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Apple’s current financial strength was built mostly on the back of the iPhone, but the Mac is the reason Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) has survived as long as it has. A wan Apple CEO Steve Jobs kicked off WWDC 2011 by bringing lieutenants Phil Schiller and Craig Federighi on stage in San Francisco to demonstrate Mac OS X Lion, the next version of Apple’s 10-year-old operating system.
“If the hardware is the brain and the sinew of our products, the software in them is their soul,” Jobs said before yielding the floor. Schiller ran the 5,200 software developers in attendance through the history of Mac OS X, which launched a decade ago as the most significant rethinking of Apple’s software philosophy. Lion, the forthcoming version, has 250 new features and Schiller promised to only run through 10 of them.
— Multitouch gestures: The new software will support multitouch gestures, inspired in a way by Apple’s work on iOS for phones and tablets, Schiller said. It will also come with a new feature called Mission Control, which seems like a combination of Mac OS X’s Finder and Expose features, allowing users to see a single picture of everything running on their system and select the application they wish to use.
Federighi demonstrated the new gestures, which let you do things like flip through your browser history. Applications can also be put into a full-screen mode which hides the Dock and control bar but still allows the same gestures present in the regular display mode to be used to navigate around the Mac.
— App Store: Several of the features demonstrated by Apple were clearly influenced by Apple’s mobile strategy. The Mac App Store is also getting an update, Schiller said. Since it was introduced, the Mac App Store has surpassed other distribution channels for sales of Mac software, he said. The store will be built directly into Lion, which will help Apple promote that channel over those other stores, and developers have a few new toys, such as in-app purchases.
— Launchpad: Another feature in Lion seemingly borrowed from Apple’s iOS work is Launchpad, an application home screen that looks just like the rows and columns of apps one would see on an iOS homescreen.
Schiller and Federighi wrapped up the demonstrations of the new OS X features by showing off a brand-new version of Mail, Apple’s e-mail client, and a file-sharing application called AirDrop, which lets you exchange files between two Mac users running OS X Lion.
OS X Lion will be the first version of Mac OS X to drop the optical disc: it will only be available though the Mac App Store, and you’ll only have to buy one version to use on all authorized Macs within a household. The new version will cost $29, as compared to prior Mac OS X updates that could cost as much as $129. A developer preview will be available today, and customers will get it in July.