July 20, 2011 at 8:38 AM ET
Mac OS X 10.7 Lion — the latest version of Apple's popular operating system — is now available through the Mac App Store. It's priced at $29.99 and — based on a guesstimate of average download speeds — will probably take most people about an hour to download. Is it worth the money and time? We think so.
According to Apple, Lion is how the company will challenge "the accepted way of doing things by introducing new features that change the way you use a computer." What does that even mean though? It means that there are more than 250 new features, tweaks, additions, and changes crammed into Lion.
Yes, that sounds like a lot, so we're just going to focus on the highlights, the little gems, and the handful of annoying parts in order to give you a general overview of Apple's latest feline-themed update.
Lion slightly alters the way you interact with your computer by adding a some powerful multi-touch gestures. You can now control more features and content than ever simply by tapping, swiping, scrolling or pinching your fingertips across your trackpad or Magic Mouse.
You can swipe up with three fingers to view Mission Control and see every open window on your Mac. Swiping to the side with three fingers, on the other hand, will let you switch between full-screen apps. Two fingers are all that's needed to scroll up and down through documents and websites or to swipe through content as if it's part of a book. A quick two-finger tap or a pinching gesture will let you zoom in and out on whatever's on your screen.
All of these gestures may sound complicated, but after using Lion for a brief while, you'll find yourself not even thinking about them. They'll feel entirely natural and as if they've always been a part of your computing tasks.
You've got a gorgeous display on your Mac, so why not take full advantage of every single pixel? With Lion's new full-screen app feature, you can.
All you need to do is tap a button in the corner of an app's window and — boom! — suddenly that app is able to take over your whole display. Another tap and things are back to normal. (Go with a three-finger swipe to the side instead and you'd would be looking at another open full-screen app.)
Apple notes that "Mail, iCal, Safari, Photo Booth, FaceTime, Preview, and other built-in apps come with full-screen capability. And apps like iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, Keynote, Pages, and Numbers were designed to work even better in full-screen view."
Want to see everything that's going on at once? Just swipe up on your trackpad with three fingers — or tap the Mission Control icon — and all your dreams will come true. You'll be able to see everything that's running on your Mac at that given moment — open windows, full-screen apps, Spaces, and Dashboard. Everything.
Thanks to Exposé, multiple windows belonging to the same app will be grouped in an organized manner and can be navigated through with a quick swipe. In fact, you can navigate through all the open windows, full-screen apps, Spaces and Dashboard items with a swipe of your twitchy fingers.
Looking for your apps? Pinch your trackpad with all five fingers and you'll find them — neatly organized in something called Launchpad.
If you've used iOS in the past, then you'll quickly note that Launchpad mimics the mobile operating system's app structure — right down to the way folders look and the way app icons jiggle before you delete them. Any apps downloaded from the Mac App Store will automatically appear in Launchpad, so you'll barely have to think about organizing things manually unless you want to.
Auto-Save and Versions
Lion's Auto-Save and Versions features will probably spare you a lot of headaches at one point or another. At first glance, they're a way to automatically maintain copies of documents as they're edited or created, but in reality they're so much more.
Auto-Save constantly saves the changes you make to your document in a way that doesn't require it to maintain duplicate files — everything's part of the original file as a "Version." Versions are basically snapshots of a document which you can browse through, revert to, compare, delete or copy at any point.
Need to wirelessly share some files with a nearby individual? A Lion feature called AirDrop will make the task easy as pie — or whatever pastry you prefer.
AirDrop doesn't require any setup or wireless network. Instead it automatically spots nearby Macs which are using the feature and offers to create a peer-to-peer Wi-Fi connection with them. This means that you'll be able to transfer files by simply dragging-and-dropping them to the appropriate icon and confirming that yes, you really want to send them to that person.
Oh, and don't start panicking about security: Files are encrypted, and a firewall is created between you and the person you're sharing files with, so the whole process is reasonably secure.
Many of the apps bundled with Mac OS X have received makeovers or feature upgrades in Lion. The changes appear focused on simplifying layouts and tweaking app functionality to feel more like what is found in iOS — or more specifically, on the iPad — but they're also giving most apps quite a nice selection of new capabilities.
The big little things
There are a lot of features within Lion which you won't even realize exist until you really need them for a task or stop to think about why something "just works." They're the big little things that make life simpler.
What's the catch?
As with any operating system update, it's not all sunshine and kittens when it comes to Lion. Many folks will be annoyed that they can only download the operating system update from the Mac App Store instead of simply purchasing a disc. Some will feel as if all the little things don't add up to a decent upgrade; others will be disappointed that Lion isn't a perfect mirror of iOS for the desktop, and so on.
But let's be realistic: You're paying $29.99 for an operating system upgrade which contains more than 250 new features. Yes, some of them are minor, but there is some strength in numbers — especially when just about everything is well-designed and integrated into the existing operating system. Some of the interface changes may feel awkward at first, but anyone who spends more than half an hour using Lion will probably forget he or she ever did anything differently.
Getting your computer ready for Lion
Convinced that this is the update for you? Great! There are a few things you should do before rushing off and attempting to download Lion though:
Got all those little things checked off? Wonderful! Head over to the Mac App Store and grab Lion. Use it for a while and then come back here and tell us what you think about it.
Rosa Golijan writes about tech here and there while coping with a Twitter obsession. Sam Spratt — the guy who made the adorable lion illustration above — on the other hand, is mostly all about Facebook.