Apple Mac OS X Lion

Mac OS X Lion review: a shock to the system

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Apple Mac OS X Lion
  • Apple Mac OS X Lion
  • Apple Mac OS X Lion
  • Expert Rating

    4.50 / 5

Pros

  • Great price

Cons

  • Many features are different to Snow Leopard

Bottom Line

In the past, Apple has charged $129 for upgrades with far fewer improvements than this, and that price upgraded just a single system. At $30 for all the Macs in your world, 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 more than fair price for a great upgrade.

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Auto Save and Versions

Anyone who's ever lost work because of a computer or app crash probably presses Command-S reflexively all day long, just to make sure everything is always saved. With Lion, Apple's trying to make it so you never have to save a file again in order to protect your work. It's also giving you the ability to reach back in time and retrieve previous versions of your documents.

Your favorite apps will need to be updated to take advantage of these two new features, Auto Save and Versions. But once they have been, they'll all behave the same. Except in newly created files, the Save command will vanish from the File menu. Command-S will now invoke the Save a Version command. Save As has turned into Duplicate. And there's a new Revert to Saved command that gives you access to all previous versions of your document--it's like Time Machine for every file in every app that supports Versions.

To be honest, if someone didn't tell you there was a new Auto Save feature in Lion, you probably wouldn't notice. And that's the point: Auto Save is intended to be completely invisible. Every chance it gets, the system will automatically save your file as you're working on it. What's on your screen is what's on your disk. It's no longer incumbent on you to remember to save your files. If you want to hit Command-S, your app will specifically stop and save the file at that point, but that step is entirely optional. And if you make a bunch of changes to a document and then try close the window or quit the app... nothing happens. Apps no longer have to ask you the classic Don't Save/Save/Cancel question, because the document is automatically saved. Everything just works. It's a huge boost for productivity and sanity, and--most important--eliminates that horrible moment when you click Don't Save when you meant to click Save and lose all of your recent work.

But what if you choose to use the Save command tactically, only saving when you're absolutely sure that you're comfortable with the changes you've made to a document and don't want to go back to your previous save? That's where Versions comes in.

Versions is a bit like Time Machine: It's an attempt by Apple to take geeky technology that's been around for ages (in this case, the version-control systems used by programmers) and bring it to regular computer users. In fact, you can think of Versions as a sort of Time Machine for individual documents. When an app Auto Saves (or you give in to muscle memory and press Command-S), the system notes what's been changed. A trail of past versions remains available at all times.

If an item you deleted yesterday has suddenly become important today, you choose Revert to Saved from the File menu, and enter Versions' spacey Time Machine-style interface. On the left side of the screen is the current version of your document; on the right are all previous versions. If you think everything you've done in the document recently was a colossal mistake, you can navigate back to a previous version and click Restore to entirely replace your current version. If you only want to grab a snippet out of that previous version, you can do that too, by navigating back to a previous version, selecting the snippet, and just copying it out and pasting it into your current document.

Apple's done a great job simplifying what could have been an extremely complicated process. The key, I think, is offering people the ability to select items from the old versions and just copy and paste them into the current version. I'm far more likely to want to retrieve a single paragraph from an old file than the entire thing, and Versions lets me do that in a way that's just as easy as copying from one window in my app and pasting it into a different window.

Since Lion is launching before the arrival of Apple's iCloud service, it's unclear how Auto Save and Versions will interact with iCloud. Since they appear to have been designed in parallel, I'm hoping that apps will be able to Auto Save to iCloud and retrieve versions from iCloud as well. If "the truth is in the cloud," as Steve Jobs said, then the cloud is the right place for your versions to live, too. But we'll have to wait until iCloud arrives this fall to see how all the pieces fit together.

Resume

Apple seems intent on stamping out the idea that quitting or shutting down an app--or the Mac itself--is a little death, an attack of amnesia that makes that app or Mac forget where it was.

In Lion, if you quit an app with a bunch of open windows then re-launch it, all those open windows return, right where you left them. Coupled with Auto Save, Resume means that quitting and launching Mac apps in Lion is as seamless as quitting and launching iOS apps: they open back up right where you left off. (You can turn this feature off globally by going to the General pane in System Preferences and unchecking Restore Windows When Quitting and Re-opening Apps; you can also disable it temporarily by holding down the Shift key when you launch an app.)

This feature doesn't work just with individual apps. Lion also keeps track of which apps are open when you shut down or restart your Mac. If you turn off your Mac with Mail, iCal, and TextEdit open, those three apps will be running, right where you left them, when you turn it back on. (You need to be patient about this: If you try to click on a restarted app before it's ready to run, you'll see the spinning-gear and a grayed-out window.)

If you consider Resume alongside the new behavior of the Dock--by default, there's no longer a dot under running apps--it's clear that Apple is steering us toward a future in which we no longer think about turning apps on or off; rather, we'll just switch between them just as we do on iPhones and iPads. That future isn't here just yet; in Lion, you can still launch and quit apps. It's just that they're more resilient than they were before. (If you want the dots back, you can enable them in the Dock pane of System Preferences.)

Resume is another feature that will make lots of sense to Mac novices, but will force more experienced Mac users to adapt. While I don't like re-opening all my documents every time I quit an app, sometimes I want to start from scratch. Likewise, I've grown up in a Mac environment where only those apps you've specifically set to launch at startup do so; in Lion that's no longer the case. After a few weeks of working with Lion, I'm becoming comfortable with Resume, but I've had to learn to close documents I never want to see again, rather than just quitting the app.

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

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