Mac OS X Lion review

My experience with Lion so far has been, to say the least, mixed. I thought I’d list some of my experiences in the form of a brief review.

Launchpad: Tedious scrolling through multiple screens of apps in order to launch one of them? No thanks. Dreadful.

Mission Control: It seems like a good idea in principle to combine Exposé and Spaces, but in doing so some useful functionality is lost: minimised windows are no longer shown; multiple desktops are now one-dimensional rather than two-dimensional; I no longer have a number in the Menu Bar telling me which desktop I’m currently on; and it’s harder to see the contents of the other desktops. All a bit of a shame really.

Full-Screen Apps: This seems initially useful, but: it doesn’t make use of multiple monitors; the keyboard shortcut only seems to work some of the time; it disables my hot corner to quickly get to the Desktop; switching between windows within a fullscreen app (e.g. Mail) is sometimes impossible; and it adds confusion because all windows already have a Zoom button, so now they all have two maximise buttons instead of one.

Resume/Auto Save/Versions: This seems like a good idea in theory, but I doubt many of the apps I use will implement this for a long time, if ever.

AirDrop: I was really looking forward to this one but didn’t realise that it only works on some recent Macs, i.e. none of mine. So that was very disappointing.

Mail: The redesign is quite nice both aesthetically and ergonomically. Nothing ground-breaking, but nice. I’ve already become very dependent on the conversation view to the point where I now wish they’d hurry up and enable it for my iPhone too.

Address Book/iCal: The horrible graphics in these are ugly and ridiculous, and Address Book has much less space for useful information as a result. I thought Apple had stopped this sort of nonsense years ago and didn’t expect to see it come back now. Also, iCal is having severe problems talking to my work calendar, and the work calendar is iCal Server running on OS X Leopard Server, so it’s particularly annoying that that doesn’t work properly [now fixed by using SSL for CalDAV]. Having said all that, I do like the new ‘planner’ pane on the ‘Day’ view – that’s now replaced ‘Week’ as my standard view as a result.

Front Row: Instead of bringing this up to date, which would have been sensible especially now that Mac minis have HDMI outputs, they’ve just removed it instead. Great. Thanks, Apple. I don’t use it that much in comparison to Plex on my Mac mini-based media centre, but it would have been nice to have functionality added instead of the whole thing being taken away. Very poor show indeed.

Terminal: I love the new ‘Blur’ option for window backgrounds, and I’ve come up with a really nice combination of blur and opacity for my active and inactive windows. But why, when I open new tabs, do they start SSHing into random servers when I don’t want them to? I presume this is something to do with Resume but it’s bloody annoying and I want it to stop! [Turns out it was necessary to change the ‘New tabs open with’ settings in the Startup tab in Terminal Preferences.]

UI changes: Being able to resize a window from any edge is very welcome – I wish they’d done this years ago. It’s nice to see the back of the oversized Aqua scroll bars at last (but desirable to change the scroll bar setting to show ‘Always’ in the General System Preference because this is a computer, not an iPhone). The overall look and feel is like a more subtle, streamlined version of Snow Leopard, which is quite nice generally. I worried about the icons in sidebars (in Finder and Mail most noticeably) being stupidly oversized, but thankfully I then found the ‘Sidebar icon size’ option in the General System Preference – setting that to ‘Small’ makes everything OK again. And the increased use of animation is quite enjoyable and might occasionally be vaguely useful for new computer users. All the new gesture stuff is irrelevant to me because I don’t have any of the new Macs with big trackpads, and I prefer using mice anyway (though not Apple mice because they’re an ergonomic nightmare). Oh, and suddenly finding scrolling going in the wrong direction wasn’t particularly useful, but thankfully that was easy to turn off in the Mouse System Preference.

System stuff: Make sure you have ‘Show indicator lights for open applications’ ticked in the Dock System Preference, partly because that’s a traditional behaviour which helps to actually make the Dock useful, and partly because if you don’t then Lion will randomly quit open apps without asking. Another bit of weirdness is the ‘Mail, Contacts & Calendars’ System Preference, which seems to serve no useful purpose whatsoever other than to confuse users by duplicating settings which you’ve already got in Mail, iCal, etc.

So there we go. Once you’ve turned all the annoyances off it’s basically just a neater, slicker version of Snow Leopard with a few things missing, so I’m not exactly blown away by this new OS. I think the main problem is that trying to mix Mac OS X and iOS causes a conflicting mess of too many different UI paradigms. Apple should either have stuck with tweaking the Mac OS X foundations or rebuilding the whole thing from the ground up, not ending up with something in between the two which doesn’t quite work.

Edit: It’s quite interesting to compare the rather dark tone of this review to the optimistic positivity of my Snow Leopard and Leopard reviews. It makes Lion feel like even more of a step back than a step forward.

Edit: Reading back on my reviews of previous versions of OS X, I’m reminded of what a mess Apple made of To Do Items in Mail when that was added to Leopard. I see they’ve fixed that by simply removing them again, which I guess is fair enough really.