Apple's flagship computer operating system, Mac OS X, has seen a long series of incremental improvements since it was first released in 2001. With its latest release, though, Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, Apple has started to incorporate concepts from its iOS operating system (for iPads and iPhones) into its Mac computers.
That's the trend that's sweeping the computer and mobile worlds right now: Turning desktop OSes into mobile ones, by bringing the concepts from simplified mobile OSes up to the desktop and making computers into iPad-style "app consoles," to use the phrase coined by John Gruber of Daring Fireball. Meanwhile, Google's open-source Android operating system is developing a style of its own, beyond just being a bare-bones smartphone OS.
Android: Ice Cream Sandwich
That's the name of the newest version of Android, the operating system for tablets and smartphones where every release is named after a kind of dessert. But while the last few releases of the smartphone version of Android have featured mostly under-the-hood improvements, Ice Cream Sandwich brings in the upgrades from the Honeycomb tablet version, as well as making some sweeping UI changes.
Android's new "Holo" theme is designed by engineers like Adam Powell who "[care] about style," and uses the new Roboto font that Google made just for Android. Google is also giving app developers new tools to help them write apps that look like they fit in, including a new Android Design website that explains how to make "exceptional Android apps."
The Metro user interface debuted on Windows Phone 7, Microsoft's new mobile operating system for smartphones. Where Android's style was largely derivative from iOS', with buttons and icons and home screens, Metro used large, square tiles, which animated to show what was beneath them.
The Metro interface is going to be featured on Windows 8, the next version of Microsoft's operating system for desktop and laptop PCs ... plus iPad-style tablets, that use power-saving ARM processors instead of Intel ones. These tablets will also have the classic Windows desktop, but only as a fallback to run apps like Microsoft office, according to Ars Technica's Peter Bright. For the most part, they will use new apps designed from the ground up to work with Metro.
Linux: GNOME Shell and Unity
Most people haven't tried Linux on their home computers, but many have heard of Ubuntu, the first Linux-based OS to reach mass-market appeal. Ubuntu now uses an interface called Unity, which has large, tablet-style buttons along one side of the screen and a Mac OS X-style menu bar at the top. The next version of Ubuntu, called Precise Pangolin, will replace this menu bar with a "HUD," which is basically a search bar for specific menu commands that lets you start typing to select them.
Some Linux OSes, like Fedora, are now using the GNOME Shell interface instead. Where the Unity interface is more or less strapped onto the old Linux system, GNOME Shell redesigns it completely, carving away huge swaths of legacy UI and replacing them with a clean, tablet-style interface. Buttons are large, menus are simplified, and there's an accessibility button at the top of the screen at all times for people with special requirements. Many advanced options have been hidden or removed altogether, making it much easier to get into than a normal desktop OS.
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