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The future of Mac is not for the faint of heart nor the spinning drive

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Apple (s aapl) teased the next installment of OS X, 10.7 Lion, once again at WWDC on Monday. This time around, we got a more concrete release window: users will be able to upgrade come July. But this upgrade might leave a lot of users cold, even as it paves the way for wider adoption of OS X down the road.

Lion is a significant change for OS X, both from a development back-end perspective, and for end-users, too. In fact, it may represent the most significant update of any point release since the introduction of Mac OS 10.0. And as the saying goes, you can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs.

In this case, the eggs in question might be some technologies that users aren’t quite ready to let go. Lion is demanding, especially with all the visual flourishes, like transitional animations, enabled. Apple has already said that older Intel Macs (those that don’t use the Intel Core 2 Duo processor or higher, or that have less than 2 GB of RAM installed) won’t be able to come to the party, and even those that aren’t so old (two years or more) might not be able to handle the demands without some customizations or after-market upgrades. Users won’t be able to jump right from Leopard to Lion, either, as they’ll need to have Snow Leopard and the Mac App Store (which arrived with a later Snow Leopard update) installed in order to even run the Lion upgrade software, which will be available only through digital distribution.

Don’t get me wrong, Lion should technically work for Macs that are just starting to show their age, so long as they meet the minimum requirements, but they probably won’t shine, and they won’t be as good at playing nice with the features that make Lion so desirable.

Let me say it plainly: Lion seems very much designed for use with modern processors, lots of RAM, and, most importantly, computers with SSD storage, and the presence of each of these components definitely improves the experience. The whole point of feature additions like Resume, Auto Save and Versions is that the Mac become, like the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, a machine that can be turned on and off as desired, without undue waiting, loading or having to worry about traditional startup / shutdown procedures.

It also obviously couldn’t care less about your Mac’s optical disc drive, turning that hardware feature from a must-have to a quaint convenience thanks to the Mac App Store. The reality of solid state, disc drive-less personal computing became more tangible with the arrival of the new MacBook Air. But it’s still not the dominant model, and Lion is clearly designed for a future where it is. Luckily, you can take a shortcut to the future by replacing your existing MacBook’s optical drive with an SSD, which should help greatly improve instant-on startup times when you upgrade to Lion.

I’m glad Apple is taking a bold step forward with Lion, since hopefully it means big changes are in store for how we approach personal computing, even if it means some of my Macs won’t be able to come along for the ride. But if you’re planning to upgrade, keep in mind that more than any update since perhaps the introduction of Intel processors to Mac computers, Lion bring with it a significant adjustment period, for developers and uses alike.

28 Responses to “The future of Mac is not for the faint of heart nor the spinning drive”

  1. *sigh* and I was waiting for the new box set of Lion, iLife and iWork 11.

    Anyone know how the disk utility will work? In Snow Leopard some items (I believe disk start up verification) need to use an install disk to run. does this mean we would need to create the disk still? if so, I would rather just be an install disk >_<

  2. It is an interesting point this article highlighted that some people would be left behind. While it is unfortunate, it’s also inevitable as new technologies need to be incorporated (Apple = innovation) and they’re not always compatible with old hardwares. In hindsight, Apple has been pretty awesome in its OSX upgrades, the new one is always a lot better and still compatible with older machines. My 4.5 year old Macbook jumped from Tiger to Snow Leopard and soon, to Lion. Can’t really say the same about Windows. I need to downgrade someone’s one year old Vista laptop (much higher specs than my Macbook) to XP, as it was slow and buggy – out of the box.

    • Its nice that you think that way, but how about people who own new Macs but can’t get really high speed internet because its just not available. I have what passes for hi speed in my area and I estimate about 8 hours to download 4GBs. That is nothing short of ridiculous. Steve Jobs is known as the man who saved Apple, but if this kind of nonsense keeps up he may be known as the man who killed Apple.

      The only conceivable reason for this is control of your software purchase. Why?

      • mac data recovery

        Yes, this is the talk of the our as most of the people have criticized Steve jobs and said that they just want to screw the old Mac users, Apple wants more and more sale of computers, they have even named it as marketing flick from Apple. Many of the old Mac users are annoyed by this Lion announcement

  3. David Bullock

    With my 0.5MB Broadband connection I estimate it will take me 47 hours to download 4GB Lion for my iMac (the last 650MB iPhone update took 7 hours). And that’s assuming the connection doesn’t drop, which it will, several times.

    Hope Apple issue a DVD or I’ll be left behind….

    • Take the emailed App Store receipt to the Apple Store and have them give you the OS on DVD. Let them know you are NOT happy AT ALL! This control$$$ grab has gone WAY to far.
      Maybe after 100,000 customers come in doing the same thing, they will wake-up and sell the OS on DVDs.

  4. “Lion seems very much designed for use with modern processors, lots of RAM, and, most importantly, computers with SSD storage, and the presence of each of these components definitely improves the experience. ”

    Ummm you left out the multi-touch trackpad.

    • Will the Track Pad be bundled with the IMac after the Lion release? Sounds like it should. Jobs was pushing ONLY the track pad at the conference.

  5. Darwin

    It takes advantage of SSD and faster procs and more ram but doesn’t need them. Run the developer preview before writing an ignorant article.

    • Install SL then download Lion from the App Store? Sounds like a hassle to me… hopefully some enterprising hackers will figure out a way to put it on those horrible spinning optical disks.

    • Steve

      Everyone gets so hung up on this one point, and everyone thinks they’re the first one to think of it.

      There is already a way to take the Lion Beta and burn it to a disc or put it on a thumb drive and then boot it.

      When Lion comes out, you can rest-assured that Apple has a plan for how to do this and they will reveal it then. How many of these details does Apple usually miss? Think about it. Do you really think they don’t have a plan?

    • Michael

      There are several methods, although I’m willing to guess that most people who have this problem, will take their computers in to have them fixed.

      1. There could be an option in the final installer to make a “hard copy”.

      2. Whenever you choose a TimeMachine backup disk, the system could install hidden recovery files or even repartition the drive and create a recovery partition.

      3. Take your system into an authorized dealer to replace the drive and they’ll reinstall the OS, all you’ll have to do is enter your Apple ID to restore any lost data that was backed up to iCloud.

    • When you install lion developer preview it creates a partition on your hard disk to reinstall My guess is that is the way to reinstall the Operating system.

  6. I’m glad I opted for the SSD on my 2009 MacBook uni-body, despite the extra chunk of change. With my recent upgrade to 8GB of RAM, I’m hoping Lion will run quite smoothly for me. Can’t wait!