There's been  some talk on Lion's new user interfaces and the removal of active indicators to show active applications in the Dock. Does this mean the Dock itself is set for change? A recent Apple patent suggests change may be on its way.

A new European patent filing has emerged which describes an all-new system of "scrollable menus and toolbars." As described the feature is something that's set for both iOS and Mac OS devices, and represents another step away from hierarchical computer menus.

Lion, anti-hierarchical king of the jungle

It replaces hierarchies, by which I mean those endless lists in drop down menus, toolbars and tool palettes by a scrollable window, in which functions would be more clearly displayed and through which you'd flick using MultiTouch-style gestures.

Chicago Times' Mac pundit Andy Ihnatko recently said that the evolution of full screen apps within Lion underlines a move toward non-hierarchical menu structures, in which user convenience becomes ever more important, and navigation of an application's features becomes ever more transparent.

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"A great app should tell a story with a screenshot," Ihnatko said. In future, if you can't tell how an application works by looking at its screen, then the software is a failure in the interface.

Touch different

We do now understand that touch isn't going to be screen-based on a Mac, at least, not yet.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs recently confirmed there has been some heat in such speculation when he admitted the company had explored this, but Apple's answer (at least for Lion) is the Magic Mouse, Magic TrackPad and MultiTouch.

The focus remains the same -- transforming the object-based logic of Mac OS X into an object-based user experience in which complexity is replaced by clarity -- but with no loss of what is useful. Lion will be remembered as a moment when touch interfaces and user convenience became the new goals of the tech industry.

It isn't just change for change's sake. And is more important than ever as the installed Mac user base continues speedy growth.

It is all about the user, so Apple will allow Mac users to change the order in which commands or functions are displayed in the scrollable menu.

Depending on where you are (and, presumably, which gestures you may use) you will be presented with different options: File, Save and Print, for example, or key application-specific drawing tools, for example.

The new menu patent also offers you a range of different menu behaviors -- some menus let you select from a circle of options, others act like tickertape with a limited number of menus inside.

What this patent does underline is that Apple's experiments in touch continue, and given what we recently learned on Lion (which has many more touch-based gestures going for it) it remains true the company is teaching us how to use touch to control our Macs.

"Lion brings many of the best ideas from iPad back to the Mac, plus some fresh new ones like Mission Control that Mac users will really like," said Jobs, during the Apple event in October. "Lion has a ton of new features, and we hope the few we had time to preview today will give users a good idea of where we are headed."

Back to the Mac for WWDC

We can expect these new features to emerge in growing numbers as Apple moves to introduce its new OS. WWDC 2011 is likely to see a mass unleashing of features, as previous experience suggests Apple will release a beta version of the OS to developers at that event, following this up with a shipping release of its NeXT-descended OS some time in late September, or early October.

Signing off, following Apple's move to abandon the Xserve last week (because "hardly anyone" bought them, says Jobs), it has transpired the company is now prepared to allow for virtualization of Mac OS X Server, though only on a Mac.

This raises the question: While most industry observers don't believe Apple will ever allow for virtualization of the Mac OS on other platforms, will it be prepared to be a little more liberal when it comes to its server products?

Apple credits Egan Schulz and Tom Langmacher as the inventors of this International Patent Application, originally filed in Q2 2010 and published November 4, 2010.

Image thanks to Patently Apple.