Apple Preview: Mac OS X Lion Ready To Roar

When Apple executives first began talking specifics about the next generation Mac OS X Lion, they gushed about how they would take the best aspects of the iPad and marry them into the operating system that runs their Mac desktops and notebooks.

Next week, expect that details and demonstrations of Lion could very well take a back seat to news about iOS 5 -- which CEO Steve Jobs will be talking up. But make no mistake: Lion will be the real story.

When Apple first launched the iPad last year, it began to radically change use patterns for accessing and using data and content. iPad’s multi-touch screen, push-button access to apps, on-screen keyboard and features like iBookstore and 12-hour battery life drastically altered how we can interact with the Web and consume information and entertainment.

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With Mac OS X Lion, Apple is taking the push-button app access to the Mac by including the same Launchpad in the iPad in its desktops and notebooks.

This version of Apple will also have a significant advancement for managing the Mac: a feature called “Mission Control” that will provide a full, graphical view of every application and function that is running on a system. That will offer a better opportunity to track software that is running in the background that could be slowing the system to a crawl.

As it is now, with the most up-to-date version of Mac OS X, it’s simply too easy for a Mac to be swallowed alive by perhaps dozens of applications or functions, running in the background, that you simply forget about. The result is that at times, the system grinds to a halt or needs a full reboot to get back to full performance.

Apple has also said it will introduce more responsive multi-touch capabilities in Mac OS X Lion, introduce auto-saving of work, and make its system-resume function more robust by automatically returning all applications to the place where they were even after a system reboot. In fact, a common theme for many new functions in Lion is that it will make doing every day work just quicker and easier and with fewer hurdles to powering up, getting into and out of applications, and powering down.

There will be two major hurdles for Apple, and we should expect to hear during the Worldwide Developer Conference whether or not it can clear them.

First, can Apple deliver iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion at the same time, without delaying launch of either? When Apple first launched the original iPhone, it delayed release that year of its new Mac OS X version, admitting it just didn’t have enough development resources to deliver both products to market on time.

And, second, with so much iPad functionality now being delivered to the Mac OS X, how will Apple continue to differentiate Macs from iPads? Apple’s first-quarter Mac sales in the U.S. reached 18.9 percent growth, according to Gartner Group -- far outpacing all of its rivals; making sure Mac sales don’t cannibalize iPad sales, and vice versa, could be tricky for Jobs and Apple.

The enterprise market has shown some signs it is ready to begin a serious upgrade cycle from Windows XP; Apple has an opportunity now to make that path go more often than not from XP to Lion, rather than Windows 7. If it can deliver what it has already begin talking up, the message this week may be something to roar about.