Today marks the release day of OS X Lion for the Mac and I’ve had the opportunity to try it out over the last few weeks. Gizmodo published a very early negative review, calling it “If it weren’t for the fast, rock-solid Unix, graphics and networking cores, Lion would be Apple’s very own Vista.” Which I personally think their review, wasn’t well thought out and they didn’t do their research on a few things. Having been a mac user for almost a decade now (has it really been that long), I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts about the main features and a few of the not so obvious ones.
This is Apple’s new combination of what used to be Spaces/Expose that was introduced in Mac OS X Leopard. Some power users have been complaining about the change and Gizmodo called it a “cluster$@*$”. I personally don’t see it that way, but I only used spaces briefly when Leopard first came out. While I liked the idea behind spaces, I kind of found it cumbersome managing multiple desktops and remembering what I had where. In the bit of time I’ve used Mission Control, I feel that it is an implementation that might work better for your typical user. Only time will tell, but I also imagine someone will find a way to bring back the old way for those that miss it. The idea behind mission control, is that you start it with a simple mouse,trackpad, or keyboard gesture, and you are presented with all your open apps and desktops. You just click on whatever you’d like to switch to and it takes you there. I’ve found it to be a good experience for my workflow, especially when switching back and forth between multiple documents, full screen apps, and desktops. I can see myself using this a lot more than I ever did with Spaces/Expose. I don’t think the previous method ever caught on with your average user and that was why Apple decided to try this implementation. It will make some users mad for sure, but I think this is a good move to get the idea of multiple desktops, windows, etc to catch on with the general consumer and it works great on a notebook with limited screen real estate.
Launchpad is a new launcher for your Apps installed on your computer. It resembles that of iOS on the iDevices by presenting them in a grid format on the screen and you can organize them in folders the same way of dragging one icon on top of the other. I think is is great for someone who has liked the experience on the iPhone and are trying a Mac for the first time. I also think I will like this feature, once I make myself accustomed to going to Launchpad rather than the applications folder and I don’t mind trying this switch. However, you aren’t forced to use it. Many people, like myself put an applications stack on the dock as an application launcher or even just use spotlight. Both of those methods still work just fine, so it is completely user optional to use the new launcher. I do feel Gizmodo got one thing wrong with their review on this. At least, with notebooks, which is the area Apple is selling the most. They said:
“Launchpad is supposedly the way to access all your apps, but who wants to click once on the dock’s Launchpad icon, launch that interface, and then select your app when you can just open the app from the Finder itself? It’s an extra click (or two or three). It’s added complexity; it’s superfluous.”
The part that they got wrong was that on a touchpad, you do not need to click. All you need to do is make a pinching motion with your fingers on the touchpad and launchpad opens right up, no matter where you are, no click on the dock required. The finder method they mention certainly is faster, but in my mind, more confusing to the average end user. However, that method still works for those that want to still launch an app that way. Launchpad is not forced in any way other than the icon on the dock being present.
Full Screen Apps/Mail.app
One of the new features of Lion is Full Screen Apps. Now Windows users are probably thinking, “I’ve been able to click maximize and have an app full screen since the beginning”. While that is true, this is a little bit different. In apps the support full screen mode they have a two way arrow in the upper right hand corner. You click on the arrows, the screen moves to full screen, and opens up in its own space. The menu bar disappears, but can still be accessed by moving the cursor in top portion of the screen, but the idea is that you won’t need it. If an app uses full screen properly, all your tools will be available there and it resembles much more like an iPad app. The Apple mail client is a good example. It looks very much like the iPad app. You start a new message and the message pops up front and center. You can focus on just that without the other distractions from the dock or open windows, but you can still jump back with Mission Control if you say want grab a link from a web page to paste into your message. I think once more developers use this in their apps, some great app desktop experiences can be made. Only time will tell if that happens, but at least all of the Apple apps will most likely support it at some point.
Another nice addition is threaded mail. This is more of a catchup feature as gmail and some of the other web based systems have had this for a long time, but it’s great to finally have it in my client of choice.
The last feature that I’m really liking of mail is being able to specify multiple search criteria. Now you can type in multiple keywords when your looking for that one message that you can’t seem to find.
The upgrades to mail alone are worth it to me for the upgrade price, but everything can be turned up and switched back to the old look. It is again something that you don’t have to use.
My only gripe with full screen apps is when you sue them with dual monitors, the app goes full screen to the default monitor and leaves the secondary display as the grey checkerboard pattern with no way to use it. Hopefully that is something Apple addresses in a future update.
This to me is one of the coolest features in Lion for sharing files between computers on the same network. Basically you and the person you want to share with click on the airdrop icon in the finder. You’ll see an icon for your computer in the bottom and an icon for their computer at the top. Simply drag a file onto their icon, accept that you want to send it, and then they accept on their end to receive the file. No more needing ip address, setting up shares, etc between computers. It just works like it should. This really is file sharing for everyone.
Lion has some new trackpad gestures that help navigate the desktop and take advantage of some of these new features. This is great on their notebooks, but on the desktop the best way to take full advantage of this is with the Magic Trackpad. However, you can use the Magic Mouse for some of these gestures as well. Once you pick up on these it really makes the Lion experience shine, but I think this will be one of the highest learning curves for the average consumer.
The Small Things
Apple lists over 250+ new features in Lion, but these have been some of the major ones.
Here are just a few of the small ones:
Double-tap with three fingers to select a word or phrase in any OS X application and look it up. OS X gathers information from the built-in dictionary and thesaurus, and goes to the web to bring back related Wikipedia entries. Results are displayed inline under the selected word.
Full Screen Terminal
Take your Terminal window full screen and give yourself more room to enter and view command lines.
Improved Auto Correction
Auto-correction in Lion displays suggested spellings below the word. Press Return to accept the change or click the X to keep the current spelling.
Online Account Preference Pane
The new Mail, Contacts, and Calendars pane in System Preferences gives you a central location to set up and manage all your accounts, including Microsoft Exchange, Gmail, Yahoo!, and AOL.
Those are just a few that I happen to like.
Now, the final questions would be: “Should I buy it?” Obviously, for me, I like a lot of the new features in Lion. The important thing to remember though is most of these things can be turned off or you don’t have the use them. I can only find two exceptions. One, is Launchpad. If you’re a heavy spaces/expose user then you’ll probably hate the upgrade and hopefully a developer somewhere will fill that gap for those users. The second, is the dropping of support for Power PC Apps. Most newer Mac users won’t have this problem, but if you are still clinging to that app that worked on your G4 processor, it won’t work in Lion and it might finally be time to find an intel alternative.
For the majority, I’d say yes. I haven’t found any major show stopping bugs in my testing, but it is always good to wait for the first .1 update which usually takes care of anything major and by that time hopefully any incompatible apps will have been updated. However, anyone with the itch to be on the cutting edge, I’ve found it to be a stable and good experience. I don’t think this will be Apple’s Vista. I’m using it on my home and work computers and am loving it. Really, for $30, which includes a license to install it on any of your computers, I don’t see a compelling reason not to upgrade as it is practically being given away and you’ll be up to date for any future software that might only work on Lion.