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Lion’s “Over 250 new features”…Meh.

July 13, 2011

Picture credited to macgazette.netI have been using the OS X 10.7 Lion for a while now and have conjured up a few thoughts. It is no secret that I am a fan of Mac OS X and iOS. Both of these operating systems have amazing features that work incredibly well for their respective systems. What apple is doing with Lion is bringing some of the features that people have grown to love in iOS into OS X, as Jobs and Co. discussed during the ‘Back to the Mac’ event last October. The problem with bringing iOS features into the Mac realm is that these items were not made for a desktop/laptop environment and don’t seem to fit. There are, of course, other features and updates in Lion and I will discuss some of them later in this post. 

 

Multi-Touch Gestures

If you go to apple.com/macosx you can see what’s new with OS X Lion as a general overview, or click the link to view all the new features of OS X. One of the biggest features touted with OS X is Multi-Touch Gestures. Apple revolutionized the mobile industry in 2007 when they introduced the iPhone. The phone was a large touch-screen device where you needed to interact not with buttons but with your fingers. You swipe your finger to unlock the screen, flick to scroll down a webpage and tap or double tap to your heart’s content. Apple has been using some gestures on their laptops with the Magic Trackpad, now the stand-alone accessory, and to a lesser extent on the Magic Mouse. 

The multi-touch works well for two finger scrolling on the trackpad or swiping to go Back in a web browser, but Apple now wants you to launch things like Mission Control and swipe between multiple open apps. The problem with this is it is clumsy and you have to learn all these different gestures. A user must remember if it is two or three fingers and whether to swipe up or down or to the side. To change the way we have done things for so long, that include moving the mouse to where we want and clicking a button, is a monumental move. 

Also included in the Gestures section of Lion is scroll bars and scrolling. In Lion, the default for scrolling on a page is the opposite of what you are used to. On a touch screen device you put your finger on the screen and drag it up if you want to go down the page. On a computer you drag the scroll bar down, press the down button on the scroll bar, use the mouse ball/wheel to roll your finger down or use the trackpad to swipe your fingers down. Apple wants to confuse the crap out of you and make you think your motor skills are failing you. Lion tries to help you with this by making you read about the crazy scrolling during the setup assistant after installing Lion, but it does not adequately prepare you for the first time you try and scroll down a webpage. 

The problem with the scroll bars is they don’t appear. Only when you try and use gestures to scroll (in the opposite direction you meant to) do you see a thin darkened area resembling a scroll bar. The option to change the settings and make the scroll bars always show is available in System Preferences, but the confusion has already set it.

 

Full Screen Apps

Why? When using apps on an iPhone or iPad you want a full screen experience because the screens are smaller. You just don’t have the room for multiple things to be displayed. With laptops and desktops with 13″ to 10,000″ displays you can and want to see multiple applications or windows. In Lion, Apple wants you to use apps in full screen and then use those pesky gestures to swipe from one to another. Sometimes this may make sense as with iPhoto. You can see more of your iPhoto events at a time and scroll through the photos in full screen mode and it will look fantastic. But why would I want a full windscreen display of Safari? Most webpages are only so wide and then you are left with blank background color on both sides of the content. Think of this like a letter box movie on its side. So, not only do I get a lot of blank area but I can’t easily see my iChat window where I am having a conversation with my father-in-law about printer issues. Now I have to close out of full screen or swipe however many times until I find my iChat window, which does not work in full screen. 

 

Mission Control

Mission control is an evolutionary step of two Apple features called Exposé and Spaces. Mission Control allows you to see all your open windows and lets you group them together to try and make things easy to find. You can put your open productivity application windows together and separate them from your open webpages. Then you can further isolate them by dragging them to the top and creating Spaces. It is hard to explain with text but even harder to see many people using it. 

 

Mac App Store

It’s great, revolutionary, super easy, Bla, Bla, Bla. The Mac App Store in Lion is the same as what you will find in OS X Snow Leopard. It is an easy to use depository of applications that offers a way to purchase and update using your Apple ID. New with Lion is the ability for developers to give people delta updates, or rather smaller updates that just give you the new changes instead of re-downloading the entire application again. This is nice for large applications and for people with lower internet speeds. 

 

Launchpad

Launchpad is another one of those ideas from iOS that was brought to the Mac with Lion. The premise behind Launchpad is that it gives you an iOS-style layout of your applications. As with iOS, you can drag them around and make folders with them and move them to different screens. The problem is there is no need for this. Apple already has what they call Stacks for the Dock. A shortcut to the Applications folder is in the dock by default and when clicked it shows you all your applications. There has never been a shortage of ways to get to your applications, why add another?

 

Auto Save and Versions

Auto Save and Versions have potential in OS X Lion. I have used them a little bit and have a few comments. First, applications that have been updated for Lion will save your documents automatically for you. If you create a new document and close the program without saving, it will be there for you when you re-open the program. This sounds nice but can quickly become annoying. I have been in the habit for so long to hit Command+S to save and Command+Q to quit that when I open another document from the finder, I am first greeted by the previous document I edited. To fix this you must first close the window of the document you are working on then quit the program. 

Second, Versions is a welcome advancement. You can easily click to see previous versions of the document that were Auto Saved and compare or switch back to if needed. If you were making adjustments to a document and realized that you accidentally deleted a paragraph in the process you can open the Versions and get back what you need. 

 

Everything else

After using Lion exclusively for a few days I was scrolling through the list of the more than 250 features of Lion and trying to figure out what I am actually using. 

Address Book and iCal – Why make them look like an ugly leather bound book? Books and paper are outdated so why would we want to simulate them? Apple talked a couple years ago about making a consistent user interface with all windows when people complained about iTunes retaining the brushed metal window compared to the rest of the OS, so why do this?

AirDrop – AirDrop promises to make file sharing between Macs easier through peer-to-peer wi-fi. With the use of programs like DropBox and the upcoming iCloud service from Apple, will we need this? Also, it is for Mac only so it doesn’t help with the need to share files with Windows PCs.

Electronic Distribution – Lion will only be sold with new Macs and through the Mac App Store with Snow Leopard. 

FaceTime – Apple, please stop creating new chat clients. We have iChat that does text and video using Apple services, AIM, Yahoo, Gtalk and more on any platform. We have FaceTime that does video calling only on Macs and iOS devices and we now have iMessage for chatting only on iOS devices. Come on!

FileVault 2 – A huge upgrade from the previous version which allows for full disk encryption to keep your stuff safe from prying eyes in the event your computer is lost or stolen. FV2 also includes remote wiping of the hard drive like on iOS devices.  

All My Files – WTF?!? This is the dumbest thing I have found in Lion. This is a folder that you see in the Finder sidebar that allows you to “Instantly view all the files on your Mac in a single window.” It groups them by type and then by date but not by name and try finding the paper you wrote a few months ago with it. I turned this off immediately. 

Mail – Some welcome changes include 3-pane layout and conversation view to easily hide or view long message strings. 

Networking – Apple had to create a new SMB service for sharing files with Windows. It works better than the previous open-source version they were using and now will automatically find other machines in my network and display them on the Finder’s sidebar. 

Resume – I really like this. When you start or restart the computer, you have the ability to have things opened just as they were before you shutdown. All the applications will re-open to their pre-shutdown state. 

Time Machine – Time Machine, introduced with OS X Leopard, is an easy set-it-and-forget-it backup solution and has a few enhancements for laptop users that allow temporary backups on the computer when you are away from your backup drive. Then, when the backup drive is reconnected, those changes kept on the laptop will sync to the backup drive. 

Other – There are many under the hood updates in Lion that keep this Unix-based OS best in class that the user will never see. 

 

To Upgrade or Not?

Yes, but not right now. As I have been using the Gold Master of Lion, I have had issues with many third party applications because they have not been updated with Lion support yet. In a few days, weeks and months, developers will put out updates and when most of the programs you use are updated, go ahead and upgrade to Lion. 

The reasons to upgrade include continued updates, iCloud and the low price. With Lion being released, the only updates for previous versions will be critical security fixes. Lion will go forward and may get features and other updates. When iCloud is released this fall, it will only work with Lion for Mac and not previous versions. iCloud promises to help with document syncing between computers and iOS devices, among other features, and the price of just 29.99 is easy to afford for the latest OS.

 

Conclusion

Lion is truly evolutionary and has nothing revolutionary in it. Some of the main features Apple touts for Lion including LaunchPad, Gestures and All My Files were immediately turned off or ignored on my system. It seems that once you get so far with the Operating System there is not much left to do. The desktop OS business is matured and only needs minor changes while the mobile OS market is booming. But that does not mean those features have any business in the desktop world. 

 

 

 

 

 

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