It has the bells and whistles, and tighter security features too
For the first time in many years, Apple's hardware launches have been overshadowed by the release of a major upgrade of its operating system.
The company, once known for its Mac range of computers, and now better known for smaller devices such as the iPod, the iPhone and more recently the iPad, launched the latest version of its operating system, the OS X Lion, on Wednesday, July 20. Its launch of new versions of its MacBook, the MacAir and the Mac Mini, were completely overshadowed by the release of the Lion from Apple's den.
Flying off the App Store
The Lion literally flew off the virtual shelves of Apple's App Store, which is now the only way that users can purchase the Lion – by downloading it directly from the store instead of getting it through the normal distribution channels. Priced at $29.99, more than one million copies of the 3.74 GB Lion were downloaded within a day of its launch by users. A day after the launch, Apple announced that it would launch the Lion on a USB stick, but at a much higher price of $55. Although rumours have it that distributors and retailers are sore with Apple for bypassing them, the company has clearly got the customer on its side, chiefly because of the compelling price at which it has been sold.
This reporter, who downloaded a copy of the Lion within the first 24 hours of its release, discovered that the Lion's design borrows elements of its designing expertise that made it such a compelling force in the market for small form factor devices such as the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, which has been a runaway success in the tablet space.
Apple appears to have reasoned that the ubiquitous nature of these devices — particularly those with ‘touch' capability — have created a substantial base of users who demand similar capabilities from a more tethered device such as laptops and desktops.
Goodbye to mouse
Apple appears to have thus concluded that the mouse has lived its life. It probably believes that that this is now the age of a tracking device (it has its own Magic Trackpad, a multi-touch device for larger machines). Using the fingers, instead of fingers and the palm looping over a mouse, is not only obviously faster but is also better in terms of the ergonomics of working on devices such as laptops or desktops.
But the even more compelling reason for Apple deciding to dump the humble mouse comes from the way computer users' behaviour has been shaped by smaller devices such as smartphones and tablets — what one commentator described as the process of iPadification. These users want to navigate between applications through a mere swipe of the fingers.
A combination of two-finger gestures — swipes, scrolls and taps — enable users to work within applications; three-finger gestures enable users to switch between the applications that the user has on at a given time.
Then Lion has another feature, Mission Control, which tells the user what he/she has running at that very instant on the computer. It builds on the earlier version of Expose in Apple's older operating systems.
Influenced by what the tablets offer, the users now want to slot applications in their own separate baskets depending on the way they use these applications. For these users, the Lion has LaunchPad, a grid of applications, much like in the iPad.
These are good enough reasons to upgrade to Lion, but its ‘auto-save' feature is a big improvement on existing features. Lion's ability to ‘auto-save' work on any application at all times results in your work getting saved in the background. This protects users from data loss in the event of crashes or power failures.
But it's not just the bells and whistles that make the Lion a compelling upgrade. Reviewers say its security features — especially the use of the address space layout randomisation (ASLR) technique — make it much harder for hackers to break into a Lion-based Mac. Experts have said the ASLR method makes it difficult for potential hackers to predict target addresses that they can exploit. This is because the method ensures that the memory locations where the shell code and components are loaded are moved in a random fashion, making it less vulnerable to an attack. Its ‘sandbox' features ensure a tighter control of the manner in which various applications communicate with the operating system.
“Lion is Windows plus plus,' said a blogger, commenting on the new OS.