Another WWDC has come and gone, and with it another revision of Mac OS X has been announced to the public. However, this time there are two differences: many of the ‘new’ features in Lion are actually copied from iOS, and for the first time, Mac OS X will be available only as a download from the App Store.
The inclusion of iOS features in Mac OS X is a rather dubious move. One of the reasons for iPad’s huge success was that the iOS was designed specifically for a touch interface, instead of being a hack of a mouse-and-keyboard interface like so many Windows tablets. This means that conversely, iOS is not designed to work with a mouse and keyboard and its features are a poor fit for Mac OS X.
Let’s look at some of the features copied from iOS in more detail: we have full screen mode, which is very useful for the iPad’s 11″ screen with its 1024×768 resulution, but which makes no sense in todays typical 1920×1080 computer display. In Mac OS X, if someone wants to concentrate on a task, one only has to select ‘Hide Others’ from the application menu. There’s no real need for a single-application mode in a production environment.
Another head-scratcher are the much touted hidden scroll bars. In iOS where every pixel of screen real-estate counts, hiding unnecessary interface elements is a given. In Mac OS X where there are no such limitations, hiding a useful piece of information (how long the document is, and which section is currently visible) by default seems rather counter-intuitive. Thankfully, current applications will probably not support these new ‘features’, but it sets a bad precedent for future apps.
Some other iOS additions make marginally more sense, like the Launchpad, which may help novices organize their apps, although I don’t think it will impact most professionals out there.
If you read between the lines, having Lion available only as a downloaded purchase from the App Store, is essentially Apple’s way of adding Microsoft-style DRM to their flagship software product. This is because if you look carefully at the WWDC presentation you’ll see this statement about Apple’s Lion: All your Authorized Macs. Authorized means DRM.
To most casual users, this is not an issue. But for the IT manager who has to maintain dozens or even hundreds for Macs, life just got way more complicated.
Another interesting detail about Lion is that according to the features page, it will feature some means of launching from a restore partition. If this refers to a .dmg disk image, or the 200MB EFI hidden partition which most modern Macs have, or some other partition what will be created by the Lion installer has yet to be determined.
All in all, the new features of Lion are very nice, but in my opinion too many are targeted towards novices instead of professionals. It is natural that Apple wants to entice more Windows users, but the Mac has to be equally useful to professionals. Some long-promised power user features such as native ZFS support, NTFS write support and a resolution-independent user interface are still missing in action.