February 22, 2013

MAC OS X LION PREVIEW




Apple showcased the eighth and latest version of Mac OS X, named Lion. Unlike the version that came before it, Lion is a far more significant update. Apple has combined some of the features that they have developed for iPad, such as multi-touch gestures, App Store, auto save, etc., with OS X. Lion has several new features such as Mission Control, Launchpad, App Store, fullscreen apps, auto-save, Resume Air Drop and the new Mail 5 application.

Last week Apple released a developer preview of Lion on the Mac App Store and we couldn't wait to get our hands on it and try it on our MacBook Pro (2010 edition). So here is a brief summary of our experience with Lion over the past few days.

Note: Being an early developer preview, the OS was definitely buggy and it is for that very reason that we would not recommend users to try it on their personal Macs, unless they know what they are doing and have the patience of dealing with an early build.

Jump to the last page for the screencast. 


UI Changes
The installation process went smoothly and was no different from that of Snow Leopard. Even when the OS started for the first time the welcome video that is part of every Mac was the same as that for Snow Leopard. We assume Apple did not bother making a new one for the developer beta but would be part of the final version when it ships later this year. Good thing about this installation is that it does not harm your current applications and settings.

UI Finder


At first glance the OS looked deceptively similar to the one we had prior to updating. The menu bar and the dock looked identical. We then noticed a new addition to the menu bar; it shows the name of the current user next to the Spotlight icon. Speaking of Spotlight, the dropdown menu is a lot bigger than before, which is a welcome change.

Going into Finder revealed some of the more significant UI changes. For starters, the windows buttons in the top left corner are now smaller, probably because few people used them instead of the more convenient keyboard shortcuts. Secondly, the windows now have a grainy look to them, which looks much nicer. Some of the buttons have now changed. Grouped buttons now have a slider. You can either slide it around or tap on the option of your choice and it will slide there. Scroll bars on the right and bottom are no longer permanent and disappear when you don't need them, another UI element that's been adopted from iOS. You can make them stay permanently if you miss them or put it into auto, so that it would switch to permanent when a mouse is connected and temporary when using trackpad.

UI changes



Speaking of Finder, you will notice that the options in the sidebar are now much bigger and now have additional options such as All My Files and AirDrop (more on this later). You can adjust the size of these in the settings and you now have three options, the middle one being default with the smallest one resembling the setting on previous versions of Mac OS. In Lion, Finder opens in All My Files by default, but you can also make it open anything else in Preferences.

The one thing that caught us by surprise when we started scrolling was that it was going in the opposite direction of what we are used to. Normally you would swipe your fingers down to scroll down on a page but in this case doing that would result in the page going up, just like on a touchscreen device. Needless to say this caused some severe confusion initially, until we found the option in System Preferences that would take it back to the old way of scrolling.

While that method of scrolling makes sense on a touchscreen device it would take a lot of getting used to on a computer. You also get inertial scrolling if you have a MacBook Pro with the multi-touch trackpad or the Magic Mouse and now in Lion you also get the rubberband effect, where when you reach the end of the page, it continues to scroll up and then snaps back to a stop.

We had issues with scrolling in the developer preview of Lion. While it worked perfectly with the built-in applications and Apple's own apps such as Pages, it worked haphazardly with third-party apps. Inertial scrolling didn't work at all and in Firefox; the scrolling would just stop working, until we clicked on the scroll bar and even then it would stop after a time.

Other UI changes we noticed were buttons that are now squared-off edges compared to the oval, capsule-like buttons on the previous versions. Progress bars are now in a lighter shade of blue than before. Windows now pop-open, just the way applications pop-open when you launch them in iOS. Also, if you click the green button in the top left corner, the window smoothly increases or decreases in size. Best of all you now can resize application windows from any side and not just from the bottom right corner. It makes one wonder why it took them eight versions to implement this feature.

The dashboard now appears as a space by default, with a black background. However, you can turn it back to its floating self through the settings. Speaking of Spaces, you can now have has many as 16, with a custom wallpaper for each of them.

The preview option has also been updated. Earlier, when you pressed Space key after highlighting a file, it would open it in a small window. Now it has the close and maximize buttons in the top left corners, an option to open the file with the default app assigned to it and even the option to view it full-screen. If you mark multiple files, you can navigate between them using the arrow keys above or even view them at once in a grid.

Lion comes with several UI changes, some minor some major but the good things is that Apple has made them optional, so if you don't like them you can always revert back to the way things were in Snow Leopard. 


Trackpad Gestures

The trackpad gestures have undergone multiple changes to accommodate additional functionalities, such as Launchpad and Mission Control (more on that later).

Initially, three finger gesture was used to navigate. Now it can be used for Mission Control or for dragging windows as well. We preferred to use it for navigation. 
gestures


Swiping four fingers horizontally would show the running applications, similar to pressing CMD+Tab but now that functionality is gone (which we miss a lot). You can now swipe four fingers horizontally to switch between spaces or navigate and vertically for Mission Control and strangely, again Navigate, although we couldn't make it work in that mode. You can also use four fingers to pinch for Launchpad and spread for showing the desktop. This wasn't the easiest gesture to perform so we had to resort to using the corners for these functions.

We do hope Apple reconsiders the trackpad gestures because in their current version they don't seem very user friendly and using them all to perform the same gestures makes them feel wasted. Also, the purpose of these gestures was to make navigation simpler but now with so many of them to remember it just adds to the confusion.


Launchpad

Launchpad is the new way to open applications on the Mac. It presents all your installed applications in a grid the way iOS does and you swipe horizontally to move between multiple application screens. You can even create folders by dragging an icon over another and the folder intelligently names itself. Newly installed applications automatically find themselves in the Launchpad list on the last page. All this is fine but to be honest, seasoned Mac users are so used to launching applications by typing the initial characters of their name in Spotlight they probably wouldn't bother with this.

launchpad


With so many icons on the screen at once, it takes a while to spot the one that you want to open, a problem you won't face on iOS because there are so few icons on the screen. This was one feature of the Lion that we never found ourselves using, save for the first couple of times when we tried it out and decided we didn't like it. It's just another way of launching apps but unfortunately, not the better way that Apple thinks it is.


Mission Control
With Leopard, Mac OS introduced two new features to users, Spaces and Expose. Spaces were basically multiple desktops, which let you distribute your windows across them so that you don't clutter your screen. Expose would give you a birds eye view of all the open windows on your system, which was further refined in Snow Leopard, where you could even see minimized windows and windows from different applications grouped together. Mission Control combines Spaces and Expose into one single entity.



When you call forth Mission Control, you will see all your Spaces on top in a row. If you have set Dashboard to appear as a space then it will also be visible here. Below will be your current space in the background with all the open windows in front of it, grouped together by application type. Minimized windows aren't shown. To see those, you will have to swipe four fingers down on the trackpad to see windows from only the currently used application. Swiping horizontally lets you move between spaces, as does holding the Control button and using the arrow keys.

You can move windows from one space to another, by just grabbing the application icon below the window and dragging all the open windows of that app into another space. If there are any full screen windows then they appear as a separate space with the application name below them. If you click on another space, it slides into view, showing the open windows inside it below.

While it is definitely convenient to see both your spaces and open windows simultaneously, Mission Control can make things look a lot more cluttered with so much information on the screen at once, especially if you have a lot of open windows and a Mac with a small display.

Full-screen mode
Just like the ability to resize windows from all sides, Apple suddenly realized that people also like to use their applications in fullscreen mode at times, so now apps like Safari, Preview, Mail, iCal and iPhoto can go full-screen (iPhoto can go full-screen even in older versions of Mac if you have iLife '11 installed). In case of Safari, it's not true full-screen, as you can still see the address bar and tab bar at the top all the time. If an app can go full-screen you can see the icon in the top left corner of the window.

Currently, only these apps can go full-screen and you can't just make any app go full-screen, which is a shame. We guess that depends upon the developer, whether they want to utilize this functionality in their applications.

Full-screen mode has mostly benefited Preview, which can now show your images and PDF files in full-screen. PDF files appear in a two page layout in full-screen mode, with a sliding animation when you scroll between pages.

We did face an issue with the developer beta. In Safari, for instance, once you leave full-screen mode, the menu bar would continue to hide itself until you restart the application. Other apps did not have this problem though.
Auto Save and Versions
One of the best things about apps in iOS, such as Notes is that they save their data automatically without manual intervention and at regular intervals. You don't have to remember to save manually or risk losing your data. This functionality has now been introduced to Mac OS X. With auto save, applications will automatically save changes that you make in the document at regular interval. Of course, you get the option to do so manually as well. Unlike the auto-save feature in applications such as Microsoft Office, which create a new version of the file apart from the one that already exists and saves all the new data in it, Auto Save saves all the changes in the same file, thus saving space. 
versions


If you don't want it to save automatically, to prevent inadvertent saving of data, then there is a lock function in the top right corner of the window. This will stop recording all further automatic changes to the document. There is also a Revert function, that discards all the changes you made to the file and goes back to the way it was when you last opened it.

Versions is similar to the History function in Photoshop. It records the changes that you make to the file and then saves them. Then, when you feel the need to go back to a certain point and start again, it will show you your current document and on its right all the changes you made to it, so you can scroll back to a particular point and start from there. The interface for Versions looks very similar to that of Time Machine.

auto-save


Both Auto Save and Versions are extremely handy features that are bound to make your life a whole lot easier. In fact, of all the new features Lion introduces, we found these two to be the most useful.


Resume
With the Resume feature, you can now shutdown your Mac and when you power it on all your windows that were open will appear back the way they were. When you press the power button, you now get an additional option, which asks you whether you want to reopen your windows when you log back in. You can uncheck it if you don't want to. This function didn't work so well in the beta that we tested. For example, we had a PDF file open in Preview before we shut down the machine. When we started it, Preview was open but the file wasn't.



Resume also saves application data, so when you reopen them they open to their last state before quitting. So for example, you may be writing something in TextEdit. You can just CMD+Q to close the app and when you restart it, it will go back to the state it was before quitting without losing any data. Currently this only works with the built-in apps and will only work for apps designed specifically for Lion.


Mail 5
mail 5


Lion includes a new version of Mail. The UI now resembles the iPad Mail app, with your inbox on the left and your messages on the right. It also has full-screen mode, but we can't imagine who would want to use that. There is also a new conversation view now, so mails appear in single thread, even if the subject changes.

AirDrop
Lion comes with a new file sharing feature, called AirDrop. This lets you share files with other Mac users with AirDrop over Wi-Fi. The option is available in Finder, where you will see other AirDrop users and you can recognize them by their profile pictures. The just drag a file over their profile and the transfer starts instantly and the file then lands in their downloads folder. Unfortunately, we couldn't test this feature as we did not have another Mac with Lion installed.




Lion also comes with other new features, such as Lion Server, which is no longer a separate OS. You get the option to select whether yours is a standard home machine or a server when you install the OS but you cannot just switch later on without reinstalling the OS. You also have a new FileVault and the Mac App Store is now built-in instead of a separate download.


Verdict
There is no doubt that Lion is a definite improvement over Snow Leopard. It brings in many new features, the best of which we thought were Auto-Save and Versions. There are occasions when it seems to be a little more complicated than before. The new gestures that have been added will take some time getting used, as will Mission Control.

We also couldn't find much utility in Launchpad and preferred to stick with our old way of launching apps. And some of the features such as full-screen mode and Auto-Save are currently only limited to the built-in applications and not available to every app unless their developers take special efforts to implement them in their apps, which could take a while. The built-in Mac App Store is great and makes downloading apps for your Mac so much easier. It's also nice that Apple is including the Server edition within Lion, instead of charging $499 for it the way they do for Snow Leopard Server. Admittedly, it was for an unlimited number of users, which Lion probably won't be.

It's difficult to say right now whether you should be upgrading your machine or not when Lion comes out. To be honest, we don't see enough reasons to do so right now, but things may change by the time Lion actually releases. There is a reason why Apple has released this developer preview, so that developers can start working on making their applications work well with Lion.

Who knows, by the time Lion comes out, most of the applications that we use daily would be compatible with features such as Auto-Save and Versions. We might even get used to working with Mission Control, although we don't ever see ourselves using Launchpad much. So we will reserve our judgment till then, when we have a retail copy of Lion running on our machine and have spent enough time with it.
We wanted to show many more things in the video, such as Versions and the new Mail 5 app, but since this was a developer beta, it would crash if we started doing too many things at once. This is all we have for now but we think we have covered most of the new features.  

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