Apple MacOS X Lion review

Apple's latest desktop OS gets back to the future
Photo of Apple MacOS X Lion
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Apple’s MacOS X Lion wasn’t promised to be revolutionary. Steve Jobs himself said so. What the company’s late CEO left out was that Lion is so reactionary that it has reached near-brilliance for a machine that doesn’t cook your meals or do your laundry.

Jobs said that Lion would be the next step in integrating portable devices with computers and laptops. On that, Lion definitely delivers. The most obvious change you’ll notice in Lion is that its default setting has you dragging text instead of scrolling through it. The previous version, Snow Leopard, had you scroll down to move down on the page. Lion has you dragging your cursor down to move up. This move was hailed as more natural, since it’s the way you would drag around a sheet of paper on a desktop or-incidentally-the way you would scroll on Apple’s mobile platform, iOS.

New dog, old tricks
In Windows 95, users could auto-save a document as often as they like. Lion’s new Versions feature copies this feature, but saves a different copy each time. It’s a small change, but one that authors, students and anyone creating a lot of documents will appreciate. Similarly, Windows users have always been able to place their computer on Hibernate mode, saving their desktop, but essentially shutting down their computer otherwise. Lion presents for the first time a similar feature called ‘Resume’.

F11 will make most applications in Windows full screen and hide the toolbars and windows. It’s done this for years. Lion is Mac’s journey to overtake and catch up with everything else out there, so it makes complete sense that they’re going back and including features Windows has had for years.

Apple MacOS X Lion Full-screen apps

Lion has even gone so far as to create new features based on free web-based programs. AirDrop is a mirror of Dropbox’s file sharing capabilities, with the caveat that you have to be attempting to connect with a Mac user who’s at least within 30 feet of you. FaceTime was revolutionary for the iPhone, but on a computer could easily be replaced by Skype. Spotlight provides a preview of files just as Google provides a large screenshot of a web page on search results.

AirDrop vs DropBox

Usability
Despite coming with a video intro before users can begin with the new OS, Lion is simple to pick up on. Several of the new touchpad-style movements are incredibly intuitive. Three swipes will bring up Mission Control, for example, where you can move between different screens. Checking your fantasy football league at the office has never been so easy to manoeuvre. None of the windows you have open on one screen will be shown on your active window.

The downward-swipe for upward-motion style of navigation feels completely foreign at first, but as long as you’re not frequently switching back and forth between a Mac and a PC, it’s completely possible to pick up in a few hours. Once you have the hang of it, scrolling down to go up begins to make sense and things begin-literally-clicking.

Most of the re-designed features in Lion have been designed precisely to make life easier. Versions is a great example of this. What’s easier than not having to remember to save your documents? AirDrop may not have all the functionality of DropBox, but it’s easier to use when you’re sitting near someone.

Similarly, you may find Skype will suit your purposes better, but FaceTime is sitting right on your desktop, waiting for you to come play with it. Full-screen apps might be nice with F11, but it’s even easier when you can simply pull together your thumb and three fingers on your touchpad (trust me, that gesture is easier than it sounds). Mac’s key strength has always been about making things easier to do once you learn all the shortcuts necessary to navigate it. Lion carries that tradition on.

Speed
Lion does indeed speed several things up, including the standard load time. Chris Burns from Slashgear writes that opening Photoshop took about half the time it did in Snow Leopard. To understand how great of an achievement that is, you have to consider that in the tech world, a few seconds mean everything. To shave off 10-15 seconds from a program’s load time based just on changes in the OS paves the way for heavier, more feature-laden programs.

Functionality
Some of the new programs Mac has touted haven’t actually made much of a difference to users. Others have radically changed the way a program behaves.

Apple MacOS X Lion Mission Control

Mission Control, for example, is neat. If you’re hiding things from your boss, don’t like several tabs open, or have a bit of an obsessive-compulsive addiction to a clean desktop, then this functionality will appeal to you.

If, on the other hand, you really don’t care what’s up on your screen, you’re more likely to be annoyed by having to search through to find which desktop you had a Firefox window open on. Simply put-it has the distinct possibility of making your computer more difficult to navigate instead of easier if you don’t precisely control what you’re opening on each desktop view.

Apple MacOS X Lion Launchpad

And all of this makes Apple’s Launchpad ever so slightly useless. You can find everything without doing the three-finger-and-a-thumb pinch already. With rumours flying around of a Mac with a touchscreen, though, it does seem like this would be a smooth bridge for users to transition over. As it stands now, however, it’s not going to change the way you use your computer in any significant way. Most users don’t use so many apps that they can’t cram them into their dock.

All change
Apple-based word processing programs have drastically changed due to Versions. Quicktime, too, has been given quite a facelift. If you don’t want to buy or use iMovie, Quicktime can actually take care of your minor video editing needs. You’re not going to produce Helen Mirren’s The Queen with this, but you might get close to chopping together a Blair Witch spoof. In addition to that, it can also capture video of what’s happening on your desktop. IT professionals rejoice – users are finally going to be able to easily capture their troubles and send them your way.

Company: Apple

Website: http://www.apple.com/uk

Positives
  • Smart integration of touchscreen-style interface.
Negative
  • Some of the innovations may not appeal.

Verdict

MacOS Lion is a big departure for Apple - albeit one with, in places, a bit of an ironically retro feel. While some new features are a genuine step forward for many users - and a smart move towards integrating standard desktop computers with portable touchscreen devices, there are other frills that may feel like a nuisance to seasoned Mac users.

In the end, it's little things like one program doing a simplified version of another's task that makes Lion so powerful. Apple has basically presented you with the best of everything it can think of, and then giving you options if you don't like it. Lion may not be presented as the OS that will change the future, but it's taking the best of what we have now and paving the way for future improvements.

Guest writer Jesse Langley writes from the Midwest where he stays busy with work, family, and all of his Apple products. He writes on behalf of Colorado Technical University.