When OS X 10.7 Lion was first announced back in October 2010, it received a lukewarm response. Apple lifted the lid on very few of its features, and what was shown was useful, but by no means essential.
Since then, two things have happened. Apple demoed the OS X Lion to the media back in February, revealing far more of its secrets. Also in February, a preview version of Lion was released to developers, leading to inevitable information leaks on the internet.
We now know much more about OS X Lion than we did when we first previewed it. So what will OS X 10.7 bring us, and are we sufficiently excited?
Announcing Lion at the Autumn 2010 keynote, Steve Jobs said the new OS would bring features developed for iOS back to the Mac. “We started with Mac OS X, repurposed it for the iPhone and used it in the iPad as well,” he explained. “Now we’re bringing some of its ideas back to the Mac.”
And this philosophy runs through the heart of Lion. A new feature that’s obviously inspired by iOS is Launchpad, an application launcher that works just like the iOS homescreen. When you open Launchpad, open windows fade away to be replaced by a grid of application icons, just like you see on your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch. You can rearrange their position by dragging icons to different locations, and group them in virtual folders. And as with iOS, multiple pages of apps can be navigated with a swipe gesture.
Another feature making its way from iOS to Mac OS is fullscreen applications. With a single click, apps written to take advantage of this feature can fill the entire screen, with no borders or distractions. You can swipe between fullscreen applications and the desktop to use your apps that are not being viewed fullscreen.
Naturally, iLife and OS X-native apps such as iCal, iPhoto, Preview and Mail will have a fullscreen option, and system-wide support allows third party developers to include the feature in their own applications.
Mission Control combines Exposé, Spaces and Dashboard into a single feature, giving an overview of everything that’s open on your Mac. Mission Control groups open windows according to the application in which they’re running, making it much easier to find what you’re looking for. As such, thumbnails of Spaces-style virtual desktops and fullscreen apps are shown across the top of the screen, along with the Dashboard.
The way OS X saves your work has undergone a revision, with two new features added for Lion. Instead of pressing Command+S every couple of minutes, saving is automatic in OS X 10.7.
It does more than simply save a backup copy as you go, like Microsoft Word and TextEdit do already. Instead, it saves the changes that have been made to a document instead of saving the file in its entirety, so it doesn’t waste disk space. You can lock a document to prevent changes being auto-saved, and documents are automatically locked after two weeks.
The Auto Save feature is only available in applications written to take advantage of it, so remember to manually save documents created in non-autosaving apps.
The second new save feature, Versions, creates a history of a document as you work on it. A copy is automatically saved every hour and each time you open it (as well as manually whenever you wish). You can revert to a saved version of your document using a Time Machine-like interface, or simply open an older version and copy something you regret editing out, pasting it into the current document.
If you’ve ever put off installing a software update as you didn’t want the hassle of restarting your Mac while in the middle of something, you’ll definitely welcome Lion’s new Resume feature. When a Lion Mac restarts, it returns to exactly the same state it was in before it shut down.
Running applications relaunch and open windows reopen. It’s so comprehensive that if you highlighted text in an open document or app, it’s highlighted again on restart. This will prove incredibly useful, and a major timesaver; no need to save your work, close everything down and then relaunch it all after boot-up. With Lion, it’s all done automatically.
Like fullscreen apps and Auto Save, Resume is only available in (to use Apple’s term) “apps that have been developed to work with Lion”. Third-party developers will no doubt welcome the opportunity to take advantage of these exciting system features, but it remains to be seen how fast software will absorb another level of OS integration.
AirDrop is an exciting but limited transfer system that works over Wi-Fi. By clicking the AirDrop icon in your Finder sidebar, you’re shown every nearby Mac that’s also using AirDrop. If someone in your Address Book runs the Mac, the photo associated with the profile is also shown. To send someone a file or folder, you simply drag it onto his or her name.
AirDrop is peer-to-peer, connecting via Wi-Fi regardless of whether the Macs are on the same network. Transferred files are saved to the recipient’s Downloads folder, but only after being accepted; you can’t copy something to someone else’s Mac without their knowledge and permission.
Unfortunately, AirDrop is only for Macs running Lion. You can’t, for example, transfer a file from your Lion iMac to a colleague’s Snow Leopard MacBook Pro, and you certainly can’t AirDrop to a PC. The feature will be welcomed in the MacFormat office, where transferring files from Mac to Mac is commonplace, but if you’re in a mixed Mac-PC environment or not all local Macs run the latest version of the operating system, you’ll have to stick with Dropbox or USB flash drives.