Apple's newest iteration of their desktop operating system is coming mid-year, but we got a chance to play around with the developer beta to see some of the new features coming to Mac OS X. Here's what you can expect.
The main goal of Mac OS 10.7 Lion is to bring iOS-like features—particularly touch-based features—to the desktop. After some time with the upcoming OS, we can verify that it certainly does that, but it also adds a few other neat features—both for beginners and advanced users—to the desktop OS.
Below we'll walk through the new features and all the iOS-ified interface updates. Click any of the screenshots for a closer look.
Apart from the iOS-style tweaks we knew were included, Lion actually has some pretty great new features coming. Here are a few of our favourites.
Full Disk Encryption
FileVault can now encrypt an entire disk, which is more secure than its current implementation. It even asks you if you want to encrypt your drive as soon as you install OS X—which we've learned is one of the only ways to keep an SSD secure. And, seeing that Apple's really starting to push SSD usage, it's nice to know they're thinking about it (incedentally, Lion also contains TRIM support, to keep those SSDs running in tip-top shape).
AirDrop is a cool new feature of the Finder that makes it really simple to share files between computers. Before, this was a somewhat confusing and frustrating process, but now you just open up Finder, see all the nearby computers with AirDrop enabled, and you can send them files just by dragging them onto their icon. AirDrop will create an ad-hoc Wi-Fi network between the two computers and transfer the files for you—fantastic for less tech-savvy users that don't know how to share files with someone sitting next to them.
Built-In Version Control
One of my favourite new features is built-in version control, which lets you roll back to previous versions of a file, just like in Time Machine. Every time you save a document, it saves a new version of it. If you want to revert (or just review) an old version of the file, you can hit a button and enter a Time-Machine like view of the file's history, which is really, really great.
Another really nice feature is session saving. When you shut down your computer, you can choose to save your session, so when you turn your computer back on, it restores all your windows, exactly as they were when you shut down. Of course, if you're on a MacBook, you can always achieve a very similar result by just closing the lid of your computer, but it's nice to have this feature for desktops, too. Similarly, when you quit an app, it will resume to the same state you left it when you restart it, which is new (and pretty convenient) for both laptop and desktop users.
The interface is not unlike what you've come to expect from OS X. There are a few changes here and there (it looks like Apple's really going through with these monochrome icons they gave us in iTunes 10), but it won't shock you right off the bat—at least for most apps. Once you start using the desktop features, though, you'll notice some pretty big changes.
This is one of the features we knew was coming to Lion: an iOS-style application launcher. You can still browse applications in the Finder, but if you hit the Launchpad icon in your dock, it presents them in a nicer way. That's pretty much it. It's full screen, which means you can fit more apps on the screen and do less scrolling, which I suppose is nice, but I'm not sure why it's that necessary. You'll also notice that it displays folders in the /Applications folder like folders on iOS. Again, pretty, but not super exciting.
Exposé, Spaces and Dashboard are have all been combined into one view called Mission Control, and it's actually a nice improvement. Instead of spreading out all your windows, Exposé separates them by application, which makes it a bit less overwhelming when you have a lot of apps open at once. Your spaces are displayed across the top of the screen, and you can drag windows to and from spaces easily from this view. The dashboard is still the dashboard, and it's still just as isolated and useless as it was before...nothing exciting there.
Other Neat iOS-Style Elements in the Interface
These are all features we knew were coming. What we didn't learn about at Apple's presentation were the small interface tweaks that make everything a little more iOS-like. Some of these tweaks are pretty cool—the new version of Mail, for example, looks much more like the iPad app than the old version of Mail, which makes it a bit easier to browse through your messages. Threading support still isn't great, but it's pretty.
The other big thing in Lion is the focus on full screen apps. Some of the apps are just maximised versions of the window, while others, act a lot more like an iOS app in full screen mode. In Preview, for example, you can full screen a PDF or group of images and flip through them with multitouch swipe gestures, just like you would on an iPad. It's pretty neat if you want to give a specific app your full attention, but again, it seems weird for a desktop or laptop computer. It seems to me like if I was reading something in a leisurely enough style that I wasn't paying attention to anything else, I'd actually be doing it on iOS instead of my computer.
iOS-Style Elements That Are a Little Confusing
By the same token, what we didn't learn about at Apple's presentation were the small interface tweaks that, frankly, are a little confusing. For example, the dock doesn't show any lights under running applications. I have no idea why this was necessary, nor what we gain from it. In iOS, you can only really run one application at a time, but OS X isn't iOS—so it doesn't make any sense that it wouldn't tell you what apps are running alongside one another. Thankfully, if you head into System Preferences, you can put the dock lights back on.
Secondly, the whole OS has iOS-style scrollbars. What's weird, though, is that if you're used to two-finger scrolling on a trackpad, it's now backwards by default. Instead of dragging your fingers down on the trackpad to scroll down—as you do now—you drag your fingers up, like you would to flick up or down on the iPhone or iPad. Some of the writers at Lifehacker HQ found it pretty off-putting at first; others kind of like the idea. Currently there doesn't seem to be a setting to switch it back to the old style. Of course, this is a pretty early beta of the OS, so I wouldn't get too upset until we see the full version.
These likely aren't the only new features coming to Lion, but they were certainly the most prominent we found playing with the beta. Keep in mind all of this is subject to change, since it is still in the development stages, but hopefully this gives you a more in-depth view of what's in store for this summer. Got any thoughts, rants, loves, or hates about the new OS? Let's talk about it in the comments.