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Apple's developer preview NDA is a load of Lion poop


UPDATE: A few things to note here. 1. Anyone on TUAW staff who has signed an NDA will indeed honor it. 2. As a site, we are not going to shy away from covering features in Lion that have been reported elsewhere. 3. It's entirely possible that certain sites have been given permission by Apple to report on Lion -- and that's outside the purview of the NDA.

Remember the anti-drug ad where the drug-using kid tries to use peer pressure to get the straight-laced kid to try some? "Everybody's doing it," he chides the square. In the case of Apple's silent PR police, it would appear that everyone is indeed breaking the non-disclosure agreement purportedly required to download and install a preview copy of Mac OS X 10.7, aka Lion. In fact, I can't recall a previous time when I've seen this much explicit hand-tipping of an upcoming product from Cupertino with absolutely no reprisals whatsoever. Can you?

Apple is legendary for its secrecy. Many things have been written about the great lengths management will go to ensure secrecy of its products and plans, whether it be hardware, software or simple business moves. It's not like other companies don't have secrets -- after all, corporations have to keep plans as private as possible until they are ready to release info. This used to be a carefully calculated game. In the case of high-tech, it is even more so due to issues involving manufacturing, intellectual property (and the legal protections thereof) and good old-fashioned publicity planning.

Once in a while someone will suggest that things like leaving an iPhone prototype in a bar is a calculated publicity move. I would suggest that, up until recently, Apple did not play those games. The culture at Apple is built upon secrecy, which leads to surprise, which inevitably leads to delight from customers and pundits alike. A major OS release for an already-mature product, however, is an entirely different animal. Considering the changes happening in Lion, I would posit that the formerly tight-lipped mothership is tacitly OK with the dribs and drabs and full-on explanations of Lion's new features. Why? Read on.

Changing the world one click at a time isn't easy. But it's something Apple has been going about since the first Apple II rolled off the assembly line. Buried in the original "red manual" for the Apple II (which I reviewed here), there's a note about how programs should be user friendly and prompt users for the next action, because they may not read the manual or take the time to educate themselves on proper use of the program. I grew up with the in joke among Apple fans that "we don't read manuals," a joke made louder by the intuitive Mac OS interface, where pretty icons easily shared their functionality with a single glance (are you really wondering what the little pencil icon does?).

Lion is a paradigm shift for the venerable Mac OS, which itself underwent a huge overhaul in the migration from the pre-OS X days to today's UNIX-based, Aqua-loving Mac OS X. For example, in Lion you can't change colors on scrollbars. Sure, you only had two choices of colors before, but now you have exactly ONE choice. More shocking to regular Mac users is the fact that scrolling is essentially upside-down. Like in iOS, you flick up to scroll down. Yeah, that's a weird one. There are quite a few similarities to iOS in the upcoming Mac OS X Lion, like app folders, and some touches like no longer being able to easily see how much space is remaining on your drive via Finder. We're not sure why Apple chose to do these things, really, except that it is a simple blurring of the lines between the desktop and mobile operating systems.

So, given that there are quite a few fundamental changes coming in Lion, what better way to prep an anxious population than allowing a few dozen NDA breaches? In a word: Education.

When we posted a video of a bug in the preview (and admittedly, there will be bugs in a preview -- this isn't Gold Master yet by a long shot), we were immediately chastised for "breaking NDA." Although we didn't shoot the video, I had reservations about writing anything regarding details of Lion because I believe that treating developers right doesn't end when you put on an Apple badge and go to work in Cupertino. Those guys and gals deserve respect as well. Sure, we report on rumors, but that's all they are until the big reveal. Despite never being invited to Apple events (nor getting a reason as to why, either), we made a conscious decision to play by the rules and keep things sparkly clean over here on TUAW. That ends today.

It's become painfully clear that Apple wants all of us to poke and prod and test and above all write, record and post about Lion. Sure, the various YouTube videos of Lion's features have been pulled down due to "copyright claims," but this is a pretty tame response from a company that used to sue rumor sites like Think Secret into oblivion over leaks. Apple must feel that educating the masses begins with those of us (geeks, nerds, dweebs and fanboys) who feel compelled to play with every new shiny thing that drops down from the mothership. Indeed, as details bubble up to the mass consciousness, it's a lot easier for Apple to have us lay the educational groundwork for friends and family than it is for Apple to convince hurried consumers to read its glossy white pages. "Where do I put apps?" grandma will ask, and we'll instantly know where they go. Even better, instead of a bunch of kneejerk reactions ("Scrolling is broken forever! FAIL! One star!"), we'll all be used to the tectonic shifts we're seeing in Lion by the time the full release is available. Education doesn't happen in an instant. It takes time to let the message soak in. With Apple allowing us to do as we please with this preview of 10.7, it's softening the collective blow when we decide to do a "real" review of the OS later this year. The system works!

Here's a funny story. I have a former student (in a previous life I taught multimedia and game design) who is a lifelong Windows fanboy. He lusted after Apple gear after the switch to Intel, but it was always out of his price range. Recently, he got a tax rebate that enabled him to buy a shiny new MacBook Pro (the one with Thunderbolt). He's ecstatic, and already learning what will be in store for him when Lion is revealed. He wasn't even sure exactly when Lion was due, but he was reading up on key features like autosave and how easy it'll be to surface apps you use. While he's a tech guy and reads tech news, he's not tuned into Apple news. Yet now he's already learning what to expect in the next major OS release from Apple. Think about that, those of you who have followed the company for more than 10 years. A consumer is already learning about features in an OS that doesn't even have a shipping date -- and it's from Apple. I think that's pretty huge.

Ultimately, the only people really paying attention to this NDA are real developers, the ones who have a lot to lose if Apple yanks their credentials. Hard to run a business when you can't have your app in a prime location, and while they could still theoretically develop for the Mac OS they would be barred from submitting their apps to the Mac App Store (and it follows they could get kicked from iOS development as well, if they were in that game). The culture of fear that Apple has fostered these many years appears to be self-policing, just as it is at its retail operations and at the Cupertino headquarters. Yes, a few blips make it through the security blockade, but nothing really substantial. Nothing that would give a competitor an eight-month lead on developing features in their product seems to leak out, and if it does, I assure you it is not something Cupertino views as "part of the plan."

So, from here on we're going to ignore the NDA like every other Mac news outlet on the internet. We'll play Apple's game and help teach the masses about Lion. It won't win us invites to Apple events, but then, neither has over five years of reporting on the company with laserlike focus. Instead, we hope that if you are offended by this breakage or wish to be surprised by the new features when Lion is officially released, you'll pass over the posts with 10.7 info in them. In the end, it would seem it is in the reader's best interest to stay informed, and that's what we'll aim to do. You win, Apple!

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