With Lion, It’s Time for Mac OS 11

If there’s one philosophy that Apple and I generally agree upon, it’s software. I love software. Whether I’m designing it, or using it to design other great stuff, I firmly believe that practically all great technological inventions are only great if they have great software, and that’s the way I like to approach my coverage of tech.

So while the rest of the tech media fawned over the specs of the iPad 2 last week, I was actually more interested in the news of Mac OS X Lion.

In just a few weeks, Apple is going to mark a major milestone: the tenth anniversary of the original release of Mac OS X. On March 24, 2001, Apple said goodbye to the “classic” Mac OS that had served it well since 1984 (when it didn’t crash), and introduced Mac users to a UNIX-based operating system with a new user interface called “Aqua” that was almost lickable. There was no iPad, no iPhone, no iPod, no iTunes, really almost nothing that resembles the Apple that we think of today. The iMac was only three years old, still sold in its multi-color CRT-based model.

Not only did Mac OS X essentially save Apple from destruction, after the failures of the attempted Copland and Rhapsody operating system rewrites in the nineties, but it has most certainly fulfilled Steve Jobs’ then-prediction that it had set Apple up for the next decade. Apple has since had seven major releases of Mac OS X (codenamed Cheetah, Puma, Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard, and Snow Leopard), and Mac OS X has of course predicated other big shifts in Apple’s business including the transition to Intel processors, and the iOS mobile operating system.

But now, the Apple of today is very different than the Apple of ten years ago. Back then, Apple was somewhat of a joke in an industry dominated by Microsoft. Today, Apple is dominant in an industry that has primarily shifted towards mobile devices and software. Well, this summer, Apple intends to refocus on the Mac platform with its biggest update to Mac OS X in nearly four years.

Steve Jobs gave us a sneak preview of Mac OS X Lion last October at the “Back to the Mac” event, where the theme was based on the idea of taking ideas from iOS and reapplying them back to Mac OS. But it turns out that Lion is going to be about more than just the Mac App Store, the Launchpad (essentially an iOS home screen), and a bunch of gestures that you can do on oversized multi-touch trackpads. Actually, AppleInsider has been investigating the latest developer preview of Lion, and I would submit that the end result of Lion is a dramatic rethinking in how we will use our computers going forward.

Based on the video from AppleInsider which I’ve reposted at right, you can see that Apple is actually bringing in interface elements at the most basic level that replace otherwise UI elements that have been part of the Mac OS since 1984. Notice how Lion has no visible scrollbars, the ability to resize windows from any edge or corner, and new ways to view and categorize items in the Finder?

And there’s lots of other UI fit and finish that AppleInsider has discovered. The About this Mac window is finally useful, Quick Look is now Quick View, and is now a lot more modular and useful, and file searching is much smarter. Lion is also offering native support for full-screen apps in many ways throughout the operating system, and multi-touch gestures get to become ever more useful and plentiful in Lion.

Mac OS X Lion Auto-Save

But Lion isn’t only going to be about changing the ways that we interact with the interface, it’s also going to be about changing the way we get our work done. Just like on the iPad, which auto-saves any documents that you create, Lion will also now automatically save all files in apps that have been built to support it. No more remembering to save files again!

But wait, what if I don’t want Lion to auto-save my files? And won’t all those auto-saves eat up hard drive space? Not so. According to AppleInsider, Lion will actually save documents as a series of differential changes to the same file, which will keep file sizes down. Lion will also provide an option to lock a document, thus preventing that version of the document from being overwritten with a newer auto-save.

Versions in Mac OS X Lion

Lion combines this with an awesome new interface called Versions, which provides an interface similar to Time Machine for restoring earlier auto-saved versions of a document, except that it doesn’t require a Time Machine backup to make it work. Versions also won’t limit you to just hourly snapshots, and you’ll even be able to manually copy and paste whatever parts of the old version you want into your current document, if you don’t want to restore the entire older version. Time Machine itself actually combines both of these by letting you access local versions as well as Time Machine backups of the same document.

And perhaps one of the most powerful new features is one called Resume. Like the iOS, Resume automatically restores applications to the state they were left in when you quit them and reopen them. As AppleInsider points out, this means it really won’t matter anymore whether apps are open or not. If you choose to quit them to free up more computer resources, your documents will be auto-saved and will automatically come back when you reopen them. Even better, if you have to restart your computer, like for a software update, all your apps and documents will be back where you left them upon restart.

I’ve really only scratched the surface of the amazing new features that Lion is going to deliver this summer–and that’s only the new features that we know about so far. But at its core, Lion is actually about shifting away from a lot of the paradigms that have been dominant on the Mac platform ever since it began in 1984. Apple is saying that we no longer need training on how to use a mouse or a trackpad the way we did 25 years ago. We can live without visible scrollbars, or without a visible place to drag windows, and without needing to worry about saving documents while we’re working on them. And operating systems matter a great deal, because they are the software that we use–more than any other software–every single day.

I think that the primary question that the tech industry will need to figure out over this decade is, with the emergence of more and more “post-PC” devices like tablets and mobile phones, what is going to be the next step for the personal computer? We may not know the answer yet, but with Apple now leading the pack in the post-PC landscape, they are taking the right step by bringing many of the UI elements of post-PC devices and applying them to the Mac operating system.

Lion is going to be a big update that will fundamentally change the way we interact with our Macs every day, which is why I personally think that it’s time for Apple to call it Mac OS 11. But regardless of how they decide to number it (version numbers have always been arbitrary anyway), I can’t wait to get my hands on it in just a few short months.

This entry was posted in From the Apple Tree, On the Technical Side by Douglas Bell. Bookmark the permalink.

About Douglas Bell

I live in Washington, D.C., and work as a Broadcast Technician at WAMU 88.5 FM, the local NPR affiliate in the Washington metro area. My primary shift is to engineer the local feed of NPR’s Morning Edition, including local news and weather, long-form features and station breaks… and yes, the shift starts at 5 am, so I’ve got the whole quasi-nocturnal thing going on. I am also the Coordinating Producer for Ken Rudin’s Political Junkie, an independently-produced podcast and public radio program. Extracurricularly, I play cello, and participate in a church choir and a handbell choir. I enjoy discovering new places, and am constantly searching for the perfect cheeseburger. I am also known as a frequent teller of puns.

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