Lion may look like just more Apple eye-candy, but new features such as Auto-Save and Versions are genuine productivity improvements, while the continued refinement of the OS X interface will appeal to long-time Mac users.
Auto-Save and Versions will be genuine time-savers for professional users, new multi-touch gestures, rewritten Mail app
No longer supports PowerPC software, high system requirements, multi-touch gestures rely on trackpad use
Requires Mac with Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7 or Xeon processor; 2GB of memory (4GB recommended); broadband internet connection and 7GB hard disk space for installation
Apple is often accused of putting style ahead of substance, but sometimes the way a product looks and feels can be an important part of how it works. Apple's Time Machine is a good example of this.
As a piece of back-up software it's actually quite limited, yet it has that eye-catching 'starscape' interface that manages to make the tedious task of file backup seem somehow glamorous. As a result, Time Machine actually encourages people to use it in a way that no other backup program is ever likely to do.
And so it is with Lion, the latest major release of Apple's OS X operating system. During the demo session at Apple's London HQ I found myself feeling rather unimpressed by the new features that were being unveiled.
After all, multi-touch gestures have been around in OS X for a quite while, so merely adding a few more finger-tangling gestures didn't seem like much of a big deal. The new Mission Control feature simply seemed like a prettier version of the existing 'Spaces', and LaunchPad - well, I couldn't quite see the point of LaunchPad at all.
Even so, after a few days of using Lion - or OS X v. 10.7 as it's officially called - I found that I really rather like it. The ability to step backwards and forwards through a series of web pages simply by swiping your fingers left or right across the trackpad is really rather neat.
It's practical, but it's all the more effective because of Apple's attention to detail. The animation as pages flick across the screen is so smooth that it really makes the Mac feel more responsive - as though the trackpad were an extension of your fingers (assuming, of course, that your Mac actually has a trackpad).
Some of those new multi-touch gestures do feel a bit clumsy at first; the idea of a three-finger swipe initially reminded me of the old 'three finger salute' on Windows (Ctrl-Alt-Delete).
However, it really is rather satisfying when you flick your fingers up on the trackpad to activate the Mission Control feature and then just watch an entire screen full of overlapping programs and windows neatly reorganise themselves in an instant.
Mission Control is another example of a feature that succeeds through sheer style. It merges two existing features: Expose, which shows the window associated with the currently open application, and the Spaces feature that allows you to create custom workspaces containing specific sets of apps.
The result is a slick, tidy overview of your Mac desktop that makes it easy to locate the specific document or window you're looking for on even the most cluttered of desktops.
Sometimes, though, Apple's penchant for eye-candy does get a bit out of control. The LaunchPad feature that displays all your currently installed programs on a single screen simply seems like a misguided attempt to make the Mac look more like the iPad, while the new full-screen viewing mode really only benefits programs such as iPhoto, where you can use it as a kind of slide show presentation tool.
However, once you start to edit your work in an application you'll probably soon find yourself switching back to windowed mode so that you can reach the various menus and tool palettes once more.