Review : Mac OS X 10.7 Lion

Apple uses iOS as a launch point for a new approach to the Mac.

MacNN Rating:


Product Manufacturer: Apple

Price: $30

The Good

  • Greatly improved multi-touch awareness.
  • Mission Control better at sorting clutter than pure Exposť.
  • Launchpad exposes apps to newcomers.
  • More accessible but still capable Mail interface.
  • Auto-save and resume.
  • FaceTime and Mac App Store already loaded.
  • Quick install process.
  • Potential of iCloud.
  • Low $30 upgrade price.
  • Key improvements to FileVault, Safari, Time Machine.

The Bad

  • Launchpad slightly overwhelming and limited.
  • Mail not as good at coping with large daily message counts.
  • No straightforward way to make a Lion install disc or drive.
  • Dodgy Address Book and iCal visual changes.
  • No built-in Java; no Rosetta at all.
  • May face a tough challenge from Windows 8, whenever it ships.
Getting started: the Mac App Store and the boot drive question

It's very clear from the outset that Lion is a sharp break from any mainstream desktop OS just by how you get it on your system: if you haven't bought a Mac preloaded with the new OS from the start, you have to visit the Mac App Store. That's a mixed bag to us. For anyone already using Snow Leopard, it's certainly very convenient; you don't have to trudge to the store. You have no disc to break, and if you ever need to install again, you never have to worry that you've lost your copy as long as you're online. Apple has an edge over Microsoft here, too. Windows 7 is technically downloadable, but it's a web-based and frankly awkward process meant mostly for netbook owners.

The Mac App Store potentially makes corporate deployments a lot easier. You don't have to go through the process of setting up a network install if you don't want to (though you can), and nor are workers stuck if you want them to move to Lion should they telecommute or otherwise sit outside the local network. More importantly, you don't have to tie dozens, hundreds, or thousands of licenses to physical copies; a redemption code is all that's needed.

Wrapped up in that streamlining, though, are a number of very big caveats. To have access to the Mac App Store, you're going to need Snow Leopard. If you have Tiger or Leopard, you're currently left out to dry; at least as of this writing, Apple had no intention to ship physical copies other than what will show on recovery drives. And as you might expect, this also entails having a fast Internet connection. Many of us have a speedy Internet connection, but if you're on slow broadband, dial-up, or service with a low bandwidth cap, upgrading will be slow and possibly expensive. We downloaded Lion quickly enough on our 10Mbps home connection, but your mileage will vary.

The real concern for the download-only route is the worst case scenario: what if you need to reinstall? Apple doesn't have a ready-made, bootable image, so you can't simply burn a disc or make a USB thumb drive. There is a fairly simple way to make a bootable image by extracting an image file (InstallESD) from a folder in the Lion installer and burning an image, but it's not very Apple-like. We wish Apple had a more direct approach for those that aren't familiar with exploring app packages or might be nervous around Disk Utility.

Thankfully, the install process is a little bit brisker than before, however you go about it. We noticed fewer prompts, and since the OS installer is usually already on your hard drive, it's fast. Our 15-inch MacBook Pro with a 2.4GHz Core i5 and a 5,400RPM hard drive took slightly under half an hour from starting through to reaching the Lion desktop, and nearly all of this was hands-off.

Interestingly, Apple has decided to forego much of the install ceremony. There's no opening video or elaborate setup process. You do, however, get something very rare from Apple: a tutorial. A splash screen shows you how to perform some of the multi-touch gestures Lion can use. It's helpful if you're genuinely new, and as we'll soon see, it's actually quite important to wring the most out of what the OS has to offer.

Finder changes, AirDrop, and multi-touch gestures

Just getting around in Finder, the basic navigation interface, has some visible changes. By default, a Finder window now launches to a new section known as All My Files. It's effectively a visual, intelligent browser that shows all the content from your home folder by type and date, with browsing that's an unusual mix between the usual Finder view and Cover Flow-style horizontal icons. We can see it being useful for newcomers, but in our experience, you'll want to change the default view to something else before long. It works if you regularly go back to a few recent files every day, but it falls apart if you have to dig through archives or create content often.

One thing you'll see in your first Finder window that does work is AirDrop. In some ways, it' s redundant if you already have a local network established. As a solution to "sneakernet" file transfers (i.e. physical drives), though, it's slick. You just need to be on AirDrop at the same time on the same local network, and it figures out the rest.

A lot of the look has been refined and seems to have that last bit of polish to make everything flow. Buttons are now more squarish and, dare we say, tasteful. It's not as distinctive but it's also less 'cute' and a sign that Apple is largely done with its original, slightly precious Aqua look. Pop-up windows now actually pop; there are considerably more visual transitions, even just as a copied file slides into place. None of this really impacts usability, but there are some instances where it clearly illustrates what's going on better than Snow Leopard and earlier versions could manage.

iOS' automatic spelling correction is present, too, and can hurt or help you depending on how well you type and how often you go beyond regular words; as you'd expect, you can turn it off.

You'll also probably notice what's missing in the first real sign of an iOS-style interface change: there's no scroll bars. As long as you're using a MacBook trackpad, the Magic Trackpad, or a Magic Mouse, you'll only ever see scrolling elements when you're actually scrolling. You'd think this would be disconcerting, and it does make jumping to a specific point in a document slightly more difficult, but we grew to like it. The change gives back more space in areas you'd most appreciate it, such as a web browser. There's an appeal to the iOS-style kinetic scrolling, too, complete with the "bounce" that tells you that you've reached the end of a list or page.

Mulit-touch gestures go a very long way towards improving the experience -- we'd go so far as to say it's one of those undeniable, major advantages Mac OS X has over Windows, possibly even over Windows 8. Apple has always had excellent two-finger scrolling and zoom mechanisms; Lion introduces a much larger range of gestures that, for the most part, make Apple's multi-touch trackpads a killer feature. On the simplest level, it's improved zoom by allowing double-taps, universal page navigation with two-page swipes, and a unique trick to look up anything in the dictionary or Wikipedia just by double-tapping with three fingers.

Where it gets clever is when it's combined with other Lion features. A three-finger swipe to the left or right will bring up Dashboard or switch between full-screen apps if they're open. Swiping up is familiar and now invokes Mission Control (more on this later) instead of Expos?, but you can now "crunch" four or five fingers to bring up Launchpad or spread them out to quickly get to the desktop. If you've ever had a busy desktop on a Mac or Windows PC and had to start an app that didn't have a shortcut, you'll know why this is handy.

The default scrolling direction, though, feels backwards. Apple is trying to recreate iOS' natural-feeling scrolling by inverting the direction when it detects a multi-touch input. For us, it doesn't really work. There's a fundamental disconnect when your finger isn't actually touching the screen. Thankfully, it's easy to toggle it back. We hope Apple changes it by default, although we suspect some newcomers to the Mac may not notice.

We would be remiss if we didn't add one more, significant Finder touch. After decades of Mac users having to drag by just one corner, it's now possible to resize windows from any edge. It's been one of the biggest gripes of many Windows switchers, and while there have been advantages to Apple's previous policy, it's no longer a point of resistance. We've had no issues accidentally resizing windows.

Resume, Versions, and full-screen apps

The ability to pick up where you left off is one of the most valuable parts of iOS, so it's no surprise Apple has built it into Lion. If you have to restart without closing anything, you can leave apps open and expect them to come back to the way they were before. Anyone with a daily routine will like it, and if you have a solid-state drive like in the MacBook Air, the experience will be nearly transparent. On a rotating hard drive like on our MacBook Pro, it does add to the load times, so you may not want to leave Final Cut Pro open before you choose "Shut Down."

Accordingly, Apple has brought in auto-saving as a regular feature. It's not available in many legacy apps, but a number of built-in apps and future third-party titles will now save themselves regularly, both at regular intervals in the background and when you quit. If you like, an app like Numbers or TextEdit never has to save by hand. It's a definite relief if you're prone to quitting apps absent-mindedly or are the sort who compulsively hits Command-S on the keyboard, and it doesn't necessarily make manual saves go away if you like to safeguard your files on your own.

it's here that Apple has also caught up and in some ways passed Windows, with Versions. Time Machine has served as a way to recover an older version of a file since 2007, but Lion now has the ability from Windows Vista and 7 to recover a previous version in between backups or without a backup drive at all. Clicking on the title of an app window will usually give an option to "browse previous versions" and will invoke the Versions interface on the spot.

The implementation still has the somewhat gimmicky floating-in-space interface of Time Machine but is very intuitive and let us quickly jump back to what we'd saved a few minutes or a few hours ago with an easy side-by-side comparison of the contents. More importantly, it's much better exposed than in Windows 7. As much as Microsoft has improved its interfaces, its versioning is buried and harder to use; many people we know don't even realize it exists, which hands Apple a big real-world advantage.

Full-screen app support is a slightly more contentious iOS crossover. Many core apps, and eventually third-party apps, have a full-screen toggle button that hides the menu bar and Dock to literally fill the screen with a given app. But it's not a simple maximize like in Windows: it not only takes up more of the screen, it changes the interface, too. In iCal or Mail, for example, interface elements automatically sharpen, widen, or otherwise adapt. It's easy to drop back to a regular view by mousing to the top to reveal the menu bar, and like we mentioned earlier, three-finger swipes to the left or right will switch between full-screen apps without having to jump to Mission Control or the task switcher.

The feature's usefulness depends entirely on your habits and the size of your screen. For us, it looks to be most useful if you're running a MacBook Air or are setting up a kiosk for a store. It's an easy way to reclaim a lot of workspace and get a clean interface. The actual interface changes, though, are so far usually modest. Someone with a modern iMac or a 17-inch MacBook Pro may see little advantage over just making the window larger.

Launchpad, Mission Control, and Dashboard

Apple's intent to bring its mobile experience into the Mac is by far the most evident in Launchpad. Quite literally, it's a direct replication of the iOS home screen (often known as Springboard) app launcher on the Mac. Apps are spread over a linear grid across multiple pages, and you can both sort apps as well as group them into folders just by dragging icons on top of one another.

Although Apple might be reluctant to admit it, this is effectively the Mac's equivalent of Windows' Start menu. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and in some ways, Apple's doing it more effectively. The grid is an easily understood and much more visual metaphor, and reorganizing it isn't nearly the pain that it can be in Windows. Moreover, it's a tremendous help to those new to the Mac or who simply use more apps than fit in the Dock. No longer is it necessary to wade through Finder windows or run a Spotlight search to find that game you've been meaning to play or a new utility.

With that said, it's not flawless. Launchpad is clearly designed for those who don't have a large number of apps, and it can actually be slightly intimidating if you have dozens or hundreds. Apple is also making the presumption that all your apps live in the Applications folder. As good a general assumption that is, it breaks down when you have apps that sit in sub-folders or on another part of your drive altogether. We'd like it if Apple could help auto-sort apps or scan more of a Mac's apps to find everything a user might have.

Mission Control is more directly linked to the Mac tradition and, in a contrast to much of what Lion is doing, is more focused on power users than beginners. It merges Expos? and Spaces into one unified area. Some have complained that it hurts Expos? by cutting out its usable space or partly concealing windows. In our experience, it's tangibly more useful: it visually labels windows by their app icons and stacks them in a way that helps easily identify which exact window you need.

Only a small group of people will ever use Spaces, though like Launchpad, its implementation is as much about making a feature accessible as anything else. Before, Spaces was partly hidden and not always easy to control if you didn't have the Dock icon handy. Now, it's in the same place you use to switch app windows and simplifies not just jumping between Spaces but drilling down to a particular app within a given Space. It's still the easiest implementation of virtual desktops we've seen, and it's something Windows normally doesn't do well.

Dashboard is mostly the same as it was in every version of Mac OS X so far and to us is a less chaotic and more accessible approach to widgets than what Windows Vista and 7 manage. This time, though, it's on a separate screen, not an overlay. That cuts both ways. As much as it removes clutter, it also prevents you from keeping a website or a note open in the background to use as reference for a widget, such as a tracking number or the name of that wine you were looking for. The change is far from a deal breaker but slightly unfortunate.

Mail, iCal, Address Book

While there have been cosmetic and feature changes in Mail since it first shipped in Mac OS X, it's in many ways been one of the more conservative parts of the platform for the past decade. Not so in Lion: Apple has largely overhauled the basic approach to the app. And once again, it takes its cue from iOS.

It's at first a bit of a shock if you're used to a conventional e-mail client with loads of information. Like on an iPad, the stock view shows nothing but a list of messages in a column on the left and previews of the messages themselves on the right. As jarring as it may be if you're used to seeing a swell of information on the screen, there's a definite beauty to it for actually focusing on messages. One of the strengths of the iPad as a traveller's companion has been its ability to focus on messages and let you quickly triage them, a trait that mostly carries over here.

There's other simplicities, too; the message headers are now a lot cleaner by default, and frequently quoted segments in a long conversation are cut out. We love the conversation view, which goes beyond what you see on the tablet: it shows the messages themselves as soon as you click on a thread. Many controls are now inline, too, and the top interface is now more reminiscent of Safari's clean interface.

Surprisingly, there's a few touches for power users. Finally, it's possible to not just flag a message but color-code and personalize the flag so you can separate important work messages from personal ones. Searches are more intelligent and bring in suggestions, attachment searching, and turning search terms into tokens. Exchange 2010 is built-in and lets users craft the at times notorious out-of-office notices without having to switch apps. Importantly, you're also not locked into Apple's ultra-simple look, either: there's a toggle to show the full folder organization if you need or want a complex folder layout.

Quirks? Our main issue is clearing out a large number of messages. Admittedly, you don't need the iPad's "edit" button to clear out a batch of specific messages (a Command-click on each message will do), but it's harder than it was before to purge your inbox if you regularly get several dozen or hundreds of messages each day. In the interface's stock form, Apple also now requires an extra click to check the trash. We'd add that the stock button layout omits decidedly handy features such as one-click archiving and marking folders as read, though these can be added in. Full-screen mode is again handy if you've got a MacBook Air but feels slightly superfluous on anything with a bigger screen.

Even with these, though, Mail now feels like it has a distinctive value over other mail clients, like Entourage or Thunderbird. It's the genuinely uncluttered option and may even be the best if you regularly have long back-and-forth e-mail chats.

iCal has taken a similarly minimalist tone that works for the most part. Many things that were once in a side bar are now in pop-up menus. Apple has at last improved how it handles very short-term and very long-term scheduling, too. The day view now focuses on the itinerary of already scheduled events so you're not hunting through to see what's coming up. A new yearly view is much more helpful for jumping a few months ahead to plan a major event or just to get an overview of a much larger schedule.

A few other helpful features exist, such as intelligent event creation based on keywords ("Apple keynote at 10AM" will automatically timestamp it, for example). For some reason, though, Apple has decided to take an unusual sidestep and introduce real-world interface metaphors to iCal after several years of a synthetic look. iCal now has the appearance of a slightly gaudy-looking tan desk calendar with torn off pages. It doesn't hurt the usability of the app, but it's an odd decision, especially when more and more of Apple's audience will have never even seen a desk calendar, let alone used one. We suspect Apple may have been worried it wouldn't be visibly different than Mail, but we would have preferred a toned down look.

Address Book, as a close companion, similarly makes the late decision to go to a real-world analogy, although at least here it's subtler and makes more sense. It does add a much-needed support for starting a FaceTime call and can flag whether or not someone's online for instant messaging.

Things we know: FaceTime, the Mac App Store, Safari

We won't dip too deeply into components that were already post-launch introductions in Snow Leopard, but they're worth noting now that they're stock features. FaceTime is much as it's been and is often the easiest way to video chat with an iOS user or a fellow Mac user, at least if you're willing to operate outside of existing IM and Skype. Lion increases FaceTime's value and asks you to sign in with your Apple ID right from the start; it's a small difference, but it virtually guarantees a Lion user will also be a FaceTime user.

The Mac App Store is likewise almost the same in Lion, though it now handles in-app purchases and, as a standard feature, might get more traction. Our view on it has been ambivalent. It's an excellent way for newcomers to find Mac apps and is very convenient if you have multiple Macs and don't want to be bothered visiting developer websites or copying files to bring an app over. At the same time, though, some of the limitations of iOS App Store are here. Apple bans certain kinds of apps and content, and it usually takes a deeper cut of the revenues than if you buy a download-only version from the developer; it won't show the full potential of the Mac. Still, it's a very convenient way to discover apps, and unlike on iOS, Apple gives you the freedom to get apps from outside of the store.

Safari in Lion follows a tradition Apple has been building of adding OS-specific features that don't necessarily show up in the same version for other platforms. Reading List will be somewhat familiar to anyone who has used Readability (and to some extent, Instapaper) as a way to set aside sites for reading later without having to leave tabs open or to transfer them over to an iOS device after a sync. Our favorite change is the much improved download mechanism, which uses an elegant pop-up to show your download status and will let you drag a file directly from the status to the desktop if you want to start working with it.

Multi-touch is visibly more useful in Safari: we much prefer the iOS-style double-taps and pinches to zoom. Swiping back and forth through history provides a much more natural look.

Going to a new OS gives Apple some much-needed performance and stability improvements that go a long way towards closing the gap with the current speed champion, Google's Chrome. The interface and the actual web engine are now run on separate process; it's not the same as Chrome's one-process-per-tab approach, but it does mean a slow script won't drag down all of Safari. Apple also now has some Internet Explorer 9-like graphics acceleration for HTML5's Canvas, so visually intensive web apps run tangibly better. And while sandboxing had already been present to some extent, both the websites themselves and any in-page app (plugin or otherwise) is now fenced off, so you should see fewer instances of not just malware but unintentional glitches and slowdowns from a poorly handled page.

Extras: iChat, backup, scripting, search, security

As with most new Mac OS X releases, there are many under-the-hood features that don't necessarily amount to much by themselves but combined have a significant impact.

iChat we consider valuable just because it's cleaned up and streamlined. We don't know too many people who will need their Yahoo friends, but anyone who needs iChat will like the features borrowed from multi-network IM clients, including unified buddy lists (no more two or three windows), a universal status, and a quick search for a given contact. Apple hasn't replaced Adium for many -- where's the Windows Live Messenger support? -- but it has given more reasons to stay on iChat if you already use it.

Time Machine has been given a boost in a subtler but arguably much more valuable way that acknowledges the reality of a notebook user. It now provides a very small amount of local backups when not plugged into a Time Machine drive that are even folded back into your main Time Machine updates when you come back, so you theoretically don't have to worry about losing files mid-trip or that you only have one version when you get back.

Tying into this are some very important changes to FileVault. Apple's encryption now finally handles an entire drive and can recognize external drives, including Time Machine. A common complaint with FileVault has been its inability to stop a grab-and-go theft that would take a backup, and it's appreciated to get that resolved. Performance is much faster, too; we no longer had to watch the system bog down as it rolled a large set of new files into the encrypted volume. We didn't try a new instant wipe feature that deletes a FileVault key and purges the disk, but if you're in a situation where you're determined to clear out a system as soon as possible, it's there.

Spotlight searching is now tangibly more useful; we loved that we could grab a file directly from the menu or preview results directly from the list. The results are no longer limited to offline, either, and will pull up web or Wikipedia searches.

And for those who regularly use scripting, there's a few welcome changes. AppleScript has pre-made templates and can focus a script on a particular app. Automator has been updated both to use the new auto-saves and versioning, and there are new tricks such as converting text into an ePub book, pointing to whole web content, or encoding audiovisual content from the desktop.

Performance and the questions of Java and Rosetta

With a relatively small subset of systems to test on, we haven't had the option of testing edge case systems to see how they run. We can say that, on our dual-core 2.4GHz Core i5 with 4GB of RAM, there's no tangible difference in performance for us versus Snow Leopard, including in games. Apple has, however, upped the requirements to demand at least a Core 2 Duo and is excluding some Intel-based systems for the first time. That's mostly limited to 2006-era Core Duo and Core Solo systems but could be a problem for those who are running Snow Leopard smoothly on a higher-end system from the time, particularly a Mac Pro. We've heard (but not confirmed) that Lion may demand more RAM in practice.

Battery life doesn't seem to have taken a significant hit; in a "real" test with websites using a significant amount of Flash, we typically got about 6.25 hours of battery life with our MacBook Pro with screen brightness at about a third, which is about what we had before in similar conditions. We'll keep an eye on battery life to see if there's any noticeable reductions or improvements in the longer term.

Legacy users will want to keep an eye out for two features that are being dropped, if partially in one case, with the new OS. Apple has decided to stop its own internal development of Java and considers it a "deprecated" technology. Should you need it for apps, don't assume it'll be available with a fresh install. It's not cut out of the loop, though, either officially or otherwise. If you try to run an app that depends on Java code, such as CyberDuck's FTP client or even some versions of Photoshop, Lion will automatically offer to download the OpenJDK for Mac much as Snow Leopard offered Rosetta when it wasn't already installed. Every app we use that needs Java ran properly on our test Mac, so there's a good chance you won't see any disruption for awhile, if ever.

The same can't be said for Rosetta proper. It's gone altogether. If you still depend on PowerPC-based apps for your work, you'll either want to stay on Snow Leopard or look into modern, Intel-native alternatives. For some apps, most notably certain versions of Quicken, this could be a definite problem without up-to-date code. It's hard to completely sympathize with most other affected users, though. Lion is shipping about five years after the last PowerPC Mac rolled out of the factory and not much less time after universal or Intel-only apps became commonplace.

We'll add that Windows users can't lay claim to legacy app support like they once did, either. Windows 7 requires a virtual machine to run some apps that won't load in anything newer than Windows XP. Windows 8 will be an even bigger shock: to get a true W8-native app not only requires coding a new interface but using different development tools. This isn't to completely excuse Apple but does underscore a broader attempt to clear out legacy support.

A note on iCloud

Lion to some extent is a loaded cannon. An important feature, iCloud, isn't truly active yet. As of the time we were writing the review in mid-July, you could still see MobileMe in the preferences and had to use it that way. When iCloud does go live, it should eliminate some of the problems of multi-Mac syncing. Calendars, contacts, and mail will now optionally sync for free to other Macs and to iOS devices. Apple is also promising automated cloud file saving for apps like the iWork suite and for the most recent 1,000 photos in iPhoto.

Cloud services have existed either built into other operating systems or available as add-ons; Microsoft's SkyDrive fulfills some of that goal, for example, and Dropbox for some is enough. Google's Chrome OS is even based around the idea of using the web, where information is by its very nature in sync. How Apple's solution works out in practice remains to be seen. To put it mildly, Apple has had a rough history with online services. If it works as advertised, though, it should have some of the more transparent sync we'll have seen in an OS with native apps, if without as much control as third-party alternatives.

Wrapping up

Some in the Windows-centric media have a tendency to accuse Apple of asking users to pay for what in Windows would amount to a service pack. We can see some of the point, since Apple is rarely instituting fundamental interface changes in the same way an OS like Windows XP or 7 might. With the exceptions of perhaps 10.1 and 10.6, though, many of the changes have been visible and often substantial; some of those critics may be getting hung up on public version numbering (XP was 'just' Windows NT 5.1, after all).

Lion can't be painted with the same brush. It's not the radical break that Windows 8 will be; it's not a mild update, either. Enough will change in your day-to-day experience that it will be noticeable, most of all if your'e using a recent enough MacBook. And as Apple's second update in two years to cost $30, Apple is at the very least setting a reasonable level of expectations, if not moving past them. While we think Windows 7 is a worthy upgrade, some have complained that Microsoft is charging a minimum of $120 for the OS for what amounts to a "fix" for Vista. Upgrading a Windows PC isn't likely to get cheaper with a very conspicuous change on the level of Windows 8, which most now expect to ship sometime in mid-2012.

If you're a Mac user, we feel it's worth the upgrade, though it's not such a leap that you'd have to upgrade immediately. Apple has managed to straddle a fine line between bringing in iOS features and accommodating long-time Mac users without pushing things too far. There are so many noticeable and welcome interface changes that you miss them when you go back. Lion feels more cohesive and has interface changes that simplify the experience, taking steps out without appearing to shed features. If you paid attention to the review, there were a number of instances where completing a task went from several steps (most often wading through Finder) to just one or two; that's progress.

Some points do skirt the edge of acceptable. Apple's decision to port the iOS home screen over wholesale to the Mac through Launchpad could be the definitive example. In some ways it's useful, but the addition brings over the warts the iOS home screen has, as well. We'd like more customization of how Mail works. Both the Address Book and iCal changes seem arbitrary. And without the option of a bootable Lion drive without some minor exploration, reinstalling will be a hassle for those who bought a Mac before Lion shipped.

Even so, we get the sense that Lion is a coup because of what some of more contentious changes do: they expose more of Mac OS X's features to Windows users. If you're an iPhone user who's been tempted enough to get a Mac, Launchpad gives you a familiar anchor for your expectations. Mail gives an immediate frame of reference that's arguably less intimidating than even Windows Mail. Finder's new feedback and transitions could well be present as much to reassure a switcher as they are to take advantage of what Apple has learned in four years of iOS development.

The ultimate question is, of course, how Lion stacks up against various flavors of Windows. We have tremendous respect for Windows 7, but it does feel slightly old now that Lion has shown some easier ways to get things done. It's hard to argue that mousing over Windows taskbar icons one at a time or using Flip is really a faster way of choosing the app window you want than Mission Control, for example. In a sense, Lion has helped Apple break out of the rut every major OS developer faces without feeling it has to unmake everything.

As for Windows 8? It does promise to shake up the industry, but it remains to be seen whether someone with a conventional desktop will want to see the same tiled, touch-focused interface as someone with a tablet. Windows Phone 7 hasn't taken off with a very similar interface. There's also the question of timing. With a mid-2012 release to manufacturing, the near-complete rethink in Windows 8 almost doesn't matter if Apple will have Lion on computers for roughly a full year. As clich? as it is, Steve Jobs meant it when he once said "real artists ship:" of the two biggest next-generation operating systems, only one of them is actually available to buy in 2011.