Jul 11

Cuddling up with Lion

Pounding Apple for its perceived sins has become quite a sport. Antennagate, Final Cut Pro X, pick your favorite lapse.

But even with so many critics looking for another chance to pounce, Mac OS X Lion is getting a very warm reception — which is a pretty good indicator of what a solid product it is.

To prove just how misplaced my priorities can be, I completely ignored the work on my desk yesterday so I could download Lion and give it a good workout. I’ll share some reactions, trying not to duplicate the things you’re reading elsewhere:

The name. Since Apple unveiled Lion, some had pointed out that “Mac” was quietly being dropped from the name. It was simply going to be OS X Lion. Well … the big headline on the Mac App Store does in fact say OS X Lion. Likewise for all the Lion pages at apple.com. Ordinarily, I’d say that settles it — except for the fact that the installer greets you with a big, honkin’ Mac OS X Lion. And, post-installation, About This Mac does report that I am running Mac OS X. We must await clarification on this critical issue.

The come-on. The words below OS X Lion on the Mac App Store are: The world’s most advanced desktop operating system advances even further. Hmm. Am I having a deja vu?

The video. Following tradition, Apple delivers their tried-and-true product video on the Lion web page. Human highlights: Phil Schiller is clearly resisting those carbs. He’s looking good. Craig Federighi, who replaced former Apple software chief Bertrand Serlet, gets a starring role. In this formal scripted format, he’s not nearly as engaging as he is in an onstage demo. Loosen up, guys.

My life is upside down. For the most part, Lion is easy to pick up. It feels natural and fluid — except for the scrolling thing. Logically, Apple is correct — you should push upward to move the page up, and pull down to move the page down. It’s just that we’ve been working the other way for 20 years and that’s a tough habit to break. Not an issue though, because you can change the preference if you wish.

The incredible shrinking scroll bars. I get that we’re supposed to think less about scroll bars and more about gestures. Unfortunately, there are times when it’s a lot quicker to use a scroll bar, like when you want to quickly get to the bottom of a 200-page document and your app doesn’t support the Home and End keys. Lion’s scroll bars are microscopic, so you’ll have to aim carefully. Even worse, they don’t even become visible when you hover over them — you need to start scrolling via gesture before they show up. If I wanted to scroll via gesture, I wouldn’t be looking for a scroll bar.

The star field, MIA. With the introduction of Leopard, Apple fell in love with the now-overly-familiar star field image. It was the background for the log-in screen (unchangeable), the default desktop image, the Time Machine background, and a big part of the marketing imagery. Personally, I got sick of it after a few weeks. Plus, I never quite got the relationship between a leopard and a star field. But no matter, it’s finally gone now. Kind of. You’ll still see it on the Lion page at apple.com, and it lives on with Time Machine. But at least the log-in screen background has been upgraded. Now it’s a beautiful gray textured fabric, the same as the one that appears as background in Final Cut Pro X. Now if we can only talk someone into updating Time Machine…

The cuteness of iCal & Address Book. You can use many words to describe the design sense of OS X: Classy … elegant … timeless. Not “cutesy.” And certainly not “retro.” Personally, I’m puzzled by the new (or is that old) look of iCal and Address Book. They stick out like sore thumbs in an otherwise sleek and modern interface. If this is the way computing should be, why doesn’t the dictionary look like a frayed old Merriam-Webster? Why doesn’t iPhoto look like the old family scrapbook? My personal preference, likely shared by many, is a minimalist layout that presents the information clearly without visual distractions. May the gods deliver new skins soon.

Launcher. In the past, I’ve used an app-launching utility that works great for me, so I didn’t give a hoot about Launcher. Now that I’ve played with it, I’ve changed my mind. I’ll go with the flow on this one.

Mail. Better. Much better. Thanks. The addition of the configurable “folder bar” up top is a major boon.

The bigger the better — sometimes. I’m a big fan of full-screen apps, so I do love this feature, though it will be a while before non-Apple apps incorporate it. Only caveat: those with a bigger screen will want to use full-screen judiciously. Email isn’t so hot when every line of text is 15 inches wide. (Needless to say, full-screen is a huge winner on an 11-inch Air.)

Magic TrackPad, please. I’ve been fairly gesture-resistant so far, but Lion is putting me over the edge. I like the idea of gestures and the Magic Mouse offers too tiny a surface to gesture comfortably. I smell a visit to the Apple Store later today. Credit card on standby.

Overall conclusion. Apple made it clear that Mac OS X was going to be inheriting a lot of iOS goodness. In light of the Final Cut Pro X episode, that made me a little nervous. But with Lion, Apple is doing what it does best — pushing us in directions that may take some getting used to, but do represent a step forward. It can use a little tweaking and philosophical focusing, but it works beautifully. For 30 bucks, it’s a no-brainer.


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  • Riz

    “For 30 bucks, it’s a no-brainer.”

    Not when you have to upgrade the hardware!

    Apple does what it does best. New OS that makes you want to buy more hardware.

  • KT

    I was far more proud of ‘Apple introduces the world’s most advanced desktop operating system. Again.’

    Also aren’t more than 60% of sales laptops, now? They need a new tagline, spiffed up for the twenty-tweens.

  • ken segall

    Lion is compatible with any Mac made from 2006 on — so I’m not sure exactly what you mean.

    Excellent point. I missed that. I think referring to it as a “desktop” OS is a major faux pas.

  • Patrick

    You NEED a Magic Trackpad to fully enter into the Lion world. I got my developer pre-release of Lion several months ago, fired it up, and realized what was going on. The next day I went to the Apple Store and bought a Magic Trackpad.

    From that moment on my life has been full and complete.

  • KT

    Now that I think about it, we only ever called it the world’s most advanced operating system. No desktop in it. pre-iOS. Rolled off the tongue better. I see why the qualifier, but don’t think it’s necessary.

  • EM

    “It was the background for the log-in screen (unchangeable)”

    Nah, that was an easy fix. http://osxdaily.com/2010/01/25/change-the-mac-login-screen-background/

  • ken segall

    I am humbled! Never knew you could do that. Now I feel like a fool for having stared at that damn image all these years. (Not sure how many people would even mess with the “easy” method, but it’s good to know you can if you want to.)

  • ken segall

    My life may not be quite as full and complete as yours, but at least now I’m the proud owner of a Magic Trackpad. Looking forward to tonight’s workout.

  • Riz

    On hardware upgrade requirement:
    In order to fully utilise the gesture driven UI of Lion (and the UI is THE main change in this release) you need a Macbook which is 2 years old (at most), which has a large track pad. Using a magic pad with a laptop is not really a viable solution.

    If I had been a writer the versioning and autosaving functions (local Time Machine) are so great that I would upgrade to Lion immediately. Then I will realise that my small track pad is really not working as expected and I will be inclined to buy a new Macbook. THAT is what I meant.

    On login screen image change:
    OS X is Linux (FreeBSD). You can change EVERYTING if you know how.

  • ken segall

    I think there’s a big difference between introducing improvements that give you the option to do new things and improvements that force you to invest in major new hardware. Windows Vista was a great example of the latter. Tons of computers over two years old had major issues upgrading, requiring more memory and bigger hard drives.

    Lion gives you the option to use gestures, which are a great improvement — but you’re not required to use gestures. You can continue to use your Mac as you always did, with mouse or built-in trackpad, and enjoy all the other benefits of Lion. Plus, a trackpad is a pretty small investment.

  • Riz

    Ken, I was not ditching Apple for what they are doing. They are hardware manufacturer after all. That’s what they need to do and they do it most elegantly — as you have explained.

    Whereas, as elegant and Microsoft do not match, Vista was a case of how not to do it.