Apple OS X 10.7 Lion review

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Eighteen months after Snow Leopard padded onto the scene, Apple’s latest big cat boasts more than 250 new features. Many are minor tweaks: for example, you can now pause the screensaver slideshow and search the web from Spotlight.

But Lion also brings more significant changes, beginning with improved support for multitouch gestures with animated feedback. It brings more of the flavour of iOS to MacBook users, bouncing the screen when you scroll to the bottom, for example.

Lion finally brings a full-screen application view, too, hitherto a frustrating omission from OS X. Compatible applications can be switched to full-screen with a new maximise button at the top right of the window. To create a distraction-free environment, Lion even auto-hides the menu bar.

Apple OS X 10.7 Lion

The last major new feature is Launchpad, which acts as an alternative to the Dock. It presents your applications in the iPad grid format, complete with jiggling icons that can be switched around and dragged into folders.

These changes create a mixed impression. Full-screen mode is welcome, but it’s a shame it isn’t more pervasive – pre-Lion applications can’t be maximised, nor Finder windows, making the feature seem half-baked. It feels slightly sluggish, too, thanks to a showy animated scaling effect that can’t be disabled.

We’re equally ambivalent about extended gesture support. For MacBook and TrackPad users, the ability to switch between apps with a swipe is a boon, but it doesn’t work so well with a mouse. The proliferation of arbitrary gestures, such as three-finger swiping and two-finger scrolling, also erodes the simplicity that was once the Mac’s calling card.

Launchpad, meanwhile, does nothing that the Dock doesn’t; in fact, it does less: there’s no equivalent to Stacks, no indication of which programs are running and zero configurability. As the icons are more spaced out, it also takes more mouse work to reach them. And keyboard support is limited to switching between screens of applications.

A new approach to saving

If Lion’s headline features are a disappointment, the package is more than saved by many smaller enhancements. One such innovation is the Auto Save and versioning framework, which introduces a new way of working with documents.

Compatible applications automatically save changes to your open documents, so you no longer need to worry about saving and loading. When you open an Auto Save-aware application, it automatically resumes its last-used state, allowing you to continue working from where you left off.

The idea sounds simple, but it requires you to work in a slightly new way: for example, if you make a mistake while editing a document, you can’t just reload the file to abandon your changes.

Apple OS X 10.7 Lion

Instead, you can take advantage of Lion’s automatic versioning. With a simple menu selection you can instantly revert to the last version of a file you manually saved, or to the last version you opened. And it’s all presented as a single file, so your folders don’t become cluttered with endless historical backups.

You can also lock files so they won’t be updated on disk, browse a file’s version history, and even paste information from an older version of a document into the current version. It takes a little getting used to, but once you get it, you’ll never want to go back to a basic versionless file system.

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