New MacBook Air with OS X Lion roars in the distance, but many questions remain

A MacBook Air equipped with OS X Lion is definitely on the way. When the Air gets here, however, is anyone's guess.

The MacBook Air should get a refresh this week, according to several tech sites. Here, the 2010 edition of the MacBook Air.

Apple has long promised that OS X Lion, the latest in the long line of OS X operating system overhauls, will arrive in July. Now comes word that a new line of Lion-powered MacBook Air laptops is set to follow close behind. According to John Paczkowski of All Things D, the third-generation Airs will hit shelves sometime late next week, and come equipped with a range of niceties, including the new high-speed Thunderbolt port.

At the same time, Paczkowski writes, Apple will "winnow down" its configuration options to 128GB and 256GB of flash storage. Over at 9 to 5 Mac, Mark Gurman says consumers should expect four models altogether – two 11-inch MacBook Airs, and two versions with 13-inch screens. Each one of the laptops should ship with Sandy Bridge chips, giving the new Air models a performance boost over the others.

Waiting for a cosmetic overhaul? Don't hold your breath. (What? You wanted it to get even skinnier?) No "noticeable exterior changes" are in the works, Gurman says.

So what's great about Lion, anyway? Quite a lot, actually, including FaceTime functionality, full-screen apps, AirDrop – which will let users wireless transfer files over Wi-Fi, from one Lion-enabled computer to another – and best of all, improved Multi-Touch performance. If you've got an iPhone, you probably have a pretty good idea of how Multi-Touch works: move your fingers across the interface in different ways; watch the machine respond.

But Lion, Apple says, includes "more fluid and realistic gesture responses, including rubber-band scrolling, page and image zoom, and full-screen swiping." There's an interesting little run-down over on the Apple site, and it's well worth watching – especially if you have not yet mastered the "two-finger scroll." That should go nicely with the new MacBook Air – whenever it gets here.

Not a Mac guy? No worries. Windows 8 is looking pretty slick, too.

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