The release of a new Apple OS is usually like a second Christmas for me. It’s the best time of the year, and one I hotly anticipate. I bought Snow Leopard the morning it came out. Since, I registered with Apple as a developer, and for the past few months have had access to the developer beta of OS X 10.7 Lion. I didn’t touch them, though. I wanted the full experience; all new, and all at once. However, by the time the golden master copy came out, I figured it was a good time to give in to temptation.
The first time I tried installing Lion, it froze. I’ve installed it twice since then so just for reference, I know how long it takes. It was stopped. After a successful second attempt, I finally had Lion on my computer. I couldn’t wait to check out Mission Control and Launchpad. I was also weary of what Steve Jobs had been reiterating about Lion since they premiered it – that it would be inspired by iOS. I recently got an iPhone and have always loved its operating system, but it’s pretty closed off and restrictive. There’s no backend access whatsoever. There’s not even a native way to access files; you have to download an SSH app, or a file manager. These are the aspects of iOS I didn’t want to see come to OS X.
It wasn’t as bad as I was fearing, but I’m not sure I like the direction Apple is taking with Lion. The balance between aesthetics and functionality has shifted too far to the former. Keep in mind that if you’re not a hotkey freak like me, some of the problems I’m going to discuss may not apply to you. However that doesn’t make them invalid.
The first thing I noticed that sort of blew my mind is the way app switching works. Maybe it’s different with new Macs and their fancy multitouch gestures, which my 2008 black Macbook can’t handle. I don’t know. But when I command-tab to switch apps, it doesn’t actually go to the app. All it does is bring up the menubar for the app. Even more dismayingly, clicking a dock icon does the same thing for native applications. Since Safari, iChat, and Mail are my most used applications, it’s kind of frustrating. Clicking Finder’s dock icon or a third party app’s dock icon will take you to it, but choosing them from the command-tab menu only brings up their menubar. You must double-click a dock icon to actually switch to the app, now. When will I ever need only the menubar of an application? To quit it, I guess. But you can do that from the command-tab menu already. I even tried a third party app to replace native command-tab functionality, but Lion still only brings up the application’s menubar when command-tab switching. When I switch to an app, I expect it to go to the application’s window and space. With Lion, Apple seems to think otherwise. It’s little inconsistencies and changes like this that affect your fundamental workflows that bother me most. **UPDATE: Totally my fault on this one. It’s a simple option in Mission Control’s system preferences called “When switching to an application, switch to a space with open windows for the application.” I mistook that as meaning when opening an application, switch to an open space. Should’ve more thoroughly explored this option. My fault. Not sure why it’s an option in the first place, though.
Then there’s the new Mission Control, a combination of Exposé and Spaces. It’s very aesthetically pleasing, but it’s also ironic because it gives you less control over your setup than you previously had. I use spaces thoroughly in my computing, and having a top and bottom row to switch between really gave me the space I need with minimal effort to move around. With Lion, you can’t have rows of spaces, only a linear horizontal configuration. I use option+arrow to move between spaces, and before I was never two arrows away from any space. Now I either have to use option+number, which is a further stretch, or press option+arrow sometimes up to five times. Don’t even get me started again on using the dock. It’s also hard to get used to using Mission Control. In Snow Leopard, I could look at all of my spaces, and also instantly open Exposé and show each window in each space. You can’t do that with Mission Control. You can only Exposé one space at a time. These may sound like petty, nickpick issues, but they’re things that affect my fundamental computing experience, which I had configured perfectly before. No one likes having their routines changed up for no reason.
Earlier I mentioned that Apple is favoring aesthetics over functionality with Lion. Switching spaces with option+arrow takes a second or two longer than it used to because of the animation that it now entails. Don’t get me wrong, it looks great. But it slows down progress, which can be annoying if you have hours of work to do. Another thing this over-reliance on aesthetics affects is OS X’s handy little dictionary app. When I didn’t know a word before, I would right click it and choose Look up in Dictionary. Then I found out about command+control+d, which looks it up for you in a little popup window. It was fast and efficient. In Lion they’ve redone it so that it looks much prettier, but it takes five seconds or longer to pop up now.
I like the concept of Apple’s autosave system, but it can get annoying too. The idea is that you never have to save anything because the OS constantly saves and archives all versions of what you work on. There’s no Save As in native applications anymore. Sometimes I want to save a new version of an existing file as something else. Can’t press shift+command+s to Save As anymore, you have to Duplicate the file, then save that. It’s not that big of a deal, but it’s yet another unnecessary extra step or two that Lion imposes on you. To remedy this, I tried setting the Duplicate menu option to command+shift+s, but it inexplicably does not work.
There are a plethora of other little issues that I won’t go too far into, but they include: 1. The Vista-esque way that Lion makes me enter my computer password every time I boot up and the Chax iChat addon loads; 2. The way applications open in random spaces unless you have assigned them to a specific one, even when this feature is unchecked in preferences; 3. You can’t temporarily edit a file opened from an email – you must overwrite it or duplicate it and save it before editing, even when it’s unlocked; 4. Scrolling in Lion, by default, is inverted. This means that instead of dragging two fingers down to scroll down the page, you “push up” with your fingers to move down the page. It’s the same way you scroll in iOS, but with no touch screen. I understand that with the near elimination of scrollbars you can set in Lion’s preferences, it changes how you interact with content. It just doesn’t feel right on my computer. Luckily you can change it back to normal. Maybe I’ll get used to this eventually, but making users re-learn how to do things is generally not a good idea; 5. Mission Control can be clumsy. Sometimes when using it in a space with a multiple applications, one of the windows will cover up part of the spaces shown at the top. You can still click on them so it’s not that big of a deal, but it makes me wonder further why it was necessary to cram Spaces and Exposé, two full utilities on their own, into one overcrowded application; 6. Everything’s less reliable. I’ve had considerably more issues with Wi-Fi going out randomly in Lion than I ever had in Snow Leopard or Leopard. iChat is especially fickle in Lion. Then there are general bugs, like sometimes Finder gets stuck in a sort of spaces limbo, where you can see the window pop up when switching spaces but it’s not in any space. You have to relaunch Finder to remedy this. Quick Look also sometimes glitches out and pops up when switching spaces, even though you’re not Quick Looking at anything. It keeps doing this until you relaunch Finder.
Then again, Lion is not all bad. They tidied up some aspects of the system, such as the aforementioned scrollbars. They’re much more aesthetically pleasing, and when set to only appear when scrolling in system preferences, they really help enhance the experience. I also love how when you drag an app to another space in Mission Control, it remembers down to the exact pixel where the app was previously aligned. It looks like they slightly redesigned the maximize, minimize, and close buttons in the corner of each window, but I’m not sure if I like it better. The redesign of the Mail app is wonderful. They changed it from a horizontally split application to a vertically split application, taking on the functionality of an old Mail addon I used to use that I can’t remember the name of. But I’m glad they re-oriented it because it looks a lot better. You can also use apps in fullscreen mode now, which is useful when looking at images I suppose, but I don’t really use it because it essentially creates a new desktop in the line of spaces, making it more of a hassle to switch back and forth between apps.
When you get down to it, I think there are more new things I dislike about Lion than like. That said, it’s still OS X at its core, in my opinion the most fulfilling operating system out there. I honestly tried to downgrade to Snow Leopard using the disc it came on, but it wouldn’t let me. This surprises me to no end, as almost each OS update so far I have loved. I think they’ve added a lot of unnecessary steps to doing things, a lot of unnecessary aesthetic measures, and a lot of counter-intuitive ideas that I think they probably thought would change the way we compute. And who knows, it’s likely that it will and I’m just behind. A lot of these changes, though, I just don’t see any reason for, and I dislike that instead of creating more ways to do things like Apple has always done before, they’re starting to narrow down our options. Once they do away with the filesystem, like Steve Jobs has mentioned before, then I think Apple’s OS X really will become the dumbed-down operating system for computer illiterates that most PC users consider it as already. They’re ostensibly following the Nintendo business plan: sacrifice some of the hardcore members in favor of involving everyone. That has always been Steve’s goal – to bring personal computers, in their most accessible form, to everyone. It’s just a shame that he feels to achieve that goal you must choose simplicity over functionality, when they should be in harmony.