Yesterday Apple launched Mac OSX 10.7 Lion. OSX is the Operating System used on Apple computers much like Windows on most PCs. I use three computers, a PC with Windows 7, a netbook with Ubuntu Linux and a Macbook with Windows 7 and Mac OSX. So yesterday it came time to upgrade my Macbook.
Now most operating system upgrades require a large spend of money, Windows 7, for instance, costs from £99 ($150 in the US) to buy an upgrade disk however, Apple has made the price of the upgrade to Lion a tiny spend of £21 in the UK ($29 in the US). This is the same as their last major upgrade, Snow Leopard though before hand, like Microsoft, Apple had always charged over a hundred pounds for the upgrade.
While some would say that this shows a much fairer company than Microsoft, let’s not forget that Microsoft is primarily, a software company while Apple, makes most of their money on their hardware. You can’t install Mac OSX on any computer that isn’t an Apple computer (you can but you need to crack it and that’s not neccesarily legal). And let’s also not forget how much profit margin Apple makes from their machines. Devices of higher spec than Apple can be bought a lot cheaper in terms of both computers, music players and smart phones.
It also shows that Apple are once again, not allowing small businesses to make a decent profit from their products, compared to Microsoft who allow anyone to sell computers using their software and make a fair profit in the process and even then, they donate some of their profits to charity. But I’m not here to start a Mac vs PC debate, let’s talk Lion.
Lion has taken the final step in making sure no one other than Apple can profit from selling it by making the operating system a download only purchase. You can’t buy a disk for this upgrade, you must open the App Store on your Mac and click to purchase. For anyone who has been trying to avoid creating an iTunes account, I’m afraid you’re out of luck here, your App Store account is the same thing. Once you’ve selected the purchase, your download will leap to the dock and you’ll have to wait for the 3.49GB to arrive on your hard drive. I’m fortunate enough to have a 25Mb/s download speed so was only waiting for around 30 minutes but I expect others will find themselves leaving it overnight to download, I do not envy those on rural internet connections. Once downloaded, the upgrade process is actually very easy and you’ll be done in around 30 minutes if your computer is much the same spec as mine, perhaps faster.
On your first load, I’m afraid that there’s no music, no fancy animation, nothing to make you feel smug about completing your upgrade. You’re just thrown into using your computer but not without a quick intro to the big change that you’re going to have to get used to:
Mac users have had a form of multi touch long before the multi touch trackpad appeared on the scene, we’ve been scrolling by moving two fingers up and down on the trackpad for some time, an extremely simple concept that has now been appearing on other computers as well. Well this gestured scrolling has been turned upside down in Lion, literally.
Think about it, ordinarily when you scroll down, your page moves up. On macs now, when you scroll down, the page moves down. However, as mac users are so used to scrolling with touch, even on their desktop machines (using the magic mouse or magic trackpad), it made sense that pages should scroll in the same way they do on other touch devices, such as smartphones… ok I’ll say it, such as iPods, iPhones and iPads… iOS devices.
Now for many, this seems like a very strange thing to change but really it’s just a very simple change in the way you think. Before, when you scrolled, you were pushing or pulling the scroll bar up or down. Well now, you are simply pushing or pulling the actualy page up or down. It took me a couple of hours to get used to but like everyone else I’ve heard talking about it, it became very natural to use and I was doing it instinctively.
The scrolling is not the only new feature to simulate iOS, we now have launch pad. By clicking an icon in the dock or using three fingers and a thumb to pinch on the trackpad, Lauchpad is opened. This is very much the same as the homescreens on your iOS device, listing every Application in your Applications folder. However, it does this without descrimination. I had a screen filled with adobe uninstall applications which was a little frustrating to look at, though I could organise them into folders much like I can on my iPhone.
Anyone else noticing the space age terms we’re using here? I thought we had gone beyond all this but then perhaps this is some kind of recognition to the last space shuttle, Atlantis, which is due to make its final landing.
Mission Control seems to be replacing Exposé and spaces. With this view, found by either clicking its icon in the dock or swiping up with three fingers, you can see all your running applications, the dash board and now, seemingly limitless desktop that can be spawned as you need them. Just drag an application onto one of these desktops or to the far right to create a new one. Even without Mission Control you can swipe between these desktops using three fingers left or right.
Once again looking to mimick their iOS devices, Apple has launched a number of updates to their main programs including Mac Mail and iTunes allowing them to be used as Fullscreen apps. The trick is to place one of these on a desktop of its own in Mission Control and leave it there as a full screen app. This allows for a submersive and distraction free experience.
Autosave and Version Control
I’ve lost track of how many of my friends complained of writing large research papers only to have the file become corrupt shortly before it was time for submission. Now Lion provides built in version control that allows users to roll back a file if it should become corrupt or even if you just want to roll it back to a previous save. This is nothing new, version control has been around for decades, long before GUI interfaces took over and it has been built into many linux operating systems for quite some time but now it’s available to Mac users without having to install third party software.
Is it all worth it?
For a simple twenty one quid, definitely. Buy it and buy it now, there really is no reason to wait. As I’ve mentioned, Apple has worked hard to make multi touch gestures an even bigger part of their system after they were first introduced in Snow Leopard. One thing I highly recommend doing after installation is opening your System Preferences, clicking track pad and looking at all the little video demonstrations on these different gestures. Once learnt, you’ll be using them every few minutes.
My friend and classmate, James Bennet, has written an article on Lion’s new security features, is it too little too late? http://james-bennet.com/?p=112