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  • The Mac OS X Lion Report: Do You Really Need iOS Features?

    October 22nd, 2010

    So far Apple’s concept of “Back to the Mac” appears to be the process of taking key user navigation features from the iOS and delivering them in Mac OS 10.7. The main issue, however, is whether that move will actually enhance the overall Mac user experience or whether this is all, in part, a ploy to make it easier for iPhone and iPad users to switch from a Windows PC.

    Certainly the “halo” effect appears to be in full force. Even though the iPad is selling more copies than Macs as of the last quarter — and that disparity stands to grow tremendously in the coming months and years — there’s still plenty of life in the venerable Mac.

    In crafting Mac OS X Lion, very little of what’s new and different seems not to have been heavily influenced by the iOS experience. Obviously the Launchpad, the Auto-Save and Auto-Resume features are all heavily influenced by the iOS. The reported vanishing scroll bars are also influenced by the mobile platform.

    That will be great news for people who are migrating from Apple’s mobile products, but do you really need any of those features on a regular Mac?

    That is likely to be one of the key questions that folks will be asking as more and more information about Lion is released. Certainly, you can’t count any of them as killer or particularly unique features. Indeed, it may be a situation of lots of flash, but not a whole lot of substance.

    Take Auto-Save. Granted, this is a key feature that should have been native to the Mac OS years ago. Consider: Anytime you forget to save something, and a system crash, app crash or power outage occurs, you may lose hours and hours of work. I once had to rewrite an entire book chapter as a result, so I developed the habit of saving every few minutes.

    In the iOS, it’s more a process of the OS constantly saving your work, but there are times where you may not want that to happen, or you wish for an undo option, or several, as you already have in some Mac apps.

    So perhaps you are working on a word processing document, and you decide that the previous version of a paragraph is a better fit for your project. Having already saved the document in the background, can you revert? Good question.

    What’s more, in a segment recorded for this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, Adam Engst refers to situations where he doesn’t want to save something.

    I’ll give you a more direct personal example: In adding an SSL certificate to provide security on my Web server, I’ll generally receive the code for that SSL from the vendor, usually as text in an email, or within an attachment. I will open that attachment in TextEdit, and copy and paste it into my server’s control panel (cPanel, if you wish to know). I don’t need to save or modify anything. Cut, paste, and then submit the SSL, after which my server is automatically updated.

    Then again, maybe it doesn’t matter if anything is saved under these circumstances.

    Regardless, both Auto-Save and Auto-Resume will likely require app developers to add special code to support the new features. The same might be true for the new full-screen viewing option, although that’s said to be system-wide.

    More to the point, what you’ve seen is a very preliminary version of Lion. With nine or ten months left to work on 10.7, Apple will likely dole out features strategically for maximum impact. This week, it was best to talk about the stuff that was inspired — or lifted — from the iOS. But that’s just the beginning, and I’m hoping for a lot more.

    Indeed, I don’t know that I’m going to care about Launchpad, or even a full-screen viewing option, and Mission Control doesn’t light my fire. I tend not to use Expose either, although I do have my key apps set up to open in Spaces — the virtual desktop feature that debuted in Leopard. However, Spaces, while quite convenient, is also buggy and some apps abhor its constraints.

    One app I use regularly, Bias Peak Pro (a powerful audio post-production tool), is notorious for losing the space I established for it, and ending up elsewhere. Maybe I should return to one of those single window utilities I used to run, such as ASM.

    In any case, now that we’re past the eye candy stage, I would hope that Apple’s subsequent Lion updates will have far more steak and mashed potatoes, addressing the long-standing and serious shortcomings of the Mac OS. Certainly making it easier to keep tabs of your stuff, courtesy of a better Finder, and perhaps more informative Open/Save dialogs, would go a long way towards cementing the Mac’s position as the best personal computing platform on the planet.

    And, yes, I realize the Macs days are numbered, as the iPad is poised to supplant everything but the high-end of the personal computing universe; some day at any rate.

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