Sometime in the next few weeks, Apple will release OS X 10.7 aka Lion. During this year's WWDC (World Wide Developers Conference), Apple showed off the major features in Lion and announced it would be shipping sometime in July. Last week, on July 6, Apple released what is commonly called the 'Golden Master' to Mac developers who are testing the new Mac OS. The golden master is usually the final version released before it is available for sale. If you plan on running Lion then it's time to get your Mac ready.
The release of Lion is brining with it a whole new delivery mechanism for Apple. If you want to buy Lion you won't be able to order it online or go to the Apple Retail Store and get a disc. Lion is only available as a download through the new Mac App Store. This means that there is no disc, period. Being available only from the Mac App Store also means you must be running Apple's current Mac OS, Snow Leopard, which is the only way to access the Mac App Store.
The good news is that Lion is a true bargain priced at only $29. The current Mac OS, 10.6 Snow Leopard, was also priced at only $29, but it was sold more as an update of Leopard, not full upgrade of the OS. Apple is sure to make up for this by selling it to practically every Mac owner that can run Lion. If you plan on running Lion and you are currently running Leopard, or maybe even Tiger, you will want to order yourself a copy of Snow Leopard right now. Having to buy Snow Leopard and Lion makes a grand total of about $60, it's still less than half the price of previous OS updates, which were around $130.
To run Lion, you first have to have a modern Macintosh computer - something within the last six years. This includes the MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini, iMac, or Mac Pro Tower. Not only must it have an Intel based Mac, but it has to be one with later processors. Apple states, in the requirements, that a Mac will need an Intel Core 2 Duo or better.
Intel Core Duo or Core Solo Macs, which were the first generation Intel based Macs, will not work with Lion. This might not totally be the processors fault, but might be more the speed of the bus, RAM, and even more likely, the video card. As with other new Apple software, much of the processing is now handled by the GPU, or the Graphics Processing Unit - the video card.
If you have the right Intel chip in your Mac then you also need to check out how much RAM you have. Lion will need at least 2GB of RAM to run. Of course, it will run better (meaning faster and smoother) with more RAM. Currently shipping Macs all come with at least 2GB or 4GB of RAM. You may even want to max out the amount of RAM in your Mac. The current models of the mini can take up to 8GB, the iMac 16GB, the MacBook Pro 8GB, and the most a Mac Pro tower can take is a whopping 64GB of RAM (which would set you back about $1,500). Suffice it to say that if you currently don't have enough RAM, buy as much as you can afford. If your Mac meets the requirements, then go ahead and install Lion and see how well it runs before buying more RAM.
If you plan on running Lion, there are a few things you will want to do before you update. The most important is to backup your system before you mess around with something as important as changing the operating system. While most that download and upgrade their OS to Lion will not have any problem, I try not to do things like this without having a safety net. The way I do this is by using an external hard drive, either USB or better yet Firewire, and the free Super Duper software from Shirt Pocket (www.shirt-pocket.com). Super Duper is used to create a complete, and bootable, copy of the OS drive in your Mac. With your hard drive completely backed up, and then set safely aside, you can now download and install Lion on your Mac.
Since getting Lion via the Mac App Store is all new, we really don't know exactly how the installer really works. The rumor is that when you run the Lion installer it will create a special recovery partition on your main hard drive and use that for the installation. If this is true then it might be possible to boot from that special partition anytime after in case Lion needed to be fixed, or reinstalled.
If not, then reinstalling Lion will be a painful multi-step process. This means installing the older Snow Leopard again, then running updates to get the Mac App Store, and then downloading and installing Lion again. The good news is that once you buy Lion you can download it anytime for free. I really hope this is not going to be the only way to reinstall Lion.
I'm sure Apple has done their homework and upgrading to Lion will be as easy as any other Mac OS upgrade. Lion brings some nice new technologies and features that will more than offset any minor inconveniences this new distribution system may bring. The combination of Lion, iCloud, and (if you have and iOS device like the iPhone, Touch, or iPad) the soon to be released iOS 5 will allow your data and media to synchronize between all your devices through the cloud, even wirelessly.
I plan on running Lion on my fastest Mac. I will probably not do it on the first day of release though. I do like to let things settle for a week or two, to make sure there are no major problems others may find. I do like some of the new features in Lion, and since I do have multiple Macs and iOS devices, I am looking forward to running Lion and trying out the new iCloud service. Lion will be running sometime in the month of July.