Apple’s OS X Lion

One thing you can always count on from Apple is a good show. Monday’s keynote was no exception. First of all, the fact that Steve Jobs was there presenting was a pleasant surprise. Second and as if on-queue, there were plenty of hoots, hollers and applause at just the right moments. And most well-deserved in my opinion.A lot of what they presented had been anticipated, and even previewed by Apple, back in October. The new OS is called Lion and will be publicly available in July for a mere $30 — availability will be through the Mac App Store only (apparently no reboot is required, and I’ll believe that when I see it). The caveat here is that it’s only available if you already have Snow Leopard. There is no word yet on whether Apple has a plan for you if you’re not running SL, but I’m sure we’ll hear from them soon.

They boast over 250 new features. Two caveats to keep in mind is that third party developers will need to do a little, or maybe a lot, of re-engineering in order to take advantage of many Lion features. And don’t forget that Apple has a history of developing really cool stuff (that works really well) outside the Enterprise environment. Let’s take a look.

Multitouch gestures: personally I’m neutral about MTG. I love my mouse and find that I work really fast with it. However, this is something I need to ween myself off of, as I know there will be a day when the mouse is as antiquated as the ill-fated Flip camera. Gestures will be enabled in default applications, like Safari, but I’m curious to see if/when/how they can be used with InDesign, Photoshop or other design-based software. In addition, you might need to invest in the Magic Trackpad to take full advantage of gestures.

Fullscreen applications: yet another feature I’m neutral about. Fullscreen applications are exactly what they sound like; the application window displays in full screen, and you use a multitouch gesture (swiping) to switch to the desktop or other open windows. At any given time I have five to 10 applications open and perhaps dozens of windows open. Strangely, I like being able to see all of this chaos on my desktop. It supports my multitasking habits, and if I have to focus on just one thing at a time I don’t think I’ll get anything done. There’s some writing on the wall here with respect to intuitive user interface conflicting with my bad habits. It might be time to step outside my comfort zone.

Mission Control: this is more of the same. It’s like they want you to be organized, or something. For anyone who uses Spaces, Exposé, or the Dashboard, Mission Control will come as a big improvement because it combines all of that functionality into one tool. You use it with multitouch gestures and I’m looking forward to playing around with this one.Launchpad: think about the organization of your iPhone and now expand that to the space of your monitor. All of your apps have the familiar iPhone or iPad icon arranged into a nice little grid on your screen. In fact, if you hold down the icon for a few seconds you’ll see the familiar jiggle, which enables you to move or delete them.

Resume: this is like hitting a big pause button. When you relaunch an application everything — from the cursor position to highlighted text — comes back exactly as you left it. If you need to restart, let’s say for software updates, you’re not starting over; windows and applications open just as you left them. I hope this works because it is a very good thing. I assume that if you restart to clear up corrupt cache that the Resume feature won’t return this particular and problematic cache to your environment.

Auto Save and Versions: who doesn’t love an auto save? Applications need to be developed with this OS feature in mind to work, and as yet we don’t know which ones will support it, or how soon it will happen. But it’s too good of an idea to not run with it. And don’t mistake this for the simple act of saving a backup copy. Apple has re-engineered the process so that only changes to a document are auto-saved, not the entire document. What that means for you is conservation of disk space. Versions of a document are historical copies that are auto saved every hour, and each time you open it. What this means for you is that you don’t have to rely on shadow copy backups. Again, applications need to be developed with versioning control built in.

AirDrop: basically a peer-to-peer WiFi sharing function. On the surface this is pretty cool, but there are some limitations. You can only AirDrop to another Lion OS computer, and how this would work in an enterprise environment remains to be seen.

Mail5: an improved interface that makes better use of the space is only the beginning for Apple Mail. The big news here is that it’s compatible with Microsoft Exchange Server 2010. I look forward to comparing it with Outlook 2011, which I have to say isn’t too shabby.

The release of Lion has been a little more low-key than typical of Apple, which is ironic because I think the powerful and practical features they’ve introduced are going to change the way we use our computers.

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