What We Know About Mac OS X 10.7 'Lion'

Apple's new Lion OS will be leaner, keener and meaner than ever; it will teach Mac users a whole new touch-based way to interface with their computer, and borrows heavily from elements of Apple's also NeXT-based iOS system for mobile devices.

Jobs explained that touch interfaces don't feel right in a (vertical) plane -- you don't want to touch your iMac's screen -- this means trackpads and the Magic Mouse are the interfaces for the future iOS/OS X integration (at least at present -- for the future, who knows?)

In future it isn't hard to imagine touch controls evolving to become gesture-based using the iSight (now FaceTime) cameras inside most Macs, but that's some way down the line. Minority Report isn't here yet.

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Promising a "ton of new features", Jobs observed, "Lion brings many of the best ideas from iPad back to the Mac, plus some fresh new ones like Mission Control that Mac users will really like,."

So, what do we know about the new operating system that will power ever more substantial chunks of the PC industry?

App Store for Mac
The App Store for Mac opens for business next month. It works a little like the App Store for iOS devices, and will allow customers to download applications from Apple and others directly to their computers, with software sold on a license entitling you to install your new program on all your personal Macs.

Apple's taking the now familiar 30 percent cut on software sold via the store. This also requires software sold to go through Apple's sometimes tortuous approvals process, and could see Apple wield even more control over software sold for the platform.

While I think it is likely we'll see Apple allow third party software sales to continue outside of the store -- shareware and at retail -- the debut of the Mac App Store means there's a slight chance Apple could one day demand that all applications sold for the platform be sold via its store. I'd think the company insane to make such a demand.

The Launchpad
Launchpad will be a flick-through screen showing icons for each of your apps, you'll access it via your Dock and will be able to organize the icons in a very similar way to that in which you organize them into pages on your iPad. You'll be able to create your own custom order and gather apps into folders, if you like.

If you think back to how excited Jobs was a few years back when introducing CoverFlow navigation for Apple's iPod and iTunes products, you'll get a sense as to just how many years of thought have gone into these touch-based implementations for Mac OS X. Also icon-based, CoverFlow lets you navigate through your music collection on iTunes or supporting Apple media devices.

Full-screen apps
Apple's promising full-screen apps. This will be nice because you'll immediately enjoy more screen space, it will become easier to focus on projects and more. It will be possible to flick between applications or application windows using a swipe gesture on your touch-enabled trackpad. And you'll still have access to the standard Mac Desktop for other apps and more.

Mission Control
Lion's new 'Mission Control' feature will let you easily explore all the windows, widgets and apps running on your Mac, flicking through these like you might with an iPad.

This will be a far more comprehensible way to use Dashboard (don't be surprised to see some evolution of Dashboard apps and use of those apps once the Mac App Store's up-and-running.), Spaces and Expose than before. Lion will improve these existing features by, gathering all these interfaces within the Mission Control window.

AutoSave
This didn't get a whole heap of attention during Apple's keynote last week, but seems set to be the handiest feature of the lot. You'll never lose a project ever again. In a related feature, when you launch an application you'll find it restarts exactly where you left off.

I am curious if:

- AutoSave data will consume vast amounts of drive space

- If Apple will enable TimeMachine support within AutoSave in order that you can save current projects seamlessly to online and offline storage services -- perhaps hosted in North Carolina?

- In the latter event, then I'm curious if you'll be able to use this to access your Mac-made projects using another PC or iOS device, with projects launching on your access device exactly where you left off?

AutoSave + ZFS?
Pre-Snow Leopard strong speculation claimed Apple would use the ZFS file system. However, iOS uses HFS+ for auto-saving. Despite this, ZFS would enable Apple to secure large amounts of data for very small quantities of disk space.

However, Apple was seen to be hiring filesystem engineers last year, so it is possible it intends taking development of a new file system in-house. It is worth pondering just how much data Apple intends storing at its data centers? With cloud-based systems almost with us, whatever file system is used must be extremely lightweight, secure and stable.

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