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Apple Offers a Glimpse of Mac OS X Lion

Keeping entirely with the advertised “Back to the Mac” invitation that showed a lion peeking out from behind a brushed aluminum apple, Apple CEO Steve Jobs last week presented a preview of features we can expect to see in the next big cat—Mac OS X Lion. (Apple never used a version number, but we presume it will be 10.7.) Slated for “Summer 2011” (in the Northern Hemisphere), Mac OS X Lion takes its inspiration from the aspects of iOS that Apple has found both particularly successful and applicable to a desktop or laptop computer, including the App Store, multi-touch gestures, app home screens, full-screen apps, and more.

Mac App Store -- With 7 billion downloads so far, the App Store has been a huge success. And now, as we joked in our April Fools article “Apple Plans App Store Shakeup with Franchises, Mac Applications” (1 April 2010), Apple will be creating an App Store exclusively for Mac applications. Although the Mac App Store will be integrated into Mac OS X Lion, we won’t have to wait until the middle of 2011 to see it—Jobs said Apple would be opening the Mac App Store within 90 days, and developers will be able to start submitting their apps next month. The Mac App Store will complement, not replace, the ability to install programs by hand, whether free or commercial.

If you’ve seen the App Store app on the iPad, you’ve essentially seen the App Store application—Apple isn’t shoehorning it into iTunes. Buttons at the top include Featured, Top Charts, Categories, and Updates, and there’s a search field as well. Click a purchase button and you’ve bought the app; it jumps out of the App Store and onto your Dock, with the familiar iOS icon fill bar showing as it downloads. Installation is completely automatic, as are updates.

Free and paid apps will be available. While average prices will undoubtedly be higher than in the iOS App Store, the revenue split will be the same, with developers receiving 70 percent and Apple retaining 30 percent. Jobs said apps will be licensed for use on all your personal Macs; what that really means and how it will be enforced remains to be seen. Many Mac programs today are sold with explicit licensing terms to allow use by a single individual on multiple computers, or under a family or household license that allows software to be used on all the computers owned by people who cohabitate. Others, notably Microsoft’s and Adobe’s suites, use serial numbers with a central server check and local network limitations to restrict usage. iOS apps can be installed on multiple devices registered to the same iTunes Store account, but apps are also allowed to use accounts and serial numbers to restrict usage; many GPS navigation programs, which can cost $30 to $80, lock down usage in that way.

Other questions abound. For instance, what about demo versions? The buzz on Twitter as Jobs announced the Mac App Store was immediately focused on the current inability of the iOS App Store to offer limited demo versions of paid apps for potential buyers to try out. This is a real concern for Mac programs, which can cost hundreds of dollars, and many of which currently offer trial modes or 30-day test periods. Apple could allow the Mac App Store to provide demo versions, of course, or developers could offer trial versions from their own Web sites, but that defeats the marketing potential of the Mac App Store.

Likewise, iOS app developers have been increasingly vocal about their inability to sell paid upgrades of apps. Some developers have worked around this by releasing subsequent versions as new apps, and requiring a new purchase for owners of previous releases. Apple will need to address both these issues.

To a lesser extent, developers are concerned about the revenue split. Mac software developers are used to paying 5 to 15 percent for payment processing, and may not immediately see (nor obtain) the value of the marketing channel that the Mac App Store provides. In the iOS App Store, marketing is essentially impossible. If your app is anointed as a staff pick, sales can go up. But iOS developers have no other channel to sell to device owners. Mac developers have existing channels and will need to evaluate the Mac App Store as a new method of reaching customers in exchange for the 30-percent transaction fee.

Multi-Touch Gestures -- Interestingly, Jobs made a point of talking about a feature that Macintosh hardware won’t be gaining—touch-sensitive displays. He said that Apple had done extensive user testing and while vertical touch screens demo well, in real usage, they’re just too tiring to use for any amount of time. So while Mac OS X Lion will make increased use of gestures for basic functionality, the hardware for them will remain horizontal, in the form of MacBook trackpads, the Magic Mouse, and the Magic Trackpad. If you aren’t using one of those devices now, Lion may give you incentive to buy one.

App Home Screen -- Although I’m not sure I agree with Jobs that the iOS home screen has been a huge win in iOS (I’m never quite happy with any organization I set up), Apple will be bringing the home screen concept to Mac OS X Lion via a feature called Launchpad. Invoked via a multi-touch gesture, Launchpad hides everything showing on your Desktop and displays a grid of apps.

Multiple pages are available, you can rearrange icons on each page, and you can drag icons on top of one another to create folders, just like in iOS 4. And, of course, you can click any icon to launch the associated app. (I believe it’s a single click, but we won’t know for certain until it ships.) Oh, and if you swipe to the right while showing the left-most home screen page, Launchpad displays your Dashboard widgets. Does anyone use Dashboard widgets?

Full-Screen Apps -- On the small-screen iOS devices, every app takes over the entire screen, and while Jobs admitted that doesn’t make sense for every app on the Mac, it is true that some programs are more usable when viewed at full screen. That’s especially true of Apple’s iLife apps—iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand—which need to present a lot of data and controls at once. Some current Mac applications can operate in a full-screen mode, but it’s unusual, since there’s no standardized way in Mac OS X to return to the normal view.

With Mac OS X Lion, full-screen mode is now a standard feature. For apps that support it, the green zoom button in windows will cause an app not to zoom to the largest window size, but to fill the entire screen. In Apple’s demo, even the menu bar disappeared, and if that’s required by full-screen mode, developers will have to ensure that in-window controls are sufficient.

To switch to another app while using one in full-screen mode, you use another multi-touch gesture (or so it appeared in the demo). When you switch, the full-screen app remains running in what is essentially its own space (as in a Spaces space). Other gestures let you switch back to the full-screen app and move among other full-screen apps. The demo didn’t make clear how you make a particular app in full-screen mode switch back to windowed mode.

Mission Control -- Now, you might be thinking that full-screen apps are encroaching a bit on Spaces’ territory, and you’d be right. But in fact, Apple has a number of technologies—Exposé, Dashboard, Spaces, and now full-screen apps—that all manage the screen in some way. Dealing with them all is becoming a bit confusing, so Apple will be introducing an umbrella technology called Mission Control to bring them all together.

Invoked by, you guessed it, another multi-touch gesture, Mission Control shows spaces and full-screen apps in an area at the top of the screen, a collection of Exposé windows that are collected together by app in the middle of the window, and the Dock at the bottom. In short, it shows you everything on your Mac at a glance.

I still feel that most of the problems Apple is trying to solve with these interface approaches disappear entirely if you have two displays, which is easy on all modern Macs. I find Spaces thoroughly confusing because it requires me to maintain an internal mental model of where different applications live, and I never use Exposé to find windows because I can either see them or access them with a single press of a function key (mapped in Keyboard Maestro); other TidBITS editors have never even touched Spaces. And I have never found a single use for Dashboard. But, if you’re running within the constrained space of a laptop screen all the time, perhaps Mission Control will be just what you need.

Auto Save and App Resuming -- The final two features of iOS that Jobs said Apple would be bringing to Mac OS X Lion were auto-saving and apps resuming where they left off when relaunched. Presumably there’s additional underlying code in iOS that makes it easy for apps to auto-save and save their state, and that will be coming forward into Lion, since there’s certainly no reason at all that a Mac program couldn’t do auto-save now. Some applications, like Firefox and BBEdit, already resume exactly where they left off after a quit or crash.

The Cat’s Meow? -- As Steve Jobs’s vaunted Reality Distortion Field fades away, it’s unclear how much of a difference these new features in Mac OS X Lion would make in my computing life. Certainly, the Mac App Store will have huge ramifications for developers and users alike, but it will be released for Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard in the next 90 days.

While I do some of my work on an aluminum unibody MacBook with a trackpad, most of what I do now is on a Mac Pro with a pair of 24-inch displays, where I use a RollerMouse Pro from Contour Designs for mousing around. Rejiggering my workspace to accommodate a Magic Trackpad would require some doing, and without multi-touch support, I’m uncertain how some of these new features will work. (Glenn Fleishman found the Magic Trackpad painful to use with his minor hand and wrist problems.) And even if I were to add a trackpad to my workspace, I prefer launching apps via Keyboard Maestro’s hotkeys and LaunchBar’s abbreviations, and apart from sliding windows out of the way of my Desktop, I never use Exposé or Spaces. It’s not that I don’t like them; I simply have no use for them.

Like many TidBITS readers who have equally ingrained and efficient methods of working, I am not Apple’s target audience for Mac OS X Lion. Let me go out on a limb here and suggest in the nicest possible way that Apple doesn’t really care about us. We’re loyal customers and we’ll kit our Macs out with all sorts of clever software from independent developers. Instead, Apple is aiming these changes in Lion at a special sort of switcher—the iOS user who isn’t currently connecting her device to a Mac. Such a person has Windows, but probably doesn’t know much about it, and is buying a Mac because she prefers iOS. Given how many millions of iOS devices Apple has sold to date, that has to be a sizable market, and these people are already predisposed to like Apple.

Back to the Mac isn’t just about focusing on Mac technologies, it’s about bringing iOS users into the Mac fold for the first time. Jobs said that the Mac accounts for 33 percent of Apple’s revenue now and is a $22 billion business. Fears that Apple might be losing interest in the Mac in favor of iOS and its associated devices still seem unfounded. However, it’s entirely possible that Apple’s renewed focus on the Mac may be taking it in a direction that doesn’t do a lot for professional users (recall that, during the quarterly financial conference call just two days prior, Jobs said, “the consumer is at the forefront”—see “Apple Reports $4.31 Billion Profit for Q4 2010,” 18 October 2010).

Ponder that for a moment, and if you aren’t entirely happy about it, think about what features Apple could add in Mac OS X Lion that would make your day and add them to the comments on this article. After all, Apple won’t be loosing this Lion on the public for another nine or ten months.


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Comments about Apple Offers a Glimpse of Mac OS X Lion
(Comments are closed.)

Dave Scocca  2010-10-20 15:03
Quick correction: "a lion peeking out from behind a brushed aluminum X" -- a brushed aluminum Apple. No "X" in in the picture.
Michael Cohen  2010-10-20 15:52
Thanks. Fixed it.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-10-20 18:11
Thanks - I knew that was likely wrong and had made a mental note to go back and fix it before publishing, but then I had to rush off to a school event before we were completely done. It's always tough when we have to write and edit four significant articles in a single afternoon.
OKhattie  2010-10-20 16:03
I have no interest in the eye candy approach to the GUI. I like column view; don't use Spaces or Dashboard. Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom 3 are my most important applications. What's been announced for Lion is a big yawn and I hope there will be an option for my preferred way to navigate. I don't care for icon views. I have thousands of files and accessing them via icons would be agony. I like to try applications before I buy them. As others have noted, the current App Store is a mess and a nightmare to find anything.
JohnB (SciFiOne)   2010-10-20 19:55
I agree. All my file folders (except photos) are in list view.
JohnB (SciFiOne)   2010-10-20 19:53
I'd like to see a wireless keyboard With a built in trackpad like in a Macbook. (I actually used a mouse so much that I developed repetitive motion problems in my shoulder and had to change hands. My first Powerbook solved it forever.)
Bertrand Morin  2010-10-21 10:13
I agree; in the meanwhile, maybe a look (try-out) of one of Logitech trackball would answer some of your concerns. I do use two of them, and I find them to be space efficient and to keep undue movement to a minimum. But it remains a personnal preference.
Lion? Very unimpressive and child-like IMHO. I'll be staying with Snow Leopard thank you.

By the way, why are 2 different people here appearing as "John"? Does the TibBits system not force screen names to be unique?

Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-10-21 05:42
Nope, it doesn't care about screen name uniqueness at all. If you'd like to be different, just click your name and change it (or we can).
Adam: Thanks for the quick write-up. It appears, from what you wrote, that this is the antithesis to Snow Leopard: the improvements to the user experience are all in the presentation layer, rather than the internals. Is that your impresssion as well?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-10-21 10:06
Yes, that's exactly true. However, I'm certain Apple will have more to show in the future - if this was all they were going to change, they could have shipped it already. Here's hoping Lion has some seriously powerful new features as well when it ships.
Michael Croft  2010-10-21 06:43
I think you hit the nail on the head about this being a consumer-oriented release. I'm a consumer: I browse, I play games, I read email, I do MS Office type things on my Mac and I'll be interested to see if the new interactions help me be more effective at those things.

As to the app store, I think it will be interesting and may have the same gold-rush effect the app store did at the beginning. I already use Mac Games Store in a way similiar to how I expect to use the new Mac Apps store, so I'll be happy to see more apps get this channel. It's been a long time since I saw much shrink-wrapped mac software outside of an Apple store, so if that market takes a hit, so be it.

As a very casual iOS developer (nothing shipped yet!), I wonder how much affect the $99 Mac Dev program will have on lowering the barrier to developer entry.
I have used a Mac since 1984. I hold Apple's ACTC certification. This is just to state that I consider myself a "power user". That stated, I use both Dashboard and Exposé many times during the course of a work day. While I admit I don't use Spaces, I have many clients that find it necessary to their workflow. Just want to voice the opinion that these are not unnecessary nor trivial tools, just because they don't fit your workflow.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-10-21 10:09
Oh, I'm sure that some people use and like them; my point is merely that they're by no means universal, in the way that the Finder is. Everyone uses the Finder, and everyone will continue to do so for a long time. Window fiddling utilities are entirely optional and highly personal.
Rick Powell  2010-10-25 17:27
I don't use Finder. I've been frustrated with it for years. When I absolutely have to access a visual view of the file system, I use Path Finder. When I don't, I use Google Quick Search Box, similar to Quicksilver. It's surprised me how often I use Quick Search Box now.

In my Dashboard: Weather, calculator, Twidget -- because I've never found it productive to live in Twitter -- Currency Converter and Mighty Monitor which tells me the remaining battery life of keyboard and mouse.

Use Exposé constantly. 3-finger click mapped via Magic Prefs for app windows. Command-click for all windows. Option-click for desktop. With no Exposé and no three-button mouse I would find Mac OS so tedious.

Also, never used spaces, although Spaces for Firefox sounds like a good idea.
Doug Lerner  2010-10-25 16:20
I also use the Dashboard multiple times a day. Since I live in Tokyo and work with people in California, Minnesota, Israel and the UK I find the TimesScroller widget invaluable. The Dictionary widget is quick and handy too.
Tom Wilcoxen  2010-10-21 09:48
I don't think we've seen more than a tiny bit of Lion. I'd be pretty surprised if the features shown yesterday were even the most compelling that are coming down the pike.

I also think this is another step on the convergence of iOS and OS X. Not that they'll necessarily wind up 100% the same, but more of Cocoa has moved into iOS and more and more of iOS (Cocoa Touch) is moving back to OS X.

As an example of the benefits of the convergence, if you think of the 11" MacBook Air as a small notebook it seems like it might fill a need for a few travelers. But if you think of it as a beefy iPad it could be pretty compelling. It changes dramatically from almost-powerful-enough to studly-high-end machine with built-in keyboard. Full screen apps, multi-touch, app store, Mission Control would all make a lot of sense here.
Bertrand Morin  2010-10-21 10:12
As to DASHBOARD, I do find some limited use to it : different weather outlooks (place); instant and ultra simple look at monetary changes, fast availability of small and distinct dictionnaries (to compare), calculators and converter are convenient to access, etc.
Again, personnal needs are what is of concern here.
Thanks for the insightful article, especially the thoughts about Apple's target audience.

But I really want to thank you for letting me read the word "loosing" used correctly on the net, for the first time in ages!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-10-21 10:35
You know, I wrote that word, and looked at it, and looked at it again, before I convinced myself that it really was correct. :-)
Berend Hasselman  2010-10-21 10:34
I also don't care too much about Launchpad and MissionControl. I use Dashboard for weather outlook , quick currency conversion, amongst others. I use Expose and Spaces (Aperture, Ubuntu in VirtualBox).
But I am not interested in multi touch and swipes etc for navigating; I don't like the Magic Mouse: it gives me cramps. I prefer keyboard access, it's quicker and easier. I tend to navigate windows with Witch: it's quick and efficient.

I was disappointed by the presentation.
I had hoped for some major surgery on the Finder, which is one thing in which Mac OS X is severely lacking compared to Linux (Krusader, Gnome Commander) and Windows (Total Commander, difficult to beat).
Alaska Jack  2010-10-21 12:09
Hey Adam, a quick suggestion:

I never used Expose either, UNTIL: On my laptop, I remapped the trigger to activate Expose when I put the cursor in the lower-left corner.

* So now, unlike using a button, I don't even have to look at the keyboard. Seeing all my windows comes as the result of a completely instinctual swipe down and to the left.

* Because it's a corner, I don't even have to hit a specific target.

* After activating Expose, your next step of course is to use the cursor to select a window. With this method, your finger is already on the trackpad and ready to do so. There's no button-to-trackpad-to-keyboard sequence. In fact, I can actually just do the swipe with my thumb and keep my fingers on the home keys the whole time.

Just a tip.

- AJ

PS I hope this isn't a double post. First try didn't seem to "take."
Another Dashboard fan. My favs:
Local weather forecast
Local weather radar
Local highway traffic display
Flytecomm flight tracker
iStat Pro system status

I never use Spaces or Exposé
Mark Withers  2010-10-21 15:24
Coming from eleven years of using GNU/Linux to Mac OS X in 2008, I do make use of spaces. Being a past GNU/Linux user, I utilized multiple desktops heavily and got into the habit of running different applications on different desktops. (I use six desktops).

That said, I can understand how some people would like minimizing certain applications and then switching back to them.

Not sure if I would like iOS on my MacBook Pro, but Apple has always been "out there" as far as technology is concerned. So I'm willing to give it a chance. I love my MacBook as it is!
Joseph Vandersteen  2010-10-25 16:54
To be honest: I don't understand the fuss. Every OS will develop in many ways and some elements you like and others you're going to dislike, or have to get used to. And if Apple succeeds in attracting lots of new users, we should be glad, since that assures the fact that we can continue to use Apple computers in the future. Development has to be. I remember the arrival of the MultiFinder over twenty years ago, but am very glad it has disappeared. I liked the old Apple menu, but I used to the way the Finder works now and what the Dock can do. One will always want individual tweaks of any OS, but that doesn't mean you'll always get them. Just remember Apple is a company bringing us great stuff that simply needs to renew and invent to remain healthy and growing. Some things you'll like, some things you won't like: big deal!
John Antolak  2010-10-25 17:22
With respect to demo versions in the Mac App store, this might not be as much of a problem as it is with iOS, unless Apple changes how apps interact with user's data. With the OSX file system, I would expect that any app that I would buy be able to work with appropriate existing files on my system. File extensions could be shared between demo and paid apps, and once the paid app was downloaded, you should be able to delete the demo app and continue working. Granted, this is a little wasteful compared to just purchasing a license key to unlock a demo app. I wouldn't be surprised if Apple also figured out a better way to do this.
izidor  2010-10-26 02:37
Apple does not allow demo versions in iOS and neither in Mac App Store. That is the problem.

You seem to believe that developer can put the demo version in app store - it is not allowed!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-10-26 05:37
I think he's saying that you can have free and paid versions, where the free version is essentially the demo.
Peter Hinman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2010-10-25 19:10
I was dumbfounded to read that Adam and the Tidbits team don't use Spaces. I consider it the greatest advance in the OS in many iterations. I was using one of the kludgy virtual desktop apps before Apple did it right with Spaces. The ability to have several desktops (I have it configured for the maximal 16 of which I regularly use about 10) makes everything so much easier (although I did type up a grid to put on the computer to remind me occasionally what is in which space. Very occasionally I lose something and have to search which space it is in, but that is minor compared with the everyday convenience.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-10-26 05:40
As I said, I've been using multiple monitors since 1990 and wouldn't consider anything else for my primary Mac. Research has shown that it's the best way to increase productivity.

I could see Spaces being useful if you're working on a relatively small display and you tend to work in highly discrete sets of applications.

That's not true for me - I need Firefox and Mailplane and BBEdit and BusyCal and iChat and so on all open and visible all the time so I can write and edit and schedule and everything else I do. Very little is neatly bounded in my computing life.
George Berger  2010-10-25 22:34
Again: Unless Lion retains Rosetta, it will be a "No Go" for us. We're still using Eudora 6.2.4 with little or no difficulty and we have a couple of apps that need Rosetta (such as Hour World).
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-10-26 05:42
Yeah, that will be a real question. Snow Leopard already relegated Rosetta to an optional install, so I have to say, I wouldn't be surprised if it went away entirely in Lion. But I certainly hope it doesn't - I too still keep Eudora running for various things.
What do you mean when you say that Jobs' vaunted Reality Distortion Field is fading away? Seems an odd statement and I'm curious about it.
David Bayly  2010-10-26 02:20
I noticed that there was an unusually stony silence after quite a few sections of the event. Even for Jobs. I though he was a little surprised at the non-positive reaction.

(I also thought he didn't look all that healthy)
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-10-26 05:41
Oh, just that everything seems wonderful while Jobs is demoing it, but shortly afterward you start to realize that the features shown are perhaps not the best thing ever.
Doug Hall  2010-10-26 12:49
Without support for Java on Lion, we will be forced to purchase Windows or Linux equipment going forward. Surely Oracle will pick up where Apple is leaving off, but as of the latest Java 1.6.0 security update, Apple has discontinued support for Java.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-10-26 13:12
Yeah, I could see that being a major problem for some installations. But it does sound as though Oracle will just take over the work.
You mention in your review of Lion, in the Mission Control section:

"I find Spaces thoroughly confusing because it requires me to maintain an internal mental model of where different applications live..."

I had the same problem until I found this free little app called SpaceSuit. It makes Spaces easy and pleasant to use. And for me, eliminates the “confusion” factor.

SpaceSuit customizes Spaces by giving it the ability to display a different desktop picture for each Space. Something the Mac Spaces feature should have had in the first place.

Here's how I set it up: I have separate desktop pictures for all the Spaces I use. All the pictures are exactly the same... except for a different small text line that appears at the bottom left hand corner of each desktop picture. This differentiates which Space I'm in at any given time. For instance, when I'm in the “Safari” Spaces, the name Safari appears in the corner of the desktop (even if the Safari screen isn't up at the time).

Here are a few screen shots to explain visually how this works (on a site I maintain for testing visual ideas):
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-11-01 06:36
Sounds like it could be useful for those who might find Spaces useful but for this problem. Personally, I'll stick with a pair of 24-inch monitors. :-)