Island in the Net

A personal blog by Khürt Williams, full of inchoate writing on photography, coffee, and geekery.

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Experiences with Mac OS X Lion

It’s only been a few days since I installed Mac OS X 10.7.  I installed it on the iMac and my wife’s MacBook.  These are the only two computers in the house capable of running the new OS.  My vintage G4 Mac mini is stuck running Leopard and my MacBook — my first Intel Mac — does not have the CPU chops to run Lion.

The installation went out smoothly.  I tossed caution to the wind and installed directly from the Mac App Store.  There was much discussion on Google+ about clean installs versus upgrade — I think those people are Windows switchers — but none of the arguments given were compelling enough for me to spend the extra time to re-image my Mac and re-install all my apps.  It took about twenty minutes to download the installer over my 20Mb/s Comcast broadband connection.  Once the download completes the user gets a message that OS X is being installed.  This is actually not quite true.  I think what is being installed is the installer itself.  This part took just a few minutes before the machine reboots and the real install begins.  During the second “install” my screen went blank and I was left with a very sick feeling in my stomach.  Was my machine hosed? I waited over forty minutes before the blank screen disappeared and I was presented with the new login screen.  Apple could have done a better job keeping the user informed.  I could imagine a lot of less trusting geeks who might have reset the machine at that point, possibly hosing their machines.

Some others suggested that I create a bootable USB image to make it easier to restore or install Lion on other Macs. The thought process is that since Lion is a download only install, a full restore would require first installing Snow Leopard. However, I found that downloading and installing from the Mac App Store to be fast and Apple is offering full restore of Mac OS X Lion over the Internet.

**Multi-Touch Gestures**

The first thing I did once I logged in was launch Safari. It’s the app I use the most on my Mac — on any computer, really. I logged into Google+ — now my favorite social network — and immediately ran into an issue. Swiping down on MagicMouse caused the web page to scroll up. At first I thought the mouse was bad then I remembered that Lion included some features borrowed from iOS, notably, multi-touch gestures. On an iPad or iPhone, swiping left takes the user to the next page of a book or the next screen of apps, while swiping up on the touch screen move the page down. This feels natural — this is precisely what Apple calls the new scrolling behavior in Lion — on a touch screen but goes against years of user training. I welcome the change — I bought a MagicPad in anticipation of this — but I think Apple should have kept the default and expected user behavior. I’m keep the natural behavior switch on for a few weeks to see how I like it. If it gets too annoying I’ll switch it off. Choice is wonderful.

**Full-Screen Apps**

It took me a second to understand how to enable the use of full screen for apps and almost two days to figure out how to turn it off but I love the feature. I had already been running most of my apps in full screen mode using an app called Moom which I bought on the Mac App Store. I’ve noticed that neither the OS X menu bar not the dock is available while using full screen mode. This makes sense when one thinks about how a user experiences iOS apps. It also helps create a more distraction free working environment — this is something I’ve wanted for some time. I can use Command-Tab to switch between apps or double tap two fingers on the MagicMouse to bring up Mission Command or swipe up with four fingers on the MagicPad. One thing I noticed is that full screen apps appear to be running in separate virtual desktops. Using the Terminal app in full screen mode is the highlight of my experience.

**Mission Control**

One of the cool features of OS X that I lost when I switched to a button less MagicMouse was the ability to click two buttons to bring up Expose. I used Expose to fast switch between apps. Lion’s Mission Control allows me use either my MagicPad or MagicMouse to switch between apps — two taps on the MagicMouse or a four finger swipe on the MagicPad. This is much faster and more elegant method of switching between apps than Command-Tab. No need to take my hands off the mouse.

**Mail**

I’m really loving the new Mail app. So much so that it has replaced Sparrow as my default mail app. While I loved the simplicity of the Sparrow mail client its lack of Exchange support was impacting my workflow. On a day-to-day basis Sparrow worked well for reading from my Gmail accounts but when I connected to the office VPN from my Mac I was back in Mail. With the new Mail.app I no longer have to choose. I find the new Mail interface a pleasure to use and the threaded conversation windows brings it home for me. At a glance I can see the responses to an original message each in its own little box. Mail.app will save me from corporate email hell.

**Resume, Autosave and Versions**

I have only seen this in action when using Safari. Web sites that were open when I exited the browser are reopened on the next launch. Apps will have to be written to take advantage of these features but I for one can’t wait — especially for autosave. While writing this blog posting in MarsEdit I accidentally deleted some of the text I wrote earlier and could not undo my mistake. If MarsEdit used Autosave and Versions I could have recovered from my mistake by reverting to an earlier version of my work.

**Less obvious features**

Apple claims that Mac OS X has over 250 new features. I clicked around trying to discovers some of them since I couldn’t find a complete list on Apple’s website. I noticed that OS X Lion has borrowed from iOS in other ways. While typing this post OS X Lion suggested corrections to my spelling mistakes as I was typing. Just like in iOS the suggested text would pop-up just above the current text and I could hit the space bar to accept the suggestion. There are some changes to the AirPort Utility. I have a 500GB Time Capsule which I use with Time Machine for backing up my wife’s MacBook. Apple made a small change to the AirPort Utility which allows the user to archive the contents of the Time Capsule hard drive to an external drive connected via USB. I can back up my backup.

I’m still poking around and discovering the nuances of the OS and I’ll post my thoughts and experiences.  I will also be posting more in depth “reviews” and updated how-to articles (with screen shots) over on my tech blog.