What we know about Mac OS X 10.7 'Lion'

October 26, 2010 11:01 AM EDT

Apple's new Lion OS will be leaner, keener and meaner than ever; it will teach Mac users a whole new touch-based way to interface with their computer, and borrows heavily from elements of Apple's also NeXT-based iOS system for mobile devices.

Jobs explained that touch interfaces don't feel right in a (vertical) plane -- you don't want to touch your iMac's screen -- this means trackpads and the Magic Mouse are the interfaces for the future iOS/OS X integration (at least at present -- for the future, who knows?)

In future it isn't hard to imagine touch controls evolving to become gesture-based using the iSight (now FaceTime) cameras inside most Macs, but that's some way down the line. Minority Report isn't here yet.

[This story is from Computerworld's Apple Holic blog. Follow on Twitter or subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

Promising a "ton of new features", Jobs observed, "Lion brings many of the best ideas from iPad back to the Mac, plus some fresh new ones like Mission Control that Mac users will really like,."

So, what do we know about the new operating system that will power ever more substantial chunks of the PC industry?

App Store for Mac
The App Store for Mac opens for business next month. It works a little like the App Store for iOS devices, and will allow customers to download applications from Apple and others directly to their computers, with software sold on a license entitling you to install your new program on all your personal Macs.

Apple's taking the now familiar 30 percent cut on software sold via the store. This also requires software sold to go through Apple's sometimes tortuous approvals process, and could see Apple wield even more control over software sold for the platform.

While I think it is likely we'll see Apple allow third party software sales to continue outside of the store -- shareware and at retail -- the debut of the Mac App Store means there's a slight chance Apple could one day demand that all applications sold for the platform be sold via its store. I'd think the company insane to make such a demand.

The Launchpad
Launchpad will be a flick-through screen showing icons for each of your apps, you'll access it via your Dock and will be able to organize the icons in a very similar way to that in which you organize them into pages on your iPad. You'll be able to create your own custom order and gather apps into folders, if you like.

If you think back to how excited Jobs was a few years back when introducing CoverFlow navigation for Apple's iPod and iTunes products, you'll get a sense as to just how many years of thought have gone into these touch-based implementations for Mac OS X. Also icon-based, CoverFlow lets you navigate through your music collection on iTunes or supporting Apple media devices.

Full-screen apps
Apple's promising full-screen apps. This will be nice because you'll immediately enjoy more screen space, it will become easier to focus on projects and more. It will be possible to flick between applications or application windows using a swipe gesture on your touch-enabled trackpad. And you'll still have access to the standard Mac Desktop for other apps and more.

Mission Control
Lion's new 'Mission Control' feature will let you easily explore all the windows, widgets and apps running on your Mac, flicking through these like you might with an iPad.

This will be a far more comprehensible way to use Dashboard (don't be surprised to see some evolution of Dashboard apps and use of those apps once the Mac App Store's up-and-running.), Spaces and Expose than before. Lion will improve these existing features by, gathering all these interfaces within the Mission Control window.

AutoSave
This didn't get a whole heap of attention during Apple's keynote last week, but seems set to be the handiest feature of the lot. You'll never lose a project ever again. In a related feature, when you launch an application you'll find it restarts exactly where you left off.

I am curious if:

  • AutoSave data will consume vast amounts of drive space
  • If Apple will enable TimeMachine support within AutoSave in order that you can save current projects seamlessly to online and offline storage services -- perhaps hosted in North Carolina?
  • In the latter event, then I'm curious if you'll be able to use this to access your Mac-made projects using another PC or iOS device, with projects launching on your access device exactly where you left off?


AutoSave + ZFS?
Pre-Snow Leopard strong speculation claimed Apple would use the ZFS file system. However, iOS uses HFS+ for auto-saving. Despite this, ZFS would enable Apple to secure large amounts of data for very small quantities of disk space.

However, Apple was seen to be hiring filesystem engineers last year, so it is possible it intends taking development of a new file system in-house. It is worth pondering just how much data Apple intends storing at its data centers? With cloud-based systems almost with us, whatever file system is used must be extremely lightweight, secure and stable.

Altered images
We saw a few glimpses of new graphical user interface elements within the new OS, a few small specifics include

New scroll bars: Expect these to appear when you initiate a swipe gesture up or down, as they do on an iOS device. Gone is the bright Aqua color scroll bar, in is the black/grey discreet scrolling of the iPhone.

Altered windows: Those status indicators (red, yellow, green 'lights') at top left of every window move ever so slightly to the right and down.

Resize, restyle: You will be able to resize windows from any corner. MacRumors also notes the active application indicators under application icons in the Mac OS X Dock will disappear.


Farewell Flash, cheerio Java
Apple isn't abandoning Flash and Java per se -- instead what the company intends doing is ceding control of either standard on the Mac.

Neither seem set to ship pre-installed on future Lion-powered Macs (Flash has already been removed from some, though there are plenty of older models in the inventory at present).

Mac users wanting to run Java or Flash will be required to download and install the most recent versions from the manufacturers behind the standards.

This is good in terms of maintaining timely upgrades to both software packs, but also means third party firms will be responsible for the user experience of the standards on a Mac. I see trouble ahead.

FaceTime everywhere
Apple is testing FaceTime for existing Macs. Soon you'll be able to make and receive calls via WiFi with Mac, iPhone, iPod touch and (one day) iPad users everywhere. Don't be too surprised to see FaceTime (which Apple announced at WWDC as a standard it hoped to share with other manufacturers) emerge on devices from outside Cupertino in future.

Who knows, perhaps one day we won't need mobile carriers at all, once free WiFi enables us to make FaceTime calls using Facetime apps on our Android, webOS and Windows Phone devices?

Push notifications
Apple tells us that when someone tries to make a FaceTime call to your Mac, the call will ring through on every Mac you own, even if FaceTime isn't running. That sounds reasonable (though annoying if you're attempting to avoid that irritating ex-boy or girlfriend), but it also means something else: Lion seems likely to offer support for background notifications, a la iPhone.

Lightweight OS
The removal of elements of Java runtime from within the OS is likely to be the thin end of the wedge -- expect the future Apple system to be incredibly lightweight. In this way it continues the transition we saw in Snow Leopard, where all legacy code (PowerPC etc) was removed. This will be a lean Lion.

OpenCL
Snow Leopard further extends support for modern hardware with Open Computing Language (OpenCL), which lets any application tap into the vast gigaflops of GPU computing power previously available only to graphics applications. OpenCL is based on the C programming language and has been proposed as an open standard.

Recently ratified, OpenCL 1.1 adds:

  • New data types including 3-component vectors and additional image formats;
  • Handling commands from multiple host threads and processing buffers across multiple devices;
  • Operations on regions of a buffer including read, write and copy of 1D, 2D or 3D rectangular regions;
  • Enhanced use of events to drive and control command execution;
  • Additional OpenCL C built-in functions such as integer clamp, shuffle and asynchronous strided copies;
  • Improved OpenGL interoperability through efficient sharing of images and buffers by linking OpenCL and OpenGL events.


OpenCL will become ever more critical as Apple attempts to extract maximum power from its Mac and any other future supported OS X 'Lion' based systems.

iOS apps
Will Lion run iOS apps?

For those who missed it, here's Apple's Lion event video.