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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Windows X

Mac OS 9 Funeral
Steve Jobs declares Mac OS 9 dead at WWDC 2002.

Last week Microsoft announced Windows 10, an update that tries to pull the tablet chocolate out of the traditional PC peanut butter. And while the conversation about Windows 10 should really be about how Satya Nadella seems to be backing his company’s flagship product away from the abyss, instead the focus seems to be on the name.

You see, Windows 10 is the next update after Windows 8. Imagine if Apple had announced the iPhone 7 last month instead of the iPhone 6. Microsoft skipped Windows 9! Numbers are confusing.

If it sounds like an April Fool’s joke, that’s because it was—last year.

Old Mac users may recall that there was a period where a version of Mac OS X was shipping (the first betas of OS X Server) while Mac OS 9 still hadn’t appeared. Apple jumped from OS 8 to OS X, and Mac OS 9 (which was initially beta tested as Mac OS 8.7) was a backfill release that ended up as the final version of the classic Mac OS. (Rest in peace, Mac OS 9—No, seriously, Steve Jobs held a funeral for it.)

Who can blame Apple and Microsoft for being attracted to the number ten? Our species is born with ten fingers and ten toes. It’s natural. It’s a good marketing name.

But the name also apparently solves a major compatibility problem, owing to the fact that two previous versions of Windows were named Windows 95 and Windows 98. A reddit user named cranbourne posted that many third-party products test compatibility with those versions by searching for a version string that begins with “Windows 9”.

Sure enough, a visit to searchcode.com reveals more than 4,000 examples of developers using the phrase if(osName.startsWith("Windows 9") to check for Windows 95 and 98. So maybe jumping to Windows 10 is also a pragmatic choice.

This sounds ridiculous enough to be an Internet hoax, yet it appears to be real. And it led to a pretty funny joke from Ray Ozzie, developer of the ancient Windows program Lotus Notes:

Apple’s been riding X—Roman numeral style, of course—for 13 years. And the Windows experts I’ve been reading all seem pretty excited about what Microsoft is planning. Who knows? Maybe Microsoft will find some success and stability at the number ten, just like Apple has. And all without even requiring a funeral for Windows 9.

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