Today, Apple released their seventh major update to the Mac OS X operating system, Lion. Over the next few days many exhaustive reviews covering every nook and cranny of the OS will be published. Although I’ve spent plenty of time exploring Lion while it was it was in beta, I’ll leave the heavy lifting to the likes of John Siracusa and Jason Snell. Instead, I’d like to highlight the five new features I believe will have the greatest impact on students. Fellow classmates, here’s why you should upgrade to Lion. 

1. Auto Save and Versions

There’s nothing worse than hopping on a wave of inspiration only to be presented with an unresponsive app and the realization that it has been an hour since you last pressed Command S. Lion now auto-saves your work every 5 minutes and during a pause in activity. There’s no doubt that Auto Save is a blessing, but combined with Versions, it takes your document creation game to a whole other level. Each time you save your document, both manually and automatically, Lion creates a separate version of your document. Think of a Version as a restore point. Using a Time Machinesque interface, Versions allows you to jump back to a specific time in your document’s history to retrieve an element, say a block of text you decided was worth keeping after all.  To access Versions, simply click on the name of your document at the top of the application window. Note, you must save your document manually once before Auto Save and Versions can begin working their magic. Auto Save and Versions aren’t flashy, but the work they do in the background will surely be appreciated by students.

 2. Mission Control

Most school related activities performed on my Mac involve several applications; Safari and Papers for research, Preview for referencing lecture notes, Pages for assembling the document. On my tiny 13 inch MacBook Pro screen, Exposé and Spaces are invoked at a nauseating rate when I’m in work mode. Thankfully, Apple has been taking notes. New in Lion is Mission Control, a control center for your Mac, rolling Dashboard, Exposé and Spaces into one easily accessible screen. Sliding up with 3 fingers on the trackpad brings up Mission Control. Your immediately presented with a grouped view of the application windows that are currently visible in the Space you’re in. At the top of screen is a overview look at all your Spaces and the applications that are running within them. Spaces and Exposé works just like before; select an application in Exposé to bring it to the front, drag an an application to a new space to open it in that Space or drag to the top right corner of the screen to place the application in a new Space. Although the elements that make up Mission Control have been around for some time now, Mission Control is a fresh new way to interact with these OS X features. If you’ve got a busy Mac and a small screen, you’ll love Mission Control.

3. Character Picker and Improved Auto-Corrections

The English language is fairly gentle when it comes to special characters, but in the event that you’re on of our international readers or have decided to take a foreign languages class this upcoming semester, you’ll be pleased to know that Lion makes it significantly easier to type special characters such as è. į, ś, etc. to use Character Picker just hold down the letter you wish to modify on your keyboard until you are presented with the special character options for that key.

Although Auto-Correct gets a bad rap on the iPhone, it’s effective at fixing spelling mistakes with very little user input. OS X has had some form of Auto-Correct for some time now, however in Lion it behaves much like it does in iOS, presenting its intended change and auto-correcting upon pressing the space key. 

Character Picker and Auto-Correct aren’t game changing features in Lion, however for the verbose like myself, they are welcomed changes.

4. Word Lookup

Word Lookup is a feature I came across by accident. Prior to Lion, looking up a word in OS X required a right click on the word followed by a click to open the word in the Dictionary app. Looking up a word now is a simple as double tapping with 3 fingers on the word to bring up a Dictionary/Wikipedia drop down menu. When you’re reading academic texts with sophisticated language, the ability to quickly define a word with a single gesture is fantastic. Once again, this won’t revolutionize the way we use our computers, but there’s no doubt college students will put the feature through its paces. 

5. Price

Here’s the thing, according to Apple there’s over 250 new features in Lion. Granted everyone will use a different subset of these features to a varying degree, that’s a lot of new stuff for $29.99. At the price they’re asking, the question isn’t, “Why should you upgrade?” Rather it’s, “Why not?”