Apple has announced the first developer preview of Mac OS X Lion, still eschewing the expected 10.7 version number but revealing a few more features and sticking to the summer ship date promise. For details on what Apple previously announced about Lion, see “Apple Offers a Glimpse of Mac OS X Lion” (20 October 2010).
In the press release, Apple makes much of the previously announced features, such as Launchpad, Mission Control, full-screen mode, gestures, Auto Save, and the capability for applications to resume where they left off. But at the end of the press release, Apple reveals some previously unknown improvements slated to appear in Lion. They include the following:
Apple Mail 5 will include a widescreen layout reminiscent of the iPad Mail app that I’ll bet will run in full-screen mode. Also, taking a page from Google’s Gmail, Mail will feature Conversations, which automatically groups related messages into an easy-to-read timeline, even if the subject changes along the way. Apple also claims that Mail will have more-powerful searching capabilities and support for Microsoft Exchange 2010.
A new Finder feature called AirDrop will make it easier to copy files wirelessly from one Mac to another with no setup, discovering local Macs automatically. Click the AirDrop icon in a Finder window’s sidebar to display nearby Macs using AirDrop, complete with photos for people in Address Book. To copy a file, drag it to the person’s name to copy it to their Downloads folder. Various utilities have offered features like this for years; AirDrop will have to outdo not just them, but the popular Dropbox.
Auto Save didn’t sound like much when Apple first announced it back in October, but additional details now indicate that it will save changes in the working document rather than make additional copies. To prevent changes from being saved inadvertently, you can enable a lock feature, and Auto Save automatically locks documents after two weeks (when you might just be referring to the document, or would save any changes intentionally). Applications will have to support Auto Save explicitly.
Another new technology, called Versions, will bring version control to the operating system, automatically saving successive versions of documents and providing an easy way to browse, edit, and revert to previous versions. No mention was made of any way of comparing versions automatically, though perhaps that will be an opportunity for independent developers. Versions will use an interface similar to Time Machine, though I hope it’s significantly snappier, since my experience is that browsing Time Machine is a slow and often frustrating experience. As with Auto Save, applications will have to support Versions explicitly.
Apple is promising an “all new FileVault” that provides full-disk encryption for local and external drives, along with the capability to wipe data from your Mac instantaneously. That’s one to let the security experts test carefully before using, based on FileVault’s past performance and the danger of a small bug causing entire disks to become inaccessible. For more on full-disk encryption, see Joe Kissell’s articles on PGP Whole Disk Encryption: “Securing Your Disks with PGP Whole Disk Encryption” (31 October 2008), “PGP Whole Disk Encryption and PGP Desktop Professional 10.0” (14 May 2010), and “Whole Disk Encryption, and Why Mac OS X 10.6.5 Broke PGP WDE” (14 November 2010).
Finally, despite Apple’s dropping of the Xserve line (see “A Eulogy for the Xserve: May It Rack in Peace,” 8 November 2010), Mac OS X Server will make the transition to Lion, with Apple promising that the new version will make setting up a server easier than ever. That’s in part because Lion Server will be built directly into Lion, with software that guides you through configuring the Mac as a server. Also, a new Profile Manager will add support for setting up and managing Mac OS X Lion, iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices. Wiki Server 3 will offer improved navigation and a new Page Editor. And Lion Server’s WebDAV support will provide iPad users the ability to access, copy, and share server-based documents.
Additional features will no doubt start to come to light as developers get their hands on the Lion preview. Interestingly, the preview is available to Mac Developer Program members through the Mac App Store, raising the possibility that perhaps we’ll all end up getting the release version of Lion through the Mac App Store as well.