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WWDC: Apple goes to the mattresses

Jason Snell, | June 9, 2011
Jason Snell says something about Apple's WWDC 2011 keynote reminded him of mobster movies. No, nobody got whacked. (Except MobileMe.) But Apple did settle old scores and move aggressively forward.

There are the usual hundreds of new features in this latest OS X update. But there’s a quality to the changes that seems different from recent OS X updates. A lot of them are inspired by iOS, but with added complexity that require a dedicated computer, rather than a simpler device such as an iPad or iPhone.

There will be a lot of hand-wringing about the changes to the scrollbars and scrolling behaviors, the emphasis on multi-touch shortcuts, and the redesigned Mission Control system that replaces Exposé and Spaces and adds a few new spins of its own. There will be the usual hue and cry from people who will declare the UI changes a betrayal of the Mac and a sign that the apocalypse is upon us and only iPads and iPhones will survive it. Some criticism will probably be deserved, and presumably some of Apple’s radical gambits will have to be fixed or scaled back… while others shockingly succeed with little fight. Of course, it’s hard to tell which is which until regular people start using Lion.

But let’s set all those Lion interface changes aside for the moment. To me, the most intriguing new features in Lion are Auto-Save, Resume, and Versions.

All three of these features stem from Apple’s engineers asking if some common ways we use our computers actually make sense. (Spoiler alert: they don’t.)

Why keep hitting command-S to save your document? In Lion, the Save command vanishes—every document is always being saved. When you quit an app or try to shut down your Mac, why do you have to decide whether to save or not save every document you have open? In Lion, apps just shut down—and when they resume, all your files are still open just the way you left them.

Versions, like Time Machine, is an attempt by Apple to take geeky technology that’s been around for ages and bring it to regular computer users. In fact, you can think of Versions as a sort of Time Machine for your files: As your apps auto-save, they’re also keeping track of what’s been changed since the last time they auto-saved. If you regret that you deleted something yesterday, you can just roll back to yesterday, grab that something, and pull it forward. It’s an ambitious feature that will change the way most Mac users work, and I’m really excited about it.

This is the path Apple has chosen: It’s getting rid of its old liabilities and striking out in bold new business directions. Although Apple tends to settle old scores without shedding as much blood, it’s still an aggressive approach that even the Godfather would have understood.


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