Apple previews OS X Lion, preps Mac App Store

Today's Back to the Mac keynote wasn't all about the MacBook Air. After a grueling 45-minute walkthrough of the new iLife, Jobs finally pulled the curtain over the next version of Mac OS X, Lion, which is due out next summer.

With this release, the name of the game will be taking what makes the iPhone and iPad tick and bringing it to the Mac. That means the App Store, full-screen applications, and the app launch screen will all be making an appearance in Lion. The Mac App Store is undoubtedly the piece de resistance, and Apple actually plans to release it within the next couple of months, well ahead of the Lion launch. Developers will be able to submit apps in November.

The Mac App Store will look and behave not unlike the iTunes App Store. In today's demo, Apple showed how purchasing an application made the icon fly into the dock while the app downloaded and installed itself in the background. App updates will be rolled out automatically, too. Jobs said developers can expect the same 70-to-30% revenue split as with the iTunes App Store—as in, Apple gets a 30% cut from each commercial app sold.

OS X Lion will let users switch to something called Launchpad to access their software. Launchpad will behave pretty much exactly like the iOS home screen, with multiple pages filled with app icons and folders on a grid. Running apps will still display floating windows just like they do now, but newer ones will let folks switch to a full-screen mode, as well, concealing the menu bar and dock. Along those lines, Apple will consolidate its Expose and Spaces window-management features into something called Mission Control, which will list full-screen apps at the top of the screen and windowed apps in the middle. Windowed apps will be presented as stacks of windows with the app icon hovering over them (see the screenshot at the bottom of this page).

All of this functionality will be driven by multi-touch gestures, but interestingly, Jobs threw cold water on the notion that future Macs could ship with touch-screen displays. He said internal testing has shown that touch-screen input on a vertical display gets uncomfortable after a while, and Apple's existing touchpads—including the newly released Magic Trackpad—already give users a great way to input multi-touch gestures.

For the most part, I like where Apple is going with this. OS X already does a great job of letting you easily jumping back and forth between apps with multi-touch gestures, but some consolidation wouldn't hurt. Also, the Mac App store could provide a centralized location for app retrieval and updates—a feature I've always liked in Linux distributions like Ubuntu but that has, so far, eluded both Windows and OS X. I don't know what to make of that touch-screen iMac patent now, though.

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