Apple kicked of its Worldwide Developers conference this year with a keynote meant to showcase three of its biggest software undertakings at the moment: Mac OS X, iOS, and iCloud, the latter of which being its new cloud computing service.

Apple covered their new products from oldest to newest, which means that Mac OS X 10.7 was first on the chopping block. Apple's Phil Schiller and Craig Federighi took the stage to demonstrate ten of Lion's purported 250 new features (don't get too excited - things like desktop wallpapers have been counted as new features in the past, so Apple is likely being very generous with its counting here).

I'm going to take you down that list, but because most of it is stuff we've seen before in one form or another in other Apple demos of Lion, I want to front-load the piece with pricing and release information for Lion, since those are the most interesting new facts we got out of Apple today.

Price and Release Date

First: Lion will go for $29, the same price as the current Snow Leopard upgrade, and it will release at some point in July. Pre-Snow Leopard upgrades of the OS were typically priced at $129, with a 5-license Family Pack being available for $199. Next, Lion will be made available only on the Mac App Store as a ~4GB download - there is, as of this writing, no plan on Apple's part to release Lion on a physical disc that you can buy. That $29 App Store purchase is good for all Macs you have registered to your App Store account.

There are, of course, positive aspects and negative aspects to this approach, and there's other stuff that we just don't know: how will this impact businesses and schools who would like to volume-license the OS? How will clean installs be handled, in the case of a crashed hard drive or otherwise trashed OS? What about people with slow or unreliable Internet connections? We'll just have to wait and see.

System Requirements and OS X Server

The first one: System Requirements. This is one of the many areas in which Microsoft and Apple differ in their OS strategy - while Microsoft makes certain recommendations about the type of PC that will give you a good Windows experience, there are very few configurations that will actually prevent the operating system from installing. Apple, on the other hand, prefers to drop support entirely for Macs that it feels are insufficient to run OS X. This goes all the way back to the 10.4 days, when Macs without FireWire were no longer eligible for OS X upgrades.

This time around, the OS will drop support for the 32-bit Core Solo and Core Duo chips shipped with the first Intel Macs in 2006. This is Apple's latest baby step toward a world where Macs use a 64-bit OS, 64-bit programs, and 64-bit drivers by default. They've been pushing this issue slowly but surely for most of OS X's development - indeed, recent Mac Pros and MacBook Pros are already set to use Snow Leopard's 64-bit kernel right out of the box, though most models still default to the 32-bit kernel.

Some have had success hacking the developer releases to run on these processors, but since these computers can only support up to 2GB of RAM, since they were only sold for a few months before being superceded by Core 2 Duo Macs, and since there are already 64-bit only apps in the App Store that won’t install on these older Macs under Snow Leopard, the decision to drop official support for these models is probably a prudent one that shouldn’t impact a huge portion of the OS X userbase (though expect those who it does impact to be very vocal about it).

Lastly, a brief word about Mac OS X Server: Back in the day, Apple's server OS either came preinstalled on the (now discontinued) XServe, or as a separate $999 unlimited-client package installable on any desktop Mac. Then came the $999 Mac Mini Server, which axed the Mini's optical drive in favor of a second internal hard drive - this drove the unlimited-client server software's price down to its current level of $499. In Lion, OS X Server is now an App Store download instead of a separate OS, and it costs $49.99. This is a substantial discount on what was already a substantial discount, and it should help to drive adoption of OS X server by small businesses and schools with a lot of Macs.

Now, on to Lion's new features!

Multitouch, Fullscreen, Mission Control, App Store, and Launchpad
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  • dac7nco - Monday, June 06, 2011 - link

    Most Mac users will use the new App Store exclusively. Want a different browser or mail client than Apple's approved ones? NIMBY!

    -Steve Jobs
    Reply
  • MySchizoBuddy - Monday, June 06, 2011 - link

    thats upto the users isn't it. Reply
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  • PeteH - Monday, June 06, 2011 - link

    It's not like downloading and installing software from a website is hard. If what you're saying is that technologically illiterate users will use the default browser and mail client, well, that's pretty much how things are now. Reply
  • mesiah - Tuesday, June 07, 2011 - link

    Although you say that jokingly, I don't think it is beyond plausibility for a future version of the OS to disallow the installation of non-app store apps. They already do it with their other platforms, and now that they are moving everything to their app store, I think it is just a matter of time. Reply
  • Tros - Tuesday, June 07, 2011 - link

    Same argument as PeteH:

    The most content users stay within the walled garden of iOS. The most attempts I've seen at preventing jailbreak are usually when it's a vector for a worm.
    Reply
  • realmike15 - Tuesday, June 07, 2011 - link

    I think Apple realizes people don't want restrictions, look at their DRM-free catalog of music. However, based on what we've seen from iOS it's plausible that they may someday try to restrict OS X to Apple approved software via the App Store. If that happens, that will be my last day as an Apple customer. Right now I'm a Desktop PC - Apple Laptop guy, and quite happy with that choice.

    It's possible that Microsoft and Apple might try to push an App Store only approach some day. But even if that day comes, I don't see Google or Linux adopting such a harsh policy. Stand behind the little guys if you want to prevent things like this from becoming the norm.
    Reply
  • dananski - Friday, June 10, 2011 - link

    How would they differentiate between non-app store apps and programs people are developing themselves? I've read that you have to pay $100 to install your own iphone app on a physical iphone (which is why most software developers go for other phones). Surely Apple won't want to put people off writing programs on their Macs with a similar policy? Reply
  • Penti - Wednesday, June 08, 2011 - link

    You already have other browsers in the Mac App Store. Why would most mac users even use it. It might be their only channel to buy software (not games)! But not the only channel for their software. Reply
  • burntham77 - Friday, June 10, 2011 - link

    I use Safari on my iMac at work and I hate it. It's just not reliable. Firefox is still my favorite. Reply

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