Friday, July 22, 2011

Is Mac OS X Lion (10.7) good - or very good?

The photograph shows how it is out there: hot, hot. I have grown tired of the heat.

This time I'm not writing about photography, but about operating systems. If you are not interested in IT or Macs, you may want to skip this.

I have been using the new version of Mac OS X 10.7, aka Lion, since Wednesday, installing it on a four-year old iMac. The minimum requirement to have is a Core 2 Duo processor which the iMac does have. The maximum for memory on the iMac is 4 GB, but I have installed 6 GB, which seems to work well with Lion, even though it is not officially supported.

The best source of information on Lion has been the detailed review written by John Siracusa at Ars Technica. It has 19 pages of well researched information. There you find a lot of helpful hints on how to actually use the new features, and what is under the hood, including the dirty little details about the filesystem etc.

The price of Lion in App Store is 24 euro, and you can install it on all Macs you own or control, which is a very good deal for a major OS upgrade. And even though I had some worries about installing an OS without having it on a physical media, things happened without any hiccups.

How this is done technically is discussed in detail by John Siracusa, and it was rather interesting, as also the fact that there is a hidden recovery partition on the disk after installing Lion. (And if one really needs to have the OS on a media, it will be available in August on USB sticks.)

Lion should be more robust in terms of recovering from errors, and also against malware. This is very good news. There are a lot of improvements, many of which are under the hood, but some also visible to the user. As an example, you can now use full-disk encryption, which is great for those traveling with laptops.

The Lion upgrade seems to do quite a lot of cleaning up on the disks, as the amount of free disk I have on the iMac increased from a bit over 80 GB to well over 100 GB. (I'm comparing the situation when the systems have been started up and one user is logged in.) So, even though some disk space was taken by the hidden recovery partition, it didn't matter in the end.

I suspect what happened is that the Lion upgrade managed to do a good house-cleaning exercise of the old system, which had been upgraded from 10.4 to 10.5 to 10.6, directly on top of the old OS. It is in fact quite surprising that there haven't been any problems on the iMac caused by the cumulative software updates; the safest way would have been making clean installations each time.

Well, lets get back to Lion.

The visual appearance of the OS has changed quite a lot, mostly towards a more subdued look. There are some glaring exceptions, such as the iCal and Address Book applications, both of which are on the ugly side.

In addition to the new look, there are a plenty of new things, many of which are borrowed and "macified" from iOS devices (iPhone and iPad). As an example, by default the scrolling direction (if you use a scroll mouse) has been reversed so that it follows the way how you use your finger on a touch screen. This requires two or three days of getting used to. (Or then you can return to the old way be deselecting an option in the Mouse preference pane.)

Some things are missing completely, such as ability to run PowerPC software in emulation (Rosetta). Also gone is the Front Row application used for watching movies etc. This was a bit of a negative surprise, as the children have liked it, but I suspect they learn soon to cope.

One of the biggest positive surprises has been the new version of Mail. After some initial confusion I have grown to like the new three-pane view, and there are nice touches everywhere. It is also fast, fast.

I have been using Microsoft Outlook (the Mac version) for a while, but now I think I'll return to Mail, as it seems to have evolved well past what Outlook can do. Some issues may crop up, but I think this is worth trying out.

I don't like the way iCal looks like in Lion. It seems too loaded with needless eye-candy, but I suspect I'll learn to live with it. I hope the Exchange compatibility has improved. (Mac version of Outlook isn't so great either.)

Speaking of mail, David Pogue wrote a nice item about it. His Lion review is also worth looking at, although it is nowhere as detailed as the Ars Technica one.

The general feeling of the system is that some things have evolved, some things have changed radically (usually for the better), and some things have taken a step back. (Nothing major so far.)

Apple seems to have a vision of how the OS should be like, borrowing heavily from the iPad and iPhone, but also allowing users to return to the old way, or just to not use the new features.

I suspect that whatever comes after Lion, things will evolve quite a lot. The iCloud service is probably a key direction Apple wants to explore next.

So, in summary: Lion does roar, despite the occasional cough here and there.


Anonymous said...

I have just restored SL and abandoned Lion as I could not stand the address book being a heavy user of the three pane functionality. It is really puzzling to see how they managed to make the already worse application in Mac even more abysmal. I found most “improvements” in Lion quite gimmicky and not real functionalities. Mission control and Launchpad are pure gimmicks, they don't really ass much. Some gestures you have to learn are ridiculous (try the one to get to your desktop - you will succeed 1/5 times and will be swearing by then). The only real improvement I found in mail - except the search which drove me crazy as it did not yield the same results as in SL...go figure.

In address book I would be looking to resolve at least these issues:

1- Revert to original 3 pane view
2- Restore the counter present for every folder to give number of entries in a given group (now you have to scroll to the bottom of the group to see it)
3- Restore the icon to distinguish entries between companies/persons
4- Offer the removal of alphabetical letter grouping as option
5- Changing that horrible leather skin for both address book and ical
6-Allow font selection to facilitate reading and page display and reduce waste of space
7-Option to display contacts in table view for quick bulk editing
8-Show which group or smart group each contact belongs to on the contact’s page
9-Facilitate the creation of a new contact from the same company without having to copy across most details such as website, address and tel
10-fix the list printing bug issue (see below)
11-more contrast please, everything is grey as one user puts it

really seems they have given over the app to develop to some kids that could not think of anything better than making a book view. The long awaited table view for quick editing is still missing. And no serious apps to compensate for this in the app store, address book is a real disaster with Lion

Apple has not even bothered to de-bug the previous version and replicated the same bug that has been around for over 2 years: if you want to print a set of contacts (company type) that belong to a group in list mode and you want to see the name of the person along with the company basic request!) you cannot do that. By selecting “Name” in the print dialog list, the “Introduced by” appears instead. This I have written to Apple about 2 years ago and told the “geniuses” countless times... Pathetic.

Juha Haataja said...

@Anonymous: This comment was marked as spam by Blogger, and I debated whether to publish it despite the angry tone. But here it is.

Indeed, there are parts of Lion which are either awkward or ugly. Of the latter the iCal and Address Book applications are good specimens.

LaunchPad seems to be a good idea implemented half-baked. The idea is to provide a space for application launching without the limitations of Dock, and it might work well if you only have a few dozen applications there. But when you have 100 or 200, it is a nightmare.

Worst of all, there is no way to edit the layout of applications except one at a time, which makes LaunchPad completely impossible for me.

On the other hand, I like Mission Control, it makes some things easier are more natural. I'm not using gestures to launch and navigate it - the iMac keyboard works well enough. The changes to Spaces, Expose and Dashboard implementations as rather natural, fitting all three into the same Mission Control framework. Not bad.

Juha Haataja said...

A small note: one thing is apparently improved quite a lot in Lion, namely reading files from a SD card through a usb reader.

Previously, the card reader was only marginally faster than connecting the LX3 to the iMac by an usb cable. Now, the card reader works much, much faster - so much faster that it isn't much sense to use the cable.

cantubury said...

lion is lazy and untamed. a high powered board and graphics and 6 gigs don't seem to satisfy it. maybe it is just extensions or non-apple downloads. i spoke with a computer science major at a private college today and his would not even start up. i tried it for a while but retroed back to snow leopard. i prefer the cooler weather in the machine. if its too hot you may want to download fmc fan control. who knows what mountain leopard will do; but it is meant mainly for all cloud services. apple should return the money of customers a i06 processor should run it.