Mac OS X Lion: A First Look

OS X Lion in the Mac App Store
OS X Lion in the Mac App Store

Today, Apple released Mac OS X Lion ($29.99 store | web­page). The oper­at­ing sys­tem is the sev­enth update in the OS X series (ver­sion 10.7), and it packs some of the most ground­break­ing changes into it.

For the first time in his­to­ry, a wide­ly dis­trib­uted con­sumer, pro­sumer, and enter­prise oper­at­ing sys­tem is not avail­able on portable media. The only offi­cial way to get Lion is to down­load it from the Mac App Store, or buy a new Mac­in­tosh with the OS pre-installed. The OS installer is quite large at 3.49 GB, and will take a while to down­load, even on high-speed con­nec­tions. (Apple is offer­ing to let peo­ple use its high speed wi-fi in its stores, should they be lucky enough to live near one.)

While Lion is tout­ed as being rev­o­lu­tion­ary — and it does in fact feel like a large change — the sys­tem is sol­id, depend­able. For many users, though, there will require some time to get used to some of the user inter­face changes. Instead of scrolling your fin­gers up to go up on the track­pad, you scroll them down to go up. Sim­i­lar­ly, you get to the left by mov­ing your hand to the right. This seems counter-intu­itive, though it is what peo­ple do on the iPhone and iPad. As you start doing it, you might feel like you’ve gone down Alice’s rab­bit hole; if you decide you don’t like it, you can go to Apple > Sys­tem Pref­er­ences > Track­pad (and/or Mouse) and turn off “Scroll direc­tion: natural.”

Among the key fea­tures Apple is tout­ing, there are some of note:

  • Mul­ti­touch — The oper­at­ing sys­tem sup­ports using ges­tures with sev­er­al fin­gers to per­form com­plex tasks, such as open­ing Mis­sion Con­trol (three fin­gers up) or change full-screen appli­ca­tions (three fin­gers to the right or left).
  • Full-Screen Appli­ca­tions — Many Apple appli­ca­tions, and prob­a­bly many appli­ca­tions in the future from oth­er soft­ware devel­op­ers, take advan­tage of a new fea­ture that has the appli­ca­tion take up the whole screen. This is espe­cial­ly pow­er­ful in Apple’s Mail and iPho­to applications.
  • Mis­sion Con­trol — This dis­plays all of your active desk­tops, includ­ing the Wid­gets desk­top. It has nev­er been eas­i­er to man­age mul­ti­ple work envi­ron­ments and switch between them. I may actu­al­ly use this, while I found Spaces to be con­fus­ing and dis­ori­ent­ing. It will be easy to have a brows­er open in one desk­top and a geneal­o­gy soft­ware pack­age open in anoth­er, and switch back and forth.
  • Launch­pad — All of your installed appli­ca­tions appear on a list that expands infi­nite­ly to the left and right. This clear­ly mir­rors the iPhone and iPad appli­ca­tion nav­i­ga­tion method, and looks to be an eas­i­er way to get to your pro­grams than either the insane­ly small icons in your dock (if you have as many there as I do!) or sim­ply nav­i­gat­ing to the Appli­ca­tions fold­er. You get to Launch­pad either with the Launch­pad icon in the dock, or using a pinch with thumb and three fingers.
  • Spot­light — One of the true inno­va­tions of Mac OS X, which has only recent­ly had com­pa­ra­ble func­tion­al­i­ty on Win­dows in recent releas­es, is Spot­light, sys­temwide search. The new ver­sion of the OS adds pre­views to the search results, help­ing you see if this item is what you were look­ing for.
  • Air­Drop — Sim­ple, no-con­fig­u­ra­tion-required wi-fi file shar­ing. This will be handy if you are work­ing with some­one and just want to give them the cen­sus image for their grand­fa­ther’s house­hold in 1930. This will allow a lot of peo­ple to leave their thumb dri­ves at home.

I am very pleased with Lion. While I can­not agree with Apple’s pre­dictable hyper­bole, it looks to pro­vide a lot of short­cuts to allow me to get from one appli­ca­tion to anoth­er with­out los­ing my place. It’s well worth the $30.

One warn­ing: Pow­er PC appli­ca­tions no longer run with OS X Lion, which drops the Roset­ta tech­nol­o­gy that made these work­able in pre­vi­ous ver­sions. To see what you will be leav­ing behind if you upgrade, log in as the Admin­is­tra­tive user, then type Option-Apple and select Sys­tem Pro­fil­er. Go to Soft­ware > Appli­ca­tions. Any­thing with “Pow­er­PC” or “Clas­sic” (that is, OS 9) will not run in Lion.