Lion In Old Mac's Farm

The latest of Apple's Mac operating systems comes with enhancements that promise to make computing easier.

Tushar Kanwar | Print Edition: September 2011

The latest shot in the longest standing mother-of-all flame-wars has been fired. Mac OS X Lion, the latest version of the Mac operating system, is here. Whether you're a Windows user curious to see what the fuss is all about or a Mac user hesitant to upgrade, here's a lowdown from the lion's den. Even if you're an early upgrader who has taken the plunge and are looking to make the most of your Lion experience, we've got you covered!


Mission Control: It sounds like something astronauts would need for their orbital flights, but fortunately one of Lion's biggest visual enhancements isn't at all rocket science. Mission Control provides a view of everything that is running on your Lion system at that moment. Instead of spreading all your windows, they are grouped by application, which makes it less overwhelming when you have a lot of apps open simultaneously. And much like the virtual desktop feature previously called Spaces, you can drag windows to and from spaces easily from the Mission Control view as well.

LaunchPad: Heavily iPad inspired, LaunchPad gives you instant access to your apps without digging into an Applications folder that sits buried deep on your computer. If you like the iOS method of organising apps by dragging apps to different screens or folders, you're going to love this feature.

Gestures: Apple has really gone to town with gestures built into the core of Lion, including the controversial new scrolling technique (see reverse scrolling). So, not only do you get the everyday left/right/up/down gestures, but you can also rotate, pinch, swipe with three fingers upwards to launch Mission Control, pinch to launch LaunchPad, Spread to see the Desktop-the list goes on. If you group your work and play into different virtual desktops, you're going to love the ability to three-finger swipe left or right to move between them. No more scrambling to hit the X button when the boss suddenly walks in.

User Interface: While on the face of it, very little seems to have changed from Mac OS X Snow Leopard, there are plenty of "iPad meets OS X" style tweaks that show the way forward. For example, scroll bars automatically hide when not in use, and selecting and grouping desktop icons result in a number in a red circle, so you know how many you've grabbed. Pretty much everything now has a rubberband feel to it like the iOS (pull down to the bottom of a page and it will spring back up).

Auto-Save And Version Control: One of the best under-the-hood enhancements in Lion is the automatic saving of all working documents, complete with built-in version control. What's really cool is that every time Lion saves your file, it creates a new version of the file so if you make a change you don't like, you can revert to one of the older saves. All you have to do is hit a button and the app will enter a Time-Machine view of the file's history, and you can pick the version you need. This may the one feature that might save your neck one day.

Resume: Lion's also added session saving to all apps on your system-you can choose to save your session when you shut down/restart your computer and when you turn it back on, Lion will restore all your windows, exactly as they were when you shut down. Similarly, when you quit an app, it will resume at the same state that you had closed it when you restart it, which is an added convenience.

AirDrop: AirDrop allows you to simplify the transfer of files between Macs that are near each other. No network configuration, folders or passwords required- just drag the files onto the computer's icon under AirDrop and AirDrop will create an ad-hoc Wi-Fi network between the two computers and transfer the files for you-fantastic for less tech-savvy users.

Pricing: If you compare it to the Windows upgrade pricing, the $29.99 (approx Rs 1,400) that a major OS upgrade like Lion costs is an incredible bargain. Imagine being able to upgrade your entire operating system for less than the price of a lot of software titles. Very impressive.


Reverse Scrolling: In Lion, Apple has changed the way you scroll through content to mimic the iPad or iPhone style-you move the content, instead of the scrollbars. This is, of course, different from the way you scroll on any other desktop OS, and as someone who uses both a PC and a Mac, the natural scrolling is incredibly disorienting if you hop back and forth between computers. Not that you don't get used to it (it takes a few hours), but it is a needless distraction, which, fortunately, you can turn off.

VERDICT: Lion is a big leap forward for Mac users, and the new features introduced will likely prove incredibly useful over time. While I expect it will really shine in a span of the next few months and its first couple of updates, there is really no reason to wait unless you depend on a mission critical app which has known issues with Lion.

Availability: Mac OS X Lion is the first Mac OS to be available solely via digital distribution, which means if you're stuck with a slow Internet connection, it's going to take several hours for the download to complete. Works both ways really, early adopters in India were able to download and install Lion on launch day, but one wishes Apple had provided alternatives to bandwidth-strapped countries as well.

Full-Screen Apps: Lion lets you make nearly all apps full-screenable, and while it is neat if you want a distraction-free environment, it's one of those features that seems like it is trying to be like the iOS for no particular justifiable reason.

Mouse Gestures: While we like the feature overall, if you're not a trackpad-person, you're going to have to turn the gestures off or be careful with your fingers on the trackpad if you don't want to be arbitrarily calling up desktop views you never asked for.

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