Hands on: Mac OS X, iOS morph into Lion

Apple goes all in on multi-touch gestures in its new OS

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Despite the new prominence of gestures, many users may find themselves hanging on to navigation shortcuts and keyboard combos they've used for years. If that's you, you're missing out. I strongly urge you to try the gestures; learn to swipe on a trackpad the way you do on the iPhone or iPad. You'll find that you can navigate through Lion more efficiently and intuitively than you ever could before. (I noted in my review of Apple's newest iMac that new computer purchasers should opt for the Magic Trackpad instead of the Magic Mouse. This is why.)

Auto Save, Versions, and Resume

Of all the features built into Lion, Auto Save, Versions and Resume are my absolute favorites; they're a major plus for Mac users, even though most people won't even realize they're there until they need them.

In short, these three features work in concert to help protect whatever you're doing by automatically saving versions of your work and allowing you quick access to those versions later on. (Third-party apps will have to be updated to take advantage of this systemwide feature.)

First, Auto Save does as its name suggests: It automatically saves your file as you work in any application. Any changes are tracked and saved, which comes in handy if something goes wrong and the app crashes. (Anyone who uses Apple's iLife suite will recognize this behavior, as those apps don't require changes to be saved manually.)

Also new is the ability to edit certain document states. This is where Versions comes in. In the middle of the document window title bar, beside the document icon and just to the right of the document name, you can select a drop-down menu that gives you access to earlier versions of your work. From here, you can Lock, Duplicate, Revert to Last Saved, and Browse All Versions of the file. Choosing that last action allows you to "go back in time" -- like scrolling back through a Time Machine backup -- to retrieve an earlier version of your document. Think of it as a continuous backup for individual apps and files.

More than that, this view allows you to compare, side by side, older iterations of your document with the latest one. All versions can be browsed, and items can be copied and pasted from an old version to the current one.

Make no mistake about it: This combo will change your expectations of computing. When I first installed Lion, my computer crashed every few hours. Sometimes I'd have several crashes in a row. I'd be typing along and the screen would go dark. After five seconds or so, my laptop would reboot. (I have turned on the option to "Restart Automatically" in case of a crash; it's in the Energy Saver system preference pane.) Each time, Lion would automatically launch every app, and every document, in its exact last position, including highlighted text. This is Resume in action.

Versions is like Time Machine for individual apps. By clicking next to a document's name in the titlebar-- this is a TextEdit document -- you activate Versions and "go back in time" to see earlier iterations of your work. You can also copy and paste data or text from previous versions of your document to the current one.

The crashing in Lion was related to Parallels; once I reinstalled that app, all was well. But it was frustrating, even though my MacBook Pro -- thanks to the speedy solid-state drive I use -- had me back in operation in less than 40 seconds. More important, despite a dozen crashes in three days, I never once lost any work. Auto Save, Versions and Resume worked exactly as they should. This is how computers should behave. (See video below to see how Versions works.)

Mission Control

Mission Control offers an instant overview of all running applications and their windows across all desktop spaces, incorporating what used to be Dashboard, Exposé and Spaces into one organized interface management center. (The settings have all been consolidated into one system preference pane, not surprisingly called Mission Control.)

I set Mission Control to be activated by swiping four fingers up; doing this shrinks all of your open windows into the Mission Control interface. (You can also click on an icon in the Dock to launch it.) When Mission Control is active, your Spaces -- essentially, they're virtual desktops -- and the Dashboard are graphically laid out in mini real-time windows at the top of the screen. Below them in the center of the Mission Control screen are all of your currently open windows, organized by application and stacked behind each application's icon, and your Dock.

Mission Control

Mission Control is a new way for you to navigate through Spaces (virtual desktops). It shows you all of your "desktops" as mini windows across the top of the screen; you can move from one to the other with a swipe gesture to the right or left. (See full visual tour.)

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