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The Mac OS 10.7 Lion Report: Don’t Lose the Good Stuff!

It makes plenty of sense for Apple to want to unify the Mac OS as much as possible. Someone moving from an iPhone or iPad to MacBook or iMac ought to be able to adapt without serious retraining. Or at least that’s the theory.

So in the first glimmers of a working Mac OS 10.7, we see how Apple has infused it with some of the stuff from the latest iOS. Chef among them is Launchpad, which basically mimics the Home screen of an iPad. It has, however, complications in its implementation, though one expects Apple will spell out the way it works in the weeks to come.

My first concern is how apps will be added to Launchpad. Will you have to manually put them in the app, or will or just check your existing Applications and Utilities folders and include them all automatically?

The latter approach has its complications, particularly for those of you who have hundreds of apps at hand, and only use a few most of the time. It can mean that you’ll have to page through the interface extensively to find the ones you want. But I would be surprised if Apple didn’t get it, so I would expect that apps your buy from the Mac Apps Store, or are already in the Dock, will get first priority, along with the ones you launch, as you launch them. Maybe there’d be a dialog asking if you want to include that app in Launch pad. The rest would have to be stored manually — I hope.

Mission Control seems laudable, another way of helping you keep tabs of open app and document windows. But Apple’s presentation delivers some concerns too. With all that stuff cluttering your screen, making heads and tails of all of it might prove to be a burden. But I’m not a fan of Expose either, and I use Spaces for its convenience in putting one or more apps in a single virtual desktop. But apps that don’t support Spaces can hurt one’s best laid plans.

The methodologies in adding Auto-save and Auto-resume aren’t clear yet. Certainly both features will work best if all or most apps deliver support, but how would that be implemented? Would Apple expect developers to deliver updates with the new capabilities, or will there be some sort of background process that makes it work for all? I would expect the latter, in the fashion of the age-old Mac OS add-ons that provided global auto-save. Otherwise, it would be downright confusing, since most Mac users would come to expect the automatic saving feature to be turned on for all the software they use, not something only a few apps support.

Some folks have also tried to glean possible subtle interface changes from Apple’s demonstration. One is the invisible scrollbar feature cribbed from the iOS. But I’ve never been a fan, because you shouldn’t have to touch a screen to discover that there’s more content you have to scroll to. That should be obvious visually, so invisible doesn’t make it for me, and I hope the appearance but not the effect is in store for Lion.

The other feature that has also not been officially confirmed is one that would let you resize a document window from more than a single corner, basically restoring the functionality to what prevailed in the Classic Mac OS. Oh well, better late than never; that is, if this rumor is true.

Unfortunately, the preliminary Lion preview leaves loads of questions unanswered, beyond the integration with some of what the iOS has to offer. I do not, for example, accept the possibility that Lion will be an all or mostly iOS-style system. What works on a mobile device doesn’t necessarily translate well to a desktop system, and I’m sure Apple is fully aware of the dangers of making too many changes of that sort.

What you may get in 10.7, if last week’s demonstration is an example, is very much a hybrid. The best of the iOS that works on a traditional PC will be included, but you won’t lose the conventions of your Mac. Launchpad, for example, is evidently an optional feature, an application you launch, as it were, if I understand the intent correcty. It’s not something your stuck with, and the same is true for Mission Control.

That Apple has gone back to the Classic Mac OS — assuming restoring screen resizing capabilities is true — is encouraging. With 200 or 300 new features to devise, it’s not as if Apple can just invent them all and ship a fully baked Lion by the summer of 2011. Adding some flashy iOS capabilities makes it very clear that Apple can look at its other products, or its past, for inspiration.

On the whole, if Apple can include loads of sensible new features, and deliver resource efficiencies that can improve performance to Mac OS 10.7, it would more than justify the expected $129 investment for an upgrade.

I’m also still hoping we’ll see some big usability improvements for the Finder and the Open/Save dialogs. I remain ever optimistic.