I have always been a fan of Apple’s default desktop patterns. Beginning all the way back in 1993, when I thought the circuit board desktop pattern in System 7 was “pretty cool.”1 Starting with the release of Mac OS 8, and the ability to set full screen desktop pictures, Apple began releasing some really fun default desktop wallpaper. Gone were the limited 8-bit patterns of the past. The default Macintosh desktop was now full-color, full-screen, and filled with 3D geometric shapes and parading UFOs. How cool was it that Mac OS 8 “knew” the flavor of iMac it was being installed upon, and set the desktop wallpaper accordingly? The Mac was clearly the underdog in those days, but providing cool and unique default desktop patterns was just one of the ways Apple choose to “Think Different” for every Mac, straight out of the box.
With the release of Mac OS 9 Apple default desktop patterns began to take an exciting new turn. The parading spaceships and 3D capsules were still available, but Apple decided to take on a more subtle tone with its default wallpaper Instead of in your face flying 3D objects, we got abstract ribbons of overlapping color available in hues matching most of the “Five Flavors.” Quantum Foam was the new default desktop pattern for Macs without an official color scheme. Its stylish purple hue could be seen on many a Macintosh desktops, giving Mac OS 9 a more refined look than its predecessors.2 While Microsoft was still pushing “sod,” Apple’s desktop imagery was evolving into a sophisticated brand of its own.
The trend towards subtle more sophisticated desktop patterns continued with the dawn of Mac OS X. Only this time the default desktop patterns were restricted to Aqua Blue, and Graphite Gray to match the new look of Apple’s flagship operating system. With each new major release of Mac OS X the Aqua Desktop was refined, starting with 10.2 Jaguar, continuing in 10.3 Panther, and concluding with 10.4 Tiger.3 Often imitated but never duplicated, abstract default desktops became the norm among OEM PC vendors until the trend was solidified with the release of Windows Vista which boasted an abstract default desktop of its own.
Starting with the release of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, Apple choose a decidedly different approach to default desktop wallpaper. Instead of continuing the popular line of Aqua blue desktop patterns that had helped make Mac OS X so identifiable, Apple choose a new Space theme for the next four versions of Mac OS X. Aurora, the pink nebula colored desktop pattern which was first featured in Leopard, was a clear advertisement for Apple’s new backup technology Time Machine. The break from Aqua blue was fitting given Leopard’s new pinstripe-free look. A revised Aurora desktop appeared in Mac OS X Snow Leopard, while Lion and Mountain Lion continued the space-theme with two different Photoshoped renditions of the Andromeda Galaxy.
The public unveiling of each new version of Mac OS X has brought a new default desktop picture, and a new hunt to find a full-res copy of that wallpaper before the official release. The introduction of OS X Mavericks was no different, only this time instead of a space-themed galaxy or nebula, Apple decided to bring Mac’s default look and feel back to earth. I don’t know about you, but I think the Mavericks Wave is the best default desktop wallpaper the Mac has seen in a long time. I have made it the desktop wallpaper on my Surface RT tablet at work, and my Linux machine at home.4 You don’t have to be a Mac user to appreciate a good desktops pattern, but the attention to detail Apple takes towards choosing a default wallpaper means excitement for Mavericks will build long before it hits the shore.
Of course I was 10 at the time. ↩