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Saturday, February 26, 2011, 02:00 pm PT (05:00 pm ET)

Inside Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: New Dock, Finder & Desktop

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion reverses a trend toward user interface complexity, delivering a desktop computing environment that not only incorporates graphical elements of iOS, but also copies the intuitive simplicity of Apple's mobile operating system.

This overall simplification of the Lion user interface doesn't strip away existing features as much as it streamlines the process of using them, making it easier to actually access the power of various components. Two prime examples are Dashboard, a widget feature added in 10.4 Tiger, and Spaces, a virtual desktops feature Apple added to 10.5 Leopard.

While both features added new kinds of functionality to the Mac OS X desktop, they also involved more complexity, requiring users to remember special key commands to invoke and dismiss them while also creating new modes that can be difficult for non-technical users to visualize and comprehend. For many users, that complexity barrier simply means that Apple's development efforts go untapped.

In Mac OS X Lion, Dashboard and Spaces are integrated visually into the "all windows" view of Exposé, which Apple is now calling Mission Control. Additionally, the concept of Full Screen Apps is expanded into what is essentially a single app Space, which like Dashboard and other defined Spaces, is just as easy to call up and then escape from with a four-fingered swipe of the trackpad.

A simpler new Dashboard

Under Lion, instead of depicting Dashboard as a special mode that whisks in above the desktop as a visual overlay, the widget layer simply a panel that slides in from the left (evoking the left-most strip of audio playback and screen orientation lock controls accessible from the iOS multitasking bar).

This strips the desktop of some whizzy eye candy (including the watery layer that since Tiger has rippled when you drag out a new Dashboard widget, and the translucent background of the Dashboard itself), but it simplifies the user experience so that its very easy to remember how to get in and out of the Dashboard interface quickly; it can even be done via an intuitive multitouch gesture (very similar to the one Apple is experimenting with as an iPad gesture for switching between its full screen apps).

There's now no distractingly busy desktop behind your Dashboard widgets, just a simple panel that looks like a starting point for constructing Lego buildings. The Widget strip from Tiger is still there for grabbing new widgets to arrange in the Dashboard area, and the Dock is always available as well, making it even easier to jump back out to a particular app. Movie on page two.

On page 2 of 4: Automatic Spaces and Mission Control.