All OS X versions, even the “no new features” Snow Leopard release, have made some changes to the way things look without much affecting how they act, and Lion is no exception to this.

The first (and perhaps most obvious) change is to the login screen itself. In all previous OS X versions, this has taken the form of a white box with the OS’s default wallpaper as a backdrop, with either a vertically-aligned list of users or a pair of fields where you enter your username and password (depending on the number of users on your Mac and the way you’ve configured your login screen to work).

In Lion, this has been exchanged for a simpler-looking horizontally-aligned list of users against an iOS-like textured background (again, depending on your login screen’s setup).

The login screen is marginally more useful in Lion, since you can see your computer’s wireless status, battery life, and clock in the upper-right hand corner without logging in.

This information is also shown on the lock screen, which has also been changed – it’s easier to show than to tell, as you’ll see below – and this makes it that much easier to check your Mac’s battery status without having to authenticate.

Login, and your desktop now fades into view in an iOS-esque way. In fact, Lion has a good bit more fading and zooming than Snow Leopard - most notification messages now employ some graphical razzle-dazzle and jump out at you instead of just appearing, which you’ll either think looks slick or frivolous, depending on the kind of user you are.

Fading, sliding, and zooming aside, the desktop looks pretty much identical to Snow Leopard’s, with the exception of yet another space-themed default wallpaper - The Dock and the taskbar look and act the same way as they did in the previous OS X version. One behavioral difference: windows throughout the OS can now be resized by clicking and dragging any corner of the window - this is one of those oh-wow-is-this-seriously-only-happening-now features that should have been in the OS ages ago, but that makes it no less welcome now that it’s finally here.

Apple continues its quest to get stuff off of your desktop by default – inserted discs and external drives no longer show up on the desktop by default (mounted network drives stopped showing up on the desktop by default in 10.5, and the computer’s internal hard drive stopped showing up by default in 10.6). You can switch all of this back on in the Finder’s preferences, just as before, but it’s another baby step away from an easily visible file system.

Lion also continues Apple’s slow shuffle away from the Aqua styling that defined the OS when it was originally released. For starters, the subtler, more staid icons that have been creeping in since Leopard have replaced the colorful icons in the left-hand sidebar.

 

Snow Leopard sidebar (left) vs. Lion sidebar (right)

The scrollbars have also been changed, depending on what you’re using for input. If you’re using a multitouch-enabled device like the Magic Trackpad (or the large glass trackpads on most MacBooks from late 2008 onward), you’ll see scrollbars only as you actually scroll – they appear and disappear as they do in iOS. However, using an older-model trackpad or traditional keyboard and mouse will cause more standard, always-present scrollbars to appear.

 

Snow Leopard scrollbar (left) vs. Lion scrollbar (right). Lion's scrollbar will disappear if you're using a multitouch-enabled mouse or trackpad.

Next, turn your eyes to the upper left-hand corner of your window, where you’ll notice that the close-minimize-resize buttons have been reduced in size.

 

Snow Leopard's buttons (left) vs. Lion's smaller buttons (right). 

If you then look at the rest of the window, you may notice that the color has been lightened slightly compared to Snow Leopard – this lighter color scheme occasionally threw me off, since it’s somewhat similar to a deselected window in Snow Leopard – I occasionally thought that my clicks weren’t registering because the colors weren’t quite right.

The subtle color scheme changes also extend to buttons and progress bars in the Lion, which have shed their bright Aqua-blue in favor of a less-shiny and slightly darker blue. Notice that button shapes have also moved away from the shiny, round Aqua-style to a more traditional rounded rectangle.

 

Snow Leopard progress bar (top) vs. Lion progress bar (bottom)

 

Snow Leopard buttons (top) vs. Lion buttons (bottom)

Last, let's talk branding: The AirPort status indicator in the menu bar is now labeled Wi-Fi instead of AirPort, a small but welcome step away from a sometimes-confusing moniker. Apple's wireless hardware is still called AirPort in the System Profiler, and Apple's just-refreshed routers are still called AirPort Extreme, so it's likely that the branding will stick around - it's just not as readily evident in the OS.

None of these changes are going to have much, if any, effect on how you use the OS, but they’re there and you should know about them. OS X has been shedding the old, colorful Aqua in favor of a more reserved (if a bit less distinct) Aqua UI for awhile now, and Lion continues in that direction.

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  • quiksilvr - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    $29 is indeed a solid improvement. However, given the Mac Store now being out there, their desktop OS should follow the formula of their mobile OS: Free to upgrade. These features are nice but I can't help shake the feeling that these are Service Packs (because they are). And with their "app" store available on the OS and the means of most of their cash inflow, it makes more sense to make this a free upgrade for everyone instead of a $29 upgrade. Reply
  • xype - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    Service packs? Are you serious? Read up on the changes and try to come up with one service pack that changed as much.

    Some people…
    Reply
  • danielkza - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    XP SP3 would be a good candidate, but yes, 10.7 is a bit beyond what one could reasonably call a Service Pack. Reply
  • Taft12 - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    You're thinking of XP SP2, and if you have to go back 7 years to come up with a comparable "service pack", it's certainly fair to say OSX 10.7 is more than a service pack. Reply
  • AfroPhysics - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    I fail to see how the age of the service pack matters. Xype asked for an example and qualified nothing. Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    Are we really going through the tired argument that every 10.x update to OS X is just a service pack and should be free? Then at what point should Apple try to recoup costs for OS development, because even if individual point updates are evolutionary, going from the original 10.0 to 10.7 has got to be a major change in anyones eyes. And the same questions could be raised about Windows NT 6.1 aka Windows 7 where the server version is bluntly labeled Windows 2008 R2 and Windows NT 6.0 aka Vista/2008 or Windows NT 5.1 aka XP and Windows NT 5.0 aka 2000.

    Besides, even if you discount the user facing changes, Lion has seem some major security infrastructure changes. Both the 32-bit and 64-bit kernel have been rewritten with full NX-bit and ALSR support as in place in Windows Vista/7 addressing the major security complaint Charlie Miller had with OS X. Application sandboxing frameworks are now available and soon to be mandatory for Lion apps in the Mac App Store which I believe is a security feature that even Windows isn't pushing yet. With the dropping of the Core Duo, the Lion has also be rewritten to make more use of SSSE3 instead of just SSE3 as pointed out by the Hackintosh community. Lion isn't just Snow Leopard with a few features added on top, but the entire OS has seem updates at a low level even if the user might not necessary see all the differences.
    Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    And about the App Store being a major source of income for Apple, Apple has consistently said they aim to run their stores as a break even venture.

    http://www.macrumors.com/2011/07/19/apple-reports-...

    I'm not clear if the iTunes Store in the graphic in the above link includes the App Store, but at the very least as an example of Apple's digital store, the revenue stream really hasn't increased in the last 2 years. Apple's sales growth is clearly from their hardware, iPhone, iPad, and even Mac.
    Reply
  • GotThumbs - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    $1,634,000,000 in revenue from Other Music Related Products and Services (3)

    (3) Includes sales from the iTunes Store, App Store, and iBookstore in addition to sales of iPod services and Apple-branded and third-party iPod accessories

    I'd say their goal of a break even venture is not an accurate description of their stores. Hence the creation of the MAC Store. It sounds like a nice thought, but Apple is in business to make money and it seems their VERY good at it. Perhaps their projection analysis was a bit off.

    Hey, this is good news for the investors and I understand that they are a business. Lets not be too naive and just don't drink the cool-aid.
    Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    Perhaps my finance terms are wrong, but I'd hope the Apps Store is taking in revenue. But if Apple should be offering some of their other products like OS X updates for free, shouldn't we be concerned with whether the App Store is making major profits, such that there is money to spare to pay for OS development? Reply
  • solipsism - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    Revenue ≠ Profit

    They've paid billions to both developers, and music and video cotent owners. They've also spent money on the infrastructure to support their stores. I'm sure they're making a profit as all good for-profit companies should, but it's not the cash cow you've attempted to present here.
    Reply

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