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Apple Debuts New MacBooks, Mac OS X Lion

After weeks of speculation, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) today officially announced an updated lineup of MacBook Pro notebooks including Intel's Thunderbolt I/O, technology.

The new MacBooks aren't the only new release from Apple today. Mac OS X Lion, the next generation of Apple's operating system, is now available as a developer preview as well.

The release comes just ahead of a media event Apple has scheduled next week in San Francisco, where the company is widely expected to unveil the next version of its popular iPad tablet computer.

Intel's Thunderbolt is the commercial version of a technology that Intel has been talking about since at least 2009 under the code name Light Peak. The promise of Thunderbolt is for up to 10 Gbps of I/O performance for peripherals and attached devices.

In addition to Thunderbolt, the new MacBook Pros also include updated Intel Core i5 and i7 processors for the 13, 15 and 17-inch MacBook Pro models. Previously the 13-inch MacBook Pro was running an older Intel Core Duo processor. Apple last updated its MacBook Pro lineup in April 2010. Apple also recently refreshed its MacBook AIR lineup with solid state drives and improved processing power.

The new MacBook Pros announced this week are also being enhanced with integrated FaceTime HD cameras. FaceTime is Apple's video chat technology that is also available on its iOS-powered devices, including the iPhone 4 and iPod Touch.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro base model has a 2.3 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor and 320 GB hard drive, and is priced at $1,199. The new 15-inch MacBook Pro enters the market with a 2.0 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, AMD Radeon HD 6490M and 500 GB hard drive and is priced at $1,799. The 17-inch MacBook Pro includes a 2.2 GHz quad-ore Intel Core i7, AMD Radeon HD 6750M and 750 GB hard drive and carries a price tag of $2,499.

The new generation of MacBook Pros is being shipped with Apple's Mac OS X Snow Leopard operating system, though a new operating system is in the works. Snow Leopard, also known as Mac OS X 10.6, first hit the market in the summer of 2009.

Apple's Mac OS X 10.7 "Lion" is now available as a developer preview. Lion provides a number of new features to Mac users including a new dashboard interface called Mission Control. Mission Control seeks to unify the desktop experience and give users a view of everything running on their Mac.

The process of starting applications is also getting a boost in Lion with the new Launchpad. According to Apple, Launchpad will make it easier to both find and launch applications. Lion also includes a new Wi-Fi file transfer feature called AirDrop to help make it easier for users copy files wirelessly across Macs.

"The iPad has inspired a new generation of innovative features in Lion," Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, said in a statement. "Developers are going to love Mission Control and Launchpad, and can now start adding great new Lion features like full screen, gestures, Versions and Auto Save to their own apps."

Lion is currently available as a developer preview, with the final version expected to be generally available this summer.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.