In a product-based celebration of absent CEO Steve Jobs’ 56th birthday today, Apple fired a twin salvo, introducing its all-new MacBook Pros, and — to my mind far more interestingly — also releasing the much speculated upon Developer Preview of Mac OS X Lion.
As expected, the new MacBook Pros implement the Apple/Intel-developed Light Peak technology, called “Thunderbolt I/O” by Apple. The Macs also feature incredibly powerful Core i5 and Core i7 dual-core processors running at up to 2.7GHz and Intel HD Graphics 3000. We’re also seeing the introduction of AMD Radeon HD graphics processors with up to 1GB of video memory in the more powerful MacBook Pro models. These machines are fast.
“The new MacBook Pro brings next generation dual and quad Core processors, high performance graphics, Thunderbolt technology and FaceTime HD to the great design loved by our pro customers,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing in a press release.
Bolt from the blue
“Thunderbolt is a revolutionary new I/O technology that delivers an amazing 10 gigabits per second and can support every important I/O standard which is ideal for the new MacBook Pro,” Schiller also said.
Apple has now conceded that Thunderbolt was developed by Intel with “collaboration” from Apple. This will be why an Apple Mac Pro was used as a demonstration machine when Light Peak was first demonstrated at the Intel Developer Forum in September, 2009.
This is an exciting technology, capable of delivering huge quantities of data to and from multiple devices at rapid speed — currently 10Gbps but set to rise tenfold within months.
Light Peak/Thunderbolt can run multiple protocols simultaneously over a single cable. This means you can connect multiple, different devices with a single cable, so drives, docks and displays, will cause less clutter in your digital den.
Thunderbolt supports two bi-directional channels which “delivers PCI Express directly to external high performance peripherals such as RAID arrays, and can support FireWire and USB consumer devices and Gigabit Ethernet networks via adapters.”
As previously reported, Apple has confirmed Thunderbolt supports DisplayPort and works with existing adapters for HDMI, DVI and VGA displays. The technology is being made available at no charge for implementation on systems, cables and devices.
Apple and Intel clearly have high hopes for the standard, saying they expect it to be “widely adopted as a new standard for high performance I/O”. We’ll hear more on this from Intel later on.
FaceTime any time
The new MacBook Pros also offer a FaceTime HD camera — it isn’t called an iSight any more, it is now FaceTime. Good thing: the resolution of the new cameras is triple that of the preceeding iSight cameras fielded in previous Macs. Now out of beta, FaceTime has today been made available for sale for $0.99 at the Mac App Store;
What we haven’t seen in this iteration is the introduction of built-in flash drives running the OS. I’m disappointed about this as I had hopes as explained yesterday, but it is worth noting that SSD drives remain available as a build-to-order option with capacities up to 512GB.
The roar begins
With WWDC set to take place in mid-summer Apple’s moving to accelerate development of Lion, which the company has previously promised will debut in the summer. I have been predicting a final version of the OS for September, and still consider that likely, but the introduction today of a developer preview of the OS is interesting, as it means development is on the fast track and Lion could prowl earlier.
Newly-revealed stand-out features in this build include a much-improved iPad-like Mail, a new Versions feature, a fantastic way to share files between Macs called ‘AirDrop’ and the addition of Lion Server within the OS itself. All these new features are rather splendid, AirDrop in particular is something we’ve always needed when collaborating on projects.
Versions and Resume
Versions is a new Lion feature in which the OS records a version of the document each time you open it and every hour while you’re working on it. Like Time Machine for projects, you can cascade back to a previous version of your project, copy and paste from previous versions or replace current versions with a previous version. This is rather cool, though the disk space miser in me does hope it works in conjunction with a remote drive, such as a Time Machine, external drive or, dare I say it, MobileMe.
Resume is an associated feature. Just as with an iOS App, when you open your Mac Apps in future they will restart exactly where you left them, project windows and all. I’m quietly thrilled also at Auto Save, which automatically saves your documents as you work. I’m not good at saving. I will have a happier existence as a result of this feature.
Auto Save boasts a lock feature which prevents inadvertent changes from being saved and automatically locks documents after two weeks. A Revert control lets you return the document to the state it was in when you last opened it, so you can make non-destructive changes on projects if you wish.
I’ve hoped before for a way to find a Mac if it happens to be stolen. Apple isn’t promising this, but has introduced a new version of FileVault — and what a good version this promises to be. As predicted, FileVault “provides high performance full disk encryption for local and external drives”. Even more interesting is it offers the ability to wipe data from your Mac instantaneously. Will this become a remote feature?
I’ve preferred to access Mail on my iPad since I first took to the tablet. In Lion, Apple is introducing a new version of Mail which acts like it does on iPad. There’s new tools and the capacity to run Mail in full-screen mode. Those of us handling huge quantities of Mail will also benefit from the introduction of much-improved search facilities. There’s also support for new ‘Conversations’ mode, which groups messages from the same conversation, even if the subject changes mid-chat.
So useful you wonder why a seamless and simple way of doing file exchange between PCs hasn’t existed since the dawn of digital time (well, you could argue it has, but AirDrop is better). What it does: you can send anyone near you files over Wi-Fi. Everyone needs to be on the same wireless network and must also be running AirDrop on their computer. This makes me wonder two things: 1/ Will AirDrop be made available as a Mac App for Macs not running Lion? and 2/ Will AirDrop be made available as a utility for other platforms? This would be exceedingly useful for non-heterogeneous mixed platform computer work groups.
Apple says AirDrop works like this: “AirDrop doesn’t require setup or special settings. Just click the AirDrop icon in the Finder sidebar, and your Mac automatically discovers other people nearby who are using AirDrop. You’ll even see contact photos for those who are already in your Address Book. To share a file, simply drag it to someone’s name. Once accepted, the file transfers directly to the person’s Downloads folder. When you’re done with AirDrop, close the Finder and your Mac is no longer visible to others.”
Server, server, burning bright, in the Lion of the night
Forgive the doggerel. Lion isn’t just Lion, it is also Lion Server. This will be integrated inside the standard operating system and will be free should you wish to enable it. This will be very cool — you’ll be able to easily set up your own Mac as a server and “take advantage of the many services Lion Server has to offer”.
Oh and these services — support for named users and groups, push notifications, file sharing, mail, contacts, chat, Wiki Services. Will your Mac become a server proffering you up access to all the data you need via any device you care to authorize for access to the machine? The new server adds support for managing Mac OS X Lion, iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices. I can imagine your home iMac becoming Mission Control for your entire family’s digital life. I suspect Apple can too:
“Lion Server delivers wireless file sharing for iPad. Enabling WebDAV in Lion Server gives iPad users the ability to access, copy, and share documents on the server from applications such as Keynote, Numbers, and Pages.”
I know I keep repeating myself in my insistence that part of the future of the OS includes an access anywhere model for your data. I think the introduction of Lion Server within Lion OS suggests another approach to this.
[UPDATE: Below video was removed, allegedly because someone, presumably Apple, complained over copyright. I won't dwell on what a petty and prissy move arranging for its removal was, but here's the link to the page where you'll find something, near the section marked 'Gestures and Animations']
Taking a look over at Apple’s developer site reveals some additional new interface features within the OS: Popovers, Overlay Scrollbar and Multi-Touch Gestures and Animations. Lion will use those discreet scroll bars you get on iOS, bars which appear only when used as an overlay on top of a windows content. You also get Popovers within the UI (image below). The AV Foundation framework provides essential services for working with time-based audiovisual media.
Sandboxing and Privilege Separation are new inherent Lion features which should boost security for users. Apple explains it thus:
“Limiting the capabilities of an app to just those operations that it needs to perform helps keep the rest of the system more secure in the event that an App is compromised. Privilege separation is another common technique for improving security where an App is factored into smaller pieces, each with their own distinct roles and privileges.”
[This story is from Computerworld's Apple Holic blog. Follow on Twitter or subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]