WWDC: Why this year is different

For one thing, Apple's already announced what's coming: iCloud, Lion and iOS 5

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Lion begins to roar

Apple has been talking about Lion since last fall, when Jobs first unveiled it. The next version of Mac OS X will borrow a lot of features from iOS in addition to adding some unique features of its own.

We've gotten a lengthy list of new features in Lion already, and I expect plenty of demos during the keynote -- particularly on features that Apple hasn't really shown off publicly. Those features include:

  • Mission Control, which combines full-screen apps, a new app launcher called Launchpad, and the existing Dashboard, Expose and Spaces features.
  • Autosave and the new Versions feature that maintains copies of each version of a document that you can browse through in an interface similar to Time Machine's.
  • Resume, which allows your Mac to return to its existing state (with all open applications, folders and documents) when restarted.
  • Mail (the new version).
  • AirDrop, the new system for sharing files between Macs securely without having to worry about file-sharing settings.

I have no doubt we'll see some demos of additional new features that are related to iCloud. This will almost certainly include an updated version of iTunes, as well as common collaborative tools that stand to get more cloud-like, including Address Book and iCal. I'm also looking for talk about how developers can leverage iCloud in their applications.

One interesting feature would be the ability to log in to any Lion-based Mac using your iCloud account. This idea has shown up around the Web periodically and would be an extension of some of the capabilities already supported by Mac OS X Server.

Speaking of Mac OS X Server, I expect that Lion Server, which is now a free option for any Mac running Lion, will also get some attention. Mac OS X Server has historically not been featured in the public WWDC keynote, but since Apple is billing it as a feature of Lion, I expect to see at least some mention of it. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see some demos of Lion Server and its capabilities.

Since Mac OS X Server is perfect for small businesses and offers the core server needs of file/print, email, Web and wiki, shared calendaring and contacts, and multisystem backup, Apple could use this to really push Lion as a business solution. Lion Server is also slated to allow for easy management of Macs and iOS devices and to offer a document-sharing service for iWork on iOS devices. Since most Mac users aren't familiar with Mac OS X Server at all, this is a prime time to introduce both its capabilities and its ease of setup and administration.

Along similar lines, I expect Apple to highlight enterprise-integration features such as support for Active Directory and Exchange, plus a few curveballs. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to store a user account and home directory on a portable drive? Or see some native support for Google Apps accounts? Apple might even introduce an enterprise version of the Mac App Store as a software deployment.

While there will almost certainly be new Lion tidbits, the big news will be the announcement of pricing and a ship date. Apple has said only that Lion will ship this summer. Given the frequency of developer preview builds and the details about them from various Apple-centric sites, I wouldn't be surprised to see it ship sooner rather than later (perhaps even by the end of June).

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