InfoWorld review: Mac OS X Lion, more than multitouch

Apple's new OS for the App Store era borrows iPad usability tweaks while delivering key new features for businesses and professionals

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Mac OS X Lion: Time to upgrade
Lion is nothing but win for nearly all Mac users. The only users who won't benefit from Lion are those who remain dependent on PowerPC applications. Rosetta, the PowerPC instruction translator that allowed pre-Intel apps to run on Snow Leopard, is no more. Universal apps that include PowerPC and Intel code will run on Lion, but if you're dependent on PowerPC software that you can't upgrade, it's best to stick with Snow Leopard.

Among professional users and shops with multiple Macs, Lion is about much more than pervasive multitouch support. Lion has plenty of features for serious users. It compensates for several best practices that professionals routinely skip. It stems accidental data loss through versions, autosave, and local snapshots. Macs are multi-user by nature, and with Lion it's now possible for several remote users to share a Mac, with each user getting a dedicated virtual session that doesn't interfere with the console. Apple's policies on virtualization have relaxed considerably, allowing you to run up to three simultaneous OS X instances on a single Mac. Yes, it must still be a Mac, but previously you had to purchase a full-price license to run OS X Server as a virtual guest, and OS X client guests were forbidden.

Serious users have to appreciate the multi-layered security that's new to Lion. At the lowest level, full disk encryption makes your machine useless to anyone who doesn't have your password. In the OS, virtual memory pages are randomized so that overflow or insertion exploits are likely to expand into unallocated memory and trigger a fault. Application sandboxing limits program access to system resources during operation. An app must list the privileges it requires ("entitlements") when it is submitted to the App Store or otherwise signed. Apple will scrutinize App Store submissions to ensure that any potentially risky entitlement is backed by a convincing rationale. An app that asks for too much will be denied. At run time, sandboxed apps (soon, all Lion apps in the Mac App Store will have to be sandboxed) crater if they try to perform any unapproved action. If malicious code is somehow attached to a sandboxed app, that malware is subject to the same limitations as the app itself. As soon as it tries to do anything nefarious, the app will be terminated. Signed apps with explicit entitlements are a powerful defense, and App Store creates a line of accountability to the developer.

Lastly, groups of Lion users, or a mix of iOS and Mac users in a business setting, will benefit greatly from setting up a server, whether it's a dedicated machine like a Mac mini or Mac Pro or even an iMac desktop with server duties. Once you put a Lion Server in place, Profile Manager will be a godsend. As far as justifying a Lion upgrade for your Macs, realize that $29 for Lion and $49 for Lion Server buy you a marvelous degree of remote configuration, policy enforcement, and a self-service Web portal that lets users reset their own forgotten passwords. There's more to Lion Server than that, but that alone is well worth having.

There have been incremental OS X upgrades that you could take or leave. Lion isn't like that. Apple is no longer afraid to tell users who don't upgrade, "You're going to be left behind." That which is new in Lion will not be backed into Snow Leopard. Unless I miss my guess, by this time next year a preponderance of apps on Mac App Store will list "Lion and later" as required. Apple has made leaping to Lion affordable, easy, fun, and safe. If you're wired to wait for the second or third point release, suit yourself. I've converted a facility with eight Macs, machines that I rely on to make a living, from Snow Leopard to Lion with no migration hassles. It's time to upgrade to Lion.

This story, "InfoWorld review: Mac OS X Lion, more than multitouch," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in Mac OS X at InfoWorld.com. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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