It can't be easy coming up with a major new operating system every two years, one with giant compelling reasons why users need to upgrade, especially when the starting product is already pretty strong.
The big idea in the latest Apple operating system -- OS X 10.7 -- better known as OS X Lion, is that it makes a Mac desktop or notebook more like an iPad. While that must have sounded brilliant in the planning stages, it has resulted in the least necessary OS X upgrade ever. No doubt experienced users will turn off or simply never use many of biggest features of the new OS.
Which isn't to say it isn't worth upgrading. The price is only $29, and it's good for all your household's computers. Apple isn't messing around with that family license anymore. Plus, Lion has over 250 new features, and many of the smaller ones are genuinely useful.
OS X, Meet iPad
In creating OS X Lion, Apple's programmers brainstormed clever ways that the Mac operating system could look and feel more like their bestselling tablet.
Since they couldn't add a touch screen, they did the next best thing and added a variety of new touch gestures. If you're using a notebook, Magic Mouse, or Magic Trackpad, you'll likely appreciate the expanded number of gestures, even if some of them are a little hard to remember. (Show Desktop requires you to place your thumb and three fingers on the pad, then fan them outward.)
Launchpad: The new Launchpad give users an iPad-like view of all their applications.
Anyone who prefers using a mouse, however, won't be won over. While the gestures are useful to those stuck with a trackpad, using a mouse is simply more efficient.
Lion's new Mission Control screen shows all your Dashboard widgets (remember those), Spaces (again, remember those?), and open windows on one screen so you can quickly navigate to a different area. It's supposed to mimic an iPad's homescreen.
The result though, is cluttered and unneeded. Similarly, the new Launchpad gives you a compact icon view of all the apps on your system, so you can choose one to open. It looks a lot like the app display on an iPad. In both of these cases, Mission Control and Launchpad, Apple has added highly graphic new ways of doing what the Dock already does, but not as well.
MissionControl: A hub for anything you've got going on your Mac, MissionControl lets you jump to another area quickly. (Graphic courtesy Apple.)
Consider that in the Dock, you can click your applications folder and get a text list of all your applications, allowing you to choose one quickly. The Launchpad, by contrast, can take up several screens (five on this reviewer's system) and requires a lot of scrolling to find what you're looking for. It's hard to improve on success, and the Dock already did it better.
To really make applications feel like apps, Apple introduced a system-wide full screen view (well, system-wide for Apple programs; other developers can choose to take advantage of it if they wish).
Previously seen in the latest version of iPhoto, this lets the user tap a double-arrow symbol in an application's top right corner to enter full screen view. Multi-touch gestures can then be used to scroll between applications.
On a notebook, where the screen is smaller, this can be useful. It lets you use every inch of screen real estate. But for those with larger monitors, it's simply unnecessary and will likely go unused.
What's the advantage, after all, of removing the Dock, desktop, and toolbar, elements you use to change programs and operate your computer?
Apple Knows Best
Installing OS X Lion means taking a journey with Apple, letting its design experts take control of your system and drag you into a shiny new future. It's the game of Apple Knows Best that the company has been playing for years now, insisting that users adapt to an Apple way of doing things.