Why OS X Lion roars

Next comes its support for non-Intel code. Before Apple moved over to Intel CPUs some five years ago, the platform ran on PowerPC RISC processors. In order to make the transition seamless, Apple licensed processor emulation code that enabled PPC code to be run on the Intel OS and hardware. The upside of this was that many apps that were useful back then would still run today, but the time has come to snip this umbilical cord and move over to a pure Intel environment. All of this is good stuff, and keeping its OS cleansed and up to date is something that all OS vendors should be able to manage. But it isn’t the stuff of game-changing advance.

Why OS X Lion roars

This is one of the most significant changes in the computing world for years

Despite a lively PC Pro podcast on this subject, and a Twitter debate with most of the editorial team one Saturday morning about the changes to the scroll direction on the touchpad, this isn’t a biggy, despite the passions that were vented at the time. No, let’s look at a couple of things that should make even the hardened Windows user blink and think twice.

First, system recovery. Most users don’t learn about Windows’ built-in recovery tools until something goes bang and they’re presented with a front-end boot menu offering them single-user login and so forth. This is all good stuff, but it’s of little use when something really nasty happens – then you wind up booting from the OS install DVD and going for a full reinstallation.

Before you do this, however, check out the fixing tools on the Vista and Windows 7 front menus. These comprise a set of intelligent tools that can recover your Windows machine from many common problems.

Similar tools exist in OS X, known also as Single User boot – you hold down the splodge-S key combination to boot into this mode (for non-Apple users, “splodge” is the affectionate term for the Cmd keys to the left and right of the spacebar). But what if things are worse still?

Well, you boot from the DVD in Windows, or from a USB key if you’ve built one using the Microsoft tools, and reinstall the OS. This is all straightforward, but what if your device has no DVD drive, or you have no disc and don’t have a large spare USB key already set up with the necessary installation files (which, naturally, will be the case for all but the most dedicated geeks)?

Apple has a solution for this fatal occasion, and it’s very elegant. First, when you install Lion it creates a hidden partition in which is stored a core bootable installation of the OS. Hold down splodge-R when you boot up the machine and it will take you to this installation, which is created even if you upgraded from Snow Leopard 10.6 rather than a clean install of Lion (unless, that is, you have a software RAID boot partition spread across a number of disks, in which case Lion will decline to set up this feature). From there, you can fix disks, reinstall the OS and so forth.

What if the disk itself is broken, or you’ve installed an entirely new hard disk? Well, the EFI BIOS firmware will notice that there’s no bootable device in the computer, and take you online to Apple’s cloud servers, from where you can download and automatically reinstall the OS onto your computer, using a full GUI. I accept that moving 4GB of OS code over the internet might take some time, but Apple’s view is clearly that the world is ready for this today, and I’d have to agree.

The installation licence is tied to your Apple account, so there’s no scrabbling around for that box with the long and unmemorable licence key printed on it (which was doubtless thrown out in the tidy-up after Christmas). No, with Lion you boot into the cloud, login and your licensed OS is downloaded, then all the apps that you’ve bought through the App Store are downloaded and installed too. And once the iCloud service is up and running in a few months, all your data will reappear too.

This is one of the most significant changes in the computing world for years. Enabling internet-connected users to do a full OS reinstall, app reinstall and reunion with their data has been the Holy Grail for anyone who has to do friends and family support. Tell your relative to splodge-R and let the machine sort everything out, then put the phone down and continue with your life. Of course, there are a few speed bumps here that are beyond Apple’s control. You wouldn’t want to attempt this over a PAYG 3G mobile data connection, or from a bandwidth-constrained hotel room network. But it brings a very powerful new system recovery feature into play, which means Apple can continue to grow the market while still staying in control of its technical support infrastructure.

Keeping the promise

Next up is Thunderbolt. I’ve been keeping an eye on this technology under its beta name of Light Peak from Intel. This is a quad-channel, 10Gbits/sec interconnect that delivers PCI bus and DisplayPort video into a single, small connector. It allows for up to eight devices to be daisy-chained together, and you can run quite large amounts of power down the bus, too. Its promise has been huge, and it’s now a shipping technology, both in Apple computers and in various peripherals.

Let’s look first at Promise’s drive array. For not many pennies over a grand (exc VAT), you get a medium-sized desktop tower case that holds six 2TB hard disks. On the back of this case is a pair of Thunderbolt ports and an IEC mains socket. Power it up, connect it to your Thunderbolt-equipped Mac and run the setup program provided on the supplied CD. The drive comes preconfigured to run in RAID5 mode, whereby one whole drive’s worth of space is used to store checksum information. This means that you can lose any one drive out of the set, and still keep working while you locate a replacement.

Calculating the checksums takes time: when you first power up the drive it creates the RAID5 array, which takes about six hours or so and tells you the length of time the rebuild will take. You can work with the drive while it’s building/rebuilding, but it’s best to let it do its work unhindered. Once it had completed, I had a 10TB single volume running in RAID5 over six 2TB disks.

Disclaimer: Some pages on this site may include an affiliate link. This does not effect our editorial in any way.

Todays Highlights
How to See Google Search History
how to download photos from google photos