OS X Lion: The $29.99, Download-Only Operating System

In today’s WWDC keynote, Apple shared the usual set of Mac statistics that we now almost take for granted. Notebook and desktop sales are up, the platform continues to outgrow the PC industry as a whole, and everything is going swimmingly. There’s still a major bias toward portable computers – 73% of Macs sold are notebooks.

One of the headline stories centred around what to expect in their next operating system — OS X Lion — due for release in July 2011. Not only did Apple announce that this will be a download-only release through the Mac App Store, but it’s also their lowest priced operating system to date, costing $29.99.

Let’s take a look at what you can expect from the big cat!

Multi-Touch Gestures

You’ll now find that scroll bars only appear when you scroll – they’re hidden the rest of the time. The argument for this is that they’re no longer needed, as scrolling is done using your multi-touch device rather than clicking and dragging the scrollbar.

I’m all for reducing clutter, and this seems like a good idea on the whole. That said, I can imagine my grandparents wanting to turn this back on, or it becoming a major problem if you don’t have a scroll mouse. I expect this will be a setting rather than a forced change.

Gestures such as pinch to zoom and double tap zoom in the browser now work just like Mobile Safari, and a two-finger swipe takes you back or forward through your browser history (something I’m particularly looking forward to).

Full-Screen Apps

Most of the default OS X apps are now ready for full-screen prime time, and this is a feature we’ve been expecting since the early information about Lion was released. This is now implemented better throughout the OS, and with this comes a few tweaks to various apps.

Mail in Full Screen

Mail in Full Screen

Photo Booth, for instance, now offers “face detection effects” to target particular facial features. You’ll also see the interface change in apps such as Safari and iLife to make the most of this extra screen real-estate when in full-screen mode.

Mission Control

A simple gesture takes you to Mission Control, giving you a bird’s-eye view of everything on your system. It’s like Exposé + Spaces combined, with a space reserved for your Dashboard widgets as well.

Mission Control

Mission Control

Spaces are integrated in a slick manner, and can easily be created and deleted on-the-fly. It’s much more versatile than the previous method employed which always felt a little clunky.

Mac App Store

We already know that the Mac App Store has been a huge success, and the scale is impressive. Pixelmator made $1m within the first twenty days of the store’s launch.

The Mac App Store is built right in in Lion, and comes bundled with new features like in-app purchase, push notifications, and faster updating. This is done using “delta updating”, which means you don’t need to re-download the entire app when updating, just the differences.

Launchpad

Launchpad, in a nutshell, is the iOS application launcher on your desktop. You have the same icons, folders, and screens. Incredibly useful for some people, but not likely to replace your keyboard-based application launcher any time soon…

Launchpad

Launchpad

Resume

Occasionally, you don’t notice that something was really a big problem until a solution is given to you. Resume is one of those solutions, and means that your Mac will save its current state whenever you log out or restart. It’ll save everything – open apps, documents, web pages – you name it.

Whenever you close an app, it remembers exactly what you were doing before – right down to the text you had selected!

Auto Save

Another computer niggle you might have is the compulsive feeling of wanting to click “Save” every thirty seconds. No more, say Apple! Lion will automatically save everything in the background as you work, taking away the need to manually hit Command-S (though you can manually “Lock” a file to prevent it being auto-saved).

Versions

In conjunction with the Auto Save feature, you’ll also find that automatic file versioning is built in to the operating system. The appropriately (but unfortunately for some) named “Versions” will automatically store each saved version of the file as you work on a document.

Autosave & Versions

Autosave & Versions

It’s done with efficient storage (so only the variations of each file are changed, not the entire copy). Browsing through versions takes on a Time Machine-eque interface, and everything can be manipulated live – you can make any version the “current” one, and easily copy-and-paste between them.

AirDrop

Gone are the days of storing files on a USB flash drive to transfer them between computers. AirDrop is a new service that makes it simple to drag-and-drop a file to any other Mac on the same local network.

AirDrop appears in the sources panel within Finder, and you can see a display of yourself and the people around you running AirDrop t the same time. It uses a peer-to-peer Wi-Fi, requires no setup, and automatically encrypts the data you send.

If you never quite got to grips with your Mac’s public folder, this is a great addition to the OS.

Mail

Mail has received a major overhaul in OS X Lion, and it’s a welcome addition. You’ll find a heavily redesigned interface that’s notably simplified, with either a two or three column view (it, of course, works full-screen). The new Mail app borrows heavily from the iOS version.

Mail Redesigned

Mail Redesigned

One of the most powerful features in Mail is new logic-based search suggestions. You can quickly search for people, subjects, dates, and more, with natural language. These can be combined and saved as multiple “search tokens” to quickly sift through and find the message you’re looking for.

Mail in Lion also has a brand new conversation view, that shows you the entire thread that you can just scroll through, with attachments and accompanying information. You can drag a whole conversation if you want to file it away in a folder or archive.

Pricing & Availability

As mentioned previously, Apple is making Lion available for the ridiculously low price of $29.99. This compares to pre-Snow Leopard releases priced at over $100, and is a clear sign that Apple want to get as many users as possible transitioned over to the new operating system.

Also, for the first time on any platform that I’m aware of, the OS upgrade is solely available as a download. You’ll need to follow Apple’s instructions to be ready to install on day one:

If anything is going to test the stability and capacity of Apple’s new data centre, millions of eager Mac users attempting to download Lion at precisely the time should do the trick. We’ll need to wait until July to see how it holds up!

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