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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You can drag and drop all open windows across Spaces, so if you're browsing the Web and using iChat while working in iPhoto, you can drag the iPhoto window into its own Space and leave more distracting apps in another Space. (You add new Spaces by moving your cursor to the upper-left corner of the screen, prompting a slide-out window with a + sign in it to appear.) Using four fingers to swipe left or right will toggle through open Spaces, and swiping right eventually brings you to Dashboard.

Launchpad

Launchpad is similar to the home screen on the iPhone or iPad; it gives you quick access to all of your apps with one click or gesture. (See full visual tour.)

To make the different Spaces easier to discern, you can assign custom wallpapers to each by right-clicking the Desktop in whichever Space you're in and selecting Change Desktop Background. Apple has included new desktop pictures to get you started.

In Snow Leopard, I used Exposé all of the time, and since Mission Control essentially incorporates Exposé, I imagine I'll be using this new feature all the time. It's intuitive and easy to use. Most Lion users who've been accustomed to reaching for Exposé (through gestures, clicking a mouse button, clicking on the Dock icon or using the keyboard) will find Mission Control a welcome update.

Launchpad

Launchpad is Lion's new app organization scheme that mimics the one used in iOS 4, right down to the numeric badge notifications on app icons. Like the home screen on the iPhone and iPad, Launchpad arranges applications in a grid, but the Lion version supports up to 40 icons and folders on the screen. (You can have up to three screens of apps, with 40 in each one.)

The apps can be arranged through drag-and-drop, and you can move them to a different space by dragging them to the edge of the screen -- just as you move apps on the iPhone to a different screen. You can also create folders of similar apps à la iOS by dragging one app icon onto another. If you hold down the option key with Launchpad running, the icons jiggle, allowing apps that have been downloaded from the App Store to be deleted. And you can drag apps from the Launchpad to the Dock.

For many users, Launchpad may be more about eye candy than function. It's not that different from having a shortcut to your applications folder in the Dock. But if you have a trackpad, Launchpad is much more useful, since you can call it up with a five-finger "clench" gesture. That gesture offers a quick and easy way to access apps, and trumps navigating to the Dock because it saves you a couple of clicks. Considering how often power users go through the action of launching and relaunching apps, streamlining the launch process is a good thing.

In essence, what Apple has done is to build a redundant -- and eye-catching -- way to quickly access apps. As always, you can open a Finder window and navigate to them the old-fashioned way.

LaunchPad gives you immediate access to your applications. You can click on the LaunchPad icon in the Dock or use a gesture to activate this feature. Just as in iOS, apps can be grouped together and accessed by clicking on the app group's icon. You can also move apps to different windows by dragging them to the edge of the screen. Holding down the option key allows you to delete apps purchased through the Mac App Store, much as you can delete them in iOS.

Mail and Safari tweaks

Mail gets a fair number of upgrades, as does Safari, both of them gaining features from the mobile versions.

Mail 5.0 looks and operates suspiciously like its iOS cousin, and for good reason: The iPad version was the inspiration for Mail in Lion. Visually, the biggest change for Mail is that it's gone widescreen, and the interface is more streamlined. Just as on the iPad, emails in your in-box are listed on the left and message contents show up on the right. (If you like the old view, it is still there and can be activated by going to Mail > Preferences > Viewing and selecting "Classic view.")

There's a new Favorites bar below the Mail buttons where you can add shortcuts to various mailboxes, RSS feeds or other email-related items just by dragging them into place. (It's like the Bookmarks bar in Safari.) The Favorites bar has a Show/Hide button for the mailbox sidebar, which is hidden by default, as well as access to a unified Inbox, Drafts, Sent messages, Notes, and Flagged Items. Each has a drop-down menu that lets you navigate to your email accounts.

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