Lion Thoughts

So I finally got round to installing Lion a couple of weeks back and now I am going to give you my belated review. Everybody else upgraded about six months ago but what the hell– I am not much of an early adopter. In case you want the edited highlights– I basically like it, I find most of it an improvement and some of it just a little weird. Of necessity this will be quite limited since I don’t use all of the new OS’s features and am in no way qualified to comment on them.

This is the first OS upgrade I have ever bought directly over the net. I bought it through the App Store and I have to say it all went impressively smoothly. There were no problems with the download and installation. For the price you get to upgrade on all of your machines too. This seems very fair and is a real price advantage over Windows if you own as many computers as I do and want to upgrade them all.

As with a lot of Apple upgrades there’s a bunch of eye candy for the punters, done I suspect because Apple needs something to show off at their keynote address and in their stores. For me, the real improvements and the reason I bought the upgrade at long last are under the hood, mostly security stuff like a robust implementation of Address Space Layout Randomisation. (There was a less than impressive version of this in Leopard but it failed to work on core parts of the OS) . Yes, that’s right after only five years Apple has achieved parity in some areas with the security on Windows Vista– well done, Cupertino! To be fair, this is apparently a very good implementation of these security features according to one expert (Charlie Miller) I trust. Sarcasm aside, I am glad that Apple has done this no matter how late. Security through obscurity was never a good model.

But back to the eye candy. There’s the usual changed screen appearance– sidebars that are invisible except when in use, that sort of thing. It’s fluff but it’s nice fluff and there’s lots of good and useful stuff too. Mission Control is a system for managing Spaces that really works. For those of you unfamiliar with this, Spaces is a system of virtual screens that lets you run different programs on different screens and switch between them when needed. If you’ve got a big monitor it’s not all that wonderful but it’s really handy when you are working on a laptop with limited screen space. Mission Control makes swapping between these and your Dashboard widgets as simply as swiping sideways with three fingers. If you don’t use Spaces this is probably a meaningless upgrade for you but for me it is very handy.

Full screen view is nice, particularly when used in conjunction with Spaces and Mission Control. This is one of those things that Apple does really well; a small change that makes a genuine difference to the way you work. If you work on a laptop and are obsessed with maximising the use of screen real estate, this is very beneficial.

There’s been a lot of hoopla about Autosave and how it keeps all the different versions of all your files on certain applications. David Hewson has some complaints about this over on his blog but I don’t actually use any programs where it is available– I use mostly Scrivener, Mail and Word 2011 on OSX– so I don’t have anything intelligent to say on the matter. I find the OS’s habit of reopening programs and windows to exactly where I left them a bit disturbing sometimes but it can be useful. In the absence of something like Windows 7’s jump lists, it speeds up access to files I am working on.

On the subject of Mail– this is my favourite dedicated email client and there are some improvements here– such as a Gmail-like threaded view that is actually pretty neat.

Problems? I have had nary a one, except with Dragon Dictate. This Mac speech recognition software continues its proud tradition of making me feel as if my pocket has been picked by creators Nuance. Dictate worked just fine with Snow Leopard but since the upgrade has crashed with absolute regularity after about twenty minutes of use. I don’t know if this is a Lion problem or something else but it did not happen before the upgrade.

So would I recommend Lion? Yes, particularly if you work on a laptop or have any concerns about security (and, in truth, you should. The days of OSX being malware free have sadly long gone). The upgrade is reasonably priced and seems quite stable on my 2009 model MacBook Pro.




4 Replies to “Lion Thoughts”

  1. Got to agree with you on most of this. Spaces seems like something I should be using, but I’ve never gotten into it. I can see the appeal of, for instance, keeping my work and play in different, um, spaces. Maybe I’ll give it a go.
    You didn’t mention the counter-intuitive scrolling, which I turned off after five frustrating minutes, but it was easy to turn off. I also switched visible scrolling bars back on to give me a constant visual clue to where I am on a page or document.
    Have you turned on the Cloud features yet? The first time I bought a song on my phone and it automatically appeared on my laptop, and vice versa, I had one of those “indistinguishable from magic” moments.

    1. The scrolling didn’t bother me. After two minutes it was as if I had always done it that way! I switched iCloud on mostly because of my backup obsession– it represents another line of defense against system failure. I don’t have an iPhone so that aspect of things has not clicked in for me. Dropbox has utterly changed the way I work and my idea is that iCloud would eventually become a sort of slicker version of that. Since I only work on one Apple machine these days, it’s hard for me to test that though.

  2. Yeah, Lion is pretty good. I used Spaces all the time on Snow Leopard, and Mission Control is a great update to it. My front-end is mostly Macs (with only one Windows machine for gaming) and I use Microsoft products for my back-end, so I prefer Outlook 2011 rather then Mail. Unfortunately Mail and iCal still don’t allow for categories and they are vital for me being organized. I use iCloud mostly for sharing documents across all my Apple products, but am really starting to prefer SkyDrive or Sharepoint, as iCloud for docs (iWork) is tied in to the Apple productivity suite (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote). Also, why is everybody fretting about the mouse thing? It so EASY to turn off…
    The GREATEST thing in Lion is FireVault 2 for whole disk encryption. In Snow Leopard I used PGP, but it would break the system with almost every OS update, so that was really welcome. I don’t care too much about it on a home computer, but my laptop is filled with goodies that I would rather not fall into the wrong hands.

    1. I live in terror of something going wrong with full disk encryption and having everything hosed. I can see how it would be useful if there was anything worth stealing on my laptop that wasn’t already encrypted :).

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