That price point is all the more remarkable because Apple will be distributing Lion exclusively through its online Mac App Store for licensed use on all of the purchaser's devices. With Windows 7 priced from about $95 and up for single-machine licenses, Apple is significantly undercutting the competition.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs, currently on medical leave, appeared briefly but allowed others to direct the tour of Lion; he chose to present Apple's new cloud-services offering, iCloud, later in the event. Apple SVP of worldwide product marketing Phil Schiller and Craig Federighi, VP of Mac OS X software, offered an overview of 10 of the 250 new features in Lion.
Schiller observed that Mac sales have outpaced PC sales every quarter for the past five years.
Lion borrows heavily from iOS with new Multi-Touch gesture support, which will be welcomed on devices like the MacBook Pro that include a multi-touch trackpad. It enables momentum-sensitive scrolling, tapping or pinching to zoom in on Web pages or images, and swiping to turn pages or toggle between full screen apps.
Full screen apps, as the name suggests, represent a user-interface enhancement that maximizes the screen real estate allotted to apps. Coincidentally, it also de-emphasizes distractions, which might lead users to look beyond Apple's apps, which have been retrofitted to support the new mode of presentation. Particularly in Safari, full screen mode may affect whether users can see plug-ins and other diversions in the browser. Apple on its website describes full screen apps thus: "The app and nothing but the app."
Those inclined to read competitive one-upsmanship into Apple's marketing might hear an echo of Google's rallying cry for Chrome OS: "Nothing but the Web."
Lion includes: Mission Control, a navigation interface that combines previous Mac OS X features Expose, Dashboard, and Spaces in a unified navigation mechanism; the Mac App Store, Apple's online software store; and LaunchPad, an iPad-style homescreen. Autosave, and Versions simplify the saving and version tracking of files while Resume brings iOS-like application suspension to Mac OS X.
AirDrop is a new way to distribute files to nearby Macs; there's also a new version of the Mail app, which shows the program shifting toward a broader information management role.
What makes Lion most compelling however is its integration into the emerging Apple device ecosystem. In the months ahead, users of Apple computers and phones won't have to worry about which files exist on which devices because so much will be accessible through Apple's iCloud service, which allows wireless content and application synchronization.
Lion will be released in July as an upgrade to Snow Leopard, Mac OS X 10.6; it's a 4-GB download, the result of a download method that distributes only differences in files. Lion requires a Mac with an Intel-based Core 2 Duo, i3, i5, i7, or Xeon processor and at least 2 GB of RAM.
Employees have more ways to communicate than ever, but until the mishmash of tools gets integrated, productivity will suffer. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek: A buyer's guide to enterprise social networking. Download it now. (Free registration required.)