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Mac OS X: The Lion roars

This affordable operating system update is going to please a lot of users.

By Michael Gartenberg
July 20, 2011 03:11 PM ET

Computerworld - Apple's latest release of Mac OS, called OS X Lion, went on sale today in the Mac App Store. I had an opportunity to use Lion before today's release, and I can say that this major release is well worth the $29.99 upgrade fee.

When Apple brought out the current version of OS X, Snow Leopard, the changes were largely behind the scenes, and the most notable feature added was Microsoft Exchange support being integrated directly in the operating system. With Lion, most of the changes are upfront where users are better able to appreciate them. There are many new features, and the UI has been revamped.

One of the hallmarks of Lion is how Apple delivers evolutionary change that adds up to a revolutionary experience. It has taken many cues from iOS, the operating system used on the iPhone and iPad. Users of those two popular devices will feel very much at home with Lion. In fact, if you're partial to swiping to scroll and pinching to zoom in but you're a Mac desktop user, you might want to invest in an Apple Magic Trackpad to get the full Lion experience. Meanwhile, notebook users will discover that their trackpads have taken on new functionality.

One thing borrowed from iOS is a feature called LaunchPad. You can still keep much-used applications in your Dock, but LaunchPad will also display them using your full screen, just like the iOS home screen. (If they all don't fit, you just swipe right or left to see more.) Also as with iOS, you can group related applications together in folders. Of course, Apple doesn't give you the entire iOS experience, since its PCs aren't equipped with touch screens, but it is adapting to the way users have come to expect to interact with mobile devices and brought that to the large screen.

In another major UI shift, Apple has unified two technologies called Spaces and Expose. In previous versions of OS X, Spaces let users create virtual screens that could hold different applications for distinct tasks. Expose was a quick way of seeing all the applications running. Lion integrates these functions into a single tool that's accessed with one gesture. It's an example of Apple preserving the core user experience while refining existing features. You get a new experience without an offputting learning curve. I think a lot of people will appreciate that kind of gentle nudging along to the next thing, and it stands in sharp contrast to what many considered traumatic changes to Windows. (Ribbon, anyone?)

Microsoft also comes to mind when thinking about Apple's restraint in consolidating the functionality of its mobile and desktop operating systems. Apple has brought over to Lion from iOS only what makes sense for use on a PC. Microsoft keeps making the mistake of trying to replicate all behaviors across devices.

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