While some of us have been busy fawning over Apple's latest MacBook Air refresh, let's not forget why we're really here. Lion was released today too, and if you're anything like us, you've already taken Apple's next version of OS X for a spin. But unlike Snow Leopard, this is more than a routine release.
Lion is a legitimate shift for Apple's decade-old OS, and as with any upgrade, it helps to know where to start. For Mac users new and old, here's some advice on how to get the most from your new Lion install, and take advantage of features new and old.
Perhaps the biggest and most obvious change in OS X Lion is Mission Control, an impressive mashup of Spaces and Expose, Apple's two core window management tools. Both applications have a received an extensive facelift, however, making them more useful than they ever were on their own.
Spaces, for example, are now represented visually along the top of Mission Control. You can't reorganize or rename spaces, but you do get a glanceable indication of what each space contains. A three finger-gesture can be used to switch between spaces, or you can click them directly. Customization is possible by dragging applications and windows into a space of your choice, and even the wallpaper can be changed on a per-space basis.
However, applications don't always stay where they belong. If you move an app between spaces, new windows will sometimes open in the space the application was first launched in — not where the space it is currently in. To avoid this problem, apps can be bound to specific spaces — or all spaces — where they will always live, unless you specifically move them, that is.
Also handy, full-screen applications are given their own dedicated space. From a workflow perspective, this is especially useful, as you can give background apps — such as iTunes or IM buddy lists — their own slice of the screen, effectively creating spaces of similar purpose apps.
As with previous iterations of OS X, Apple has introduced a new set of Lion-friendly multi-touch gestures. For example, a three-finger upward swipe now invokes Mission Control — having replaced the old Expose view — while a downward swipe gathers an application's open windows. Move to the left or right, and you can switch between active Spaces and full-screen apps.
Things get a little weird from here on out, however. A three-finger/thumb pinch inward activates Launchpad, while the opposite pushes windows and applications out of the way to show the desktop. These gestures aren't particularly natural, however, and more often than not invoke the standard three-finger swipe actions instead. You can alleviate this problem somewhat by changing the aforementioned three-finger gestures to require four-fingers, but simply re-mapping them altogether is flat-out impossible.
But while Lion's new gesture support is great for laptop users, or fans of the Magic Trackpad (all three of you), it's not very useful for desktop or traditional mouse users. Luckily, Mission Control, Launchpad and Spaces each offer keyboard and mouse shortcuts with comparable functionality.
Link your Apple ID
Some will argue that Windows users have been able to link their Passports and user accounts for years, but Apple takes ID integration beyond applications to the OS level. Not only is an Apple ID required for access to the Mac App Store, Facetime, and other iOS-style features, but can now be used as a means to log in to remote machines and shared computers.
What's more, can you add a web account from any number of popular online services (including GMail, Yahoo, AOL and more), and OS X will automatically populate Mail, iCal, Address Book and iChat with all of your appropriate account information. To make this process as simple as possible — especially for new OS X users, Safari will even recognize attempts to log into a web service and offer OS integration here as well.Customizing Spaces
Manage app location/privacy
Taking cues from iOS, Apple is making sure it caters to privacy-conscious OS X users by including a brand new privacy panel dedicated to Location-aware services. Applications that request to use your current location are approved, and listed in System Preferences "Security and Privacy" panel, with a special icon designating apps that have tracked your location in the past 24 hours. This can be useful for tracking down problem apps, or simply revoking access for those times when you're feeling a little more incognito.
Resize from any edge
Windows loyalists might scoff, but previous versions of OS X have only allowed windows to be resized from one corner, and one corner only. This doesn't make a whole lot of sense, so Apple has finally seen fit to allow Finder windows and applications to be resized from *any* corner. Revolutionary, we know, but a welcome improvement nonetheless.
Quirks and Complexities
You'll notice that many of Lion's changes are more than skin-deep, with features new and old not always working the way you'd expect. For example, the Dashboard — otherwise known as "that-place-where-you-find-the-calculator" — has been given its own space. Giving widgets their own screen real-estate seems to defeat the purpose of making them glanceable in the first place, but you can easily restore Dashboard to its old, overlay-styled self from Mission Control's System Preferences panel.
Perhaps the most glaring difference is the one you'll notice on your very first boot. Reverse Scrolling is part of Lion's love-it-or-hate-it attempt at making OS X function more similarly to iOS, and reverses the direction with which windows scroll to be more "natural." Your brain will soon adapt to the new scrolling style, but the traditionalists among you can tun this option off from the Trackpad preference panel.
Finally, Apple's push for full-screen apps is particularly intriguing, and incredibly useful in a variety of situations. Already, we've seen most of Apple's first-party apps gain full-screen support, and third party apps are slowly joining in as well. Not everything works as you'd expect, however, because apps like Chrome and Firefox — which do, in fact, use Apple's new full-screen button — don't always follow the rules. Chrome, for example, doesn't get its own space while in full-screen, and the exit button is instead hidden beneath the View menu.
We've barely scratched the surface of what OS X Lion has to offer, but this should provide a good launchpad — pardon the pun — from which to start. After all, this is the same Mac experience you've come to know and love, but polished and refined. And for just $30, that's well worth the price.
Have any more Lion tips for users both new and old? Be sure to share them below!