A Visual Guide to What's New and Changed in OS X Lion

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Mission Control

Mission control is a beefed up expose/spaces, accessed by swiping four fingers upwards or pressing F3/the dedicated to expose/mission control button on a Mac keyboard. The dashboard, desktop and any fullscreen apps are displayed in a row at the top, and any open windows on your desktop are arranged by application in the main area. It’s a bit different from using expose in conjunction with spaces, but it feels very natural to someone who has used spaces before. The row of screens at the top may be switched to at any time by four finger swiping to the left or right. It should be noted that if you have additional displays plugged in, this will not shift everything one screen to the left or the right. Mission control seems to be designed to be most useful for single-screen systems, in keeping with Apple’s design philosophy of keeping everything simple and understandable for regular folks. People with multiple monitors should avoid fullscreen mode as it renders the secondary monitors useless while active.

As a general rule, swiping four fingers changes screens, two changes pages, and three does something in between, depending on the application.

The two arrow button in the upper right engages fullscreen mode for the applications, which includes any Apple applications that support it.

Intuitive Gestures

Apple seems to be moving towards iPad-style controls on it’s more traditional desktop computers. The unified trackpad gesture controls work well, and are often quicker than using a mouse. It’s a great way to control your Mac. There are a few areas like Safari where it seems that certain controls would be a good fit but are strangely missing, though.

All Your Programs in One Place

Launchpad, activated by pinching your thumb and three fingers together or by clicking on the dock shortcut that Lion installs by default, brings up an iPhone/iPad like view of every program installed on your Mac. This is both a good and bad thing. On the plus side, programs are much easier to locate. The iPad like screen is optional if you’d rather do it the old-fashioned way with Finder, Spotlight or dock shortcuts. The bad thing is that applications can be deleted from this screen and there are a lot of programs on default installations of Mac OS X you may not even know you had taking up space here. Deleting these might be a bad idea and if you have any duplicates or older versions of programs, they’re here too. They aren’t sorted by default, so a little work is recommended to get this feature as neat and tidy as it is on your iPad.

Overall, it makes the computer even more user-friendly than Macs already are.

Fullscreen Safari with Multitouch

Safari with Lion is kind of mixed bag. Extensions are available, and as is standard with Lion Apple applications, multi-touch gestures are built-in. Two fingers swipe back and forth through your recent history in your open tab. It will sync with the new iCloud feature to keep your bookmarks and other such things constant between Apple devices. Everything but the address bar and tabs slide away in fullscreen mode, reclaiming a lot of screen space. It’s responsive to the multi-touch gestures, loads pages quickly and worth using overall.

A couple of things are perplexing though.

There is no gesture to switch tabs, though one could have more than one fullscreen Safari window open and swipe four fingers to switch. Pages reload far more often than one would think if multiple tabs are open. This makes sense on the iPad and iPhone, as they have less system RAM than a desktop or laptop computer, but it makes Safari stick out like a sore thumb compared to other browsers in this respect. It also seems to be two processes instead of one according to Activity Monitor, and seems to take up a lot of RAM when running, let alone running multiple tabs. It doesn’t affect performance much outside of the reloads, however.

Reading List: Temporary Bookmarks

At first glance, reading list, activated by the little reading glasses icon next to the bookmarks and history buttons, looks like another redundant bookmarks feature. This simply isn’t true. You can quickly add a page to your reading list, and quickly remove them as well by clicking on the X. If you use this function, it will be very difficult to end up with huge lists of bookmarked pages you’ll never read and forgot why you bookmarked.

It doesn’t replace regular bookmarks, it’s a great supplement for pages you’re not sure about or don’t want to have to remove later.

Never Lose Your Work Again

It’s now very, very difficult to lose your work in Lion. Every single document you make, from pages on down to text edit, are saved every couple of minutes. In fact, everything in Lion takes a cue from iOS, with everything resuming right where you left of when you shut a program or your computer down. You can restore from a previous draft of a document at any time by selecting “File\Revert to Saved…” from the menu bar. This opens the Time Machine backup program for that document, letting you explore all the changes you’ve made. The version you replace by doing this isn’t deleted either just added to the vault.

There are a few minor problems with this, however. If you don’t have permission to edit the file for whatever reason, you will suffer a near-constant pop-up reminder that you don’t have access. If you go more than a couple of days without modifying the file, it will lock and you will be prompted to duplicate it to work further. This isn’t a problem when you’re working on new files, only going through and changing old ones.

However, if all you want to do is look at or the document, see the next slide.

Look, But Don’t Touch

Preview is accessed by selecting the “Quick Look” button in finder, or by right clicking (or two finger tapping) a file and selecting it from the contextual menu. You can watch movies and read documents without having to open up the applicable program to view them. If you’re just trying to read an old paper of yours, you should read it through Preview rather than Pages or Word. It’s quicker, and you won’t get any messages about how the file needs to be duplicated to be able to work on it. There are very few bells and whistles, but works great.

All the screenshots in this article were taken with preview’s screen capture feature, selected by making preview the active application on the menu bar, selecting “File” then “Take Screen Shot,” which provides several size options from the entire screen to a small selected area.

Like all the other built-in Apple Apps, it’s able to go fullscreen by clicking on the button at the upper right of the window.

Three Panel Mail

There’s not a huge amount to say here. The Mail client can go fullscreen now, and navigates similar to Finder. Very simple, and easy to use.

Fill the Screen with iTunes

Again, not too much to say here, but fullscreen apps like Mail and iTunes can be pretty handy when used in conjunction with Misson Control.

iOS Style Applications

The App Store is basically the same as on iDevices. This can be great because it’s easy to install new software and updates, but on the other hand, there are many apps that can be bought cheaper from other sources. Steam might be a better choice for games, for example.

Air Drop: Easy Sharing with Other Macs

Many people are confused by sharing files wirelessly between computers. Air Drop promises to make it relatively painless with dragging and dropping in a Finder pane. However, you have to be near other Macs within WiFi range, so it’s usefulness is either hit or miss depending on your environment.

In theory, it’s an idea with great potential and should be released in some form for Windows and Linux machines like Apple’s other software like iTunes and Airport Utility.