownst to most users (I suspect), some of the labels in that display were actually clickable controls. WTF? I've owned numerous audio components with displays behind clear plastic windows, and I've never tried to poke at one with my finger.

I think mid-'90s GUIs hit the right combination of graphical (not photographical) with universal visual cues. Buttons had only three or four monochrome shades, but had beveled edges whose shadows inverted when the button was "depressed."

I'm glad to see some backlash against the lazy obscurity of "flat UI," and a return to some proper demarcation of controls.

miffy9001 hour ago

Generally agree here. However the Apple icons of the pre-flat-design-era, even the really skeuomorphic ones, were always pretty great; I always thought they summed up most of their respective apps pretty well. For instance, for Gamecenter, the icon for it before iOS7 was quartered, with a chesspiece, baseball bat, rocket ship and dart board in each quadrant.

They really didn't need to change it. It's now just 4 coloured bubbles, which symbolises...what? I always thought it was just so...random. It's the most irreverent icon of the iOS home screen since iOS7.

mech42214 hours ago

I agree - I love the old '3d' interfaces, and Aqua in particular. The new 'cell phone' interfaces are just a PITA. Really hard on my old eyes - no real indication/border around buttons, no color cues, often not even a place to grab the window and drag it around. Everything is just the same drab shades with no differentiation between elements.

As the 'cell phone' folks get older and eyesight gets worse, I think we'll see things shifting back. I basically don't use a cell phone for anything except 2fa cuz the silly lil screens are too hard to read.

pndy13 hours ago

Hot take: the current mobile flatness we see all around mostly serves dark patterns schemes and it's anti-user by default. It's easier to hide options within an interface that has no clearly distinction between link and the button, the interactive object and just the decoration. That helps trick users to pick something they didn't want or make them keep the defaults that works against them.

And by the way, may I suggest you try to search on the Internet what GNOME desktop environment developers did to theming with their libadwaita and flat Adwaita design. For a start:

mech42212 hours ago
creatable10 hours ago

libadwaita disallowing themes is not a user-hostile decision (rather an accessibility one), nor are themes impossible.

mech42212 hours ago

I was always camp KDE - but that libadwaita thing sounds horrible... Maybe Rasterman is due for a comeback - enlightenment desktop looks pretty nice!

HollowEyes14 hours ago

I think I have some cognition issues, and can only read eink and off of crisp OLED. Love touch screens, pointers etc. But don't much like Apple iOS style.

mech42213 hours ago
astrange15 hours ago

You should look at them on a monitor from that year to get the right impression in either case. Aqua especially will look weird on a modern actually-good LCD or OLED.

sedatk11 hours ago

I think the opposite. The Metro UI of Zune and Windows Phone from more than a decade ago still look so futuristic. They feel like sci-fi screens. The design language may not have been adapted to desktop in the best way, but they look great too IMHO, especially after Windows 11 overhaul.

graypegg16 hours ago

I think arbitrariness is a good way to put it.

Was in an era when full colour bitmap graphics were becoming effortless to draw on screen, so let’s make EVERYTHING a high res texture! That will prove how modern and powerful this machine is! But now, it’s less impressive so the sheen doesn’t sparkle as much.

Where as maybe the older 1bit display of an old Mac isn’t trying to sell you anything thru UI fancyness. The fact that it’s not impressive technically is maybe less of an issue when it was obviously not the thing they wanted you to focus on.

artificial15 hours ago

Reminds me of NeWS [0] which was a Window Manager driven by PostScript. [0]

flohofwoe15 hours ago

Fully agree. It's the same 'bubble gum' look as Windows XP. What were they thinking with those buttons and scrollbars?

On the other hand, MacOS9's UI style has aged remarkably well:

(minus the media player, ugh)

robinsonb514 hours ago

Funnily enough I was playing with a couple of old PowerMac G4s a couple of weeks ago (actually wiping them for disposal - though I've since decided to keep at least one!)

I realised very quickly that I'd forgotten how good the OS9 interface is, and how well it stands up against today's offerings. Trying out a lookalike theme on Linux [1] is definitely on my todo list:


layer815 hours ago

Around 2000 was peak usability in terms of UI design for both MacOS and Windows.

TimTheTinker14 hours ago

Modern macOS is remarkably usable compared to that time, especially with a few tweaks in place (Magnet app for window management, three-finger dragging, etc.)

It's really easy to forget how far we've come. Going back to an old OS and trying to get some real work done can be eye-opening.

Doctor_Fegg15 hours ago

I spent large parts of my life with System 7/8/9, but looking back on it now, you'd have thought Apple would have designed a better italics...

flohofwoe2 hours ago

Hard to do on such low resolution displays where every single pixel stands out. It would have been better to avoid italics completely in most of the UI.

cmrdporcupine14 hours ago

"lickable" I think was the phrase Steve Jobs used for it.

Remember that Apple had just made a killing selling jelly-bean aesthetic iMacs (running classic Mac OS 9, even). The Aqua stuff matched the physical case design of those machines.

It all goes along with the late 90s / Y2K times, intense colours. "Run Lola Run" and Fifth Element and late 90s club culture and whatnot. Nothing restrained about that era in terms of style. It was boom times end-of-millennium and that aesthetic continued even for a bit after the .com crash and 9/11 deflated the tires.

Also as others have pointed out, it had to do with "we can do this now'; the graphics hardware and the software stack (showing off "Quartz" etc)

guerrilla15 hours ago

I'm still waiting desperately for some DE to get back to this. GNOME 4x has in some ways but obviously not in others... Please someone re-make an OS 9-like UI for me.

hexagonwin14 hours ago

mlvwm is available and also works on modern *nix. (worked on gnu linux and freebsd at least)

zokier15 hours ago

One part is that the original OSX pinstripes-and-water Aqua and the brushed metal look that followed were extremely distinctive, and comparatively short-lived. That combination makes them inherently pinned to their period. The classic Mac OS design was comparatively blander[1], and changed more slowly.

[1] What was it with 90s and having medium-grey be dominating UI color? And everything having faux-3d bevels?

ndiddy12 hours ago

> What was it with 90s and having medium-grey be dominating UI color? And everything having faux-3d bevels?

In the 90s, most large software companies (especially OS vendors) would run usability studies with real-world users at a variety of skill levels to try to make their software as easy to use as possible. Everyone used medium-gray as the main UI background color because it makes colored elements easily stand out, and doesn't affect an element's perceived color. Everything had faux-3D bevels because they make it obvious which elements are clickable, and which aren't.

jahewson7 hours ago

I… don’t believe this. Reviews of the day were preoccupied with drooling over the graphics capabilities, given that it’s a mostly-objective thing to compare and were often the only visible thing that changed in an OS release. If you look at the embellishments that UI picked up they evolved in lockstep with the capabilities of the hardware. As soon as there was sufficient color depth for shadows, then shadows were added. Once that expanded to sufficient color depth for gradients, then gradients were added. Same with transparency. Once MS Windows got a GPU compositor in Vista we got “glass”.

flohofwoe2 hours ago

It's the same thing as with lens flares or god rays in 3D games. There were phases where every game had completely overdone lens flares or god rays. Eventually the madness ends and designers are coming to their senses again (until the next madness starts).

flohofwoe2 hours ago

Even modern flat design has gone back to (subtle) 3D hints.

As for the medium-grey: I guess that had mostly to do with the properties of CRT displays.

HollowEyes14 hours ago

Colours were pretty crap on CRTs. And greys were better on the eyes than dazzling whites. Even Netscape defaulted to grey.

I took fvwm and a very simple blue bar, trim and simple window buttons. And weirdly now it looks pretty modern and fresh.

Anyway there's always the bizarre windows fisherprice theme, and over used chrome gradients there to help you bring up some bile.

smm1111 hours ago


flohofwoe2 hours ago

...Sun, SGI, OS/2, AmigaOS 2.0 were all "grey desktops" with 3D bevels, Next was hardly standing out there.

AmigaOS 1.x had a blue background color, but this was mostly because home computers were used on cheap TVs at the time, where white-on-blue seems to have been the color combination that gave the least video artefacts and flickering.

jszymborski16 hours ago

It is possible we haven't hit the right part of the nostalgia cycle with the OS X Aqua theme.

colanderman15 hours ago

Classic Mac looked equally good to me 20 years ago.

Wowfunhappy16 hours ago

Which era of Aqua are we talking about here? I generally group Mac OS X design into four broad buckets:

• 10.0 - 10.4

• 10.5 - 10.9

• 10.10 - 10.15

• 11+

colanderman15 hours ago

I was referring to the earlier iterations, with "shiny" buttons, lots of gradients, etc.

11+ to my eyes has more of a "timeless" potential. It's a bit more utilitarian, less showy and particular.

giantrobot13 hours ago

The early Aqua look and feel was informed by the industrial design of the Macs running it. Consumer Macs were very colorful up until about 2003 and had a lot of the texture effects the Aqua L&F was emulating.

danaris15 hours ago

Wasn't only the first of those actually called Aqua? I don't recall exactly when Apple officially retired that designation, but it was well before the current era.

kitsunesoba15 hours ago

Internally, even the current UI is referred to as Aqua. Or more specifically, aqua and darkAqua, depending on if dark mode is desired.

Wowfunhappy15 hours ago

I don't know, but I've seen some people use "Aqua" to refer to the design through 10.4, through 10.9, or through the present day.

torstenvl16 hours ago

Agreed. The more idiosyncratic aesthetic features, the more something is marked as associated with a point in time.

Cf. shaker furniture and Amish furniture vs. mid-twentieth-century furniture.

JieJie16 hours ago

I wonder what Mac OS X would have looked like if Susan and Bruce had been given access to the power of a G3 and millions of colors instead of chunky bits.

I imagine it would have looked like a very, very well-designed iPhone app: soft and welcoming, yet with delightful new features that became apparent with use, and serious functionality that would stay out of the way until it was needed.

I bet MacPaint would have looked a lot like Paper or Procreate.


csilverman15 hours ago

You mean System 1.0? The designers of Mac OS X did have access to the power of a G3 and millions of colors :-)

It's a very interesting question, and honestly, I don't know how good it would have looked. I know what a lot of websites (including Apple's) looked like when designers had access to full color, bevels, drop shadows, etc. They looked terrible. I think those technological limitations—no color, almost no RAM, no hard disk—are one reason the original Mac GUI looked as good as it did. There just wasn't room for anything else.

That said, the primary reason why the first Mac OS was so tasteful was because Susan Kare is an excellent designer, and would probably not have made the mistakes I described above. (The Lisa had all those limitations too, and an extremely similar feature set, but if you compare the Lisa GUI to the Mac's, it looks a lot rougher and more inelegant. Kare was not involved with the Lisa, and it shows.)

So who knows. I'd love to see someone reimagine the original Mac OS using a more contemporary design language; would be an interesting experiment.

(Also, if you meant Bruce Horne, he was a software engineer; he wasn't involved with the visual design as far as I know.)

jfb14 hours ago

I would like to see a system that acts like classic System 7, too. Less Unix sludge, more focus on a single interactive user. More explorability, more hackability. A computer that feels like your computer.

I'm not sure that the Spatial Finder needed to die; the standard excuses (we have too many files! our displays are too large!) feel knee-jerk and not well thought out at all.

alrs12 hours ago
flenserboy12 hours ago
JieJie10 hours ago

Sorry, my mistake. I meant the original System 1.0 but instead of a 68000 processor they had a G3 and accelerated color graphics.

And the Bruce I was referring to was Bruce Tognazzini.

ithkuil14 hours ago

Things first get old, then they become antique

_a_a_a_16 hours ago

Dated or just plain worse?

dang16 hours ago


HelloSystem - - Oct 2021 (39 comments)

Hello system, a FreeBSD-based OS designed to resemble Mac - - Feb 2021 (267 comments)

Hello: Let’s make a FreeBSD for “mere mortals” - - Nov 2020 (1 comment)

criddell16 hours ago

What's the permissions model like? I'm on board with

"Because we want to run apps from unidentified developers that need no blessing by the operating system vendor"

but I also don't want that cool calculator application I just downloaded have access to the network, my webcam or microphone, my photos, email, or really any files outside of the ones in its directory.

I do have nostalgia for the way computers used to be, but there have been a lot of OS improvements since then that I don't want to give up.

kitsunesoba16 hours ago

I agree that third party applications shouldn't be given carte blanche by default. Third parties are best assumed to not be well-behaved, because it's been proven many times over that devs can't be trusted to keep their hands out of the cookie jar and to follow best practices (which I say as a dev myself).

The extent of moddability and control afforded by Mac OS 9 extensions with their ability to patch the OS itself in memory as they pleased was incredible, but it was ridiculously insecure and unstable which makes that model untenable today. Applications having full access to everything is no different.

zzo38computer9 hours ago

> but I also don't want that cool calculator application I just downloaded have access to the network, my webcam or microphone, my photos, email, or really any files outside of the ones in its directory.

I think that the way to do should be capability-based security with proxy capabilities, and that can be controlled directly by end users. (The existing ways (user accounts, existing sandboxing systems, etc) have many problems, in my opinion)

However, I think this HelloSystem is based on BSD so it would use POSIX. (EDIT: Now I found apparently FreeBSD has a capability mode too, so maybe it can use capabilities.)

phendrenad26 hours ago

Can't agree. The solution to this problem historically was to only download a shiny new calculator app from trusted sources. So only official builds of open-source or software made by reputable software companies. Too limiting for many people though, in particular techies.

holistio5 hours ago

I've been using a Mac since 2013 and I've become so distanced from everything else that a few weeks ago I was surprised to hear that Windows 11... exists.

Before then, I spent a considerable amount of my teenage days trying to make various Linux distributions look like OS X.

This doesn't really feel much more than what I did back then.

The reason we prefer a Mac is because the whole ecosystem works the same way, follows the same guidelines and, most importantly in recent years: because if you bought yourself into the Apple ecosystem, it just works together.

One example which HelloSystem will probably never be able to do: I open an authenticator app on my iPhone, tap the code and then just hit Cmd-V on the Mac. I do this several times a day. _This_ is the Mac experience's edge today, not the rounded corners and whatnot.

savy914 hours ago

Curiously the example you mention is exactly what you get by using Linux with KDE and an Android phone using KDE Connect.

donatj13 hours ago

The hero here I see, that isn't shown on that page is Application Bundles. Being able to drop a single .app in the Applications folder and have it work is one of the biggest selling points of macOS imho.

The docs page have a lot of interesting technical details that the linked page either gloss over or do not touch. It's worth a look to see why this is seemingly more than a skin on FreeBSD.

ThePowerOfFuet13 hours ago

>Easily be understood by switchers coming from other operating systems with similar application distribution formats

Interesting use of the plural form of _operating systems_ here.

ozten13 hours ago

I am very attracted to this idea. I want a clean desktop daily driver that prioritizes UX.

I love many of the UX-focused priorities, but a much larger % of their priorities such as Linux vs FreeBSD aren't high for me and don't seem end-user focused.

An interesting idea I had never thought to question was considering "App Stores" as package managers.

"Package managers for end-user applications: Those are aimed at "managing the system", whereas everything that is to be managed on our system can be managed in the file manager and/or other GUI elements. --> Use package managers to produce a system image, which is considered immutable for the end user (like on almost every embedded system/software appliance)"

Good food for thought. Elsewhere they criticize App Stores for their commercial and centralized aspects. But I don't really see an issue with Ubuntu's App Store. It is just a GUI instead of only offering CLI, right?

pjmlp3 hours ago

How can it have an original Mac philosophy, when it lacks the UI/UX polish and OS frameworks for every level of the programming stack combined in a single development experience?

kemayo9 hours ago

Might make sense to change the title? It's making a claim that the website itself doesn't -- it just says "Desktop system for creators with a focus on simplicity, elegance, and usability. Based on FreeBSD. Less, but better!"

"Original Mac" this is not. "Original OSX", maybe.

can16358p15 hours ago

While I fully agree with the privacy reasons, I frankly think new flat design UI is much better and cleaner.

Whenever I see something from pre-flat era either on macOS or iPhone, I want to vomit.

wejick8 hours ago

The Readme so busy explaining what Apple are than what's this about.

neruthes10 hours ago

Much as I respect and appreciate these efforts in maintaining compatible alternatives to canonical Mac OS X and Mac OS XI, in modern days I would prefer to run Mac OS X/XI applications in my GNU/Linux system over some compatibility layer (FoundationLibc, CorePulse, PicQuartz, Melkan, etc), because, in the years after leaving Mac OS X, I have establish new workflows which are mainly GNU-based.

I still want GarageBand and perhaps Processing / Glyph, but I prefer embedding those Mac OS X/XI apps in my GNU workflows. Rebooting to another OS wastes time and virtualization has performance penalty; neither is fun.

r00fus13 hours ago

Honestly I really liked Aqua. Flat UI may be easier to work with (debatable) but seems so characterless.

Something to be said about the right amount of chrome in your UI to remind you "where you're at" instead of getting lost in the content.

artificial17 hours ago

Will have to dig into this. Seems pretty, would be nice to pick apart the API, looks like Python with PyQt is what most utilities are written in. The crux with not being mac/windows is driver performance. It's a bummer it takes such a massive effort to support hardware.

xwkd16 hours ago

Supporting hardware is pretty much what operating systems are supposed to do. Computation always supports some human end. Humans are doing a lot more with their hardware these days.

user393938216 hours ago

It’s based on FreeBSD so maybe the driver support isn’t too bad (?)

artificial16 hours ago

Correct, compared to Linux it's a redheaded step child. I love FreeBSD and the resources behind Linux are enormous. I wish things turned out differently in the 90s. Total tangent: If I had Musk level funding to allocate for a pet project it would be Haiku. A purely single user desktop focused OS which happens to featured grafted on FreeBSD hardware support. I'd love to throw a meager billion at it and shake things up ;) I do all my real work on servers as it is and FreeBSD is viable for hardware, just look at the PS4, so no shade at pulling drivers where you're able to.

torstenvl13 hours ago

I think a much better approach would be porting Pantheon to FreeBSD, and patching Pantheon to allow a global menu as an compile-time option or user configuration.

All the other stuff can come later. IMO it's a bit overly ambitious (I'd be happy to be wrong!) and I fear it dying prematurely.

sdwvit7 hours ago

Tried it, it's far from alpha. Too bad, I hoped it would at least recognize my hardware. (wifi card and gpu not recognized)

ChrisArchitect14 hours ago
snvzz13 hours ago

>Modern Architecture

I wouldn't call FreeBSD (or any UNIX(1971)-like system) modern.

A modern architecture would be something like Genode[0], a multi-server system built around the concept of capabilities.


Findecanor13 hours ago

FreeBSD does have Capsicum [0] though — with file descriptors as capabilities. FDs can be passed between programs over UNIX datagram sockets.

Processes can enter "capability mode" where only open (or rather: active) file descriptors can be used. There used to be an alternative runtime for FreeBSD called CloudABI [1], with which native programs could be started in capability mode, but it was discontinued in favour of WASI [2] (server-side Webassembly) — which adopted CloudABI's libc API.

0: <>

1: <>

2: <>

snvzz10 hours ago

It does and that's great, but it's not the root from which the system is constructed.

FreeBSD is a clone of UNIX, and all it takes is a single kernel bug for the system to break down as a whole. Yet, considering the kernel's size, it's not hard to extrapolate that there is far more than one bug.

This is not a very good architecture. In 2023, it is very far from the state of the art, and absolutely cannot be called modern.

userbinator8 hours ago

The word "modern" is just marketing fluff at this point.

rob-olmos17 hours ago

Relatedly I wish Mac's "mission control" and "app expose" was better, becomes difficult to find frequently used windows.. seems to place windows in random places. It'd be nice if it made it easier to see browser tabs.

I liked the the UI/UX of David Gelernter's "Scopeware" layer, that seemed like it would be a nice alternative to either of those.

dkonofalski15 hours ago

I use Spaces a lot with Mission Control and now Stage Manager. Anything that's vital gets a full-screen space and I can just swap between them with a swipe or with Ctrl+L/R. It's very quick and I never need to search for windows outside of 2 or 3 swipes. I've also turned off the automatic ordering so my calendar is always the last swipe and my email is always the first.

kitsunesoba16 hours ago

I'd like to see a return of Spaces as they were in OS X 10.6, where they could be arranged in a 2D grid. That felt really nice and no desktop environment to date has reproduced it exactly, though a few Linux DEs get close.

qwerty4561279 hours ago

I doubt this is going to be practically useful but the manifesto is worth reading.

stuaxo15 hours ago

What is this using as it's GUI, and file manager etc ?

wmf15 hours ago

It's using Qt and they're writing their own file manager. I didn't check whether they're starting 20 years behind by using X11.

ozten13 hours ago

Are you suggesting they should have chosen Wayland? I think they have a good argument against it:

"Wayland: Under development since a long time, it offers no clear advantage over Xorg while it makes things more complicated (e.g, breaks screen recording) --> Use Xorg instead, or (maybe even better) no X server at all but pure framebuffer (like *ELEC does for media centers). Also see "

wmf12 hours ago

If you think those are good arguments then... enjoy helloSystem I guess.

ozten12 hours ago
jevgeni3 hours ago

Please don't quote Snowden as some authority on privacy

SilentM6816 hours ago

I tried to run it in VMWare and VirtualBox and it just kept on rebooting the VMs.

r00fus14 hours ago

The readme seems out of date - the privacy issue for CSAM is essentially not an issue anymore - Apple has no plans to do on-device scanning.

giantrobot13 hours ago

Correction, Apple has given no public commitment to completely shelve their on-device scanning. There's no guarantee they won't try boiling the frog with their CSAM scanning plans.

goodSteveramos12 hours ago

I wish they would enable the CSAM scanner for children’s accounts when parental guidance is turned on. That makes so much sense. If my child is being abused I want to be notified. But instead they shelved it because they couldn't get their spyware installed. Shows how much apple really cares about children and how much they care about spying on us.

malermeister16 hours ago

It feels like if they really wanted to go for the original Mac philosophy, it might've made more sense to use something like GNUStep as the base instead of Qt.

There's even some precedent, but it never really took off:

tgv15 hours ago

The mac (nextstep?) philosophy contains at least building blocks for common UX tasks, Cocoa, which gradually grew over the various versions of OS X. I remember being quite astonished about what you could do with an array controller or two: parts of the UI practically wrote themselves. And it was all consistent across apps.

"Qt on FreeBSD" simply isn't the same, even though it may have copied the rounding and color of the buttons. I get that GNUStep simply isn't there, and will never be, but this looks like three raccoons in a trench coat.

malermeister14 hours ago

Yeah I feel like this project should've tried to get GNUStep to a usable state instead of putting a skin on top of Qt.

kitsunesoba16 hours ago

IIRC the problem with GNUStep is that it got stuck at a version of Objective-C and Cocoa/AppKit roughly equivalent with that of OS X 10.6 and would take a lot of work to even catch up to modern Obj-C and Cocoa, let alone get Swift integrated into.

pjmlp2 hours ago

Which proves the point that this project will never be the Mac philosophy.

nsonha9 hours ago

> simplicity, elegance, and usability

Yet it copied low usability UI elements such as global menu bar and that big ass wasteful dock. What is the innovation here?