Mac OS X Lion first take: Apple's next big cat

Apple shows some of the new features in the next release of OS X, particularly those that involve application and multitasking management.

Topher Kessler MacFixIt Editor
Topher, an avid Mac user for the past 15 years, has been a contributing author to MacFixIt since the spring of 2008. One of his passions is troubleshooting Mac problems and making the best use of Macs and Apple hardware at home and in the workplace.
Topher Kessler
4 min read

OS X 10.7 "Lion" is the eighth major release of OS X, and comes with a new philosophical approach to the Mac. Apple has been using OS X for the "Mac OS" as well as the underlying OS for the AppleTV as well as the iOS on iPhones and the iPad, and is now looking to bring some of the innovations in the iOS back to the Mac OS to enhance the Mac experience.

The first is multitouch gestures, a feature that has been progressively implemented into OS X with Apple's multitouch trackpad, Magic mouse, and Magic trackpad input devices. While many might imagine a touch-screen option for notebooks, Apple is not going to go in that direction, indicating user fatigue as the main problem with that approach, but also that it is just cumbersome for most users. Instead, Apple will be concentrating on the horizontal approach to gestures and inputs that we have seen in the multitouch trackpads, and is leaving the onscreen gestures to mobile devices.

The second feature is the implementation of the Mac App Store on OS X. This is available as a standalone application that you can put in your Dock, which will open and show a view into the store similar to the iTunes store. It will allow you to better discover new applications as well as offer easy one-click purchasing and installation of applications. When applications are purchased, they will immediately show in the Dock along with a progress bar indicating the download and installation progress for that application. When the progress bar is done, the application can be launched immediately.

While Apple is advertising the new App Store for Lion, the program will be available for Snow Leopard within 90 days, so stay tuned. Apple has a developer kit to hopefully get other applications into the store besides its iLife and iWork suites, and we expect that like the current App Store for the iOS, it will populate rather quickly.

Launch Pad
Launch Pad looks like a mix between the iOS "Home Screen" and the Dashboard in current versions of OS X Apple

The next feature in Lion will be the Home Screen feature called the Launch Pad. This looks like a merge between the current Dashboard and the iPhone home screen, and it will show you the available applications on the system, which can be launched with a single click. Like the current Dock, you can create folders for applications, but the larger screen real estate allows for more to be viewed at once, and be better organized not only in folders but also on multiple screens. This addition makes us wonder whether or not Apple is going to be replacing the Dock with this new feature.

Beyond home screens, as with iPhoto and recent releases of Safari, Apple is concentrating on full-screen and has options for supporting applications that can be viewed in full screen, allowing users to take their own full workspace but also be flicked off the screen with a multitouch gesture. Apple is also working on implementing auto-save features for applications in OS X Lion, which has been a lacking option for many applications including Apple's own, since the implementation has been up to individual developers. This should also be a welcomed addition to the program.

Finally, Apple is trying a new approach to Expose, Dashboard, Spaces, as well as the new full-screen application support in Lion, which is to merge them all into a single view called Mission Control. This will show all running applications, with individual windows for each application being lumped into stacks called "clusters." This will likely be a huge relief for those who keep many windows open at once and get lost when Expose is invoked. It might have been nice to see a cover-flow feature implemented in Expose, but the clusters view looks like it will suffice.

Mission Control
Mission Control allows you to see all running applications on your Mac, lumping respective windows into "clusters" and showing full-screen applications in a separate section along the top. Apple

When Mission Control is invoked, not only are applications lumped together, but full-screen applications are shown in a separate section, allowing you to quickly switch between them as well. It looks like Apple is ironing out some of the clutter that can happen in multitasking environments, and Mission Control seems so far to be a good enhancement to previous multitasking management options.

These new features in Lion do bring up a few unanswered quiestions, such as what will happen to the Dock, or the Command-Tab switching abilities prior versions of OS X? Additionally, since many of these implement multitouch gestures, will they require the use of a multitouch input device? Many systems that should support Lion have limited multitouch options, so hopefully Apple will implement options for these systems.

Apple has just given us a preview release of Lion, and many of these answers will come over the next few months as Apple rolls out new information about Lion. The OS is on track to be released sometime in the summer of 2011, and if Apple sticks to its past reputation, that means it will likely be released in late September or early October. Meanwhile current and future information about OS X 10.7 "Lion" should be available on Apple's "OS X Lion" Web page.

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