- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It was perhaps one of the most quiet launches in computer software history: the July 20 debut of Apple Inc.’s Mac OS X Lion, usually a cause for long lines outside of Apple retailers or anxious waiting for the FedEx truck, crept in, as Robert Frost said of the fog, “on little cat feet.”

The launch of the new operating system occurred around mid-morning, with a link posted on the firm’s App Store, where software applications are now often traded. For $29.99, a fraction of the cost of earlier upgrade “Leopard,” you get about 3.5 Gbytes of a new OS, delivered via your Internet connection. Don’t even think about trying this with dial-up service.

All told, it took me about an hour — maybe a tad longer — to download and install Lion after it was released. And this was via the crowded Ethernet-based network at my day job; Lion didn’t pounce in time to try it at home, where super-high speed FiOS awaits. Installation really was “clean,” no major incidents or outages, and two of my main applications (Microsoft Word 2011, Google’s Chrome Web browser) are working contentedly, although it did take two tries before Word manifested itself properly.

The biggest task, so far, of the upgrade was the updating of data files, i.e. mail messages, used by Apple’s Mail.app, the technical file name for the Mail program. It took about an hour for the application to go through my mail files and get them ready for the new version; in the four hours since then, the program’s downloaded about one-fifth of the 155,000 messages in my Google Gmail account.

Those are the technical highlights so far. It’s important to note that this upgrade, like the last, is restricted to Macs using Intel Corp. processors, meaning PowerPC chip-based Macs are now even further out in the digital cold. And, you need to have had Snow Leopard to upgrade to Lion, so doing both could set you back around $150 or so. (A hint: buy Snow Leopard at an online seller such as Amazon.com to save a few dollars.) Customers, who buy new Macs from July 20 onwards, presumably from an Apple retail store and/or Apple’s online mart, will receive units with the new-new operating system.

In operation, OS X Lion seems to be rather smooth. Apart from needing to reinstall the Java software package to make some extras run, there have been no hiccups. I already have updates for iTunes and Apple’s Remote Desktop Update installed; the App Store app tells me there’s another update for Keynote, Apple’s presentation software, that’s mine for the asking.

In short, this is pretty standard stuff for the arrival of a new OS version, whether it’s Mac or Microsoft Windows, although more drama has attended new editions of the latter in recent years. You get a new operating system and some stuff has to be made compatible. At the end, everything is better, or so one hopes.

A big part of Lion are the use of various gestures, generally on a trackpad, that can zoom in on part of a Web page or a photograph viewed in Apple’s Preview viewer, or zoom out if desired. Another swipe will show all available windows and let you then select and click on the one you want to view. Still another gesture will shift from a “desktop” view to Apple’s Dashboard, where tiny programs called “widgets” can perform various tasks.

Also interesting is Launchpad, a way of viewing available program icons as you do on Apple’s iPad tablet. This may yet show its full potential; I wonder if Apple isn’t prepping a touch-sensitive notebook or desktop Mac or perhaps a “super” iPad that’ll run a full OS X implementation. That’s a guess on my part, but otherwise I don’t see as much use for Launchpad as some might.

The upgrade to Lion is worth is for most Mac users, although some who depend on older software programs, such as the old Quicken for Mac, will want to export their data before switching. Under Lion, Mac apps that used the “Rosetta” emulator are orphaned, and thus the information they contain is unreachable.

Such is the cost of progress, except this time it’s also under $30. I’ll have more to say about Lion’s new features in a week or two.

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