postheadericon TECH TALK: Meet Mac OSX Lion

I am reminded (again) that I might be getting old. Getting old in the tech business is not as much fun as it once was, and one email that made it through my multiple spambots yesterday sparked a flashback to my youth, when windows were washed (and not on my computer) and snow leopards ran around in the Himalayas, and not on my desk top.

“Meet Mac OSX Lion” was the title of this electronic epistle, and included a video of Steve Job’s presentation at the most recent “special press event” by Apple, staged somewhere near Cupertino America. It’s fact: the next operating system to be released by Apple this coming summer is called Lion. Which contrasts significantly to the one running on my desk today called Snow Leopard. So it’s public knowledge now that Snow Leopards are soon to be extinct, in both the software world and in the natural one as well.

My flashback took me back to the days before Windows, when I first sat down to my first operating system (OS) and began typing on a fat keyboard the size of a small dog, and was amazed by the screen that was monotone bright green. The name of that operating system was VM/370 and produced by IBM. The big deal then was that a computer (known in the ‘70s as a mainframe) could do more then two tasks at the same time, even though the computer was the size of a small bedroom and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The “VM” in IBM VM/370 stood for virtual machine, and the concept of being a virtual machine is akin to when we drive a car, listen to music and read a web page - all at the same time we are yakking on on the phone! “Multi-tasking” originally was not you taking the kids to school while texting your boss and listening to the car radio, but the ability of a computer to create virtual threads to do thousands of things at once (albeit, often badly and with hundreds of error messages).

The new Mac Air laptop weights 1 kilo, is as thin as your kid’s spiral-bound math notebook, and can run several virtual machines at once - and several operating systems at once! For example, the Air can run Windows 7, Windows XP, Ubuntu, Vista (if you are nuts) and Snow Leopard all at the same time. And with the upcoming Lion operating system, you can do all that using an interface that resembles the one on your smartphone or tablet; swiping things left and right and pinching photos to zoom in and out. In fact, the new Lion interface looks a lot like the one on your Android smart phone, only bigger.

For those unaware, Android is an operating system for mobile phones and refrigerators, whichever one you prefer. And this is the long-range point: software engineers want to make operating systems ubiquitous to the operator, like in Iron Man II when Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) just spoke and waved his hands around glass panels to operate his artificial intelligence device named J.A.R.V.I.S. Science fiction is slowly becoming science fact.

But for now, the state-of-the-art operating system (OS) is going to look like the screen of a standard smartphone, only bigger and probably harder to operate. Apple’s Lion is just one more baby step on the way to making a computer’s OS invisible to you, but always there for ya. Personally, I’m a bit nostalgic for those days when all you had to do was to type in text next to a blinking green cursor. Life seemed simpler when I only did one thing at a time, while my computer perhaps did two or three, and when the number of files and folders that I owned I could count on my hands and toes.

I just counted the files used by the Snow Leopard 10.6.4 operating system sitting on my desk today: two million files in over 360,000 folders. That’s over 4,000 files for each of the remaining 500 or so living snow leopards in Nepal, if they were interested, and that is 1,999,990 more files then I could ever remember owning.

But the younger generation could care less about files and folders. How many teens know what OS is running on their Xbox or iPhone? We in the wise know the answers to be 1) any one you want, and 2) iOS. But we in the know, know this: that the operating systems of today are about to fundamentally change again, and this time the most significant feature of the new breed is that you won’t know or care that it’s there – you just do things without any configuration and all of the associated clicking and typing. No more drag and drop - you just swipe and pinch to get your stuff done.

And for those of us who grew up with Ctrl-C and Ctrl-P for cut and paste, we are about to go the way of Nepal’s living snow leopards, extinct and perhaps forgotten but for marketing blurbs on billboards like this one: “Mac OSX Lion – Get Your Bite Back."

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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