OS X 10.7: The Rumors and the Reality

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On Wednesday, when Apple holds a Mac-focused event-you remember, those machines that Apple made before iPhones, iPods, and iPads took over?-it promises a look at the upcoming Mac OS X 10.7. Although this release hasn't been named, the invitation clearly shows a lion peeking out from behind a rotated Apple logo... so I'm guessing that Mac OS X 10.7 will be named Lynx. OK, just kidding on that one; clearly it's going to be Lion.

If you like word games, try this one...who's the king of the jungle? Yes, that's right-the lion. Despite having a few more cat names available, Apple chose to name the upcoming Mac OS X release after the big cheese, the top of the heap... so does that mean that this release is the one to top all others, the king of the OS X jungle, as it were? I'm not sure, but Apple tends not to do anything by chance, so I'd wager that Mac OS X 10.7 is going to be more feature-laden and drool-inducing than many past Mac OS X releases.

But exactly which features will be included in Mac OS X Lion? Unlike years past, where developers usually saw a preview of the upcoming Mac OS X release, nobody outside of Apple (at least, not that I've read about) has seen anything of Mac OS X Lion. So really, anyone claiming to know anything at all about what's going to be in there-unless they've verified the contact is Steve Jobs himself-is probably just making stuff up.

That's why I'm not going to talk about what's going to be in 10.7, because I don't have the slightest idea. (Steve apparently has lost my phone number, because he hasn't returned any of the messages I've left asking for details on the new release.) Instead, I'd like to focus on rumors that have been floating around for the last few months, along with a look at some of my desired features and fixes. I'll start with the rumors, because those are always way more fun.

Rumor: Mac OS X 10.7 will be a "closed" environment, just like the iPhone and iPad. Developers will only be able to have apps released for the 10.7 with Apple's prior approval.

Reality: This has about as much chance of happening as does Apple building the mythical midrange Mac minitower. Thankfully, after this rumor gained some traction, Steve Jobs reportedly replied to a "Will there be a Mac OS X app store?" e-mail with a simple "nope." I hope that was an actual reply from Steve Jobs, because developers (myself included, now) would never put up with such control over the main Mac OS.

Rumor: Touch interface

Reality: Right, that's just what we all want to do-stretch our arms out two or three feet, multiple times per minute, hour after hour day after day, just to move a pointer around the screen. Touch is excellent for small devices you can hold in your hand... and maybe even for a laptop Mac. But with a desktop system, one which may have many monitors, it really doesn't make any sense. I think we've seen the answer to touch in the desktop OS already, and its name is Magic TrackPad.

Rumor: A new revolutionary feature

Reality: Back in July, Apple did post a job position that was pretty amazing for its bravado. It read, in part:

"We are looking for a senior software engineer to help us create a revolutionary new feature in the very foundations of Mac OS X. We have something truly revolutionary and really exciting in progress and it is going to require your most creative and focused efforts ever."

The job posting gave some clues as to this feature, as the ideal candidate was expected to have experience with Internet technologies and the HTTP protocol. So clearly, Apple has something big in the works. But given the job was posted in July, and filled who knows when (it's no longer online), can we say for sure this feature will be there in 10.7? And even if we can, what exactly is it?

If I were asked to guess -- and hey, I was -- I'd say that this has something to do with building "cloud computing" into the core of the OS. By which I mean, something that makes sync and share second nature, not something to be muddled through with third-party apps and mysterious settings in the MobileMe System Preferences panel. But I don't think we'll see this revolution in 10.7; I think it's coming in 10.8 (or maybe in "xOS," the follow-on to Mac OS X).

So much for the rumors. What would I really like to see in Mac OS X 10.7? The honest answer is that I'm relatively happy with Snow Leopard. At the top of the list of things I hope Apple addresses, though, is my list of Snow Leopard annoyances. We're now a year (and four minor updates) into Snow Leopard, and not one of the items on that list has been addressed-including my No. 1 pet peeve, the limitation on Finder columns in Spotlight search results. I realize Apple will probably never address all ten, but how about some of them, at least?

Beyond that list, I'm really hoping for relatively minor stuff. I'd love to use tabbed windows in Finder. I'd like to use a colored background in list and column view Finder windows, not just icon view Finder windows. As a developer of a QuickTime-dependent product, I'm hoping to see QuickTime X gain all the features from QuickTime 7 that were left behind, so we can stop using this old 32-bit code in our application. I'd love to see Dashboard (remember that?) brought back to life, somehow. Updated iLife applications seem like a no-brainer, too, given the current versions are starting to show their age.

But what about you? What do you want to see in Mac OS X 10.7, the forthcoming king of the OS jungle?

[Macworld senior contributor Rob Griffiths is master of ceremonies at Many Tricks. Previously he was a Macworld senior editor and editor of Mac OS X Hints.]

This story, "OS X 10.7: The Rumors and the Reality" was originally published by Macworld.

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