I don’t claim to know anything more than my fellow techies when it comes to writing silly reviews about games or software. Obviously, I’m not good enough to actually write for something legit or else I’d be doing that right now instead of my beloved blog. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t post my own personal opinions (whether or not they actually ‘jive’ with those ‘professional’ reviewers). I mean to do exactly that with Lion in this post.

Lion actually fell into my lap this weekend when I decided to go purchase a Mac Mini to replace my dead Mac Pro. Of course, if I actually had a working Mac, I would have probably picked it up on release day. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, so I’m glad I was able to play with Apple’s newest OS with my Mac Mini. After checking it out for a few days, I’m happy to report that Lion is an excellent upgrade with the understanding that Apple is trying to make some major changes to the UI that are definitely radical. Embrace the change (and have the right hardware), and you’ll quickly fall in love. For folks that abhor change, Lion is still a recommended upgrade, but it’ll lose much of its luster with most of its bigger features turned off. I’ll talk about some of its biggest changes below.

Launchpad

One of Lion’s more interesting features is Launchpad. Essentially, Apple has taken the barebones iOS operating system, and transplanted it onto Mac OS. Click on Launchpad, and you enter into a world with no windows, menus, scroll bars, or any other GUI effects. Essentially it’s just you and your apps, and a quick click will launch any. Users can organize apps into folders that look very much like the iOS iteration of folders, and off course, users can click through multiple pages of Apps a la the iOS Springboard.

The whole thing looks and feels very much like Apple’s classic At Ease GUI of the pre-OS X days. In essence this is a simple method to look at, and launch apps without going through the hassle of folder/finder navigation. Does it work? When you don’t have a lot of apps, it does do a decent job. However, I can imagine it becoming quite hectic with more Mac apps, thus creating the need to create folders and additional pages. At that point, I don’t understand why people couldn’t just use the standard finder method of locating apps, or better yet, just using spotlight to find what you’re looking for. Out of all the iOS functions that Apple was hoping to bring to Mac OS, this is one of the most blatant, and truthfully, not the most useful, in my opinion.

Mission Control

Now this is more like it. In essence, Mission Control is Expose, Spaces, and Dashboard on steroids and all rolled into one. With a click of a shortcut, users can easily get a glimpse of all their windows, desktops, full screen apps, and dashboard widgets all on one screen. The organization of each window is clear, well-defined, and easy to navigate to. Folks that enjoyed expose before should find this upgrade to be even more useful. In addition, heavy users of Spaces should find this method of organizing desktops to be even better. Now, depending on how many desktops and apps a user has open, there could definitely be some clutter, but so far I haven’t found any with my normal usage of apps.

Full Screen Apps

This is one of the more interesting additions. Apple has incorporated UI into all its native applications (as well as providing code for 3rd party apps) that allow programs to easily extend out to the entire screen, thus basically bringing back the full screen applications made so popular by early Mac OS and Windows OSes. Granted, I’ve only had time to play with Apple’s full screen apps, but I have to say that they do a pretty good implementation. However, having full screen apps is only as good as a method of organizing and controlling them. Thankfully, Mission Control does a decent job of providing that control. I imagine that full screen apps will have a definite following as well as a definite group that abhors them, simply because in some ways it does away with the information deluge and multitasking obligations of today’s society. However, when combined with other aspects of Lion (see below), it, in actuality, opens up the information overload to new and amazing heights.

Multi-Touch Gestures

I kid you not, this is Apple’s secret weapon. A few days after picking up my Mac Mini, I went to Best Buy and bought a Magic Trackpad. After setting it up and using it for a few days, I’m convinced that this is the only way to use Lion, as it transforms the operating system into a fluid OS that offers nearly all its information to you at a multi-touch gesture away.

In addition to the normal tap to click, two tap secondary click, and two finger scroll, Lion incorporates a bunch of other unique gestures that I absolutely love. A four finger swipe to the left or right cycles through Dashboard, all full screen apps, as well as all virtual desktops (Spaces) that are open. The GUI is also so fast, smooth, and seamless that there is extremely little lag while cycling. Also, a four finger swipe up brings up Mission Control for quick switching (if the swipes to the left or right are too slow for you), while a four finger “grab” (definitely the most complicated gesture) brings up launchpad. In addition, a three fingered tap instantly brings up a dictionary for any word you tap on.

I never imagined that I would want to use a trackpad with a desktop OS, but Lion has managed to convince me otherwise. I honestly don’t think I could ever go back to a mouse at this point. It’s that good, and the primary reason to switch to Lion in my book.

Other Improvements

Other things of note I saw were Mail improvements (looks more like iOS versions… not too bad), AirDrop, which allows other Lion users to easily transfer files on a LAN, Auto Save, which I haven’t had time to experience yet (I’m more of a consumer than a creator on my Mac), as well as auto-resume for all Applications upon shut down and startup. These are all decent upgrades, but the major improvements are the ones I mentioned above, with multi-touch gestures taking the cake.

Conclusion

As I’ve mentioned before, if you pick up a Magic Trackpad, and use it with Lion, you will have a completely different, amazing experience navigating Mac OS. If you’re not a fan of trackpads or multi-touch, Lion still has enough features for the price (can’t go wrong with $20), but the rest seems to be more graphical flourish or iOS ideas brought to Mac OS, which may or may not appeal to the users of Mac OS. Either way, Lion is here, and if you have twenty bucks around, it’s time to dive in and explore.