If Apple didn't have a decade-long practice of naming its Mac OS X releases after ever more intimidating big cats, one might take "Lion," the moniker attached to Mac OS X 10.7, as outrageous hubris. As it turns out, Apple couldn't have chosen a more meaningful totem. It's been at least five years since Apple rolled so many user-relevant modifications into one OS release. Apple's official watchword for the preceding release, OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, was "refinement," which speaks to a long-standing Apple policy of guarding the continuity of the Mac experience by building onto existing behavior instead of supplanting it. Lion takes several bold steps toward defining a new Mac experience.
The inspiration for this new Mac experience, of course, is iOS. Lion borrows a number of tricks from Apple's iPhone and iPad operating system, including App Store distribution, multitouch gestures, and applications that save their state from session to session. Most of these enhancements, as well as deeper improvements such as application sandboxing and privilege separation, are Lion framework features that are available only in apps compiled for Lion and specifically configured to activate them.
[ See InfoWorld's slideshow tour of Mac OS X Lion's top 20 features. | Learn why IT won't like Mac OS X Lion Server. | Keep up with key Mac OS X, iOS, and other Apple technologies with the Technology: Apple newsletter. ]
At launch, Lion's application framework-level enhancements are confined to Apple's core bundled apps, including Finder, Mail, iCal, TextEdit, Safari, Terminal, QuickTime Player, and Screen Sharing. Apple green-lighted Lion software submissions to App Store just prior to Lion's public release, so "made for Lion" titles should start appearing shortly. Lion brings multitouch navigation to the apps you're running now, but only those apps that are specifically built for Lion can deliver on Lion's greater goal, which is to steer users toward smarter, safer, more productive ways to create.
Lion shifts responsibility for protection and continuity from users and their human support systems to the platform, by making key best practices automatic and transparent. You may be too busy enjoying Lion's iOS-inspired upscale driving experience to notice the fierce defenses arrayed to protect your data from thieves, vandals, and accidental loss, but you'll benefit all the same. And while you can cling to your mouse and flip various switches that make the new system behave like OS X Snow Leopard, I strongly advise buying a Magic Trackpad and going native. If you're a Mac professional who's ready to evolve, Lion will show you what the next decade of computing will bring. At $29, it's foolish not to take that trip.
Mac OS X Lion: Media-free install
Lion is the first OS X to be delivered entirely via electronic distribution. For consumers, buying and installing Lion couldn't be easier: Go to the App Store, find Mac OS X Lion, buy it, download the software (not quite 4GB), and click the Install button in the download list. That launches an installation app that copies a few files, then reboots into the Lion install. Once the progress bar pops up, you can walk away. My average install time for an in-place upgrade from Snow Leopard was around 30 minutes on all three of the Macs I tested (a quad-core Core i5 iMac, Thunderbolt MacBook Pro, and 15-inch Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro).
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