Apple releases Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion” developer preview

Apple has released a developer preview of Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion” to developer program members, giving programmers and folks who make stuff for the broader Macintosh ecosystem a chance to see where Mac OS X is headed before it actually lands in customers’ hands. Announced back in October (when Apple also unveiled the current MacBook Air ultraportable notebooks), Mac OS X 10.7 aims to bring technology and interface elements from iOS and the iPad back to Mac OS X. That doesn’t mean that Macs will suddenly all work via touchscreen gestures—Apple actually argues vertical touchscreens are a poor interface for computers—but will instead aim to make Mac OS X more immersive, with comprehensive support for full-screen applications.

Headline Mac OS X Lion’s feature list will be Mission Control, a new feature that combines elements of Mac OS X’s existing Dashboard, Spaces, and Exposé with full screen application capabilities: Mission Control gives users an overhead view of ever application and window running on the Mac and enables users to move between them with a simple swipe or click. Mac OS X Lion will also include an app launcher called LaunchPad, a fullscreen app launcher enabling users to quickly find and run applications without hunting around—and which looks stunningly like iOS home screens. Mac OS X Lion will also feature a full screen mode that will enable apps to completely take over a display, hiding all desktop clutter, and enable users to switch apps with a single swipe.

Rather than touchscreens, Apple will be focusing on trackpad input devices with gesture support, like the trackpads in its notebook computers and its Magic Trackpad for desktop systems. MAc OS X lion will support new multi-touch gestures and animations to provide a “natural and intuitive” way to interact with a Mac, including pinching and swiping.

Other new features in Mac OS X Lion will be a new version of Apple’s email client (which will finally gain real threading support, more than a decade after the rest of the market), a new “AirDrop” file transfer utility, a new “Versions” technology that will enable apps to save editions of a document automatically as a user works and go back to any saved version at any time. Mac OS X Lion will also include a new version of Apple’s FileVault data encryption technology, and system-level Auto Save technology for application documents.

“The iPad has inspired a new generation of innovative features in Lion,” said Apple’s senior VP of worldwide product marketing Philip Schiller, in a statement. “Developers are going to love Mission Control and Launchpad, and can now start adding great new Lion features like full screen, gestures, Versions, and Auto Save to their own apps.”

The developer preview of Mac OS X Lion is available today to Mac Developer Program Members through the existing Mac App store. Apple expects to ship the final version of Lion “this summer.”

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