Fifty-Fifty Split: A Review of OS X Lion

21Jul11

I am, as is readily apparent to anyone who reads this blog essentially at all, a die-hard Apple fan. This post is written on a Mac Pro. The last post was written on an iPad. Sitting somewhere in a messenger bag is a Macbook Pro – and my first computer was a Macintosh LC.

So when Apple releases a new OS, I’m excited. Lion was no different, though I viewed it with some trepidation. I’m not a huge fan of the idea of merging mobile devices and computers, and blurring the lines between them. My computer is a computer, my iPad is an iPad. So as previews came out for Lion, with more and more features lifted from iOS, I was a bit skittish to say the least. But I took the leap, and am glad I did.

The narrative that seems to be forming around Lion is one of power-users versus casual users. There are few people who would find all the new features of Lion useful, but there’s something for everyone. In my experience at least, this is true, though I’ve been surprised at what I’ve liked, and what I haven’t. A quick, Day 1 rundown:

  • Launchpad: This was one of the “casual” user interface improvements, lifted directly from iOS, that I was hugely skeptical about. And…I’m going to go ahead and say I love it. It’s probably more useful than putting the Applications folder on my Dock, and has allowed me to slim my Dock considerably, tossing the “I use it a fair amount, but not everyday” applications – they’re now just a quick away.
  • Mission Control: This was one of the features most people have been saying is angled at the power user demographic, where I’m pretty sure I belong. But they said the same thing about Expose and Spaces, and I used…neither. Mission Control might be a little more useful, as it combines the two, and actually offers a set paradigm to use them in, rather than the pick-n-mix, “what works for you?” style of previous incarnations of iOS. But that remains to be seen – I use two monitors, so generally, I’ve yet to run out of application space. I can see it being handy on a laptop however.
  • The new interface, generally: It’s…very grey. The interface itself feels snappier however, which is pleasant. Felt like a new computer. The ability to resize windows from anywhere is nice. The slightly smaller “stoplight” buttons on the upper-left corner of windows are irksome, even if the clickable surface isn’t much smaller.
  • Vanishing scrollbars: I hate them. Turned them back to “Always Show” almost immediately.
  • Versions: Haven’t got a chance to try this out yet, but I’m excited. The new system that lets applications remember where you were and automatically open documents is a little disconcerting the first few times that it happens, but pretty handy.
  • Multitouch: I use a mouse, so I can’t really tell you anything about this.
  • Full – Screen mode: This one I was looking forward to, and I was wrong. On an iPad, the full-screen, one-app paradigm has resulted in me having some spectacularly productive writing sessions. On a 23-inch high definition display, it’s just disorienting and feels like overkill. I can’t even imagine what it would feel like on a larger 27 or 30 inch display. The world still just isn’t formatted so you need that much horizontal space. It also utterly negates the utility of a 2nd display.
  • Mail: The new version of Mail is amazing. I’ve always liked Mail, to be honest, so I’m not the best judge, but it’s a pretty considerable improvement. It feels snappier, the three-column layout is nice, and it borrowed just the right parts from iOS Mail.
  • iCal: The new iCal is ugly as sin, and the whole “It’s like a desktop calendar!” is pointless. I don’t need the Microsoft Bob, “Your computer boiled down to things on your desk” metaphor style interface in 2011.
  • System-wide autocorrection of spelling – really pleasant.
  • And the feature I expect I will get a ton of use out of, that I didn’t even know was in there: New settings for Terminal. Not only can you set the windows to be quasi-transparent, as you used to be able to, but you can also blur what’s behind them, to let you focus a bit better on the Terminal window but still see what’s behind you.

So there you have it. Was it worth $29 and a pretty painless App Store download? Absolutely.

Should you upgrade? Yes.

Unless you use Quicken. Then for god’s sake, don’t upgrade until you find an alternative and export your data.

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2 Responses to “Fifty-Fifty Split: A Review of OS X Lion”

  1. 1 D.Roe

    Thanks for writing this, I’m a mac pro user too, trying to determine whether to upgrade. In the future, you might consider not using the words “snappier” or “paradigm” in an OSX article unless you’re being ironic 🙂

    • Yeah – to be honest, I can’t come up with a better word than “snappy”. It doesn’t feel faster overall, or leaner, the way Snow Leopard does. But it does feel like to click UI elements and it just…goes.


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