It was certainly a long time in coming. It was hyped to no end by Apple, who heralded it as a rethinking of the operating system. It takes the way we think about interacting with our machines and turns it inside out.Many have called it the death of the traditional computer. Most people just call it OS X Lion.
Lion was first announced to the world at WWDC in 2011. With it came the announcement of iCloud, Apple’s new cloud storage initiative, and iOS 5. While those two things won’t be available to the public until this fall, Lion launched on July 20. I upgraded that very day, and have spent the week exploring the newest version of Mac OS X.
With a piece of software this big, its hard to decide where to start a review. While the major pieces of the OS haven’t changed that much, Lion does introduce a number of new features. I am going to try and keep this review to something user friendly, avoiding most of the technical upgrades and changes. I will try to hit all of the features I think are real game changers.
The features I will be covering are:
- The User Interface
- Full Screen Apps
- Multi-Touch Gestures
- Mission Control
- Auto-Save and Versions
- Others, including Air Drop and Mail
- (The Lack of) Rosetta
User Interface: Covered in Linen
As far as the general interface goes in Lion, the major change is the addition of the new linen texture. It seems as though some interface designer fell in love with this odd little piece of graphic, and pasted it everywhere. Its on the log-on screen, in Mission Control (we’ll get to that later), and in Launchpad (there as well). To be honest, I don’t find it that appalling, but I have seen others complain.
Beyond the new linen texture, I haven’t discovered many more changes to the UI with Lion. Before you start screaming at me about full screen apps, thats another section of the review.
Lion is often touted as bringing a number of features that make it more like Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS. This is a truthful statement, and one that Apple is proud to claim. When they announced Lion, they claimed that their ultimate goal was to change the way we think about our computers. They are attempting to blue the line between the mobile device and the traditional computer.
Full Screen Apps: Mobile Style Desktops
Some of Apple’s moves towards a more unified user experience have fallen flat for me, while others have been huge successes. Full screen apps are easily one of my favorite changes in OS X Lion. While that may seem strange at first, it is easy to understand when you look at how well they integrate with both the OS and the new features.
To put an application into full screen mode, you simply click the small button located in the upper right corner of the window. To get back out of fullscreen again, place your mouse at the top of the window until a bar appears. Find the same icon, and click it again. That little addition has changed the way I use my Mac.
Now that full screen apps are part of my everyday workflow, I have trouble adjusting to them not being available everywhere. I use a Windows-based workstation at my day job, and I find myself wishing I could take my email full screen like I can on my MacBook Pro. I think part of my attraction comes from my love of mobile platforms, specifically the iPad.
Multi-Touch Gestures: Changing User Interaction
As wonderful as I think the full screen apps in Lion are, they would be useless to me if it wasn’t for the Multitouch Gestures. While I have to admit that the “natural scrolling” was strange at first, I am now completely sold on it and the other gestures. My use of full screen apps has led me to use the four finger swipe all the time, and it is starting to feel very natural. I also enjoy the ability to launch other apps using it, like Mission Control or Launchpad.
My issue with these multitouch gestures are that they, like the full screen mode, have not been as well integrated into some of my apps as they have in others. For instance, Google Chrome is still having some issues getting the back and forward gestures right. They work perfectly in Safari, but that is not my browser of choice. This isn’t an issue with Lion, however.
Launchpad: iOS Style App Sorting
When you look at the smart phone market, its obvious that the organization of applications stems from a central source. While I don’t know if they were the first, Apple’s iOS is certainly the most easily recognized. With the update to iOS 4, they changed the way we organize our apps on our devices. Their folders system is still one of the best in mobile, and they have brought that entire experience to the Mac.
Launchpad is the name that Apple has given to their new app organization system. While you can get to it from the dock icon, I find it easier to do a five finger pinch on my trackpad. I have started to try and use Launchpad to get to my apps, but old habits are hard to break.
I fell in love with both the app stack and an app called Alfred. Both of those have become my natural response to trying to find an app I don’t keep on my dock. However, I am really attracted to the idea of better organizing my apps using iOS style folders. I am going to finish organizing them and see if I use it more.
Misson Control: See All Your Apps
One of the biggest user experience changes that Apple has made with Lion is that Apps don’t really close unless you tell them to do so. While that was partially the case with Snow Leopard to an extent, its much more obvious in Lion. Of course, this means that you will be running a larger amount of windows than you previously did. When you combine that with full screen apps, you could easily get confused about whats running and where it is.
Apple thought about these issues, and their response is Mission Control. While I think the obvious space theme is getting a little stale, Mission Control is a view I am using all the time. If you are a previous Mac OS X user, then you will see quickly that Mission Control is a mixture of Spaces and Expose. If those names don’t mean anything to you, I will help you figure out what Mission Control is and why you should make use of it.
Mission Control gives you a one screen view of what is running on your Mac. It will show you all your desktops, your apps (both full screen and not), and even your Dashboard widgets. It allows you to switch to any application open on your current desktop, to another desktop, or even to the Dashboard. It also has a great multitouch gesture (four finger scroll) for easy access.
I find that Mission Control gives me the best app management I have ever experienced on a computer. Since I run so many apps at a time, its easier to pull up MC and find what I want then it is to dig through windows, or even dock icons. However, if you aren’t running more than just a web browser, you may not feel the need to use Mission Control. I still feel like its worth checking out.
The next major set of changes in OS X Lion comes from a desire to make the whole experience of using Mac OS X more user friendly. Apple says they were looking to make people forget about the grunge working on a computer. They are looking to make that experience more like what you get when you use an iPad or iPhone. While the understand that some users want power features, they claim that the vast majority do not.
Auto-Save and Versions: Keeping Your Work Intact
We have all had that experience while working that we dread. We were typing away, putting some of our best thoughts into words, and then the power on our computer shuts off. You panic, wondering when you last saved that document. I know I have experienced it while writing posts for various blogs. It seems that Apple thinks that kind of panic is silly, and they have found a way to prevent it form happening.
With Lion, Apple has shipped a feature called Auto Save. In case you couldn’t figure it out, Auto Save automatically saves a document or file while you are working on it. You no longer have to think about saving, or if you are like me, have to hit Command-S every 45 seconds. Its a real load off my fingers, let me tell you.
The next document centered feature that Apple has introduced is another favorite of mine. As a writer, I find that I often go through several versions of a longer article before I get to the one I post. Now, the best version of an article isn’t always the most recent one, and that can be a pain. I hate having to save 30 copies just to use one. Apple has heard my cried (and maybe yours) and has given us Versions.
Versions is reminiscent of Time Machine, only for individual documents. What I mean by that is that you get to keep a whole lot of revisions of a document, all within a simple interface. This is great news, especially since it comes with a keyboard shortcut (I love those.) If you hit Command-S in a Versions compatible app, you will create a new Version in the set. It’s magical.
Resume: It Keeps Your Place
The next feature is one that I have mixed feelings about. On one hand, I love that when I shut my Mac down in between classes, it sets a save state. One the other hand, I don’t want to be looking at the same webpage or set of Apps when I open it at 4 in the morning to check the weather. I’m talking about Resume, and it’s still pretty nice.
Resume is designed to, as I mentioned, create a save state for all your apps when you shut down or restart your Mac. The potential for this being amazing it there. I hate having to restart my Mac when a new patch comes out for some essential OS piece. Then again, sometimes I just want to dump everything from memory and start up fresh. I have mixed feelings about this feature, but it still has its uses.
The Rest: Changes Worth Having
As far as I am concerned, the rest of the “major” changes in OS X Lion are not as important as the ones I have talked about in detail. Not that they aren’t useful or welcome, I just don’t see them effecting my workflow like the other changes. I’m still going to mention them for the sake of due diligence, however.
Air Drop is an interesting feature. What it allows users to do is to share files between Macs, given that said Macs are in a certain range of each other. While this sounds amazing at first, it has its draw backs. Personally, I am the only Mac users I really know personally, and thus haven’t had the ability really try out Air Drop. I think Apple (or some budding developer) would be smart to open this feature up to more platforms, like Windows and Linux. This would greatly increase the usefulness of it.
Another issue with Air Drop is that not every Mac can actually use it. It requires a wireless card from a certain set, not just a Mac running Lion. That seems a little shady, Apple.
Mail, Apple’s standard Mac email client, was given a rather significant upgrade with Lion. in my opinion, it is far more useful now than it was in the past. It give you the ability to see messages in conversation view, it handles multiple folders better, and it is more compatible with outside mail sources. I also love putting it in full screen mode. Unfortunately, I am still not completely satisfied with Mail. My hope is to find a better tool for email int he near future.
So that is what I find really good about Lion. However, there is one major that Apple has made that is a little less exciting. t seems down right stupid to me, but I am not in charge of what Apple does with their OS. I suppose it has to fall into that umbrella that Apple has taken up recently. You know the one that says “lose a few, gain a million?”
Rosetta: Alienating Old Users
While its not as popular as it once was, there are some users that are up in arms over the fact that Apple has removed all the Rosetta code from OS X with the update to Lion. In case you are unaware, Rosetta was the application code that allowed Intel-based Macs to run programs designs for Power-PC based Macs. While that may not sound very exciting, it was really important to users who bought Macs a while ago, and have managed to resist the urge to upgrade.
While I understand the idea, I don’t really agree with Apple’s thinking on this particular change. I don’t feel like its fair to alienate customers, or force them to buy new machines, just because you want them to upgrade. It wouldn’t surprise me if Apple lost some customers to the Windows-based PC manufacturers over this particular change.
Lion: An Upgrade Worth Your Time (and Money)
So there you have it, a user’s review of the major features of OS X Lion. Most of them are excellent, some are just good, and one is down right ugly. They make your life easier, faster, and, in some cases, more expensive. My experience with Lion so far has been really positive, and I am happy to say that. When Apple announced Lion, I was uneasy about changing the way I work with my computer so much, but now I am more than satisfied.
Overall, I think that Lion is fantastic for the user and the platform. While some of the feature may take some time to get used to, most of them are really intuitive. Everything is implemented with a little bit of that Apple polish that macs you feel like an all-star. On top of everything else, you get it for only $30, and you don’t even have to drive anywhere.
My only real issues with Lion are the fact that Apple expects every users to upgrade their machine every year, and that al the great features aren’t in every app. The first one isn’t really anything wrong with Lion so much as an issue I take with Apple. The second one isn’t Apple’s fault as much as the developers of the apps I use.
If you haven’t upgraded yet, I highly recommend you do as soon as you are able.
Application: OS X Lion
Price: $30 in the Mac App Store
Score: 5/5 – A fantastic set of changes to an already amazing operating system. Highly recommended.