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The road to Lion: How Lion’s new features evolved

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The latest update to our favorite OS code-named after felids, Lion (s aapl), is due out sometime this month (maybe as early as Thursday). To celebrate, we’re going to take a look at how Lion’s new features evolved from its predecessors, its little brother (iOS) and other sources as computers have developed.

Mission Control

Mission Control, designed to give users quick access to all open apps and windows, is really a combination of three hallmark features of the OS X experience: Exposé, Spaces, and Dashboard. Since they all appeared at different times in OS X’s history, we’re going to look at them individually.

Exposé in Panther

Exposé. Introduced in 10.3 Panther way back in 2003, Exposé radically changed the way windows were managed in OS X. With it, a user could press a hot key and all the open windows would fly out into miniature previews. The user could then click on any preview of a window to switch to it. Before, a user would have to go on a scavenger hunt, sorting through a stack of windows to find the right one.

Exposé has received iterative improvements with each new version of OS X. The biggest changes, apart from those in Lion, came in Snow Leopard, where Exposé was integrated into the Dock and used a new algorithm for organizing windows. In Lion, those changes are taken even further: Application windows are grouped together, to help reduce clutter when there are many windows open, and the app’s icon also hovers over its window previews, making it easier to tell them apart.

Dashboard in Snow Leopard

Dashboard. Introduced with 10.4 Tiger in 2005, Dashboard acts as a layer for mini-applications called widgets. These widgets are mostly used to perform simple tasks or provide quick access to information. Widgets weren’t a new concept when Dashboard was introduced, as Konfabulator (known as Yahoo Widgets (s yhoo) today) had a very similar implementation before Expose came out. It could also be argued that Dashboard was Apple’s way of bringing back Desk Accessories, which were introduced with the first Macintosh in 1984.

Dashboard has remained relatively unchanged since its introduction, but it’s gotten a bit of a facelift in Lion. It’s been integrated into the leftmost space of Mission Control, next to your first desktop, and is accessible via gesture. It also has a new, dark background image.

Spaces in Leopard

Spaces. Spaces was introduced with 10.5 Leopard in 2007, and brought virtual desktops to OS X. Basically, a user could group application windows into separate desktops, called “spaces”. Rather than having one desktop that has every window, the user could break that up and have multiple desktops with a few windows each. Virtual desktops have been around for a long time, with the first implementation appearing on the Amiga 1000, released in 1985.

Spaces has undergone the most dramatic changes for Mission Control, as it’s been completely integrated into its UI. A user’s spaces now appear above their windows in Mission Control, along with any full-screen apps and Dashboard. The “spaces” nomenclature has also been toned down; users’ spaces are named “Desktops” in Mission Control, and the only time the word “space” appears is in an option to not show Dashboard in Mission Control.


Launchpad in Lion

Launchpad’s evolution is the most obvious, as it functions exactly the same as an iOS homescreen, just tweaked to work with a trackpad/mouse instead of a touchscreen. As we all know, iOS was introduced with the iPhone and iPod touch in 2007. The current implementation that Launchpad is derived from was introduced little more than a year ago with iOS 4, which brought homescreen folders to address the problem of too many app-cluttered homescreens.

Auto Save, Versions, and Resume

Browsing through previous versions of a document in Lion

Auto Save and Versions. Auto Save was a part of iOS from the very first release, and makes it so that you never have to manually save what you’re working on; the OS does it for you. In Lion, this works somewhat differently. You still have to save your file once, to give it a location and a name, but you don’t need to re-save it after that.

In addition, the Versions feature creates a new version of a file every time a user hits Cmd-S. These versions can be browsed via a Time Machine-like interface accessible from an app’s titlebar.

Versions wasn’t derived from iOS, but instead may have been inspired by one of Apple’s biggest competitors, Microsoft (s msft). A Windows feature known as Shadow Copy allows you to restore previous versions of files or folders, even if they’ve been removed from the Recycle Bin. However, Shadow Copy doesn’t have a simple UI like Versions does, and doesn’t allow you to preview previous versions of a file.

Resume. Resume was introduced with iOS 4 as a part of the long-awaited multitasking feature. When a user switches to another app, the OS saves the state of the app so it can pick back where it left off when the user switches back to it.

In Lion, this feature works much the same; when you quit an app and re-open it, your windows pop back up as they were, even after a reboot. As far as I know, Lion will be the first desktop OS that does this. Correct me in the comments if I’m wrong.

UI and Gestures

iCal and Address Book look more realistic in Lion

Lion’s new UI borrows heavily from iOS, while largely doing away with the former Aqua aesthetic. There’s more emphasis on making applications look realistic, seen in the new look of iCal and Address Book. Other apps have also borrowed their looks from their iOS counterparts, such as Mail.

In addition, Scrollbars are hidden, scrolling is inertial, and buttons look more iOS-like. Even the animations in Lion are derived from iOS, like when scrolling or opening new windows. Lion includes some iOS gestures as well, such as pinch-to zoom in Safari.

Features iOS is getting from Lion

Lion may be getting a lot of its new features from iOS, but iOS is also getting some features from Lion for iOS 5. Safari on the iPad is doing away with using a grid of pages, and is instead adopting a tab bar similar to desktop Safari’s. Safari for iOS is also getting Reader, a feature that first appeared on desktop Safari.

iOS 5 will have multitasking gestures, which work much the same way as switching between full-screen apps in Lion. There’s also a gesture to return the user to the homescreen, which is analogous to the gesture to open Launchpad in Lion.

Lion is shaping up to be Apple’s most ambitious release yet, as it changes a lot of age-old computing concepts for the better. It’s important to remember though that these new features have evolved over years of hard work, not just by Apple, but by many different companies and people working in the technology industry.

3 Responses to “The road to Lion: How Lion’s new features evolved”

  1. Being complety document-based, Apple Lisa already had some kind of auto save/versions and resume. These features were removed from the first Macintosh.

  2. The Amiga 1000 brings back old memories. Had the 500,1000,1200,3000 with video capture card,4000 and the very rare powerhouse 5000. Now I’m a Mac user since 2004, and loving it ever since. Since 2009 I dumped windows completely, but at my clients and my second job I still have to work on it.