Developer preview of Lion arrives with more new features

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Apple on Thursday released a developer preview of Mac OS X Lion, the next incarnation of the Mac operating system. The new version sports a number of features that weren’t showcased when Apple offered a sneak preview of Lion back in October.

Mac OS X Lion

Leading the new feature charge is AirDrop, which sounds like a Dropbox alternative. In press materials announcing the developer release, Apple describes AirDrop as “a remarkably simple way to copy files wirelessly from one Mac to another with no setup.”

Another new feature called Versions promises to automatically save successive versions of a document as that document is created, which Apple says will make it easier to revert to previous versions of a file. Versions automatically records a history of changes made to your documents and lets your app display a Time Machine-like interface so users can browse through previous versions. The Versions feature seemingly dovetails nicely with AutoSave, which automatically saves documents as you work.

Also new is Resume, which recreates the last state of your apps when you relaunch them or restart your Mac, much like multitasking apps do under iOS 4.0.

The iOS similarity is no accident. Apple has touted Lion as an operating system that takes the best features of its mobile OS and delivers them to the desktop. Lion's look and feel will unsurprisingly differ a bit from previous incarnations of OS X. Several iPad interface elements—popovers and overlay scrollbars among them—will make the leap to the Mac, in what Apple (nostalgically) calls Lion's Aqua experience.

Lion also offers full-screen support for applications and support for new multitouch gestures, such as pinch-to-zoom on Web pages and swiping. The former is a particular focus of Lion, according to Apple. “Full-screen experiences are a very important part of what we're doing with Mac OS X Lion," said Apple’s Wiley Hodges, director of Mac OS X Product Marketing. “We’ve had it in the past, but we're making it systemwide now.”

Other previously announced features include Mission Control, which provides a view of open full-screen apps, and the Springboard-esque Launchpad. There’s also a revamped version of FileVault for securing all of your data on both internal and external devices, and which allows you to quickly wipe those drives if you need to.

Other new features disclosed on Thursday include a new version of Mail—Mail 5—which will bring the iPad’s layout for managing your e-mail to the desktop. Message previews run down the narrower left pane, with the full message body on the right side. Apple says that Mail 5 will also sport a new way to quickly search even the largest inboxes. A new Conversations view in Mail 5 doesn’t just offer traditional conversation threading; it can even keep track of e-mail threads through subject line changes. It also adds support for Microsoft’s Exchange 2010 protocol.

Instead of offering a separate server version of Lion, Apple is building Lion Server directly into the OS. Lion Server guides you through configuring your Mac a server, and provides tools for both local and remote administration. The new Profile Manager will make it simple for server administrators to remotely setup and manage OS X Lion installations, along with iOS devices. Wiki Server 3 and easier File Sharing for iPad are both also part of Lion Server.

Registered Mac Developer Program members can get Lion directly from the Mac App Store. The final version of Lion will be available to everyone this summer, according to Apple.

“The iPad has inspired a new generation of innovative features in Lion," said Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide product marketing in a statement announcing the developer release. “Developers are going to love Mission Control and Launchpad, and can now start adding great new Lion features like full screen, gestures, Versions and Auto Save to their own apps.”

Updated at 6:28 a.m. PT with more information on Mail and Lion Server.
Updated at 6:36 a.m. PT with more information on Versions.
Updated at 7:29 a.m. PT with additional details from Apple.

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At a Glance
  • At $30 for all of your Macs, the only reason not to upgrade to Lion is because you rely on old PowerPC-based apps that won’t run on it. Otherwise, it’s a great price for a major upgrade.

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