Apple released the first developer preview of Mac OS X Lion Thursday, offering a glimpse of what can be expected from the next iteration of its desktop operating system.
Slated for release this summer, Mac OS X Lion is all about fusing the worlds of Mac OS X and iOS together. On its Mac OS X Lion Previewpage, Apple sums it up best: “The power of Mac OS X. The magic of iPad.”
Some of the features in Mac OS X Lion have already found their way into Mac OS X Snow Leopard. When Apple formally announced Mac OS X Lion in October, the company showed off some of the new features that had already arrived in iLife ’11. The company launched the Mac App Store in January, and many of its UI elements (which look unusual in the context of Mac OS X 10.6) are carried over into Mac OS X Lion.
Multitouch, Multitouch, Multitouch
For the last few years, MacBook Pro (and Magic Trackpad) owners have been able to take advantage of multitouch gestures in Mac OS X. In supported applications, swiping fingers a certain way or using the pinch-to-zoom gesture will influence what you see on the screen.
In Mac OS X Lion, gestures and multitouch support consume the whole OS. Swipes can initiate system-wide features — like pulling up the new application dashboard Launchpad — and can also switch between applications, application screens or zoom in on specific content.
iOS Style App Launcher
Launching applications in Mac OS X has always been a bit odd. Yes, users can drag shortcuts of apps to the dock for easy launching — but there isn’t a system-wide menu way to pull up apps (unless one puts a shortcut to the Applications folder in the dock — which is what I do). That changes in Mac OS X Lion.
Using a swipe down gesture brings up a Launchpad that showcases every app on the system, iOS style. Users can scroll through and select apps. Similar gestures and support have appeared in the beta releases of iOS 4.3. Although those gestures aren’t expected to make the final release, it does show that Apple is working to unify how apps are accessed across platforms.
Mission Control is another new Mac OS X Lion feature. Apple demonstrated the features at its big Mac event in October but now we have a better idea of what the feature is and how it works.
In essence, Mission Control is the Expose feature in Mac OS X fused with Spaces. Open windows are grouped together by applications and the users gets a broad overview of every open panel and application, regardless of whether it is running full screen or not.
We’d also like to see something like this implemented in future versions of iOS.
Auto Saving, Built-in Versioning and Resume
Apple is introducing a system-wide auto-save feature in Mac OS X Lion. That should help prevent situations where a user writes a 2,000 word post in a text editor, forgets to hit save and then loses the entire thing when the text editor decides to crash. Wouldn’t it be nice if the OS itself could help avoid that?
Mac OS X Lion will also create and store versions of documents as they are written. Previous versions can be accessed, Time Machine-style, from a cascading window setup and older versions can be reverted with one click.
Apple is also introducing new technology that will let users pick-up exactly where they left off even after restarting their Mac. That means performing a system update won’t require a user to open every document or URL window after a reboot.
It also means that after you quit an application, you can open it up exactly where you left off.
Mac OS X has long been the gold standard for having a solid standby/resume system for its laptops and desktops. I’ve had laptops in sleep mode for four months that have resumed exactly where they left off (after the battery was re-charged, of course).
Making resume even better should help facilitate that “always on” feeling you get using the iPad.
Mac OS X Server
Rather than sell as a separate version, Mac OS X Lion will come with Lion Server built in. This is a unusual move for Apple. Last year, the company discontinued its Xserve line, focusing instead on the Mac mini Server and Mac Pro Server offerings.
We don’t think the message here is that Mac OS X can’t power a network server — it absolutely can. Instead it might be a recognition that central file servers are less necessary than they used to be. Regular laptops and desktops can be easily configured to run as a server.
In my house, we have five Mac OS X machines running at all times. We have a media server running FreeNAS in a closet. But in reality, we don’t need any server software to communicate or exchange files between Mac machines.
A very cool feature in Lion Server is file sharing for the iPad. When configured to support WebDAV, Lion Server can offer iPad users access to documents in apps like Pages, Keynote and Good Reader. For businesses that embrace the iPad, this is a great move.
Preparation for a Touch Based Future?
It’s very clear that iOS — especially the iPad — is influencing the future direction of Mac OS X.
The success of the iPad, the new MacBook Air and the Android tablets indicates that the portable computing device many of us use in a few years won’t be a laptop, but a tablet. I would expect to see a MacPad — an iPad/MacBook mashup — in the next few years.
With that in mind — and knowing that Apple has some interesting patents on touch-based technology — I wonder if Mac OS X Lion is being launched as a kind of transitory OS.
There are fundamental differences in how touch-based systems like iOS operate compare to traditional input systems like Mac OS X or Windows. Not only are user interface and user experiences different, the way information is accessed is different too.
Mac OS X Lion is the first step in bridging the gap between those two universes.