Apple OS X 10.7 Lion: In-Depth Review - InformationWeek
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Apple OS X 10.7 Lion: In-Depth Review

Hands-on Review: Apple OS X 10.7 Lion

Another new feature: Auto Save. In OS X Lion, this lets your Mac automatically save what you are working on in one place. If you need to, just revert to the last saved version, duplicate a document and lock your documents to prevent new changes.

Apple apparently designed Auto Save to be transparent--saving works for apps that support it and all these new features are easily accessible from the documents title bar. Although it is a great concept, it won't really be useful until developers support it.

The recovery side of Auto Save is called Versions. This feature stores your document history along with the most recent version of your document in an easily browsable timeline. Use the Time Machine-like interface to view past versions, restore a previous one, or copy and paste from older versions to new ones.

Users have full control over versioning and manual creation of a version they are currently working on. Again, this won't be truly useful until a wide range of applications supports it.

I definitely like the concepts behind Auto Save and Versions. Applications just need to widely adopt it. Even Apple's own application, Pages, doesn't currently support either of these features, as I discovered during testing.

In OS X Lion, there's a whole new version of Mail. You'll find a lot of new features here, including the ability to go full-screen, which lets you put your entire display to work. Mail now displays new full-height messages and a message list that includes snippets.

Email threads are there--Apple calls them Conversations in Lion--and the timeline showing each communication is pretty elegant-looking. It even hides redundant text. Mail also offers new search tools, which help you find the messages you're looking for quickly. And notice the new favorites bar. It's for quick access to the folders you use the most.

Mail has changed significantly in OS X Lion and there are good and bad things about those changes. I definitely liked the full-screen experience. When I'm working with email I like to be focused and I can definitely obtain that focus with the new Mail app.

However, opening individual messages or creating new ones takes a bit getting used to since they open in the middle of screen in front of the main view. And they are fixed in place. They don't budge. So if you need to refer to something behind them, you are out of luck.

Reading mail works okay. I actually liked the reading pane on the right-most side--it only shows me what I really needed to see without all the extra fluff. Apple calls this feature "easy reading" and I have to agree that the new Mail does make it easier to read most messages.

One hidden feature is access to the menu bar. All you have to do is move the mouse pointer to the upper most region of your display and the menu bar slides into place with all your familiar menu options readily accessible. Move the mouse away and it vanishes again.

I've heard people complain that you cannot launch apps while in full-screen mode, but that's off base. It is possible. The Finder Dock appears the same way as the menu bar. You just move the mouse in the opposite direction as far down as it will go. Pause a moment and the Finder Dock appears. You launch an app from there.

Note that the menu and Dock trick work with all full-screen apps. One of my other favorite features about Mail is support for Quicklook. Now I am able to view different attachments, weblinks, and so on from inside of Mail without having to load Safari to view a site like

Mail has changed significantly, but not so much you'll want to toss it away in frustration. I'm still happy to use it over alternatives like Entourage, which is what I used before Mail, and MS Outlook.

Turning to Photo Booth, I like that in OS X Lion, it runs in a full-screen view. Switch to full-screen Photo booth and it looks like, well, a photobooth. A lot of new special effects are here, with names like Lovestruck, Dizzy, Frog, Blockhead, and Nose Twirl.

Safari in OS X 10.7 Lion now supports auto-setup for Google, Yahoo, or AOL. Just log into one of those services in Safari to check that out. Safari gives you the option to use them with Mail, iCal, Address Book, iChat, or other applications on your Mac.

I tried this feature while putting Safari through its paces and it worked seamlessly. I didn't have to do anything except for start any newly-configured services I had. I selected a Gmail account that I use occasionally and Safari configured iCal, Mail, and iChat for me.

A pleasant surprise: These apps support services like Google, Yahoo and even AOL. That’s great. After all, these apps generally have a number of features that other Web apps don’t yet match. This will lead to a whole new generation of iCal, Mail and iChat users.

The new Safari Reading List lets you save Web pages to read when you have time. The pages are stored in a special reading list pane that you can access later. I like this feature a lot, but I wonder if it will replace a method I've been using for years--saving multiple websites open in Safari as a single bookmark noted with the current date in the Bookmarks Bar.

My method syncs across the Macs I own and I purposely choose not to sync my Bookmarks across my iOS devices. That's because I manage so many of them. It would just clutter up the devices I use with smaller screens.

Reading List doesn't currently sync across devices, but I expect that will work later. Until then, this feature is just a novelty for me.

OS X 10.7 Lion ships with a new version of iCal. It is streamlined with a new look and feel. You get more room to browse and edit your appointments, events, and so on. The various views are super attractive and the feature also works in full-screen mode. Here's the daily view, below. It's a definite improvement over iCal in previous versions, no question.

The quick add feature is something I'll spend a bit more time with. It lets you quickly enter events using plain English phrases like "David's Doctor at 3" or "Lunch with Craig" to let iCal enter these events for you.

In this example I hit the + button and entered "lunch at noon with gina." The iCal added the appointment in for me. There are defaults, but everything is edit-able.

Time Machine is improved in OS X Lion, also. This is handy if you accidentally delete a file. You just recover it from the local Time Machine archive.

Local support for Time Machine is a great idea for people who do a lot of traveling, but the best part is that Time Machine is smart enough to combine the local timeline with the existing one on your Time Capsule or backup drive when you get home.

Once you come home, Time Machine lets you see the complete timeline without breaks. It's as if you never left. Pretty elegant. Time Machine also supports encrypted backups on an external USB or FireWire drive encrypted with FileVault 2.

FileVault 2 is a new feature in OS X Lion. It brings full disk encryption to your Mac, which Apple claims will help keep your data secure using XTS-AES 128-bit encryption.

It works fast and efficiently on my MacBook Air. Setting it up took only 53 minutes on my 256-GB SSD drive. I continued to work on my MacBook Air while the drive was processed--and I experienced no performance hit. The process is zippy fast.

Afterwards, I noticed no performance hit on the MacBook Air, either. I had to check System Preferences to tell if it was even on.

Apple designed FileVault 2 to relinquish processor cycles to higher-priority user tasks that involve a lot of disk activity, such as file copying and Web browsing. It succeeded with a really nice feature here.

A feature called Instant Wipe removes the encryption key from your Mac instantly. It'll do an entire drive wipe--removing all the data from your disk. This is likely a big part in the rumored Find My Mac feature that sources say will ship with iCloud.

The best thing about FileVault is that it supports the encryption of external USB and FireWire drives--even USB thumb drives and SD cards. You perform FileFault 2 formats through Disk Utility. I highly recommend it for USB thumb drives and SD cards. I liked it so much that I wrote a How To Gallery for BYTE on this. Watch for it.

Another new feature: OS X Lion includes built-in utilities in a restore partition that allow you to repair or reinstall OS X without needing a disk. You also now are able to restore your Mac from a Time Machine backup, access the Web to check your email, or browse the Apple Support site.

I've been adding recovery partitions with utilities to my own Macs for years, or building DVDs, USB sticks, or SD cards that do the same thing.

Apple's introduction of a recovery partition to the Mac through OS X Lion is definitely a move in the right direction--especially for MacBook Air users. More importantly, portable Macs will now always have basic recovery tools at the ready. For notebook and desktop Mac users alike, these tools mean no more scrambling for the DVD boot disk to find the right utility.

One of the most obvious OS X changes is in Finder. You'll notice this right away. Finder now sports a somber, predominantly gray interface with many iOS-inspired elements.

The gray interface makes everything look the same. I miss the color. I’m sure I'll get used to it--you get used to anything after awhile, I suppose--but gone are the days when I could quickly spot something in the sidebar because of its color. I'd like to see an option allowing me to choose to go back to the old interface.

Scroll bars have adopted the iOS look and feel. They also vanish when not in use, which is a bit annoying when browsing through long lists of files, etc. Luckily you can turn them on and keep them on--there's an option for this in General settings in System Preferences.

Although I'm not nuts about the look and feel of the new Finder, I do like some of its new features. I especially like All My Files, which allows me to view all the files on my Mac inside of a single Finder window. The view is organized--and smart enough to leave system files out of the view. It supports multi-touch gestures really well. You swipe through files like there is no tomorrow. The performance here is stunning.

File sorting is intact, but access to sorting files is a lot easier now that there is a button dedicated to select the sort type in the Finder toolbar. I love sorting--I'm an A-Z or Z-A kind of guy.

I also like the way the new Finder handles files when you move or copy them to a destination file with the same name. If you keep both, the system will append the new file with the word "copy" to its name. I thought this feature was pretty neat except for one thing--it easily clutters up your hard disk if you're not careful. Use it wisely.

Finder takes this all a step further, too. If you try to combine folders with the same name Finder will merge them together into one folder. If you want, group files into a folder you create by selecting "group as folder" from the Finder contextual menu. This is useful, for instance, when putting project files together from various sources.

Apple has also made some improvements to the tools in Finder that help you more easily search for and locate files on your Mac. One improvement is called Search Suggestions. This allows Finder to dynamically offer up suggested search results based on what you've begun to type in the search box. Another improvement is Search Tokens--Apple says it is a smart way for filtering searches, but it doesn't seem so smart to me. It feels like just another way to apply filters to Finder searches.

I rarely use such things because I tend to keep my files sorted so well that I probably need psychotherapy for it. Maybe this is a good feature for the disorganized.

Finally, regarding Finder, I have to mention the new animations and other things that come into play when you drag multiple files around. Now, instead of some clustered up mess of files, you'll see all the files you are dragging around hugging the mouse pointer. This is together with an indicator that tells you how many files you are dragging around.

It is a subtle feature in OS X Lion people will take for granted, probably, but I like it.

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