Apple released OS X Lion (10.7) yesterday amidst a busy day for the company, which included revisions to the MacBook Air and Mac mini lines, release of the new Apple Thunderbolt Display, and discontinuation of the white MacBook. Lion, which follows previous version OS X Snow Leopard (10.6), boasts over 250 new features, including marquee additions like LaunchPad and Mission Control, as well as significant redesigns of its flagship Mail and iCal applications.
Installing Lion was about as painless as an OS upgrade could be. After downloading the 3.5GB file from the App Store, the installation process was automatic and smooth. The entire process, including the download, took around 40 minutes, and I encountered no problems during the installation.
Among the most significant additions is LaunchPad, an iOS-inspired view that mimics launching applications like you would on an iPhone or iPad. Although it has a slick interface, I find it slow to use on my wide 24" monitor as it takes a while to scan for the app you want to open. LaunchPad also closes after each app you open, requiring you to spend even more time reopening LaunchPad just to open multiple apps in succession. I don't think I'll use LaunchPad at all and will stick with the Dock, which works just fine for me.
In addition to LaunchPad, Lion introduces other iOS-inspired features and behaviors such as inverted scrolling. On iOS devices, scrolling is inverted: move your finger up, and the content moves down. This type of movement is commonly found in first-person shooter and flight simulation video games (remember GoldenEye?). While inverted scrolling feels natural when using a touch screen, I find it doesn't translate well to using a mouse or a trackpad. Luckily, you can restore normal scrolling, and I immediately did this post-installation.
Mission Control builds upon Exposé, grouping windows from the same app to easily see what you have open. I'm a huge fan of Exposé's Hot Corners (I use top right for Show Desktop and bottom right for Show All Windows), so I'll definitely be making the most out of Mission Control.
Another new feature in Lion is the ability to view selected applications, like Mail and Safari, in full screen view, allowing you to filter out distractions like the various browser- or desktop-based social media apps you may have running. Though full screen view is a welcomed effort, it falls short of its full potential. On a single monitor, full screen view is magic: every pixel is covered by your current app, and you can cycle through multiple full screen apps with your laptop's multi-touch trackpad or Magic Mouse. However, full screen view falls short when using a dual-screen setup. Even with two monitors, you can only have one full screen app open per space, rendering your second monitor completely useless. What's more, you can't even drag the single full screen app to the monitor of your choice; it automatically fills up your main display. Although this limited functionality does stay true to the feature's purpose (what good is trying to stay focused on one thing when you have two things open?), it completely ignores the reality of many professional workspaces that consist of a laptop and external display.
I was excited to try the new Apple Mail after seeing it in use during the keynote earlier this year. I recently switched to Google Apps for my personal email because a number of my freelance clients use it to internally share docs and calendar invitations. To smooth out the transition, I've been using Gmail for the past two months, though I've always preferred desktop mail clients. The completely redesigned Mail is definitely wooing me back from Gmail. Its default two-column layout resembles iPad's Mail, and the menu bar has been reduced and simplified. The addition of conversation view (the best Gmail feature in my opinion) is a complete win, and it alone is likely to make me switch back. While the new layout, pleasant as it is, will take me some time to get used to, it is completely worth the adjustment for the upgraded user experience.
Lion's plethora of new features coupled with its low price ($29.99 for unlimited installations) makes it a desirable upgrade option for any Mac owner.
Available now on the App Store.