With a second preview version now in the hands of app developers, Apple's next generation of Mac OS X, called Lion (version 10.7), appears to be on track for its planned release to the public this summer. The company has announced several new features for the upcoming Macintosh OS (some of which are lifted straight from iOS, Apple's mobile platform), including the following:
- A feature called Launchpad for organizing and launching apps, similar to the iOS home screen.
- The new Mission Control feature that combines the existing Mac OS X Dashboard, Exposé, and Spaces features.
- The ability for apps to auto-save and auto-resume as in iOS, and a feature called Versions that saves multiple versions of documents within the file over time so that you can easily revert to a previous iteration after you've made changes.
- Easier file sharing among networked Macs, with a feature called AirDrop.
- More advanced use of multitouch gestures (in the OS itself and available to app developers).
- An updated interface and improved search capabilities in Mail, Mac OS X's built-in email client.
- The ability for more apps to run in full-screen mode for a distraction-free experience, as Apple's iPhoto and iMovie do now.
- A curated Mac App Store that offers one-click app installation.
One of these items has already arrived, of course: The Mac App Store launched for users of Mac OS X Snow Leopard (version 10.6) in January.
Although Lion is still months away, Mac users don't need to wait to get advances similar to the ones planned for the new operating system. In fact, several third-party applications and services already exist to meet the same challenges that Apple is aiming to address with Lion.
These free and low-cost tools can help you get results similar to those provided by Lion's Launchpad, Mission Control, systemwide auto-save, Versions, AirDrop, enhanced multitouch capabilities, and new Mail layout. Most of the apps work with Snow Leopard and Leopard (version 10.5); some are available for Tiger (version 10.4) as well. I've also included a section on app store alternatives for Leopard and Tiger users, who don't have access to the Mac App Store.
Lion's Launchpad will be modeled after the iOS home screen, which serves as the application launcher for iPhones and iPads. Launchpad will let you use a hot key or gesture (on a multitouch-enabled trackpad or mouse) to display a grid of icons for all of your installed applications overlaid on your desktop and running apps. Like the iOS home screen, Launchpad will feature multiple screens you can swipe through, along with the ability to reorganize applications and group them in folders.