Apple Mac OS X 10.7 Lion £20.99

25th Jul 2011 | 15:00

Apple Mac OS X 10.7 Lion

Apple's latest OS brings over 250 new features

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Like:

Easy to install; Extremely cheap; Some excellent new features; Very capable new Mail app; Attractive and sleek

Dislike:

No Front Row; NAS compatibility temporarily broken; Inappropriate design for iCal and Address Book; AirDrop limited to Lion Macs; Full Screen apps one display only

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: Introduction

This eighth release of OS X brings us around 250 new features, many of which are inspired by Apple's mobile-device operating system, iOS.

Unlike previous versions of Mac OS, it isn't delivered on a disc (though Lion flash drives are due in August, for £55).

Instead, it's purchased, downloaded and installed from the Mac App Store. The App Store was introduced with OS X 10.6.6, so if you're running Leopard or earlier on a Mac that's capable of running Lion, you must install Snow Leopard before upgrading to the latest version of the operating system.

But as Snow Leopard only cost £25 and Lion is a penny shy of £21, their combined price is less than half the usual going rate for a Mac OS.

MacOS x 10.7

NEW LOOK: Mission Control and Launchpad are two of Lion's key features

To run Lion, you must have an Intel Mac with a Core 2 Duo, Core-i series or Xeon processor. The new operating system won't run on PowerPC Macs, or very early Intel models with Core Duo chips. You also need 2GB of RAM, where its predecessor only demanded 1GB.

Thankfully, upgrading your computer's memory is a fairly painless task, and as long as you buy from a third-party vendor instead of Apple, it's relatively inexpensive too.

Lion drops support for Rosetta, the dynamic translator used to run applications written for PowerPC processors on Intel machines. This means a Mac running Lion can't run PowerPC applications, so before you install, check whether any of your must-have apps are PPC.

OS x 10.7 review

INTEL ONLY: Lion is the eighth release of OS X, and the second that only runs on Intel Macs

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: Installation

Installing Lion is incredibly easy. You just open the Mac App Store, buy the software and download it. The installer is downloaded to your Applications folder and added to the Dock. It runs automatically, but the installer disappears after it has run, so if you want to keep hold of it to upgrade other Macs or create a boot disc, quit the installer and copy it to an external drive before running.

The downloaded installer is around 3.76GB, which is about the same as a hi-def movie from iTunes. After buying it once, you can install it on all your Macs, so the £21 you paid for the operating system is an even bigger bargain.

Mac os x 10.7 review

INSTALL: After downloading the Lion installer appears in your Applications folder

Installing Lion usually takes between ten minutes to half an hour, depending on your Mac. The first thing it does after restarting using the new operating system is to index your Mac for Spotlight, which usually takes longer than the install.

This is done in the background and is hardly a problem. Some applications take longer to open the first time you run them in Lion too, most notably Mail, which has to reindex your emails to take advantage of the app's new features. Again, this is hardly problematic, but it's best not to switch to Lion if you've something urgent to do straight afterwards.

Overall, installing Mac OS X 10.7 Lion is a speedy and straightforward task requiring very little user intervention. There's very little that can go wrong here, but make sure you clone your hard drive beforehand just in case.

Mac os x 10.7 review

EASY PEASY:Installing OS X 10.7 Lion is a relatively painless task

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: The Finder

Like all new versions of OS X, Lion brings a host of minor cosmetic tweaks, some of which are proving more popular than others. The gumdrop buttons in the top-left corner of a window are now smaller and less intense.

The Finder window's side bar icons have lost their colour, and the font used to name them is larger. Your boot drive doesn't appear in the Devices section, but you can change this in the Finder preferences, under the Side Bar tab.

By default, new Finder windows open in a new Side Bar option, All My Files. This arranges your personal files in Cover Flow-like rows that can be scrolled and viewed, and ordered according to criteria such as date, kind, size and name.

Unfortunately, it only shows files you keep inside your Home folder. If the majority of your data is stored outside your boot drive, this feature is likely to be of limited use. We hope Apple makes it more comprehensive in time, especially considering how many Mac users have an SSD for a boot drive and an HDD for data.

The Sidebar search folders based on kind and when a document was last opened are gone, but you can recreate them if you wish.

Mac os x 10.7 review

COULD DO BETTER: The All My Files feature isn't as useful as it could be

You can now expand and contract windows from any side or corner, not just the bottom-right. Constraining with the Alt key also resizes from the opposite edge, and Shift-Alt preserves the aspect ratio as it resizes from all four sides. Less welcome is the removal of the pill-shaped button in the top-right corner, which previously minimised the window.

One of Lion's most controversial changes is its scrolling behaviour. Previously, scrolling controlled the window's scroll bar pellet, so scrolling up moved the pellet upwards, and the window's contents downwards. This has been reversed in Lion; scrolling directly interacts with the window's contents, so scrolling up moves the page up, like in iOS.

While it's difficult to get used to at first (and can be changed using the Mouse or Trackpad system preferences), it's actually more logical. Find a friend or relative who's never used a Mac before and get them to scroll a window; chances are they'll instinctively go for the Lion method.

The first time you open a Java application, you find Lion doesn't provide a Java runtime by default. Go to http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1421 to download and install it.

Mac os x 10.7 review

UP OR DOWN:Vertical scrolling behaviour is reversed in Lion, but you can change it back if you wish

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: Gestures and full-screen

With Lion, Gestures are a much more integral part of the operating system. So much so that desktop users should consider buying a Magic Trackpad to get the most out of the new OS.

Activating new features like Mission Control and Launchpad using Gestures is much quicker and easier than clicking on their Dock icons, and new Taps, Pinches and Swipes give you a much greater degree of control over your working environment. What was previously a useful asset for notebook users is now such a fundamental part of the Mac experience that people who don't use a trackpad are missing out.

That's not to say you can't use Lion with a Magic Mouse, or even an ordinary, third-party mouse. But after a few weeks with a Magic Trackpad, going back to a mouse feels like stepping out of a sports car and into a family saloon.

Like the new scrolling behaviour, Gestures can take a little getting used to. You might trigger multi-fingered gestures accidentally through resting your fingers on the trackpad while trying to move the pointer, for example, or move through your Safari browsing history when you were trying to scroll. But they soon become instinctive, and a real asset to the way you interact with your Mac.

Mac os x 10.7 review

CHANGE TOUCH: You can configure your gestures in the Trackpad system preferences, and watch short animations showing them in action

While applications with full-screen modes have been around for years, Lion brings the feature natively to OS X, standardising their behaviour. Apps written to take advantage of Lion's Full Screen feature have an icon in the top-right corner of the window.

With a single click they fill the entire screen, cutting out borders and distractions. This is especially useful when using small-screen notebooks. Even the menu bar at the top of the screen (which offers a button to exit full-screen mode) only appears when you drag your pointer to it.

You can have more than one application open in this way, using a three-fingered swipe to navigate between full-screen apps, your desktop and the Dashboard.

Naturally, Apple's native OS X apps are already full-screen compatible, and the API has been made available to developers, so third-party software should soon make use of this excellent feature.

Unfortunately, Lion's Full Screen feature is currently single-display only. If you have a two-monitor set-up and go full-screen on your main display, the second screen is covered with the grey linen wallpaper used in several places in Lion OS (for example, for the background in Mission Control).

You could argue this is all part of the no-distractions philosophy that underpins the Full Screen feature, but surely it should be optional? We hope it becomes so with the first Lion update.

Mac os x 10.7 review

COMPLETE VIEW:Full Screen does away with distractions, but is incompatible with multiple monitors

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: Mission Control

Mission Control unifies Snow Leopard's Exposé, Spaces and Dashboard functions into a single feature. And it's magnificent. Accessed through a function key, a Dock icon or (best of all) a simple three-fingered gesture, Mission Control gives a birds-eye view of everything that's running on your Mac.

Open windows are grouped according to application, so you can quickly and easily navigate to the one you're looking for. Across the top of the screen, your Dashboard, Full Screen applications and Spaces desktops are shown. In effect, the top section of the screen replicates Snow Leopard's Spaces function and the lower half becomes Exposé.

And integrating them on a single screen enhances both. If your desktop is getting cluttered, it's really easy to open Mission Control, add a second desktop and drag windows from your main work area to the secondary one.

Individual Exposé functions such as Application Windows and Show Desktop are still available, and can be accessed through the function keys as before, or through Gestures. You can configure the keys through the Mission Control preference pane, and the Gestures through the Trackpad pane, but the default settings are more than comfortable.

Mac os x 10.7 review

BRINGING IT TOGETHER:Mission Control is a useful and comprehensive fusion of Spaces and Exposé

Our only criticism of Mission Control is its aesthetics. It's far from attractive, and definitely not up to Apple's usual design standards. Perhaps the means for adding a second desktop could be clearer too; you hover over the right-hand side of the Spaces row until a plus sign appears. If you didn't know, you would never guess. Even so, Mission Control is an exciting addition to OS X, and significantly simplifies the way you interact with your Mac.

The Mac App Store was introduced with OS X 10.6.6, but is now built into Lion, and brings a handful of new features. In-app purchases are now catered for, as are delta updates, whereby when updating an application bought from the Mac App Store, only the sections that have changed are downloaded.

Push notifications allow developers to bring you important information about their app, even when it's not currently open on your machine. For security, Lion also greatly enhances OS X's sandboxing function, something Mac App Store downloads will soon be required to use.

Mac os x 10.7 review

APP IT UP:Lion's Mac App Store offers new features

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: Launchpad and resume

A feature that's clearly made its way to OS X from iOS is Launchpad. A convenient and versatile application launcher, Launchpad is activated from the Dock or with a gesture and behaves very similar to iOS's home screen. Applications bought from the App Store or kept in your Applications folder are present automatically, and programs kept elsewhere can be added by dragging them onto the Launchpad Dock icon.

Launchpad can display 40 app icons per page, and like iOS's home screen, you can swipe between pages. Applications can be reordered and moved from page to page, and also grouped into folders by dragging one icon onto another. A folder can contain up to 32 applications, and is automatically named according to their type, though you can change the suggested title if you wish.

Mac os x 10.7 review

IOSESQUE: Lion's Launchpad feature is instantly familiar to anyone who has used iOS

Of all the major features in Lion, Launchpad seems to have generated the least enthusiasm among long-time Mac users.

Yet while it's clearly designed to make life easier for those who bought their first Mac because they liked iOS, it could prove more useful than you expect over time. After you've used it for a while, and the apps you need most often but not quite often enough to keep in the Dock are easily accessible on the front page, it might become a useful alternative to typing the name of the app in the Spotlight field for quick access.

Some users have found a bug where applications can display incorrect icons in Launchpad. We hope this is fixed soon.

Resume (as in 'pick up where you left off', not 'résumé', the American term for a CV) is arguably the most useful addition to Lion. If you quit a Resume-compatible application, when you reopen, it launches in exactly the same state as it was in when you closed it. Windows are reopened, palettes and panes restored and even highlighted text and cursor positions are kept just as they were before. Safari tabs and web pages are also restored, as long as you weren't using its Private Browsing feature.

The feature also works when you shut down or restart your Mac. A new option in the confirmation pop-up asks if you want to reopen windows when you log back in. If you leave this checked (as it is by default), Lion takes a snapshot of your system as it shuts down, restarting in exactly the same state it was in when you closed it.

Applications are relaunched, windows reopened and documents arranged exactly as they were when you shut down. This is especially useful if you want to install an application or upgrade the system software while you're working on something else; there's no longer any need to put off restarting until you've finished what you're doing.

It's important to note that not every Mac application currently takes advantage of Resume. If you use Google Chrome as your main browser, for example, don't expect your currently-open web pages to return after a quit and restart. We hope third-party developers aren't slow to take advantage of this extremely useful feature, but until they do, be careful when shutting down or restarting; don't simply assume everything will reappear.

Mac os x 10.7 reviewSTART AGAIN:Leave this box checked to restart using Resume

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: Versions and recovery

There's nothing worse than losing work to a crash or application freeze when you haven't saved for a while. You've only got yourself to blame, of course, but that just makes it even more galling. With Auto Save, tapping CMD-S every couple of minutes might become a thing of the past. Applications that have this feature are saved automatically, during pauses in your work or every five minutes if you don't take a break. To cut down on wasted disk space, Auto Save preserves changes rather than creating additional copies of the entire document, and does so wholly in the background, so there's no spinning beach ball or progress bar.

Apps designed to take advantage of Lion's Auto Save feature include Preview, TextEdit and Apple's iWork suite. Documents created using one of these apps have a pull-down menu for a title, giving you the chance to lock it against further automatic saves, duplicate it and keep the original as a template, revert to the last saved version to undo changes, or browse the document's states saved in another of Lion's key feature, Versions.

Mac os x 10.7 review

SAVE IT: In apps that take advantage of Auto Save, the title bar becomes a menu

Lion's new Versions feature creates a history of your document as you work on it. A new version is recorded every hour, whenever you make a significant change and when you email, duplicate, lock or revert it using the Auto Save pull-down menu. You can also create a new Version manually using CMD-S; it seems this trusty old keyboard command still has its uses.

Selecting Browse All Versions from the title menu sets the current document against its previous versions in a Time Machine-like interface. You can revert to an older version if you wish to abandon changes made since, or copy and paste pictures and text; just the thing if you've accidentally cut something you wish you'd retained.

Auto Save and Versions won't reach their full potential until third-party developers include these new features in their own applications, but given their huge potential for making life easier and more productive, they should be quick to do so.

Previously, if your Mac suffers a crash from which it can't recover, you had to boot from your operating system disc and restart. Obviously, this is impossible in Lion – as the new OS is downloaded from the Mac App Store, there is no operating system disc.

Thankfully, Apple has thought of that. Lion reserves a small portion (about the size of a CD) of your boot drive as a recovery partition. If you can't start your Mac using your usual account, power up holding CMD-R to boot straight into it, or hold ALT and select it from the list of bootable drives. Booting in the recovery partition lets you reinstall Lion, fix a damaged drive using Disk Utility, check email or Apple's support site in Safari or restore from a Time Machine backup.

While the lack of a boot disc makes many users nervous, restarting from a recovery partition is certainly simpler than using an OS disc.

Mac os x 10.7 review

LOOK BACK:Versions uses a Time Machine-like interface

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: AirDrop and Mail

Another new feature appearing in Lion's Finder window Side Bar is AirDrop, a handy but limited means of sharing files between Wi-Fi-enabled Macs. Click on AirDrop and your Finder window turns into a radar-like image, with your own Mac at the foot of the window.

Any Macs within a ten-metre range that also have an AirDrop window open are also shown. To transfer a file to another Mac, you just drag and drop it onto its image in your AirDrop window. There's no setting up or configuring to be done, and as transfer is peer-to-peer, you don't even need to be on the same Wi-Fi network. It really is that simple.

Sharing with AirDrop is secure. After dragging a file onto another Mac's icon, you're asked to confirm you want to send it. The receiver can accept or decline – you can't drop files onto another person's Mac without permission. Transfer is encrypted, and neither party ever sees the files on the other's hard drive.

But although secure and convenient, AirDrop is also very limited. It can only transfer files between Macs running Lion; it's not available for earlier versions of Mac OS, and there's no Windows or Linux version for PCs. It's a useful feature if you regularly transfer small files between up-to-date Macs, but if you're in a mixed Mac and PC environment, or not every nearby Mac has been upgraded to Lion, you'd better not throw away that USB stick just yet.

Mac os x 10.7 review

TRANSFERS: AirDrop is a secure and convenient means of transferring files between Macs, but only if they're both running Lion

OS X's bundled email client has undergone some radical changes. A new widescreen view gives you a full-height window to view your mail, with received messages listed and previewed in a column on the left. Mailboxes and other folders aren't shown by default, but can be opened in another column at the push of a button. A favourites bar gives access to commonly-used folders, and you can customise it by adding new ones.

Messages can be flagged in seven different colours now, not just red, and the new Conversation feature threads on-going exchanges in chronological order, making them easier to follow. The search engine has had a radical rebuild, making it much easier to find what you're looking for. Mail is now compatible with Microsoft Exchange 2010 too.

Like Finder and iTunes, the button icons in Mail have gone stylishly monochrome, sometimes to the detriment of clarity. How, for example, are you supposed to know that a thumbs-down image means junk mail, or a square icon that looks like a washboard gives you a new note? When you first start using the revamped app, you might have to hover your mouse pointer over the buttons just to see what they do.

Perhaps it's strange that as the rest of Mac OS X becomes more tailored to the novice user, Mail gets more complicated and less instinctive. But Lion's email client is undoubtedly more capable than its predecessor, even if it isn't always as intuitive.

Mac os x 10.7 review

NEW MAIL:The new release of Apple Mail is more powerful, but less intuitive

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: Teething troubles

The switch-over to Lion has been relatively free of problems, but a few minor maladies are worth mentioning.

Fans of Apple's elegant but limited Front Row application will be disappointed to find it's been removed in Lion. We can't understand why. It's quite capable of running under the new operating system. So much so, in fact, that a Mac user has taken Front Row and its associated components from Snow Leopard and bundled it into an installer. Entitled Front Row Enabler, you can download it if you wish. It worked for us, but install it at your own risk.

Something that won't be returning to Lion is Rosetta, Apple's dynamic translator used to run applications written for the older PowerPC architecture on Macs with Intel processors.

To see if you're still running PowerPC apps, open the System Profiler found in Applications > Utilities, click on Applications and sort them according to Kind. If you're planning to upgrade to Lion, PowerPC applications must be upgraded or abandoned.

Some people who use a NAS drive for Time Machine backups find it no longer works after moving to Lion. This is apparently because Apple used a new version of Netatalk that's incompatible with the protocols used by most third-party network-attached storage devices. If you're in this position, all you can do is check the support site for your NAS drive and wait for an update.

Finally, the new-look iCal and Address Book applications have not been well received. In yet another nod to iOS, they've been made to look like their real-world counterparts, with iCal sporting a stitched leather finish and a tear where the previous month's calendar was ripped away, and Address Book looking like a physical volume, with a bookmark ribbon used to switch from viewing groups on the left page and contacts on the right, to contacts on the left and individual contact cards on the right. It's totally unnecessary.

Mac os x 10.7 review

NASTY:Do digital productivity applications really need a real-world metaphor in 2011?

In 2011, people are used to using digital calendars and address books – we no longer need a real-world metaphor to remind us what we're doing. And in Address Book's case, the aesthetics actually detract from its usability, with Snow Leopard's handy three-column view abandoned to make way for two facing pages. We hope Apple addresses this very soon.

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: Verdict

The eighth release of OS X takes features developed for iOS and brings them to the Mac, and adds some excellent enhancements of its own. Scrolling now follows iOS protocols, with the user interacting directly with the window's contents instead of moving the window itself, and compatible applications can be viewed in Full Screen, with no distractions in your peripheral vision.

A trio of related features make saving and restarting a simple task. Auto Save means you should never lose work to a crash again, Versions lets you switch back to or take material from an earlier version of a document and Resume means you can close an application or even your whole system and have it reopen in the same state it was in before it closed. Again, these features require compatible applications.

We liked

£21 for a new operating system is an incredible bargain, especially considering you can install it on all your Macs; no family licences here. The Recovery Partition is an excellent idea, and is certainly handier than having to find your install disc, restarting with the mouse button down to eject the optical disc drive and then again to boot from the DVD instead of your hard drive.

OS X's new Gestures are extremely useful. They take a while to learn, but after a few days with Lion, they transform the way you interact with your Mac. You might well want to switch to a Magic Trackpad to make sure you get the most out of them. Finally, fusing Spaces, Dashboard and ExposÈ into Mission Control is a masterstroke, which again makes it much easier to interact with your Mac.

We disliked

Switching back to a real-world metaphor for iCal and Address Book seems a really odd decision. It might make sense on an iOS device, where you hold it in your hand like a paper calendar or address book, but there's no need for it on a Mac. Address Book is actually less usable now, with a useful three-column interface giving way to a two-page view.

We're not convinced that dropping the colour from in-app icons was a good idea either. There were many complaints when iTunes did it a few months ago, and now Finder's monochrome sidebars are equally poorly received. In Mail especially, the colourless icons are unclear. A button showing a yellow page, for example, was clearly there to produce a new note, but robbed of its colour, we had to hover over it with our mouse pointer until a pop-up told us what it did.

Verdict

Lion is a significant step forward for Mac OS X, but it's not without its problems. Features such as Mission Control, Resume, Auto Save and Versions will prove incredibly useful over time. Launchpad may prove its worth, but even if it remains unused, it's not in the way. Many Mac owners will miss Rosetta, but its demise was inevitable. Not so Front Row, which didn't need to be dropped at all. Maybe Apple will put it in the App Store as a free download.

Despite a few teething troubles (most notably breaking third-party NAS compatibility and a few questionable interface decisions), Lion is definitely worth the upgrade. Like most OS upgrades it will probably really shine after its second or third update, but unless you're running PowerPC applications you can't be without, there's no need to wait.

Apple OS X operating systems Mac Lion
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