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Tech Report – Mac OS X Lion

The latest version of Apple’s laptop and desktop operating system is now available. Although Mac OS X Lion could be considered an upgrade rather than a major new release, it contains over 250 new features, additions, and tweaks.

The release of Mac OS X Lion continues Apple’s recent trend of merging features from its hugely successful iOS-driven mobile devices into its desktop products. Although Apple claims Lion “changes the way you experience everything on your Mac,” that experience won’t be unfamiliar to the growing army of iPad users.

Here are just a few of Lion’s many new features:

Multi-touch commands

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. We have become so used to the various multi-touch gestures on mobile devices that our desktops and laptops have become one-dimensional in comparison. Apple recently set out to change all that with the introduction of the Magic Trackpad and Magic Mouse. Mac OS X Lion builds on that new versatility by incorporating a whole new range of multi-touch commands.

Although it will mean learning a new set of two-finger and three-finger swipes and taps, these gestures will quickly become second nature and, after a while, you will wonder how you ever managed to operate your desktop without them.

Full-screen apps

Spurred on by the gorgeous displays available on the iPad, Apple has now brought full-screen display to almost every app on the Mac. Just tap a button in the corner of each app and the app suddenly takes over every inch of your mega-pixel screen. Tap the button again, and things are back to normal.

This full-screen option is available with all the standard Mac apps, including Mail, Safari, iPhoto, Keynote, Pages, and Numbers, and Apple is encouraging developers to build full-screen mode into third-party apps as well.

Mission Control

One of the problems with working on a Mac is that it’s sometimes hard to keep track of all your open  windows, which are often hidden behind generic desktop icons. With Lion, Apple has introduced Mission Control, which displays all your active windows in one live screen.

In fact, Lion goes one step further. Using Exposé, multiple windows belonging to the same app will be grouped in an organized manner and viewed using quick Multi-touch swipes. Mission Control means you will never get lost or waste precious seconds looking for open windows or apps that you were working on earlier.

Autosave, versions, and resume

If you have ever had the frustration of working on a document and then losing it all because you forgot to save it, then the new autosave feature in Lion will be a godsend. Mac OS X Lion will now autosave your work every 5 minutes or whenever you take a significant action, like send a document via e-mail. It will also autosave when you pause for a short time, for example when you reach the end of a paragraph.

Mac OS X Lion also gives you the ability to look through earlier versions of a document if you have  incorrectly amended or saved a later version. The resume feature lets you pick up exactly where you left off if you have to close your computer or shut down in a hurry.


Need to share a file with a family member or co-worker but don’t have time to open Mail? A new feature called AirDrop automatically locates nearby Macs which are using the feature and offers to create a peer-to-peer Wi-Fi connection. You can transfer files simply by dragging-and-dropping them to the appropriate icon and confirming that want to send them to that person.

Files are encrypted and a firewall is created between you and the person you're sharing files with, so the whole process is secure.

Updated Apps

Many of the more popular Mac apps, including Mail, Safari, iChat, Spotlight, and Photo Booth have received upgrades with Mac OS X Lion. Again, many of the upgrades borrow heavily from iOS and the iPad, using multi-touch and other mobile functionality to make them more user-friendly.

There are also dozens of other tweaks and tricks in Mac OS X Lion – everything from adding digital signatures using iSight to setting up interactive iTunes screensavers. In fact, there are so many features that it’s impossible to list them all. Most will only be discovered as individual users experiment or look for a better (iOS inspired) way to perform traditional desktop tasks.

How to Download

Mac OS X Lion is available from the Mac App Store, which means you need to be running Snow Leopard 10.6.6 or higher. If you are not running Snow Leopard, you will need to upgrade before you can download Lion. (It’s always a good idea to hit the Check for Updates button before you install any new software.)

Mac OS X Lion costs $29.99 and you will need an account with Apple via the Mac or iTunes Store in order to complete the purchase. The download is about 4GB, so make sure you have plenty of hard drive space. The download itself could take an hour or more, so also make sure you have plenty of downtime to complete the process.

If your home broadband is not quite up to the task, then you can complete the process at any Apple store. Lion will also be available via a USB thumbdrive beginning in August.

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