OS X Lion: The $29.99, Download-Only Operating System

In today’s WWDC keynote, Apple shared the usual set of Mac statistics that we now almost take for granted. Notebook and desktop sales are up, the platform continues to outgrow the PC industry as a whole, and everything is going swimmingly. There’s still a major bias toward portable computers – 73% of Macs sold are notebooks.

One of the headline stories centred around what to expect in their next operating system — OS X Lion — due for release in July 2011. Not only did Apple announce that this will be a download-only release through the Mac App Store, but it’s also their lowest priced operating system to date, costing $29.99.

Let’s take a look at what you can expect from the big cat!

Multi-Touch Gestures

You’ll now find that scroll bars only appear when you scroll – they’re hidden the rest of the time. The argument for this is that they’re no longer needed, as scrolling is done using your multi-touch device rather than clicking and dragging the scrollbar.

I’m all for reducing clutter, and this seems like a good idea on the whole. That said, I can imagine my grandparents wanting to turn this back on, or it becoming a major problem if you don’t have a scroll mouse. I expect this will be a setting rather than a forced change.

Gestures such as pinch to zoom and double tap zoom in the browser now work just like Mobile Safari, and a two-finger swipe takes you back or forward through your browser history (something I’m particularly looking forward to).

Full-Screen Apps

Most of the default OS X apps are now ready for full-screen prime time, and this is a feature we’ve been expecting since the early information about Lion was released. This is now implemented better throughout the OS, and with this comes a few tweaks to various apps.

Mail in Full Screen

Mail in Full Screen

Photo Booth, for instance, now offers “face detection effects” to target particular facial features. You’ll also see the interface change in apps such as Safari and iLife to make the most of this extra screen real-estate when in full-screen mode.

Mission Control

A simple gesture takes you to Mission Control, giving you a bird’s-eye view of everything on your system. It’s like Exposé + Spaces combined, with a space reserved for your Dashboard widgets as well.

Mission Control

Mission Control

Spaces are integrated in a slick manner, and can easily be created and deleted on-the-fly. It’s much more versatile than the previous method employed which always felt a little clunky.

Mac App Store

We already know that the Mac App Store has been a huge success, and the scale is impressive. Pixelmator made $1m within the first twenty days of the store’s launch.

The Mac App Store is built right in to Lion, and comes bundled with new features like in-app purchase, push notifications, and faster updating. This is done using “delta updating”, which means you don’t need to re-download the entire app when updating, just the resources/files that have changed.


Launchpad, in a nutshell, is the iOS application launcher on your desktop. You have the same icons, folders, and screens. Incredibly useful for some people, but not likely to replace your keyboard-based application launcher any time soon…




Occasionally, you don’t notice that something was really a big problem until a solution is given to you. Resume is one of those solutions, and means that your Mac will save its current state whenever you log out or restart. It’ll save everything – open apps, documents, web pages – you name it.

Whenever you close an app, it remembers exactly what you were doing before – right down to the text you had selected!

Auto Save

Another computer niggle you might have is the compulsive feeling of wanting to click “Save” every thirty seconds. No more, say Apple! Lion will automatically save everything in the background as you work, taking away the need to manually hit Command-S (though you can manually “Lock” a file to prevent it being auto-saved).


In conjunction with the Auto Save feature, you’ll also find that automatic file versioning is built in to the operating system. The appropriately (but unfortunately for some) named “Versions” will automatically store each saved version of the file as you work on a document.

Autosave & Versions

Autosave & Versions

It’s done with efficient storage (so only the variations of each file are changed, not the entire copy). Browsing through versions takes on a Time Machine-eque interface, and everything can be manipulated live – you can make any version the “current” one, and easily copy-and-paste between them.


Gone are the days of storing files on a USB flash drive to transfer them between computers. AirDrop is a new service that makes it simple to drag-and-drop a file to any other Mac on the same local network.

AirDrop appears in the sources panel within Finder, and you can see a display of yourself and the people around you running AirDrop at the same time. It uses a peer-to-peer Wi-Fi, requires no setup, and automatically encrypts the data you send.

If you never quite got to grips with your Mac’s public folder, this is a great addition to the OS.


Mail has received a major overhaul in OS X Lion, and it’s a welcome addition. You’ll find a heavily redesigned interface that’s notably simplified, with either a two or three column view (it, of course, works full-screen). The new Mail app borrows heavily from the iOS version.

Mail Redesigned

Mail Redesigned

One of the most powerful features in Mail is new logic-based search suggestions. You can quickly search for people, subjects, dates, and more, with natural language. These can be combined and saved as multiple “search tokens” to quickly sift through and find the message you’re looking for.

Mail in Lion also has a brand new conversation view, that shows you the entire thread that you can just scroll through, with attachments and accompanying information. You can drag a whole conversation if you want to file it away in a folder or archive.

Pricing & Availability

As mentioned previously, Apple is making Lion available for the ridiculously low price of $29.99. This compares to pre-Snow Leopard releases priced at over $100, and is a clear sign that Apple hopes to get as many users as possible transitioned over to the new operating system.

Also, for the first time on any platform that I’m aware of, the OS upgrade is solely available as a download. You’ll need to follow Apple’s instructions to be ready to install on day one:

If anything is going to test the stability and capacity of Apple’s new data centre, millions of eager Mac users attempting to download Lion at precisely the time should do the trick. We’ll need to wait until July to see how it holds up!


Add Yours
  • This is what I like about appstorm.net Great article, well informed, image ready.. So early!

  • The only question for me is how to do a clean install. First install Snow Leopard and then upgrade?

    How about buying a new iMac this summer. Will it be shipped with Lion (I guess so)?

    • Hey guys who need a clean install, one of the features of Lion is that it sets up a small partition where it stores debug and restore features, i imagine if you need to run an install it will do it from there, no need for optical media.

  • I’m asking the same as Robert… I need a clean install and I’m waiting for Lion.. but should I do a clean install with snow and then download lion ?

  • same as above, I had my mac hooked up to a SBS server for a couple of weeks and now it does the 90 second time out looking for the server that is long been sold before it lets me authenticate any system changes / log in / etc so was planning a clean install to set everything back at factory.

  • No idea how you’d do a clean install. We’ll have to wait and see I guess!

  • Maybe the disk image for Lion can be burned to DVD. It would make sense for the Lion installer to be able to connect to the App Store to verify you purchased it. Then hopefully one can do a clean install without having to first install SL.

    Having to install SL first on a new hard drive before then installing Lion would be crazy.

  • I can imagine the only way they would do so is by using the cloud. I would also love to know what they intend to do about the clean install. They will find a way, i’m sure.

  • I suspect that they’ll provide paid versions in store for fresh installs on USB sticks ala what’s packaged with the (lovely) MacBook Airs.

    I wonder if the download will be in some kind of crazy binary diff like how Google distributes Chrome (see http://blog.chromium.org/2009/07/smaller-is-faster-and-safer-too.html for details).

    I hope so! Backwater internet nations such as Australia are going to have a hard time downloading 50gb of updates otherwise. Most people’s residential plans are only around 50gb a month.

    • “Backwater internet nations such as Australia”!! Even in the UK, some major ISP such as Virgin and SKY severely limit and choke your monthly download allowance. No “unlimited” plans in reality as they are bundled in with your landline, mobile and HD packages. A close friend in London who uses Spotify cannot play a video on YouTube whilst streaming the music, especially at peak times. Same goes for mates in Berlin, Atlanta and New York. Not excatly “backwater” Citys either.

      • I think the qualifying word was internet, not merely backward nations (that is, he was specifying nations that are backwards in internet connectivity, not simply backwards in general). Under that criteria, Australia does, yes, fall under the category of backwards.

    • Then why can I do all of those things in Australia and have no problem at all? Downloading masses of data, live streaming and a whole other heap of media applications that hog my connection and it runs smoothly?

      How odd.

  • Yeah I read in some forums a while back that it’s possible to just burn the .dmg to a DVD if you wish to do a clean install.

    And you can probably just put it on a USB stick to do a clean install on Macbook Air’s.

  • I hope they make it possible to burn that update to a disk or even package it into a dmg. I sure as hell won’t enjoy downloading a 4GB+ file over my 0.75mBit connection i have in this german 3 street hole of a town. I’ll grab it at a friends 20mBit connection.

  • Awesome article, I’ve been waiting for the majority of those features! One thing I don’t see mention of is what Apple has for developers in this new OS? they had ruby, php (I think) and Apache pre-installed on Snow Leopard, but their Ruby version wasn’t quite there (can’t remember what was wrong with it, I was a newbie at the time) but Apache worked out of the box … so does Lion have any exciting development features for us?

    • yep .. 1500 new apis for developers !

  • Am I the only person that thinks OSX is beginning to forget the professionals who use these machines every day?

    I’m a designer.. I use a mouse and sometimes a Wacom pallet.. all this gesture stuff is utterly useless to me.

    I dont understand why Apple are trying to emulate so many areas of iOS in OSX.. isnt iOS the little brother OS, after-all?

    • I dunno if this comes as a surprise but the mouse and Wacom pallet will still work with OSX Lion, so me being thick and slow and all, how does the optional gesture stuff affect your professional work if you can still use the good old mouse?

      • If you re-read my comment you’ll see that I didnt say it effects me.. quite the opposite in-fact: I say that its utterly useless to me.

        My point was that this latest major OS update seems to move the OS away from professionals and more towards home users.

        I understand how / why profit margins make Apple look at the wider audience (home users).. and why they include gimmicky features like gestures and launch-pad.. but as a professional who uses Macs as a day-to-day work-horse, it makes me a little sad to see it happen :(

    • The touch gestures make the MacBook’s trackpad more useful, for a designer the autosave and versions are probably the better new features.

    • I’m a professional, and I’ll use all of those features.

      Do you often take the time to freshen your usage habits? It’s a good way to become obsolete in the design world. What do you do when Adobe releases new features, and what percentage of their entire feature set do you use now?

      • Its widely accepted the the magic-track-pad is not really something that designers use (I know I dont).

        Also, not many designers work exclusively on a laptop.. or rather, they dont work exclusively on a laptop screen and laptop keyboard / trackpad – so the whole gestures thing is redundant to me (and many other designers). Are you a designer who uses the MJP / laptop screen and trackpad all day long?

        Launchpad? I’ll stick with Alfred, thanks – much quicker.

        Full screen apps? Doesnt apply to any high-end professional app – aimed completely at ‘family’ apps.

        When Adobe release new features they are designed with professional users in mind – not casual home users – and rarely include gimmicks, so I’m really quite unsure why you’ve used this as an example.

  • Snow Leopard was $29.99 right? …or is that only an “upgrade” and not an OS?

  • How the hell am i going to get it if i can’t have Mac App Store cuz i have Leopard? I was holding upgrading until Lion comes out to avoid having to buy Snow Leopard, but does the download-only means i will be forced to buy it to upgrade to Lion?

    I hope there’s another way.

  • friggin great, I was hoping to skip Snow Leopard, never got around to upgrading. What I gathered from the article is that I need Snow Leopard to download Lion? I guess that’s why its only 30 bucks.

  • Resize windows on any corner or side! At last! They should have added that YEARS ago.

  • Great, I’ve been thinking for months to just skip Snow Leopard and go to Lion in 1 step.
    Now I need to install SL in order to download Lion…

    That will compensate the small $30 fee of Lion.

  • @Eli : Well maybe it’ll be possible to burn Lion on a DVD. I hope it’ll be like that : So you download on a mac with Snow Leopard, burn it and upgrade your Leopard.

  • My concern about this (and about the app store in general), is those of us with several macs in the family, I used to buy software in the family pac version, and then install it on each machine. A pretty good bargain. Now it looks like I will have to do it individually on each machine, at a hefty price tag. Or is there a way to sync app store on all my computers?

    • maybe you’ll be able to use iCloud for this?

    • I’m not sure, but from what Steve stated near the end of the WWDC keynote, you purchase the app on one device and the Cloud sends a free copy to each of your devices instantly! (not sure if it also includes OSX updates)

    • You can purchase it on one mac then just download it on every other mac you own for free (assuming you use the same apple id for each mac)

  • I’m not a happy bunny. It seems like OS X Lion won’t be installable on my 32 bit MacBook Pro. “Your Mac must have an Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7 or Xeon processor to run Lion. ” This also means that the iCloud will not be exploitable to its fullest for me, I guess, as several apps (mail, etc…) will not upgrade. I hope Apple finds a solution for this, otherwise I need a hardware update!

  • As far as multi touch gesture to navigate browser history, this can already be done with a three finger swipe left or right. I wonder how two-finger swiping left or right in Lion will affect scrolling with horizontal scroll bars.

  • Arg! Wish it wasn’t in the app store. I wanted to buy the box set of lion/ilife 11, and iwork 11/12 when all were out. I hate using the app store.

  • Looks… OK. But I really wish they include a better window and minimized window management system (Divvy, DockView), better trackpad gestures (jitouch), more freedom and options to stylize the OS (Geektool), a system cleaner (CleanMyMac) and an alarm clock.

    I’m tired of buying things that should BE inside the OS, or paying for an overpriced computer is not enough? If so, please Apple, stop lying to us about OSX having all we need.

    And I agree with John, since Apple went Intel things have not been the same for designers. Apple just doesn’t care about us anymore. I’m thinking of building my own PC anyway. Currently studying video game development and while developing for iOS seems rather nice, OS X is useless when developing for consoles or Windows (obviously).

  • Not bad

  • Im going to keep buying the OS’es as long as i can get them with my iTunes gift card, and they are a reasonable price. This is just unbeatable.

  • Just wanna remark on few general things, The website pattern is perfect, the articles is real superb. “Taxation WITH representation ain’t so hot either.” by Gerald Barzan.