Here are the 10 most important things you need to know about OSX Lion.

1. You can only get it from the App Store

This means that you have to be on the latest version of OSX 10.6 (Snow Leopard) and have a Mac App Store account.

Lion is a 3.5 Gb download so make sure you are on a good Internet connection before you kick off the install process.

2. Reversed Scrolling!

Apple have reversed the scrolling direction on the trackpad so that the page moves in the direction your fingers move.

This makes the trackpad match the iPad and iPhone scrolling behavior, but it is extremely annoying. After giving it a while to see if i could get used to it, I've turned it off.

The basic problem with this idea is that while touch-based scrolling works on a touch screen, it's doesn't work on a trackpad.

3. No PowerPC Apps

Once you move to Lion you won't be able to run PowerPC apps. This is a housekeeping change to make life easier for Apple. At some point they need to leave behind old operating system features.

Before you upgrade, you can check for PowerPC apps by going to the About This Mac option from the Finder and click More Info...

Then go to the Software node on the list and see all your apps listed out.

Anything with PowerPC in the type field won't work when you go to Lion! See if these apps matter to you and if so, look for replacements before you upgrade.

4. New Document Model

iPad users will be familiar with the lack of a 'Save' idea on most apps. If you have used Pages (or Numbers or Keynote) on the iPad you will know that you never save a document - Pages is autosaving constantly in the background so that you don't have to worry about it.

This has been a fundamental part of iOS from the beginning - keep the apps simple and autosave all the time - don't make the user remember to push a button.

I've found autosaving on the iPad to be a great idea. In OSX Lion, Apple brings this idea to the Desktop.

Apps have to implement the new Lion document management approach to bring it to life. This isn't something that an app gets 'for free'. So far this is the iLife and key OSX apps (e.g. Preview and TextEdit) only.

Here's what has changed in these apps. I'm using Pages as the example here:

  • No Save button - what? Thats right, you no longer Save things. Just work away and close the document when you are done. Pages takes care of the rest.
  • Save a Version - Pages will be saving a version whenever a 'significant' change is made, but you can also force a version save whenever you like. Note that this command uses the traditional Apple-S command, so it is very much a replacement for the old Save idea.
  • No more Save As - this is now Duplicate and does the same thing - creates and saves a new copy
  • Revert to Saved - with Pages constantly saving versions of your documents you still need to get back to the saved version sometimes.
  • Versions - when you use the Revert to Saved option you are also given the chance to revert back to any version that Pages has saved along the way

These changes mean that you can forget about document management and concentrate on what you need to get done.

Document management also means that Pages (and any app that supports Lion's new document model) can restore itself to its last state on restart. This means that you can restart your Mac and have everything come back up as you had it at logout/shutdown time.

5. Application Lifecycle

Mac users will be familiar with the Application Lifecycle that is used by most apps where the app stays running after you close the last document window. This has always been a key difference between OSX and Windows.

In Lion, Apple takes this one step further where an app never really quits, even when you tell it to Quit. There is a new preference in the Dock settings that lets you switch off the indicator light for running apps in the Dock. This was actually the default behaviour in the developer releases of Lion.

Apple is now telling you to completely forget about whether an app is running or not. You can leave this up to the operating system now, even more than before in previous OSX versions.

6. Saving your Session

When logging out of your account, you will now see this window. On next login you can choose to have your apps re-opened to their last state.

A lot of this functionality is made possible by the new Document Model, so that apps like Pages can re-open all your open documents.

7. Mail

Users of the inbuilt OSX Mail app will notice a change to make it more like iPad mail. As for the Launchpad, this helps Apple with "pull through" Mac sales from iPad users.

8. Launchpad

The ability to pop up a familiar iPad-style home screen is cute but useless. I rarely need to see all the apps on my Mac, so I still use Overflow to store links to those apps that don't fit on the dock, but I still use from time to time.

When trying to understand why Apple does things, you have to remember that Apple is a hardware company. It couldn't be more different to Microsoft, Google, Facebook, etc.

Apple sells more iPads than iMacs. This will only increase over the coming years so Apple will push to convert iPad Windows users into iPad Mac users.

The Launchpad is a tool to help with this. It's a marketing gimmick that you, the Mac user, can safely ignore!

9. iCloud

iCloud promises to be the biggest improvement to the whole Apple experience since the launch of the iPad. Today, document management across iOS and Mac environments is a joke. Sending files back and forth to yourself in order to keep them up to date is something out of the nineties.

There are a number of clunky workaround solutions available but you can get that Apple will get this right when iCloud is released.

iCloud should make all your important documents keep up to date by 'magic' across your Mac and iOS devices.

ICloud is included in Lion, but it's not working just yet. Apple have already released developer updates to Lion containing improved iCloud builds. Once iCloud is working under Lion you will be able to share documents across OSX computers. We will have to wait for iOS 5 to see the real benefits of iCloud.

10. App Store

As we've reviewed before, the App Store is a huge step forward for buying Mac apps. For the user, it is super-easy to buy reliable, tested software. For us Developers, its an easy way to get good apps out in front of millions of new customers.

The Mac App Store came out in January 2011 but was only available to users who updated to the latest OSX Snow Leopard patch. Since most people don't seem to do this, Lion is the first time that we will see widespread rollout of the Mac App Store.

The Bottom Line

Out of everything listed above, the only thing in Lion that will affect you short term is the new Document model. This will only impact you if you use the iLife products as Microsoft may not jump onto this.

If you didn't upgrade to get the Mac App Store in January, Lion will give you the Mac App Store for the first time.

As with most operating system updates, the update itself does very little for you straight away. It's the apps and updates that come in the next year that will make upgrading worthwhile.

My advice for Lion upgrades - do the upgrade, switch the trackpad back to normal and forget about it. iCloud and iOS 5 are the things to look out for later this year.

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