Though it won't be released to the public until some time in the summer, Apple has launched a developer preview of OS X 10.7 Lion.

The developer preview was widely expected to be coming soon and Apple has chosen Steve Jobs' 56th birthday to make it available, announcing the beta at the same time as a new range of MacBook Pros.

“The iPad has inspired a new generation of innovative features in Lion,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing.

“Developers are going to love Mission Control and Launchpad, and can now start adding great new Lion features like full screen, gestures, Versions and Auto Save to their own apps,” he continued.

Apple first previewed Mac OS X 10.7 Lion last October, promising that it would take some of the best features of iOS and unify them with OS X.

Today's announcement suggests that Apple is remaining true to that principle, with Launchpad, a new feature which provides a home for all your Mac apps similar to the iPad's home screen. It also supports full-screen apps that use the entire Mac display rather than a window.

Support for multi-touch gestures such as pinching your fingers to zoom in on a web page or image, swiping left or right to turn a page or switch between full screen apps and swiping up to enter the Mission Control feature are included.

Mission Control, is "an innovative new view of everything running on your Mac" and when you swipe up, your desktop zooms out to display your open windows grouped by app, thumbnails of your full screen apps as well as your Dashboard, and lets you instantly navigate anywhere.

The Mac App Store is built in to Lion and there are a host of other new features including a new version of Mail; AirDrop, a way of syncing Macs without using wires; and FileVault, a full disk encryption tool for local and external drives, that gives you the ability to wipe data from your Mac instantaneously.