Mac OS X Lion review

Mac OS X Lion is heavily indebted to its iPhone and iPad counterpart, but can its bite match its roar?

Price £20.99

Stuff says Cheaper than some apps, Apple’s new desktop OS has plenty of slick tricks to convert the mobile masses

Notice anything familiar?

Right from the start, it's clear Mac OS X Lion is more akin to a smartphone experience than a computer one. You download the software from the Mac App Store, and app deflation means Lion costs just £21 (compare Leopard's £90 or Vista's £220). At 3.7Gb, it's a hefty file that can take a few hours to suck down from Apple’s servers, but it's a whole lot simpler than schlepping to the shop and messing around with disks. Installation is a single-click affair.

Reverse action

The first thing you'll notice is the scrolling direction has been reversed. If you want to see the bottom of a webpage you move your finger upwards, just as you would on an iPad or iPhone. It takes getting used to, but Apple wants you to know that multi-touch gestures are at the core of Mac OS X Lion. On a more cynical note, it won’t hurt sales of gesture-sensitive accessories such as the Magic Trackpad and Magic Mouse (both £59).

History repeating

For the first time, Mac apps restart exactly where you left them, just like iPhone apps, so you can shut down your computer without having to go through the laborious process of making sure everything’s saved. Restart an app and files bizarrely spring back into life. Like the scrolling, you can either learn to love it or simply switch off. We think you'll choose the former.

Elsewhere, Auto Save-enabled apps keep your documents backed up and allow you to revert to previous versions, while the uncharacteristically ugly AirDrop makes it marginally easier to share files between computers using Wi-Fi. All this will become more useful when iCloud arrives, seamlessly (and wirelessly) syncing files between all your computers and iOS devices.

The end of the folder?

Sometimes, the iPad influence goes a bit too far. Click on the new rocket icon atop your dock and you'll be presented with a grid of apps icons almost identical to the iOS homescreen: great for touchscreens, but a little pointless on a computer.

More useful is the new All My Files shortcut on the Finder window's sidebar, which frees you to find your most recent documents without wading through folders. The improved search function helps you find older stuff you've hidden away, too.

Lambs to Lion

Folders aren't the only things to have fallen from Apple's grace: scrollbars have bitten the bullet, while windows are sidelined in favour of full-screen apps. Full Screen is one of our favourite OS X Lion features, allowing developers to create truly immersive, mobile app-like experiences without the clutter of menubars, docks and desktops.

It's particularly welcome on small-screen MacBooks but works well on the dekstop too, allowing you to give your full attention to apps like iPhoto, Preview and – in the fashion of Google’s new Chromebooks – even Safari. You can switch between apps with a three-fingered sideways swipe, or launch Mission Control to view all your apps and desktops a la Exposé.

There are hundreds of smaller changes, like a clever low-power wake mode that lets you remotely access files without turning on the Mac's screen or USB drives and the ability to remotely control another Mac user’s screen – a boon if you share Macs at home or in the office.

In conclusion

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion is a delicious upgrade from Snow Leopard, and it's likely to convince a few more Windows users that the time has come to switch to Mac (particularly with its smart new migration software). More importantly, Lion is the lure for those who are already hooked on Apple – those millions of iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users who need something to buy while they're waiting for the iPhones 5. Make no mistake, this Lion has teeth.

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