Apple finally released their new operating system OS X Lion on Wednesday. I say finally because Apple have been teasing us with vague release dates for the OS since November last year. In fact the company were so secretive about their latest revision of OS X that they only announced it was officially launching the day before it became available for public download. But Apple’s secrets aside, how does Lion compare to previous versions of OS X and other systems available on the market?
The first difference between Lion and any other mainstream operating system is that it is distributed exclusively over the internet. The only way to currently get the OS is by purchasing it from the Mac App Store.
Like many others around the globe, I was pretty apprehensive about how well this would work, after all the download weighs in at a fairly hefty 3.75 GB. But I needn’t have worried as the download processed without a hitch. As soon as you purchase Lion, the icon sits on your dock (like with other OS X Apps) with a progress bar. Sadly this bar is far too small to actually measure the progress of the download, but it happily works away in the background and informs you when it’s ready to proceed.
For me the download took just over two hours on a connection which averages 5Mb/s. Pretty impressive speed when you consider how many people are downloading at once (over 1 million already!), guess that massive data centre is starting to come in hand for Apple.
Onto the operating system itself and the first thing that pretty much everyone will notice is that there’s a lot of new stuff from the iPhone and iPad. Now that’s not as bad as it may initially sound. I must admit that I was worried Apple could loose what was OS X by adding too much from it’s new favoured platform iOS. But the new features nicely compliment what we all know.
The most obvious example of iOS input is the new Launchpad. This new feature sits on your dock (although it can be activated through a button or gesture, more on them in a bit!) and when launched will show you all your apps on your computer, arranged as you may expect, in the same format as an iPad. Some have seen this as nothing more than a gimmick, but I disagree. Sure it’s not revolutionary, but without a Windows start-bar and little space on the dock, getting to all Apps quickly hasn’t been a strong point of OS X. Launchpad addresses this and gives a nice interface to find your what you want to use instantly.
Scrolling has also had an iOS makeover, which may take some a bit of getting used to. Instead of using a scroll bar at the side to move down the page, you place your cursor within the page and push the content up as you would on an iPad. It’s quite different to the desktop standard, in fact there isn’t a stationary scroll bar in site (they only appear when you need them according to Apple). This complete change of scrolling may seem odd, but actually makes a great deal of sense. It’s taken me a matter of a few hours to get used to it and guess what, I couldn’t imagine going back to scroll bars now, this is so much easier!
One more, perhaps controversial addition to Lion, is autocorrect, the much complained about iOS system which corrects you when you type the wrong thing. This is great a lot of the time, but can cause some quite annoying consequences when the computer gets it wrong (as it already has three times in this review). But overall I think autocorrect will be welcomed onto Mac, with a keyboard it’s much less likely for a big mistake to be made and thus autocorrect will be a help instead of a hinderance… I hope.
Without doubt, this is my favourite addition. Apple have been using trackpad gestures on their laptops for a while, but Lion takes this to the max. Need to scroll a page, push gently with two fingers. Back to the webpage you were just on? Swipe to the right with two fingers and the current page will happily move out of the way to present where you were. You can zoom by pinching, swipe between dashboard, desktop and apps by swiping three fingers and even push everything out of the way by spreading your fingers on the pad.
Theres a little bit of learning until you know what everything does, but gestures are already speeding up computing for me. yes it’s only a small amount of time saved, but the whole experience feels a lot more intuitive and simple. It makes the clunkiness of a computer disappear and leaves you with a smooth end-user experience.
Gestures of course also mark a clear step away from the Mac being a desktop computer. Although they can be used on an Apple ‘Magic Mouse’, they’re much easier to perform on a trackpad, the device of choice for a laptop. Personally I find trackpads easier than a mouse (after using purely laptops for the last four years), but I wonder if everyone will take the step and swap (desktop Macs can come with trackpads too). I hope so, because gestures really change everything.
Full Screen Apps
There’s always been something that Windows could do better than Macs – full screen. For years Apple computers had a distinct lack of a full screen option for most applications. But that’s all changed now with full-screen apps in Lion.
On the top left corner of all native apps (and already quite a few others) is a new full screen button. When pressed, everything else slides out of the way and you have your attention completely undivided withe the app filling your whole screen. It’s not revolutionary, granted, but out’s nice to finally have the option. It should also be noted that full screen apps scale to your screen very well – for example webpages in Safari adjust to the size of the screen you’re using for the best performance.
You could argue that this makes multitasking a little harder. Well Apple have thought of that too, swipe to the side and you can switch straight to your desktop or other apps in fullscreen. But maybe that’s still too difficult? Enter Apple’s other new toy.
A grand name for a grand idea. Macs have always been good at showing you all open apps with expose (which shrinks all windows so you can choose what you want to switch to and do so instantly). This has now been taken to the next level with Mission control.
Click the icon in the dock or swipe three fingers up and you enter this ‘birds-eye view’ of your computer. Your open windows are shown in the middle of the page, grouped by application for easy use. At the top you have access to your dashboard, desktop or any full screen apps you have open, making it easy to switch to these. You can also add new desktops to arrange your apps in the way you want to. Need to get back to them, simply enter Mission Control again and you can see exactly where everything that’s running is.
What I like about Mission Control is no matter how many apps I’ve had running, it always opens instantly on command – not even expose managed that. Without doubt a handy upgrade to an already very useful idea.
These are the main noticeable differences, there are plenty of others under the hood. Resume lets you shut your computer down completely, but still start with all the same applications open when you start up the next day – no extra start up time.
Versions an automatic save feature making it much easier to keep your documents safe. Make a mistake or lose what you were working on? Versions saves it for you so you can come back to it how it was before you wrecked your important letter! It’s not available everywhere yet (mostly just in iWork), but it could be a helpful feature for the future.
Mail has received a much need upgrade. Gone is the horrible presentation and slow loading times, in is a (you guessed it) more iOS interface arranged into three columns.
And what would an OS X upgrade be without a new photo booth, this time with face tracking for more hilarious, spur of the moment photos!
At the moment I am loving OS X Lion, but I do have a few niggles (and they really are just niggles). Firstly, the fact the software was delivered online causes complications should the system crash. That 3.75 GB download doesn’t bode well for limited internet connections. I’ve made myself a back up Lion disc in case of any issue, but I do think the online delivery could cause problems.
It could be argued that the upgrade has a bit more style over substance (I can’t believe how much animation Apple have crammed in). I agree with this to an extent, it would have been nice to have a few more functional things and I do think (despite loving most of it) some of the animation could come a bit of a distraction, to me anyway!
Not a problem I have had, but I’ve seen a few reports of compatibility issues with older software. With Lion, Mac finally ditches the PowerPC support for Intel only so some popular apps (if not updated) will fail to work on this new OS. But fear not, most things still work well and in full 64 bit!
I’m also not a fan of the more ‘windows-esque’ buttons. What happened to those lovely curved buttons, replaced with dull square ones 😦 !
As you can see, my niggles are very few and far between, I love OS X Lion. At only £21.00 off the Mac App Store, it is the best priced OS I have ever seen. Mac OS X has been the market leader for desktops for a long time and by fusing their knowledge of touch devices into their desktop OS, Apple have only made it better. If you have Snow Leopard, there is really no reason not to upgrade. If you don’t have a Mac yet, why not? This is the best OS available and is worth every penny.