Software is similar to microwave ovens: many people use just a fraction of the features. Sure there’s Timed Cook, but what about AutoDefrost, Sensor Cooking, Roast Settings, and Bake Controls? The truth is most people know how to cook frozen foods, make popcorn, and little else.

Mac OS X Lion potentially suffers the same fate. The OS introduces numerous powerful new features. However, without proper training, many users may never even know they’re there. Mac administrators can help ensure users are not only exposed to the new OS’ capabilities but receive at least basic training and tutorials on their use.

How? Training budgets at many organizations have been reduced or eliminated altogether. Fortunately, committed technology professionals just need a meeting room and a little ingenuity to present a lunch-and-learn session.

Hosting a lunch-and-learn

The beauty of a lunch-and-learn is that the concept possesses a slightly informal connotation. It’s lunch, after all, a much less pretentious affair than dinner. Learn, meanwhile, is much less intimidating than seminar, lecture, and class.

The purpose of a lunch-and-learn isn’t to cover tremendous ground or delve incredibly deep into a specific concept. Most professionals understand that lunch and learns are informal Choose what’s best for your office. Either spring for some subs or pizza or encourage staff to bring their own brown-bag meals. Just be sure to set aside sufficient time. At least an hour should be earmarked for a lunch-and-learn.

Send out invitations in advance, too. People make lunch plans with others, including clients, colleagues, vendors, and spouses. Let staff know at least ten days in advance to encourage better attendance.

What to cover

Lion can simplify common and repetitive operations and power more intuitive interaction with popular tasks, but users may need some guidance. Many features aren’t readily visible and still others might require review. Certainly, users will benefit from the informal training of a lunch and learn session.

Just what topics should you cover? In an attempt to bring users up to speed on Lion’s most helpful features, I recommend presenters spend ten minutes on each of the following five topics, thereby leaving about 10 minutes for a question and answer session:

  • Mail improvements – Lion’s new two-column display better enables email interaction and leverages Conversations, the collection of numerous related messages into the same thread.
  • Mission Control – Lion’s new alternative view enables users, leveraging a three-finger vertical swipe gesture, to instantly collect all open windows into a single view. Via brief demonstration, users can learn to use the three-finger gesture and understand the power it presents when trying to make sense of multiple open windows and apps.
  • Launchpad – Many users will be surprised to learn that Lion now presents the ability to open applications as they do on iPhones and iPads. Using a pinching motion with a thumb and three fingers on a trackpad opens Launchpad. Users only need to click on the application they wish to run. It’s much easier, and faster, than navigating Finder to locate needed applications.
  • Save A Version feature – Many users will notice that many common applications no longer save files using the Save option found on the traditional File menu. Instead, Save A Version will be the option that appears within many programs. Following changes, users can now select Revert To Saved from the File menu, thereby opening a Time Machine-like window that enables restoring a previous version of the file.
  • The App Store – Many scalable, creative and time-saving applications can be downloaded instantly and at reasonable costs from the App Store to help solve long-perplexing issues. Personally I’ve discovered the power of OmniGraffle (charting and diagramming software), Scrivener (authoring), Pages (word processing) and other applications due to their ease of access via the App Store. Any users intimidated by or still unfamiliar with the App Store’s ease and use should be presented a quick tutorial; the innovation marks the beginning of the end for traditional software sales.

Other features?

If you’ve spent time with Mac OS X Lion and believe a different set of features should be highlighted within a lunch-and-learn session, post your comments below.