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Monday, 15 August 2011 18:32

Six things that are both good and bad about Lion

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Mac users' reactions to Lion are about the most polarised I can remember. Some of the new features seem to suit some but not all, and what one person sees as advance, another regards as a step back.


I can't remember a previous Mac OS upgrade (with the possible exception of Mac OS X 10.0) causing so much controversy among users. The idea of incorporating iOS-related features into OS X (Apple doesn't even call it Mac OS X any more) has set the cat among the pigeons.

One thing I've noticed is that MacBook users seem more positively disposed to Lion than iMac and Power Mac users. That brings us to the first of my six issues.

Gestures and scrolling

If you don't use a trackpad or Magic Mouse, gestures don't come into Mac operation. But if you do, an increase in the number and range of gestures is very welcome, and I think this explains why MacBook users are generally more positive about Lion.

The 'natural scrolling' furore amuses me. Yes, it makes complete sense with a touch screen, because it feels as if you're interacting directly with the document. By extension, that applies to trackpads. But using a scroll wheel so that rolling the wheel towards you takes you towards the foot of the document is so deeply ingrained at this stage (and there are no other gestures to help break old habits) that I struggle to see why anyone wouldn't disable natural scrolling for a wheel mouse.

So why am I amused? I attended the Australian launch of the Macintosh back in 1984 (as the representative of a potential large customer, not as a journalist), and I clearly remember that almost everyone I watched using a mouse for the first time expected scrolling to work in the reverse direction - that is, they thought scrolling should move the document, not the viewport. Over the last 27 years we've internalised Apple's way of doing things, and now it wants us to change back. Ironic?

Page 2: full-screen applications; Rosetta (with more to follow)





Full-screen applications

Even with large modern displays, there's still a case for getting rid of as much of an application's 'chrome' as possible and maximising the amount of content on the screen. And that's just what full-screen mode does.

It's also a way of eliminating clutter and distractions, but Apple seems to have gone a bit too far in that direction. The most frequent complaint I hear about full-screen mode is that it blanks any secondary displays. The multiple-monitor people I know that like the idea of full-screen mode want the flexibility to keep other applications active (possibly, but not necessarily in the same mode) on their second or third display.

Hiding everything else just doesn't work for this set of users, and I can see why. Mind you, I don't expect to make much use of full-screen mode. It sounds great for largely stand-alone applications such as iPhoto, but in everyday work I frequently need to transfer data between multiple applications.

The other disappointment is that full-screen aware applications don't seem to make the best use of having the display to themselves. For example, Pages isn't able to show facing pages in full-screen mode.

Rosetta

Rosetta was the software that allowed the use of PowerPC applications and other software on Intel-based Macs. It was an optional part of Snow Leopard, and it's gone completely in Lion. That's a good thing if you're not still using any PowerPC-only software - it simplifies things and frees up some space, especially if you take the opportunity to clear out those old applications.

But the absence of Rosetta is a deal-breaker for those still relying on old applications. Their complaint is partly that Rosetta is no longer available, which means they need to upgrade or crossgrade their software, and in some cases there is no completely suitable replacement.

Continued on page 3. Next up: Auto Save and Versions




A more serious complaint is the lack of warning. Apple has addressed information about Rosetta's demise to developers rather than users, and it must be fair to say that a fair number of the people relying on Rosetta don't even know what it is.

Rolling back from Lion to Snow Leopard isn't simple, especially if you don't do it straight away. Would it really have been so hard for Apple to have included a PowerPC check in the Lion installer? Something that could give a message along the lines of "WARNING: The following applications will not work with Lion. If you proceed with this upgrade you will not be able to use them. Microsoft Word 2004, Microsoft Excel 2004..."

Auto Save and Versions

I'm estimate that more angst has been caused by these related features than any other Lion feature with the possible exception of the removal of Rosetta.

I like the idea of both Auto Save and Versions. The problem for some people is that the way they've been implemented means changes to established working practices. If you're used to taking the last letter on a particular subject and then modifying it for the recipient, by the time you've finished the changes and are ready to Save As, Auto Save has probably modified the old file, which you don't really want to happen.

With Lion and Auto Save aware applications, you need to duplicate the document immediately after opening it, which splits off a new version that can be edited and saved at will. Something similar was always good practice when using Save As to avoid accidentally overwriting the original document.

Versions lets you return to an earlier version of your document using a Time Machine like interface. Excellent idea - most of us would have experienced a situation where Revert or Undo couldn't get a file back to the state we really wanted. And Versions just records the differences between versions (sorry!), so the storage is reasonably efficient unless you're talking about a very small file that is frequently changed but does not grow in size (if the file only occupies one allocation block, my understanding is that each version will take up the same amount of space).

More on Auto Save and Versions on page 4, followed by Launchpad and Resume.




The main issue seems to be the effort needed to ensure that no old versions are retained when a document is finalised. According to a conversation I had with an Apple product manager, you need to make a copy of the finished file, drag the original to the Trash, and then securely empty the Trash.

Why would you need to worry? If you were involved in litigation, you may be required to provide all documents relating to the matter, and that would include previous versions of those documents. It's possible that a draft contained information that could be prejudicial to your case, and it might be difficult to establish that the content was false or did not represent the situation or your position at the time.

Launchpad

Launchpad collects all your applications into one place for easy launching, as in iOS's home screen(s). That doesn't sound very controversial, but it is seen by some as part of a "dumbing down" of Mac OS X.

Again, I suspect some of the ill-feeling comes from the non-trackpad crew. The gesture for opening Launchpad is a three-finger-and-thumb pinch, and you go from there.

But wouldn't you like to be able to stop *all* your applications appearing in Launchpad? As it is, about the best you can do is hide in a folder any you don't want to see. Applications that are part of Lion or that were downloaded from the Mac App Store can be deleted from Launchpad, but not those installed in more traditional ways.

Resume

If you like the idea of quitting an application or shutting down your computer and then having it return to the previous state when you relaunch or restart, you'll love Resume. There's definitely something attractive in being able to shut down on Friday night, then switching on again on Monday morning and being presented with your work exactly as it was left.

But most of us are so used to computers not working like that - so Resume means another change of habit. Either disable the feature or make sure you close all windows before quitting applications or shut down, or you run the risk of revealing sensitive (or embarrassing, depending on your habits) material next time you start up or launch an application.

That's the six - but please read on for one more thing...




Just one more thing - Safari 5.1

I feel justified in making this a seventh item in a list of six (shades of Douglas Adams) because Safari 5.1 is not strictly part of Lion as it is also available for Snow Leopard.

It has some worthwhile features and improvements: I like Reading List, the gesture support looks good, increased standards support is always welcome, and the security-related improvements make sense.

But - and this is a big but - Safari 5.1 appears to be another example of excessive 'iOSification' in that if you're in the habit of opening multiple pages automatically in tabs via a folder in the bookmarks bar, you'll probably find that when you go to read one of them the tab will be empty, and its title will change to Unknown while the page is reloaded, wasting your time and bandwidth.

Hey, Apple, this is a Mac with plenty of memory. You don't need to dump pages just to conserve resources. In my book this is a bug, not a feature, so can we have the Safari 5.0 (and earlier) behaviour back ASAP, please?

 


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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