Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Mac OS X Lion

By James Mowery

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Apple has maintained the incredible look and feel of Mac OS X for nearly a decade, while constantly adding improvements that make the operating system more functional and accessible to its users. But Mac OS X Lion is set to drastically change everything. Will it be worth it?

What’s New

iOS Styling

The first thing you will notice when working with Mac OS X Lion is the subtle changes to the interface design of the included apps and system. Many interface elements have been redesigned in order to mirror that of the iOS experience. Buttons, tabs, bars, menus, and more are shifting to an iOS look and feel, and that is no mistake. It makes sense that Apple would want to merge the two diversified products into one, as to keep the Apple experience as cohesive as possible.

Finder

Then you’ll eventually notice a new feel to the Finder application. Apple has completely rewritten it of Lion, and the hope here is that it will be more stable, efficient, and accessible for everyone who uses it. Maybe users will no longer need to rely on third parties to significantly improve the Finder experience, but we will have to wait and see.

Launchpad

But you’ll eventually want to launch a few applications, and when you do, you’ll notice the new Launchpad feature. If you’ve ever used an iOS-powered device before, you’ll know what this is all about. But it is essentially an iOS-like launcher for your applications, which will surely fit well with the Mac App Store.

Mac App Store

Speaking of the Mac App Store, it is also making its way to Lion. The pizazz of the App Store has been lost because it has already been available to those using Snow Leopard, but you should expect that the integration with the Mac App Store will be even more refined and polished with Lion.

Full-Screen Mode

After you install some applications, you’ll be pleased to note that you can enter a distraction-free environment with a new Full Scree mode that is being introduced in Lion. This, too, takes a page from iOS, and it will surely help users to maximize their screen’s real estate to the fullest.

Mission Control

To manage all that is going on with Lion, Apple is introducing Mission Control, which will give users a birds-eye view of every application that is running, full screen apps included. If you’ve experienced Exposé, you already know what this is about. It is improved in that it integrates Exposé, Dashboard, and Spaces into one functional feature.

Versions

If something goes wrong or you need to take a step back in time, Lion’s new Versions feature will surely make you happy. It will act as a virtual Time Machine for documents, in that it will automatically save documents and allow users to flip back in time to previous versions. I can see this being immediately useful to everyone.

Resume

The ability to resume applications is also possible with Lion’s Resume feature. It lets you pick up where you left off when closing applications, which will surely make everyone happy when you have to restart or shut down your computer. It is also useful when you have to install some updates, you know?

Sandboxing

Just incase things go horribly wrong, Lion is introducing a Sandboxing feature that will prevent apps from crashing your system. While I haven’t experienced a single crash while using Snow Leopard, it is nice to know that Lion will further improve the reliability of the system.

HiDPI Display Support

Also noteworthy is ability to see on-screen content in higher resolutions with higher pixel densities. Apple is introducing new enhancements that will allow users to use higher pixel density displays that will keep things crisp and clear. Just be ready to shell out the big bucks for those beautiful displays.

What’s Improved

Gesters

If you enjoy multi-touch functions that Apple has integrated into their trackpad, you will be happy to know that the company is continuing to expand on this with new gestures that will allow for much touch-pad interaction with the operating system. Scrolling, swiping, pinching, zooming… it’s all there. And it will work similarly to iOS.

Productivity Apps

Those of you who take advantage of the productivity applications included with Mac OS X will also enjoy improvements to iCal, Mail, and Address Book. These applications will be receiving a facelift, in the form of cleaner and better organized interfaces. Mail, in particular, will feature a new layout better optimized for consuming email while iCal will feature a sleeker interface.

OS X Server Combined

Finally, Mac OS X Server is no more. The server functionality is being built into Lion by default. All of the existing server services, like Wiki, Web, VPN, Time Machine, chat, mail, contacts, calendaring, sharing, and more will be available with an easy configuration to boot. And a new Profile Manager will allow easier management of your Mac and iOS devices.

Collaboration

The ability to collaborate with Lion is also enhanced, mainly in the form of AirDrop, which gives users the ability to easily share files with other users on the current network. Simply select a user’s name and drop the file for it to be shared.

App Store + Lion

The last bit of news is only speculation at this point, but since Mac OS X Lion’s developer build was released to developers through the Mac App Store, it has been suggested that Mac OS X Lion will also be available for purchase and install through the Mac App Store. How this will work if you want to perform a clean install is beyond me, but there you go.

My Thoughts

If you are a fan of Apple’s iOS for iPhone and iPad, there is plenty to like. In fact, even if you are not a fan of Apple’s mobile operating system, there are still plenty of improvements that are worthwhile for anyone who runs Mac OS X. But if you do like iOS, OS X Lion will make you even happier, because OS X Lion is stealing a few pages from its iOS brethren, and it will never look the same.

If you despise iOS and the idea that Mac OS X is headed toward the same locked-down state that the iPhone and iPad thrive in, there is a good chance that you will not enjoy OS X Lion. But, honestly, what are you going to do? Not upgrade? That’s doubtful. But one would hope that the sheer amount that Lion is bringing to the table will be enough to win over the hearts of potential holdouts.

My feelings on OS X Lion are somewhat indifferent. I hinted before about the fact that Apple was eventually going to modify Mac OS X to act more like its mobile counterparts, so none of these changes really shock me.

If there is something I would have to pick on, it would be Launchpad. It seems redundant at best, especially when considering that the dock is much more functional and accessible. At least it is something you opt into and isn’t made standard. But Apple should have either remained loyal to the dock and not bothered with Launchpad or focused on Launchpad entirely and eliminated the dock. Having both is silly.

But I am really excited about the Full Screen, Versions, Resume, and Sandboxing features that Apple has added. I’m also happy to see that the company has rewritten Finder, which will hopefully result in much improved functionality.

The most significant questions remaining is when will Lion be available and how much will it cost. It’s a stretch to hope it will be similarly priced as Snow Leopard’s upgrade pricing was, but somewhere along those lines would be welcomed, especially when considering the possibility of Lion being distributed through the Mac App Store.

Overall, I think that Lion will be a successful upgrade that will earn the respect of Apple consumers. It might hurt a few feelings along the way — particularly those of the hardcore geeks who don’t like the direction this upgrade is taking OS X — but there is enough here to justify anyone making the upgrade.

About James Mowery
James Mowery is a passionate technology journalist, entrepreneur, and Apple enthusiast who has written for various top-tier publications like Mashable, Techi, and CMSWire. Follow him on Twitter: @JMowery.

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