Mac OS X 10.7 Lion preview

Apple engineers have been hard at work in the eight months since Apple CEO Steve Jobs first previewed Lion at last October’s Back to the Mac event. The next version of Mac OS X got a thirty-minute spotlight at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote where some of Lion’s 250 new features were demonstrated – and the new OS’s July ship date, £20.99 price tag, and Mac App Store exclusivity were revealed.

Multi-Touch gestures

If you’re still holding out for a touch-screen Mac, we have good news and bad news. The bad news is that you’re going to have to wait a long, long time – it’s never going to happen. The good news is that you can still get your Multi-Touch fix – without suffering painful arm fatigue – thanks to Lion’s many new OS-wide gestures. Rather than directly interacting with your Mac’s screen, you’ll instead use an input device like Apple’s Magic Trackpad (or, if on a laptop, a built-in trackpad) to swipe, pinch, zoom, and scroll. Far fewer gestures will work with the Magic Mouse.

Mac users have long relied on the mouse to painstakingly click, drag, and move windows around, slowing down productivity, but in Lion, Multi-Touch gestures have been implemented across the board, letting you swipe, pinch to zoom, and more – even momentum-based scrolling is system-wide. While Lion supports lots of brand-new Multi-Touch gestures, some are more familiar. In Safari, for example, it will be possible to use a two-finger swipe to go forward and backward in the browser; a reverse-pinch gesture will allow you to zoom fluidly, and you can swipe full-screen apps on and off the screen.

Launchpad looks an awful lot like an iPad’s home screen

By default, Lion documents scroll in the opposite direction, as if you’re pulling or pushing the content up or down. In other words, Lion’s two-finger scrolling behaviour works more like iOS scrolling than Snow Leopard scrolling. There’s still an option to turn that behaviour off – for now, anyway. Lion’s iOS-like scroll bars mean that we no longer need traditional scroll bars because we can now ‘push’ content using gestures. Lion’s default setting is to show scroll bars only when you gesture to scroll.

Full-screen applications

The Mac has traditionally displayed applications in adjustable, positionable windows. In contrast, on the iPhone or iPad, apps fill up the entire screen. While Lion keeps the basic functionality of the Mac window that we know and love, it also introduces a modern iOS-inspired compromise: full-screen applications. Click a button, and the program’s window will fill up your screen – eliminating the Dock and top menu bar – so that you can focus on the task at hand.

You can send an application into full-screen mode by clicking the fullscreen icon in the top right corner of the window. In full-screen mode, the application behaves like a devoted Spaces desktop. To switch back to your original Desktop and other windows, you can use one of Lion’s new Multi-Touch gestures, or a keyboard shortcut like Cmd-Tab.

Apple has integrated fullscreen mode into many applications in Lion including Safari, Mail, iCal, Preview, Photo Booth, iPhoto, iMovie, iTunes, Aperture, Keynote, Pages, Numbers, and Xcode. Mac OS X Lion will also offer developers an easy way to build this kind of full-screen support into their latest applications.

Mission Control

Devised to enhance and replace Spaces, Exposé, and Dashboard, Mission Control gives you an overview of everything on your system: windows, applications, and Spaces workspaces. Activated by a Multi-Touch swipe, Mission Control displays your current workspace and all its windows, grouped by application. You can get a Quick Look preview of an individual window by hovering over it and tapping the Spacebar, or isolate an application’s windows with a two finger swipe.

Spaces workspaces, previously managed within System Preferences, have taken root along the top of the Mission Control screen, and Dashboard has been converted from a hover overlay into its own workspace (positioned at the left end of the workspaces bar). You can drag applications and windows from desktop to desktop, and even add or delete desktops directly from Mission Control. Click on a desktop, and you’ll be taken there; and switch between them using a Multi-Touch gesture.

The Mac App Store

In addition to it being the only way to download Lion upon the OS’s July release, the Mac App Store – first introduced in Mac OS X 10.6.6 – will feature prominently in Lion. New store-related features coming in Lion include the ability for developers to add iOS-like in-app purchases, sandboxing (for heightened security), and push notifications to their apps.

The Lion version of the Store also offers faster software updates thanks to switching to ‘delta’ updates which only downloads changes in code rather than forcing users to download the whole OS file every time it’s updated.

Lion loves Magic Trackpads and laptop trackpads alike

Launchpad

A direct homage to iOS’s Home screen, Launchpad looks almost entirely like someone has copied an iPad’s Home screen and stuck it on the Mac. You can see your entire application library laid out in icon form, arrange folders, scroll through pages, and rearrange apps as and when you see fit.

This new layout offers simple application management for those who wish to avoid digging around in the Finder. You view Launchpad with a four-finger pinch gesture or by clicking its app in the Dock, and it shows all of your application icons laid out in an iOS-like grid. You can drag applications to organise them, create folders, and add additional screens. When you purchase apps from the Mac App Store, they’re automatically added to Launchpad – you can then track the current download status of an app via the progress bar icon within Launchpad.

Anyone who is in love with their iPhone may very well take a liking to Launchpad’s Home screen-like interface; but for experienced users with oodles of applications, it may prove too unwieldy for general use.

Resume, Auto Save and Versions

These three Lion features are designed to work in harmony with each other to keep your productivity high and workflow streamlined.
Nothing’s worse than having to stop something – say, browsing in Safari – to restart your computer, only to lose all the tabs and windows you were looking at. iOS solves this problem by allowing your apps to freeze their state upon exit or shutdown, enabling them to resume at the exact place you left off.

With Lion’s Resume feature, Mac owners can look forward to something similar. Resume lets applications freeze in place upon quit; when you relaunch an application, it will remember where everything was – open documents, palettes, windows, and the like – the last time you quit and restore everything precisely. The feature will also work system-wide, allowing you to restart your Mac, or log out, and bring it back to that state the next time you log in.

Auto Save, meanwhile, will automatically save every document periodically as you work, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally losing data. Via a new menu that appears when you click a document’s name in its title bar, you can also lock documents you’d rather not automatically save; duplicate documents to work on a copy; or revert to the document’s state when you last opened it. As before, you can also manually save at any time.

Versions works with the Auto Save feature to let you restore documents, or portions of documents, from earlier saves. You can enter a Time Machine-like interface to browse all saved versions of the current document; you can then cut and copy between an older version and the current version, or select an older version to restore in full. When you share a document with someone else, however, your revisions stay with you – there’s no need to worry about your colleagues and clients being able to browse the thirty previous revisions on their own computer.

Mail

OS X’s email client has got a full makeover in Lion, adding a new three-column view, a conversation view, message previews in the message list, search suggestions, colour-coded threads, and multiple flags. Conversations allow you to see every email from a thread – sent and received – grouped nicely; within the emails themselves, quoted text has been hidden, to allow for more coherent reading. If you start typing words into Mail’s search box, search suggestions will prompt you with ideas for what you were typing – names, subject headers, dates – which you can accept by hitting the return key on your keyboard. You can stack up multiple suggestions to create multi-tiered searches, like searching for one author and a specific subject line, for example. Also new is the Favourites bar, which lets you place frequently used mailboxes above the message list so you can hide the mailbox area.

Always on

With iOS, Apple has more or less been able to eliminate the notion of running apps versus closed apps. Now, it seems as if the company is attempting in part to translate that idea to Lion. By default, the OS eliminates the tiny blue indicator lights under applications in the Dock that let you know whether a program is currently running. While you can turn those lights back on in the Preferences pane, it’s another sign that Apple would like to blur the line between open and closed applications for the average consumer as much as possible.

Photo Booth

New effects coming to the program along with Lion include the Dizzy filter, which will animate a flock of birds circling over your head,
cartoon-style. The application will also take advantage of new face-detection technology that follows your face around the screen.

AirDrop

Designed to make it simple to share files with other users on a local network, AirDrop is a fully encrypted, peer-to-peer file-sharing feature that works over WiFi (and, strangely, only over WiFi). When you select the AirDrop item in the Finder’s Sources sidebar, you see other AirDrop users on your local network, each represented by an icon. To share a file, simply drop it onto the icon of the person you wish to send the file to. The receiving party will see a notification asking them if they’d like to accept or decline the transfer. If you think this feature sounds a lot like DropCopy, you’re not alone.

Developers

Developers will have plenty of new Lion tricks to tinker with as it features over 3,000 new APIs, including versioning, push notifications, gesture tracking, fullscreen mode, and lots more

OUR VERDICT

Lion promises a slew of other new and updated features waiting to be played with, including easier migration from Windows PCs; an upgraded version of FileVault; FaceTime; system-wide dictionary lookup; a Finder reorganisation and new All My Files section, organised by type; one-click archiving in Mail; Quick Look Spotlight results; iChat service plug-ins; window resizing from any edge; local snapshots in Time Machine; Exchange 2010 support and more. Lion will be available in July for just £20.99, exclusively from the Mac App Store. As with other Mac App Store-purchased software, you’ll be able to install that copy of Lion on any Mac that uses the purchaser’s Mac App Store ID.

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