Mac OS X Lion is now available in the Mac App Store. Snow Leopard users can upgrade to the newest cat-named release [Mac App Store link] for $29.99. Apple has opted to officially drop the Mac OS X moniker for Lion ā itās just OS X Lion.
OS X Lion boasts more than 250 new features and is being billed as taking the best parts from iOS and marrying it to the best parts of OS X. Apple last updated OS X two years ago with the release of Snow Leopard. That version of the operating system that runs Appleās desktop and laptop computers focussed mostly on performance improvements and āunder the hoodā tweaks.
Lion, released today, is a different beast; it has more than 250 new features and some of them will change significantly the way you work with the operating system.
Between Snow Leopard and Lion, something important happened. The iPad, dismissed by many as a gadget that nobody needed, proved to be enormously popular. So popular, in fact, that Apple has brought some of the features of the iPad operating system, iOS, back to the Mac.
This āiPad-ificationā of the Mac is most obvious in LaunchPad, a new feature that displays all the applications on your Mac on an iPad-style grid. You can even create folders and pages of apps, just as you can on an iOS device.
Experienced users may ignore LaunchPad. I had to remind myself to use it during my time testing Lion. If I want an app that isnāt in my dock, I habitually use Spotlight.
However, this isnāt a feature for power users. Itās a cleverly-targeted feature for those whose only experience has been on an iOS device – an iPad, iPod touch or iPhone. Thinking of moving from an iOS device to your first Mac? LaunchPad makes everything look a little more familiar.
If LaunchPad is the part of Lion that most looks like the iPad, there are changes right across the new OS that bring the feel of the iPad. The iPad, and other iOS devices, are touch-based experiences, obviously. A new range of multi-touch gestures in Lion brings some of that experience to the laptop and desktop.
There are two-finger gestures – swipes, scrolls and taps – that work within apps and three-finger gestures that work between apps. Swiping three fingers upwards reveals another new feature: Mission Control. It shows everything thatās running on your Mac on one screen. Itās a super-charged version of expose and itās much more useful. Iāve been using it constantly.
Bringing more gestures to the Mac isnāt a gimmick, itās a reflection of the way computing is heading. Around three-quarters of new Macs that Apple sells are laptops, all of which have trackpads. Last year, Apple released the Magic Trackpad – a stand-alone trackpad that for many users has replaced the mouse. I ditched my mouse for a Magic Trackpad last year and I havenāt regretted it for a second. I suspect Apple’s most recent mouse, the Magic Mouse, will be the last it ever makes. Trackpads – and gestures – are the future.
The gesture that will take the most getting used to in Lion is scrolling. Itās now the reverse of what youāre used to on a computer. Previously, scrolling down dragged the scroll bar downwards and moved the page down. In Lion, scrolling works the same way as on the iPad. Scrolling down the page drags the content down, not the scroll bar, and so you travel up the page.
Confused? You will be for about 48 hours until your brain adjusts. If you switch between a computer running Lion and one that isnāt – as Iāve been doing for the last week – that confusion could last a little longer. Still, it does make sense once you get used to it.
One more thing that will make sense to those who have used an iPad is the addition of full-screen apps. In the past, Apple has preferred to run apps in a window but that changed with the iPad. The smaller screen of the iPad makes full-screen apps a better option and the experience of the iPad ābecomingā the app that youāre running is one of the best things about Appleās tablet.
With Apple selling so many laptops – and having added the 11ā MacBook Air to its range – full-screen apps make more sense in Lion too. A three-finger swipe scrolls through your full-screen apps and Mission Control will show everything that youāre running. If youāve been used to working with windowed apps for some time itās easy to forget that full-screen is an option.
Iāve found that itās a better experience for some apps than for others. Running a browser in full-screen mode left too much white space on the screen for my taste. However, apps such as iPhoto and FaceTime – Appleās video chat app – are much better in full-screen.
All of the above represents an excellent reason to upgrade to Lion but I suspect the key feature, the one that will eliminate one of the most annoying problems with computing, will be auto-save. Every app in Lion, system-wide, can auto-save your work in the background. Even third-party apps can do it if their developers choose to add the feature. Those crashes, power failures, unexpected deletions or app closures might still happen but your work will be safe.
Thatās not entirely new. Googleās Chrome OS, for example, stores all of your work on the web and it auto-saves too. And, once again, iPad users will be familiar with apps that save in the background and re-open as you left them. Once again, this is how all computers will one day work.
Lion goes further than auto-saving. Every app can store a version history of everything you work on, enabling you to jump back to a version that you had two hours ago or two weeks ago. Lion stores only the differences between versions to minimise storage requirements.
Thereās more: apps will now resume in the state in which you left them. You no longer need to open your word processor and then go and get the document that you lasted worked on. It will open immediately. Furthermore, when you restart your computer, it too will resume in the state in which you left it, with all your apps and files open. This is a particular boon to anyone who has put off updating the OS because they donāt want to close all their apps.
Those features – auto-save, versions and resume – would be worth the price of the OS on their own. If there was nothing else in Lion but those features, I would still recommend it. In their quiet, background way, they will change your computing life.
There is one last feature that Iām going to mention. AirDrop is another simple little innovation that will make a huge difference to how most people use their computers. It allows two Macs to create a private Wi-Fi network and makes it possible to move a file from one to the other. Thatās it. It doesnāt sound like much but it means an end to sticking a file on a USB stick and moving it between computers or pinging the file up to a cloud server and downloading it again. Itās very easy to use and because the two computers create the wireless network entirely between themselves, it will work anywhere.
Lion is the first OS that Apple has not released on a disc. At the moment it is available only as a download from the Mac App Store for Ā£20.99. Itās a bargain at that price. Lion creates a recovery partition in case it needs to be reinstalled. For those who are worried about not having their OS on a disk somewhere, Apple will be making it available on a USB drive next month for Ā£55.
As Iāve mentioned, there are more than 250 new features in Lion. And there isnāt space to discuss all them here. Updates that Iām not going to discuss in detail include: the Reading List in Safari; a new look for iCal; a Windows migration tool to make switching to a Mac easier; conversation view in Mail; and improved search features in Finder.
If there is one theme that sums up Lion it is the simplification of the computer, something that has always been a key part of Appleās mission. Of course, boiling down an update this large to just one theme is not really fair, but thatās what stands out. OS X Lion makes your Mac simpler, without compromising its power. And itās $29.99. How can you refuse? [via The Telegraph (UK), LapTop Mag and Macgasm]