Apple Mac OS X Lion: What’s new?

UPDATE: While Steve Jobs and co demonstrated Mac OS X Lion at WWDC 2011 in San Francisco, it occurred to us that there is little or nothing new to the features that we haven't written about already. So, here's the extensive line-up and explanation of the new bells and whistles of Lion that we first published back in February...

First announced in October 2010, Apple’s next generation operating system Mac OS X Lion has been seeded out to developers ahead of a summer 2011 public launch.

That means that while the likes of you and us have to wait a couple more months, developers creating apps for the new operating system get play with the new software early.

Their penance? It’s likely to be bug ridden, slower than you and us would find acceptable and generally not really ready for primetime. Still that doesn’t mean we can’t look at some of the new features we’ll be getting and what we should start to get excited about, does it now?

Aqua

A new OS means a new look and feel to all the buttons and menu systems that you use. While from the look of things Apple hasn’t gone crazy and changed everything, there will be changes nonetheless.

Called Aqua, it brings new popovers, overlay scrollbars, and much more; and with it a more iOS feel, as things appear and disappear when needed.

Why you’ll want it: Anything that will makes the OS look better will make working with it better, and from what we’ve seen this will be tweaks rather than a complete overhaul that you panic over when you see it.

LaunchPad

Apple calls this a “home for your apps”, but what it really means is that instead of an applications folder that sits buried deep in your computer you can now access them at the press of a button.

“Launchpad gives you instant access to your apps - iPad style,” Apple explains. “Just click the Launchpad icon in your Dock. Your open windows fade away, replaced by an elegant, full-screen display of all the apps on your Mac. It takes just a swipe to see multiple pages of apps, and you can arrange them any way you like by dragging icons to different locations or by grouping apps in folders.”

Think the grid formation on your iPad and then translate that to being on the screen. It should in theory make finding applications, and grouping applications a lot easier.

Why you’ll want it: It’s going to make finding your apps a lot easier than at present and means that you can bundle all your photo editing software into one folder, for example.

 

Mission Control

Mac’s have already got Expose, but mission control aims to supersize this by giving “you a bird’s-eye view of everything including Dashboard and full-screen apps all in one place."

Whether it’s because Dashboard hasn’t really taken off, or because Apple realises that lots of people use Expose all the time, none the less it’s going to be considerably helpful for those constantly losing application windows on their Mac. 

You’ll be able to see your open windows grouped by app, thumbnails of your full-screen apps, and Dashboard, arranged in a unified view.

Why you’ll want it: It will mean you start to use Dashboard widgets again, something you probably aren’t doing at the moment, as well as being able to quickly find stuff you’ve got open.

 

Gestures

Apple believes that if you are going to own a Mac, chances are you already own an iPad or an iPhone. If that’s the case you’ll be wanting to swipe and gesture your way around the interface like never before.

While Snow Leopard offers some scrolling and gesture support, Mac OS X Lion really goes to town with rubber-band scrolling, page and image zoom, full-screen swiping, and plenty more.

It’s either going to be a great thing or something that you find yourself having to remember as to what bit does what, as your screen dances the fandango when you get it wrong.

Why you’ll want it: It’s all about making your work flow easier and if that means you can start dancing your fingers around a trackpad, rather than having to press multiple key strokes on your keyboard or move around your mouse, that’s got to be a good thing. Anyone that uses two-finger scrolling on their MacBook will tell you they won’t go back.

 

Full screen apps

Yep another ode to the iPad again, this time it’s all about going full screen on your apps. While elements of iLife already have full screen mode, Apple are promising more full screen apps in this operating system either from them or from third party software developers.

“You can make a window in an app full screen with one click, switch to another app’s full-screen window with a swipe of the trackpad, and swipe back to the desktop to access your other apps — all without ever leaving the full-screen experience. “

Why you’ll want it: You’ll want it if you’re a casual user, but we doubt Mac users who multitask to the max jumping from email to web browsing to Instant Messaging apps and other bits and bobs you have running will appreciate it. Adobe tried the whole full frame app experience a long time ago and then eventually reverted back when later editions came out.

 

Auto Save and Versions

Ever been working on a document only to lose it because the app has crashed, or your computer's run out of juice, or because you where too stupid to press save instead of cancel? Well if that’s you then Apple should have you covered with two new features that will be coming to all apps that support it.

Auto Save in Mac OS X Lion automatically saves your work, while you work, saving changes in the working document instead of creating additional copies, making the best use of available disk space.

While it’s clear its marketing blurb is most likely referring to Apple’s own Pages application, it should, if third-party developers support it, work with other software applications.

The lock feature prevents inadvertent changes from being saved and automatically locks documents after 2 weeks.

Versions plans to take this one step further and records the evolution of a document as you create it. It works in an interface similar to that of Time Machine, allowing you to scroll back through you work as long as it's saved it. If you find that the documents you create takes less than an hour then this feature might not be so helpful. There’s no word as yet as to whether you’ll be able to change the time it saves.

Why you’ll want it: Because regardless of how many times you tell your friends that your Mac is like a solid rock and that it never crashes, if just once it saves your work it would be a godsend.

 

Resume

If you’re already a MacBook, MacBook Pro, or MacBook Air user you’ll probably already be used to just shutting the lid and then picking up where you left off.

Resume is hoping to take that one stage further by allowing you to “Resume” your Mac to where it was before you decided to restart your computer, perhaps because of a software update for example. Apple promises that whenever “you quit and relaunch an app, Resume opens it precisely the way you left it”, as long as that app supports the feature.

Why you’ll want it: It will allow you to turn your Mac off completely when you know that you aren’t going to use it, rather than just letting the battery slip slowly away when it's sat in your bag.

 

Air Drop

Another new feature is AirDrop, a small add to the Mac OS X Lion operating system that is likely to get a lot of use, especially amongst office workers and people who like to share.

It allows you to copy files wirelessly from one Mac to another with no setup.

“With AirDrop in Mac OS X Lion, you can send files to anyone around you - wirelessly,” says Apple. “AirDrop doesn’t require setup or special settings. Just click the AirDrop icon in the Finder sidebar, and your Mac automatically discovers other people nearby who are using AirDrop.”

According to Apple “You’ll even see contact photos for those who are already in your Address Book.” Users will be able to “share a file, simply drag it to someone’s name” and, “once accepted, the file transfers directly to the person’s Downloads folder.”

Users will be able to stop sharing with other people simply by turning off AirDrop. It’s also worth pointing out that you’ll need to be on the same Wi-Fi network for it to work, but still it’s likely to be very handy in an office environment.

Why you’ll want it: Because it will save you emailing things to people sitting next to you, or setting them up with a dropbox account. The catch of course is that they’ll have to be running Mac OS X Lion too.

 

Mail 5

A new OS means a new version of Mail, and Apple is promising a bundle of new features for its bundled email client. You’ll get a new layout that takes advantage of the widescreen display on your Mac.

You see the messages in your inbox as well as a full-height preview of the selected message. The new Mailbox bar gives you one-click access to your favourite folders. Plus a new way to search.

There’s also conversations that lets you see your emails in a threaded queue similar to Google’s Gmail.

Why you’ll want it: It should make reading your email offline a lot easier, although serious mail users will probably find that it still doesn’t deliver as much as they hoped.

Other stuff 

The features listed above are no doubt just the start of what is to come on the new OS, with new features being added as we edge our way to the launch. We will try to update this article as more and more features become available. 

What are you most looking forward to and what would you like to be added? Let us know in the comments below.



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