At £20.99, OS X's seventh major release is cheaper, and likely more effective, than any other upgrade you could make to your Mac. With easier file sharing, improved backup and greater use of iPad-like gestures, it's like getting a whole new Mac for less than the cost of some RAM. It's available now from the Mac App Store.
Look and feel-ine
Where Lion's looks are concerned, little has changed beyond a new pop-up effect for dialogue boxes and a squaring-off of their buttons. The way you use your Mac, though, is significantly different, and for some it will take a little getting used to.
Scrolling now works in reverse, so to move down your page you push up on the trackpad or mouse. Likewise, to see anything to the left of your current view, you swipe right. Scroll bars, too, have largely disappeared, fading into view as you scroll and disappearing again as you stop.
If that sounds familiar, it's because we've seen it on the iPad, and it's not the only place where iOS has influenced OS X. The new Launchpad, which is accessed from the Dock or by pinching five fingers on the trackpad, lays out the icons for each of your Mac's available apps in an iPad-like grid, which splits in half when you open a folder.and
Gestures like this five-finger pinch are more important in Lion than any preceding release. Beside pinching and swiping, you can now push four fingers towards the keyboard to invoke Mission Control for an overview of all active applications, and while you can still use control and the arrow keys to switch between spaces (which are now set in a row rather than a grid), it's quicker to swipe between your virtual screens with three fingers. Safari, too, is now gesture-enabled, with two-finger swipes moving you back and forth through your browsing history.
One small but overdue change is the ability to resize application windows by dragging any edge or corner. Previously, it had only been possible to do this from the lower right corner, which meant you often had to reposition the window halfway through resizing -- a bone of contention for some PC switchers.
There's another nod towards the Windows way of doing things in the Finder, which now has an All Files view that groups your files and folders by type, wherever they might be on your Mac.
Saves you from yourself
Auto-save is now a core feature. Apple provides the hooks for developers to build it into their apps, so in the unlikely event your Mac crashes when you're using an enabled application, you shouldn't lose any data.
Applications also now relaunch in their last known state, so if you close Keynote or Preview with two or three files open, they'll be ready and waiting the next time you use it. We found this a mixed blessing, as we frequently quit an application at the end of the working day with no intention of returning to the same file in the morning.
We were more impressed, though, by Versions, which joins Time Machine, Apple's system-wide backup tool, to provide an equivalent feature on a file-by-file basis. Like auto save, it must be enabled by the app's developer, after which it takes snapshot views of your documents every time you save them, building an archive of previous states so that should you commit an edit too far you can roll back to a previous state.
Versions also allows you to lock files to prevent accidental edits. There's no password or encryption involved, so it's not a full-blown security feature, but it does have a neat side effect in that by locking a file you effectively turn it into a template, as all subsequent edits will have to be saved with a new name to prevent overwriting the original.