Thoughts about Lion – OS X’s evolution

It’s been a while since I wrote something of (questionable) substance on MacRyu.com, and since Lion is just days away from us, I figured I should put something up.

No, I’m not going to detail the changes in Lion and give you some kind of a technical walkthrough. That job should be left to the pros, namely, John Siracusa.

What I want to write about is what I think Lion represents, in the grander scheme of things I call “The Evolution of OS X”. I personally believe that there are two very specific generations of OS X releases that ended and began at 10.5. I will be using the cat names and the version numbers interchangeably throughout the writeup, so if you are confused just google the cat names from 10.0 till 10.7. LOL.

Here goes.

If there’s one specific theme that Lion represents it will be “the next generation”.

Yes, I know Lion is the next OS X, I know Lion is new, but those are not why I think Lion represents “the next generation” of OS X.

One thing casual users and recent switchers do not understand about the last 2 OSes, Leopard and Snow Leopard, is how they represent a major shift in OS X’s development.Starting from Leopard, significant changes were made to OS X as a whole, so much so that you can actually call Leopard the first version of the 2nd-generation OS X. This explains why Leopard was so unstable throughout its 9 point-releases and never got as stable as 10.4 or 10.3 ever did.

Going back to the original OS X, 10.0 was crap. 10.1 was a much needed systemwide bugfix, 10.2 brought speed back to the system, making the pro machines much more usable for Mac users, enough to finally put the remaining nails in the coffin on OS 9/Classic. 10.3 added Expose, arguably one of the most important features of OS X, and 10.4 added a bunch of system features like Dashboard and Spotlight.

Then came 10.5. Leopard came at a strange time. Leopard was ambitious, adding a whole bunch of features, adding 64-bit Cocoa, adding a significantly redesigned User Interface, among many other new features and technologies. It was also the first (and eventually, only) version of OS X that has to support both PowerPC and Intel right from the OS X Install Disc. Previously, PowerPC and Intel versions of 10.4 Tiger were treated as totally different operating systems together.

It was a big project. And then it got delayed internally, probably partly because of the iPhone, probably also because Leopard was turning into Apple’s biggest piece of bloatware they ever created since Steve Jobs returned to power. 10.5.0 was rushed out despite being a whole year late from its original intended ship date, and it was obvious from how features were still being tweaked at the 4th point-release, 10.5.3.

It was therefore apparent to most power users that Leopard was generally extremely buggy, probably the most buggy OS X since 10.1. Leopard unfortunately came at a time when Apple had to concentrate a lot of resources to iOS, or the-then iPhone OS. Drastic measures to fix the OS eventually will have to wait until 10.6.

Leopard was therefore, the end of the beginning and the beginning of the new. It was the last OS in the 1st-generation of OS X releases, from 10.0 till 10.5, yet it added and changed so much that it inspired, or even required the 2nd-generation of OS X releases to be developed.

10.6, Snow Leopard, was therefore, actually not the first OS X to have zero new features. 10.6 is just like 10.1, just on a much much larger scale. 10.6 isn’t just a bug fix or “service pack” like how silly Windows people or idiots like Leo Laporte like to describe it. 10.6 chucked almost everything that was deemed to be remnants of the first generation of OS X into the Trash. Out went PowerPC support, old versions of system apps, among other stuff. Rosseta was now optional. Lots of new stuff was put in, system-wide Quicktime X (Quicktime is NOT JUST THE PLAYER), OpenCL, etc. Apps were rewritten, many now 64-bit, and Mac Pros now boot directly into the 64-bit kernel. It was an extensive overhaul of the system. It is essentially, a brand new operating system.

Calling 10.6 Snow Leopard was unfortunate, for it gave idiots the excuse to call it a “lesser” OS X. 10.6 is anything but a lesser OS X. It just wasn’t very marketing-friendly. “Zero New Features” didn’t resonate with everyone.

Then came Lion.

If Snow Leopard was the 2nd-generation equivalent of 10.1/10.2, then Lion will be the first 2nd-generation OS X to add significant new features to OS X.

Everyone who have used Lion so far can tell. Almost everything about navigation is new. The underlying architecture of OS X definitely evolved from 10.6, but it was small-scale as compared to the work that was put into making 10.6 from 10.5.

For starters, how you interact with your content is 180-degrees different. And I meant that literally. You now no longer scroll in the direction of your scrollbars, you now “touch” and move your content on-screen in the direction you want them to move to, just like how you do it on your iPhone and silly Android devices. It was definitely the logical way to do it, but it probably takes a day or two to get used to it. Once you do, however, you’ll never do it any other way. To aid that Lion also take away your scrollbars’ visibility by default.

Spaces, the system app that was literally useless before Lion, now takes centre-stage as part of Mission Control, the Expose-replacement that handles and presents every single window and running app in a management way. Together with the multi-touch trackpads and Magic Trackpads that are now on every single shipping Mac except for the Mac Mini and the Mac Pro, switching between full-screen apps, and navigating between multiple tasks is most effortless and fast, making it way easier for someone with limited screen space to multitask efficiently.

Launchpad and the Mac App Store’s changes in Lion allowed every single iOS user on the planet to be able to pick up a Mac and instantly know how to install and manage apps on it, a feat that used to require evangelists and Macheads spending hours educating newbies. It won’t be wrong to say that a Mac with Lion is way way way easier to use than any Windows machine on the market.

UI’s different, Finder’s improved yet again. Lots of VISIBLE changes across the board.

And it is stable. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Lion is a joy to use.

However, Lion also represents a greater step forward in obsoleting old technologies, including certain Intel Macs. Even some Macs sold as recently as 3 years ago will not be able to reap the full benefits of Lion. For starters, white/black MacBooks and old MacBook Pros that do not have the multi-touch Trackpads will not benefit from fast switching of spaces/applications using the 3/4-finger swipe gestures, and instead will have to rely on a key-combination like ctrl+> to switch spaces. Not the fastest way to switch between full-screen apps I will imagine. Rosetta is also now officially dead, 6 full years after the last PowerPC machine came out in late 2005. Which is not a big deal to most people. I rarely find an application that still needs Rosetta to run. Some laggards might, but these people rarely bother to keep up with upgrades anyway, so they will do fine with their Panther(10.3) install. And the very first Intel Macs that run on Core Sore/Core Duo processors won’t run Lion (actually they will run through some hacking). But those are 5 years old. A MacBook Air is so cheap and nice these days. Buy one. Turn your MacBook Core Duo into a torrent machine or something.

Lion is the first full-featured 2nd generation OS X release. And if what we see in Lion is indicative (it usually is) of where Apple is taking OS X to in the next release, 10.8 will be fantastic, just like 10.4 was.

*After-thought* Shall pimp my Google+ account! Add me at http://gplus.to/ryuworks!


About MacRyu.com

MacRyu is the Mac Blog by Singaporeans and for Singaporeans. It was started in April 2007 as a side project of the then President of the Official Mac User Group of NUS, Ryu, and grew to become possibly one of the most popular Apple-related sites based in Singapore. MacRyu hopes to provide you with more Mac-related info, thoughts and stuff, from the Singaporean perspective.

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