The last time Apple updated the Mac operating system, 2009’s Snow Leopard release, the most noteworthy changes happened under the hood. That’s not the case with Lion, the next major version of Mac OS X.
Apple has been gradually pulling back the curtain on its latest and greatest cat, first at a preview event last October and then this week at the Worldwide Developers Conference. And what we’ve seen thus far is a pretty significant shift for the Mac OS, influenced in large part by Apple’s mobile operating system iOS.
Big changes like the ones introduced by Mac OS X Lion produce big questions: What’s really new in Lion? How does it work? How can you get it? We’ve spent some time going over what Apple has disclosed about the Mac OS X update, and we’re ready to answer those questions, along with any others you might have about Lion.
What’s Lion going to cost me?
Would you believe £21? For long time OS X users, that’s not an insignificant point. Four years ago when Mac OS X 10.5 came out, it cost more than £80 to install Leopard on your Mac. Now you’ll be able to upgrade to Lion for approximately a quarter of the cost. And that’s assuming you install it on only one computer. With its approach to Lion pricing, Apple seems intent on redefining what software costs.
When can I get my hands on Lion?
Apple says the update will be available in July, and that’s about as specific as the company is willing to get at this point. The company may provide a more specific release date in the coming weeks, but it’s just as possible that Lion might simply appear on the Mac App Store one day next month, and that will be that.
Wait, the Mac App Store? I can download Lion from there?
In fact, the Mac App Store will be the only place where you can download Lion. There won’t be any option to order it on CD, or from brick and mortar retail stores.
What if I have multiple Macs? Can I install it on each one?
This is one of the biggest benefits of Mac App Store distribution: As with any applications you purchase from the Mac App Store, you’ll be able to install Lion on any Macs that are authorised with the Apple ID you used to purchase the OS.
Which means that if your family has four, five, six, or more Macs, a single payment will let you install Lion on every machine. With previous full version upgrades of Mac OS X your cash would get you a licence for a single install, with a Family Pack letting you install on up to five Macs. Apple never used DRM to enforce such rules with prior releases of OS X, but now you’ll be able to reuse your copy on multiple machines without the guilt and shame.
How about schools and businesses? Will they only be able to get the update through the Mac App Store? That seems inconvenient.
We agree: There’s probably another shoe to drop here in regards to schools and businesses. Chances are, while Apple will make hay with Mac App Store distribution of Lion for the average customer, the company will probably offer other avenues for those unable to install through anything other than traditional means.
For what it’s worth, it’s also possible you may be able to download Lion from the Mac App Store, then burn a copy to DVD for installing on your other systems, though we’re not sure that’s going to be the upgrade advice Apple gives IT managers and system administrators.
What kind of Mac do I need to install Lion?
The processor powering your Mac is the best indicator of whether you’ve got Lion-friendly hardware. Apple says you’ll need a Mac with an Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7 or Xeon processor to run the new OS. In case you haven’t committed your Mac’s processor to memory, just click the Apple icon on the top left of your screen and select About This Mac, you’ll learn everything you ever wanted to know about your Mac’s innards.
Apple’s system requirements essentially draw a line in the sand at Mac models released in late 2006. That’s when the first Core 2 Duo-based systems hit the market. If you hopped on the Intel transition early, and you’re still using that five year old Core Duo (or Solo)-powered Mac, you’re going to have to upgrade your hardware, at least if you want to entertain any thoughts of running Lion.
Of course, just because early Core 2 Duo-based Macs are compatible with Lion, that doesn’t necessarily mean performance will be great on these Macs. We’ll have to wait and see if, as with previous Mac OS X upgrades, the oldest compatible systems offer lacklustre performance under the latest OS.
I’m not running the latest incarnation of Snow Leopard. I don’t have the Mac App Store. How am I supposed to get Lion?
According to Apple’s official procedure, you have two options: Buy a brand new Mac or upgrade your Mac to Snow Leopard now.
However, given that Snow Leopard was a paid upgrade and there are still people with Lion-compatible Macs running Leopard, not to mention the fact that a good number of people simply won’t be able to download the 4GB Lion upgrade due to bandwidth caps or slow Internet connections, we imagine it’s possible that Apple will quietly offer alternate upgrade paths while still heavily promoting the Mac App Store approach. But we can’t guarantee it.
How will installation work?
Apple hasn’t yet said, but assuming the procedure is similar to the installation process for the Lion Developer Preview, purchasing the upgrade from the Mac App Store will automatically download a large (approximately 4GB) installer app.
Once the download is complete, you’ll simply launch the installer, which will install Lion in place. You won’t need to create a bootable installer disc or drive. You should also be able to copy that installer to another Mac and, provided that Mac is authorised to use your Mac App Store account, repeat the installation there.
But if there’s no disc, how can I troubleshoot my Mac if I run into a major problem?
So far, Apple hasn’t provided details for creating a bootable Lion-installer disc. However, when you bought your Mac it came with a bootable disc or (in the case of the MacBook Air, thumb drive) that can be used for troubleshooting and disk repair. That’s not going away.
And Internet reports suggest that beta versions of the Lion installer actually contain a bootable disc image, so we wouldn’t be surprised if the final Lion installer gives you the option to burn yourself a boot disc or format a bootable thumb drive.
Must I pay for Lion if I got my Mac recently?
If you bought your new Mac on or after June 6, then you qualify for a free copy of Lion. Apple says you’ll have 30 days from Lion’s release to request your free copy (most likely via a Mac App Store redemption code that the company will provide).
For desktop Mac users without a Magic Trackpad, will Lion be usable? I don’t see scrollbars.
While Lion has clearly been built to favor trackpad input, that doesn’t mean other users will be left in the lurch. The scrollbars you know and love are still there, but hidden. They’ll only activate when you move your mouse over the scrolling portion window. Developer builds of Lion have included a preference to keep scrollbars always visible, as well.
As for multitouch gestures relating to Mission Control and Exposé, you’ll still be able to map some of them to keyboard shortcuts.
What are all these multitouch gestures, anyway?
There are many, and they’re configurable. That is, you can turn specific gestures off, and you can often adjust the number of fingers a gesture requires.
You can double-tap on a word with three fingers to look it up in Lion’s built-in dictionary, scroll with two fingers and zoom in and out by pinching or double-tapping with two fingers. You can swipe between pages (in Safari, iPhoto, and other apps) with left or right two finger swipes, and you can swipe between apps with three or four fingers.
Trigger Mission Control, Lion’s new take on Exposé, with a three finger swipe up, and reveal the desktop by spreading your thumb and three fingers apart, as if you’re flicking all your windows away.
What’s this about scrolling being backwards in Lion?
If you’ve ever used an iOS device, you may have noticed that your content will scroll in the direction you push or pull it, imitating how you’d interact with a real world object. In Lion, Apple has brought this concept often referred to as inverse scrolling to the desktop: Pull down with your fingers, and the document will move downward, bringing you closer to the top.
If this doesn’t quite translate for you on the desktop as it might on an iPhone or iPad, don’t fret: Lion includes a preference to restore scrolling to the direction you're accustomed to.
What’s changed in the Finder?
The Finder has gotten a minor makeover: its sidebar icons now look a lot like the icons in iTunes, monochromatic and simple. A new All My Files pseudo-folder in the Finder displays all of the documents on your Mac, grouped by type.
By default, Finder windows no longer show their Status bar relaying your available drive space, but you can re-enable it. And as with all windows under Lion, you can resize your Finder windows from anywhere across all four window edges.