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.