Two predictions about the next version of Mac OS:
LaunchPad will replace the Desktop.
Apple’s clearly working to rethink how people interact with files and seems to be moving toward a more app-centered view of things. I think the default screen on a Mac will resemble the home screen on an iPad much more closely and it’ll introduce new ways to organize files. (One thing it’ll need is to come organized better than Lion’s default LaunchPad. Apple thinks really hard about what apps come on the default home screens for the iPhone but Lion just dumps everything on you in alphabetical order.)
The idea of the Desktop was supposed to be as metaphor for an actual desk. You have projects in front of you that you’re working on, and other stuff is neatly filed in folders. Most people’s Desktops (perhaps like their actual desks), though, are just messy piles of everything. I expect Apple to try to force everyone away from and toward perhaps an idea of how you already manage your music in iTunes and your photos in iPhoto. (I do worry how that’ll square with our actual work needs, where I have thousands of files.)
The Dock will go away, to be replaced by a new notification system.
The Dock does three main things: it lets you access your favorite apps, it tells you what apps are running, and it shows notifications of new emails and such with a little badge.
For novice users, LaunchPad can serve as a better application launcher. I think many people don’t get that the Dock has some of your apps but there are more in /Applications. Pro users already type ⌘-Space for Spotlight or use Quicksilver or LaunchBar to start applications. We’ll continue doing that and everyone else will start stuff via LaunchPad.
Lion’s ability to kill apps and have them resume means that, in time, you won’t need to care whether apps are running or not. The system will manage its memory and you don’t need the Dock to tell you what’s open and what’s closed. SSDs becoming more commonplace will mean that you won’t want to keep certain apps running just so you don’t have to wait for them to load. Ideally certain apps will be able to register processes to stay open in the background even if the rest of them get killed, such as mail fetching and chat availability. If iChat were killed by the system it’d be able to stay online and just relaunch if someone initiated a chat with you.
The Dock’s new mail badge is a handy one-glance place to see if you had unread messages, but it’s otherwise fairly uncommunicative. A new notification center like iOS 5’s can serve this function while standardizing much of what Growl already offers.