By Karen Axelton

I’m one of a limited group—small business Mac users. While Macs are popular for some business uses, such as graphic designers, they aren’t widely used by small business—but that might be about to change with the recent announcements by Apple of major upgrades to its desktop, laptop and mobile operating systems as well as its cloud storage option. Here’s a closer look:

Mac OS X (Lion): The new operating system for Apple’s desktops and laptops has more than 250 new features that will make saving, storing and retrieving data even easier than they already are on the Mac. The system will save what you’re working on automatically without you having to do anything. You can view prior “Versions” of your work so you never lose anything. (This is a great feature for teams where multiple users touch the same document or file.)

Also great for business use, the AirDrop feature lets you share documents with others wirelessly by dragging and dropping files. You don’t have to set up a wireless network.  Do you deal with lots of clients, customers and colleagues and have trouble sorting through huge email chains? Then you’ll dig the streamlined Mail application, which displays conversations together so you don’t have to scroll endlessly through emails.

This isn’t especially business-relevant, but if you use a mobile device like a tablet or iPhone and love touchscreens, you’ll like the “gesture” features of Lion. Using the trackpad or your Magic Mouse, you can tap, pinch and drag items on your screen similar to the way you would on a touchpad, so clicking and mouse-scrolling can become things of the past.

But even more game-changing than Lion is iCloud, Apple’s new storage option. Apple’s current cloud storage solution, MobileMe, isn’t exactly a hit (when Steve Jobs mentioned it while announcing iCloud in a speech, the crowd laughed). As a MobileMe user, I find the system unwieldy. It requires you to actively save every file, document, etc. to the cloud. Forget to do so, and you might find yourself without that key PowerPoint while you’re on the road.

iCloud offers true cloud capability in that it maintains constantly updated versions of everything you’re working on and lets you access it from all your devices, anytime, anywhere. Say you’re working on a PowerPoint in the office, then you head out for lunch. While waiting for the person you’re lunching with, you’ve got some spare time. Whip out your iPad, and you can pull up that PowerPoint exactly as you left it at the office so you don’t waste a minute.

Because information is updated in the cloud, there’s no need for connecting devices to your computer or syncing. One of the big pains of modern life has thus been eliminated.

And for entrepreneurs who use Apple’s mobile devices, the new iOS5 operating system will bring more than 200 new features including better Twitter integration, less intrusive notifications and the ability to update your device wirelessly without the use of a desktop or laptop. It’s a big step toward truly mobile computing.

OS Lion will be available in July for $29.99 and sold only from the Mac App Store. iCloud and iOS5 will be available in the fall—no specific date has been announced.

Image Courtesy Karen Axelton