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Mac OS X Lion is revealed amidst a considerable fanfare on October 2010. Lets have a look at the first developer preview focusing on screen shots detailing user interface improvements.
While running the developer preview on my day to day machine, i was not able to see any big changes in work flow until some of the applications are updated to take advantage of Lion. Then, I did see plenty of interesting core OS-level features and eye candy additions.
Lion’s new app launcher is iOS styled. Most power users will still stick to the Finder, Dock, and Spotlight for quick access to apps. Novice users may love this iOS mimic. This iOS app interface includes folder support and direct application installs from the Mac App Store just like the iDevices.
Run Apps in Fullscreen
This feature in my view will be ignored by the power users but may be to the liking of the masses. Apple encourages developers to build full screen application views specially for Lion. Some apps will benefit much better than others for example, iPhoto and Safari look better and work well in full-screen mode, but opening iCal in fullscreen on a 27-inch monitor is bit too silly.
For the Power Users – Mission Control
While Launchpad and full-screen apps are aimed at the casual user, Mission Control is a feature only a power user could love. It’s a unified management interface for Expose and Spaces that comes up with a three-finger swipe up. It just makes it all easier to see at once. But still the Dock, command-tab switching, and the multitasking gestures all look more efficient than sliding into Mission Control to do the same.
Application Management / Multitasking
Running apps are no longer denoted by a little light in the Dock. Just like iOS, Lion is designed to manage system resources for the user, in an effort to make multitasking completely seamless. That means the system can freeze apps in the background just like an iPad, kill processes, and otherwise do whatever it takes to preserve the user experience.
It’s a nice idea, and we’re sure some people will love it. But I like to take control into my own hands when it comes to managing apps. For me, it’s a good thing you can always see what apps are running by pressing Ctrl-tab or by turning the lights back on in preferences.
Lion brings in a bunch of new multitouch gestures that make using the OS with a trackpad much more natural and smooth. So there are now more reasons for desktop users to invest in a Magic Trackpad as Lion means it. Three-finger swipes are everywhere in Lion — a swipe to the left to switch between Spaces and full-screen apps, a swipe down to show app windows, a swipe up to show Mission Control, a swipe right to show the Dashboard space.You can also pinch in with four-fingers – I mean three fingers and your thumb to bring up Launchpad, and pinch out to show the desktop.
Video showing Lion’s Gestures feature in action
Zooming by Pinch
Pinch-to-zoom in Safari is now just like Mobile Safari in iOS. It is zooming smooth the whole page, instead of just bumping sizes at fixed advances. It feels a bit half-completed code as of now as I can see some artifacts in zooming. We can be rest assured Apple will clear this up before final release.
A nifty new feature in Lion is AirDrop. Airdrop allows quick file transfer between WiFi Macs. Launching AirDrop makes your machine discoverable to other machines with AirDrop open, and swapping files is as simple as dragging and confirming. Also, you don’t need a router to use it. The WiFi chip in most newer Macs are able to rapidly switch back and forth between AirDrop and a standard network connection. Apple hasn’t said what the oldest machine with AirDrop support is, but we get the feeling even machines that are old will be able to use this new feature.
Sleep / Resume
Another iOS influence is that apps are now able to save state on exit and pick up right where they left off. Even if the system exits an app to free up resources, resume means it’ll look like nothing ever happened when you open it again. One has to wait and see how it works out on the desktop since applications use more memory and storage compared to a mobile scenario.
The most useful Mail app has got a major UI makeover in Lion. It has picked up a number of elements from Mail in the iPad. You’ve got a left column with all your messages and a preview pane on the right. Threaded messages are numbered in the new conversation view, which is a dead-simple idea that works really well. Search has also been dramatically improved with easy query-stacking options. Folders can be added to a new bookmark bar-style Mailbox Bar at the top fo the screen.
Address now looks like a book, and the cards are much cleaner. iCal has got a thorough makeover as well, with a new fullscreen mode and some new features, like an availability view that plots out all your free time in a day. QuickTime in Lion includes editing support and better export options, built-in support for Vimeo, Flickr, Facebook, and Mail. Lion has a number of new iOS influenced UI makeover in System Preferences but nothing major worth mentioning. FileVault has been completely re-worked in Lion. Now it encrypts whole disk, not just home directory. Preview has the ability to add an image of your signature to PDF files which is cool.
This is just a quick peek at the new Lions improvements. Most of Lion’s changes come under the hood, and we haven’t even touched on Server package that now comes standard with OS X install disc, and the million other features that have been tweaked or added in this release. It is clear that Apple is working hard to bring iOS-style computing to the desktop in a major way. I have already got a feeling we will see lot of coincidences between iOS and the Mac by the time Lion actually ships.