November 29, 2010, 12:43 PM — These days, it's easy to take Mac OS X for granted. Sure, we all love our Macs and the applications we use. But what has the operating system done for us lately? Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) was released a year and a half ago, but most of its changes were under the hood. The last release to include significant user interface enhancements was Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard), which is now more than three years old.
If Mac OS X has seemed neglected lately, it probably has a lot to do with iOS hogging all of Apple's attention. Since Leopard's release, iOS has gone through four major revisions, each bringing important new features to iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches.
At last October's "Back to the Mac" press event, Apple finally announced Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion), due to ship in summer 2011. Only a few new features were demonstrated, and then only briefly, so it's hard to say whether Lion will be another bargain-priced release like the $29 Snow Leopard, or a feature-packed $129 blockbuster like Leopard. But the details we did get make some things very clear.
For the next iteration of Mac OS X, Apple has taken inspiration from the defining characteristic of iOS: simplicity. Just as the Mac was originally a friendlier alternative to command-line operating systems, iOS today stands in stark contrast to Mac OS X and other powerful, but still relatively complex, desktop operating systems. Apple plans to use what it has learned from iOS to make Mac OS X more approachable and even easier to use.
The trouble with apps
Let's start with the most basic operating system task: installing and running applications. Experienced Mac users may take this process for granted, but try explaining it to a novice. The byzantine system of compressed files, disk images, and installer applications can be cumbersome even for expert Mac users.
You download an application. Where does it go? Once you find it, is that an installer or the app itself? Once it's installed, do you drag it to the Dock or run it from where it is? And what do you do with the disk image after that?
Uninstalling an app is even worse. Mac OS X offers no uniform way to do it. Sometimes, dragging the application's icon (assuming you can find it) to the trash is sufficient. But any application that uses a multistep installer probably also needs an uninstaller to really remove it.