Saturday, June 1, 2013

Mac OSX Lion: First Impression

Guess what we got our hands on in the NDTV Gadgets lab - a developer beta version of the Mac OSX Lion. Apple is expected to launch the Lion on July 14.
To be clear, the dev build we encountered will more or less have the same feature set as the launched version but, in terms of performance, we expect a gigantic boost on the final build.
Our test bed was the top of the line 2011 iMac running the latest Sandy bridge i7 processor along with 16 GB of RAM and 2 GB AMD Radeon graphics. Admittedly, this is not a stock iMac configuration as it has been specifically customized for audio production purposes but, nonetheless, we believe this is the ideal test environment for the Operating System (OS) as we provided it with the best possible hardware Apple currently offers in the market.
Cosmetically, the Operating System looks exactly like the current Snow Leopard build but Apple has been developing this OS for sometime, so after considerable use we found there were numerous under-the-hood upgrades.
Apple claims the new OS has more than 250 new features, but that we will save those for the final review once we get our hands on the final build. In the mean time, the focus is on ten primary functionalities of the new OS.
INSTALLATION: Apple has cut the cord with the CD medium as they do not offer a retail version of the OS. Now it is only available as a 1.6 gigabyte download on the Mac apps store. Our developer version was already loaded on an external hard drive so we did not go through the painful 1.6 GB download. One thing is for sure, we have never witnessed an OS install itself this fast. We were up and running in less than 40 minutes and the whole experience is quite painless.
USER INTERFACE:  At first glance, Apple doesn't seem to have rehashed the user interface at all but look closer and the differences are right there. Firstly, the dots appearing below the apps in the dock have disappeared. In all honesty, we can't figure out why Apple took the trouble to do this as it serves no real purpose, except perhaps to give the UI a cleaner look. The dots were indicators for all running apps and were also used to tell us if an app was in the process of launching or not. If Apple has such omitted this functionality in the final build, it will be thoroughly missed.
Besides this, Apple has added tons of new animations and, while scrolling, we felt as if our mouse had been pumped with nitrous. Clearly, Apple has implemented the momentum based scrolling which is associated with the iOS, powering the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.
Another noteworthy UI tweak is that Apple has completely eliminated the scroll bars down the sides of the OS. This gives the UI a sense of more space. This has been done so as users can scroll with twin finger swipes via a magic mouse or a track-pad on a Mac. When one swipes the scroll, the  bar magically pops up on the side. Very nifty indeed.
GESTURES: With Mac OSX Lion Apple has really pushed gestures to the fore enabling a more touch screen like experience with the speed and fluidity of a keyboard. We get gestures for each and every conceivable task. Inertial scrolling, pinch to zoom, pinch to open Launch Pad, swipes for Mission Control, spread gestures to open the desktop and many more - in all, we get the whole nine yards.
The experience is very iOS-ish and people who rely on keyboard short cuts will take their sweet time adapting to the gestures on the TrackPad but once the transition is over awesomeness is guaranteed.
FINDER:  The Finder too gets an update. We see a number of icons popping up here. Notably All My Files and Airdrop . All My Files basically provides a stacked view of all content that exists on the machine and arranges it in accordance to the file types. Airdrop is Apple's new Wi-Fi data transfer functionality. We could not test this functionality, as we needed an Airdrop compatible device.
SECURITY:  After the embarrassing Mac Defender Malware security breach, Apple has stepped up the security on OSX Lion. A revamped disk encryption system has been added.
One can now also enable or disable location based services. We are just scratching the surface with the security enhancements. We will have more in the final review.
VERSIONS: Versions allows users to reboot a particular file and walk through the various edited versions of it. For instance if we edited a Word document on the 1st July and then re-edited on the 2nd and 3rd we could walk through all the various edit cycles of the document.
LAUNCHPAD:  LaunchPad was one of the most heavily promoted features of Mac OSX. Its intention was to give users an iOS like interface for scrolling applications on the Mac. We believe it serves its purpose and even emulates all the rubberband-like animations from the iOS, but the question is why would one use this when one could have more than ten critical applications on the dock? This might be an attempt to emulate Windows where one can have application shortcuts on the desktop. This is a slick way of accessing one's apps but, then again, Mac OS X already provides a dock which is equally convenient if not more. How many options do we need, Apple?
MISSION CONTROL:  So Apple provides us with multiple ways of accessing our apps - we have the dashboard filled with widgets and have multiple files running in different spaces. What do we do? Expose would be a good guess, right? Apple begs to differ. Enter Mission Control, which is essentially Expose on steroids providing access to spaces, desktops and dashboard apart from all the running apps. This is a welcome addition and will definitely simplify our workflow.
For those who do not not know Expose is a click preview functionality baked into Mac OSX. It cleverly shows previews of all open windows on the screen. With Mission control Expose functionality take a giant leap.
AUTO SAVE AND RESUME: We all know that in the iOS we do not need to save files, they are saved automatically. Now, Apple brings the same simplistic functionality to Lion.
Another interesting ability Lion has is the resume functionality, which basically allows users to start their machines with all their previous apps in an open state. Users generally don't shut down their machines as it takes a long time loading apps and now Apple has provided a slick solution.
APPS:  Apart from all the smart improvements, Apple has revamped the apps which come preloaded on Lion. For starters, all apps are full-screen. So we get to utilize the full spectrum of the display unobstructed.
Besides this Mail, Safari, iCal and Address Book get upgrades. When we mean upgrades we mean iOS style upgrades.
Obviously Mail gets the heftier upgrade with its interface mimicking iOS style dual panes and also a conversation style message scroller similar to the iPhone. Address Book now looks a lot like the iPad Address Book with it having dual panes and better contact organization options.
On the whole, Mac OSX Lion feels like an incremental upgrade but then again Apple has shorter upgrade cycles than those of Microsoft's so updates do seem more evolutionary than revolutionary. But one thing is clear, Apple has made Lion a simpler operating system and will quickly become the object of the affections of those who love iOS for its simplicity.
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