Feb 12, 2012

Thoughts on Lion

I UPGRADED to Mac OS X Lion, the latest and greatest version of Mac OS X, tonight. While the update was cheap ($30) and easy (click and run), it was also slow. Roughly speaking it must have taken at least a couple of hours to finish up. At the end of that, though, I found all my files and settings transferred seamlessly into the new OS.

The first question on my mind was whether Lion would slow down my system, given that I have a basic 2009 MacBook. The answer is no; it performs just as well as Snow Leopard in my perception.

On first boot there’s a change right from the start: the login screen is now a single page, not a window, of users and basic system info like battery status, time and Wi-Fi status. And on login the desktop is kind of sent hurtling forward towards you–it seems like Apple has grown fond of the kind of page-transition animations that started out on iOS.

Some of the biggest new features you see right after logging in are Mission Control and Launchpad. Mission Control (shortcut key Ctrl-UpArrow) is basically a new version of Exposé; and Launchpad is like the iOS app launcher–all your applications arranged in grids of icons, ready to be launched with a click. I like the former; but I don’t really intend to use the latter much because my most frequently-used apps are on the Dashboard, or I just launch them with Spotlight.

There are numerous new features scattered throughout the system; for a complete list see Apple’s page. I want to touch on a few of the UI changes.

The first is the look of basic UI elements like buttons, drop-down lists, checkboxes, etc. These are all now rounded rectangles instead of bubble-shaped. That’s definitely a break from the OS X Aqua design that was introduced ten years ago.

The second is the new overlay scroll bars that disappear when you’re not actually scrolling, thus giving you back some screen real estate. This is definitely influenced by iOS–designers had to figure out new space-saving tricks on mobile form factors and these tricks are now showing up on more traditional desktops. However, the new scroll bars aren’t actually enabled by default. In the System Preferences, General page, the ’Show scroll bars:’ option is originally set to ‘Automatically based on input device’, which basically means, ‘depends’. To enable the overlay scroll bars, choose the ‘When scrolling’ option here.

Also, another surprising (and slightly annoying) change is when scrolling with a wheel mouse, the traditional wheel down movement actually scrolls stuff up and the wheel up movement scrolls stuff down. To fix this, uncheck the ‘Move content in the direction of finger movement when scrolling or navigating’ option in the ‘Mouse’ page.

There are a couple of big changes in apps I use frequently. Mail has been redesigned to show all messages in the same conversation on a single page, like Gmail. For this I’m grateful. However, the ordering of the messages in the conversation view is most recent first–for me, that’s upside-down. This can be fixed in Mail Preferences, the Viewing page, in the ‘View conversations:’ section, by unchecking the ‘Show most recent message at the top’ option.

Another change is that the Address Book app has been redesigned to look like an actual open book with a list of contacts on the left and a detailed view of the contact on the right. I liked the old, normal Cocoa UI; to me the new design looks a bit cartoonish, and amateurish. The functionality is still the same, though. One thing I’ve always found puzzling that would be nice to get off my chest: all the operations on a card (a contact) are in the ‘Card’ menu, except for ‘Delete Card’, which is in the ‘Edit’ menu. Baffling.

Another couple of interesting (to me :-) tidbits: Lion has FaceTime calling built-in, and Google Chrome now takes advantage of Lion’s new support for full-screen mode instead of baking in its own.

So bottom line: Lion continues the evolution of Mac OS into something more iOS-like, but mostly familiar and comfortable for OS X users. Plus, it’s much easier to say ‘Lion’ than ‘Snow Leopard’, so that’s a win right there. :-)

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