Apple MacOS X 10.7 Lion: need to know

Apple's desktop and laptop operating system may be ten years old, but there's still plenty to look forward to in the latest version, Lion, as Alan Lu finds out.

MacOS X, Apple's laptop and desktop operating system, may have been overshadowed recently by the much more popular iOS but it's still an important product for the company. Without it, iOS, which is based on MacOS X, wouldn't exist and it's one of the main points of difference between Macs and Windows PCs.

Lion is the eighth version of MacOS X and we were initially sceptical that it would have much appeal, even to existing Mac users. We're much more keen now that we've had a closer look at Lion.

So what's new in Lion?

Many of the most noticeable new features have been inspired by, or outright lifted from iOS. Owners of multitouch touchpad-equipped Macs will be able to take advantage of a wide array of multitouch gestures to control their computers. The Launchpad is a way of organising and launching applications and looks almost identical to an iOS homescreen.

The Apple Magic Trackpad

Lion will also have an API that developers can use to create full-screen apps. Apple claims that using full-screen apps can be much more efficient than having multiple apps on-screen at once. Users can switch between full-screen apps and other programs using existing keyboard shortcuts or a gesture. It's not clear how full-screen apps will work on dual-monitor systems though.

Is that it? I'm not interested in my Mac resembling a giant iPad.

Apple has also built in some intriguing new features and refinements which change the way we work with documents. Just as with iOS apps, if a Mac application crashes or you quit it and later restart it, it resumes from you left off with the same documents and window positions as before.

Apps will now also autosave documents so you should never inadvertently lose any data. A menu command lets you revert to a previous version if you make a change you later regret or the file can be locked to prevent it from being auto saved at all if you prefer.

Speaking of versioning, Lion now automatically keeps track of older versions of all your files which can be browsed and restored using a Time Machine-style interface. For more selective restorations, text and images can be copied from older versions. If a file is emailed to someone, only the most recent version should be sent.

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