As 2011 marks the tenth year since OS X launched, you might well expect Apple's operating system to be getting a little long in the tooth, but in reality quite the reverse is true. Because as well as turning ten years old, OS X also sees its seventh major update this year; turning it into Mac OS X 10.7 Lion.
As Apple describes it, Lion is really the coming full circle of the latest iterations of Mac OS. The original iPhone OS was derived from OS X, which itself has morphed over a number of revisions into the current iOS on both the iPad and iPhone. And now Apple is taking the lessons it learned in crafting an operating system for a mobile phone and tablet and applying them to the desktop. It will be summertime before OS X 10.7 is fully released but, thanks to the availability of a Developer Preview and a trip to Apple's London headquarters, here's what we know will be coming when Lion does debut.
Lion will be notable for its reflection of Apple's approach to touch-sensitive input awareness from mobile phones and tablets. Where Windows 7 offers multi-touch support to any desktop or laptop PC that wants to integrate it, OS X 10.7 won't be powering a touchscreen iMac or MacBook. This decision is driven by Apple's belief that a keyboard and Magic Trackpad are simply the best way to interact with a desktop operating system. And frankly, we agree - it rather detracts from the usefulness of a large display when half of it is covered by your hands or the fingerprints they left behind.
One of Lion's new additions, Launchpad, will definitely look familiar to anyone who has seen an iOS device. Launchpad brings your OS X apps into an interface akin to iOS home screens (with iOS-like folders also available), as a sort of halfway house between the dock and your Applications folder. There's integration with the App Store so that programs will pop straight onto your Launchpad once install, although it is still possible to grab an installer from a third party source; we can only hope that Apple doesn't decide we need a walled garden on the desktop, too.
Also new with Lion is the addition of full screen applications to the Mac. Windows users are, at this point, probably rubbing their eyes in disbelief that Mac users can use a computer that doesn't have a full screen option (it's almost worse than having no right click!) for its programs. The implementation is good, though, with both the Dock and Menu Bar hiding themselves - the latter reappearing on mouse-over - in full screen mode, giving over the entire screen to the app itself. That said, we'll definitely take umbrage with Apple if it tries to claim it invented the concept of a full screen application (and we wouldn't put it entirely past the same company that also practically claimed to have invented video calling).