Verdict: A feature refresh for OS X after nearly two years, that brings all kinds of new goodies.
Mac OS X 10.7 www.apple.com
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo or above; RAM: 2 GB; HDD: 7 GB space available
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When Apple showed how it was planning to take the best features of iOS “back to the Mac” earlier this year, it was hard to tell whether or not such a move would be a good idea. Already, iPads and iPhones seemed more important to the company than its Macs, and we were asked to believe that making Mac OS look and feel like iOS would be a good thing. Now that it’s here and we’ve had a chance to get a solid hands-on, Lion’s iOS-inspired features have begun to make sense. There’s no denying that Lion feels very different from the versions that have come before it, but thankfully nothing about it has been dumbed down or simplified at the cost of power and flexibility.
Breaking with tradition, you won’t be able to buy Lion on DVD. You’ll have to download all 4 GB of it from the Mac App Store (which, by the way, requires the latest Snow Leopard updates). On the other hand, Launchpad, the most visible iOS import, is not by any means the only way to launch programs. If you prefer an iPad-style icon grid with folders and pages, it’s always there for you. If not, nothing prevents you from using the dock, Finder, or regular shortcut icons. Mission Control, another headlining feature, is an improved Expose, which shows all open windows grouped by application as well as Spaces, all arranged sensibly. Apps can now run in fullscreen, which partially fixes one of the biggest irritants Windows users will have faced. Not all apps take advantage of this, and many of those that do rearrange themselves and look completely different, rather than simply scaling to fill the screen. One feature we turned off instantly was reversed scrolling—swiping a touchpad or scroll zone now moves documents in the opposite direction, to feel more like you’re swiping across a touchscreen. It’s confusing and doesn’t translate well. On the other hand, having scroll bars are hidden by default and making window contents stretch and bounce at the end of a page seemed quite natural and were easy to get used to.
More importantly, Lion completely changes the way applications handle files. The traditional concept of saving work can in fact be done away with completely. Much like iOS, programs by default open up to the state you last left them in, which means any content you’ve created or edited is also preserved. Save dialogs are essentially redundant, and the OS just keeps on saving versions of anything you’re working on. You can browse through your version history and selectively restore parts of an older version, save a copy, or revert to it entirely if you need to. These features work together beautifully, and while they’ll be a godsend for those who habitually forget to save their work (or those who just don’t want to bother), they raise some serious privacy concerns. If you get into the habit of just forgetting about saves and deletes, people might find things lying around that you never wanted them to see.
Other, smaller changes abound too. Lines are cleaner, colors are lighter, shadows are reduced, and curves are more squared off in most windows and controls. Just like iTunes, sidebar lists now have monochrome icons instead of color. Several of the built-in apps have also been overhauled: iCal, Address Book and Mail now resemble their iPad counterparts. iCal’s leatherclad look won’t appeal to all, but Mail’s vertical inbox pane is much more convenient on widescreen displays. Usability improvements are also scattered throughout: you can drag files from Spotlight search results, share files between networked Macs by simply dragging and dropping, and iPhone-style autocorrect prompts dot the text you type. iOS has inspired some great features, and there's nothing that would make a Mac loyalist feel out of place.