Article: The Value of Lion

by on July 22, 2011

It seems that a number of folks are really disappointed with OS X Lion. Despite the fact that it has a very positive rating on the Mac App Store, a quick search on popular discussion boards, and in discussions with people that our staff knows, Lion seems like a “Good, but what is the point if I don’t care about the main features?” kind of upgrade. That’s partially true—in a discussion with our own Matt Bloomingdale, it seems that Lion is the biggest update that isn’t.

Don’t get me wrong—I think Lion is a fantastic upgrade and think that most of the key features will make my Mac experience more convenient, but it seems the majority of the “I’m going back to Snow Leopard” users have one of a few issues that are either easily addressed through changing some preferences, a little tougher by waiting for the bugs to be worked out (it is a .0 release, after all), or maybe new hardware. The complaints about Lion dumbing-down the user interface are pure hogwash—sure, it simplifies things for users who are looking at a more appliance-like/iOS-like experience, but for the power users who have been with the Mac since the early days, simplified features can be turned off and you can get the Library folder back.

“Natural” Scrolling, Exposé, Mission Control, and Launchpad

The huge outcry about some of Lion’s most iOS-like features have amused me—scrolling does seem a bit weird if you’re used to the way everything has worked for years, but if you think of it in an iOS context (moving the content versus moving the viewing window of the content), it makes sense. I’m giving it a chance and after about two days have gotten the hang of it. Still, if you want to switch things back, there’s an option in the Mouse or Trackpad preference panes.

Exposé, Dashboard, and Spaces have been rolled into a new feature called “Mission Control”—it makes sense to consolidate these features that have often been overlooked. Exposé has often been known as “That thing that happens when I hit the wrong button” and is viewed as a little cluttered when you have quite a few windows open. Dashboard is often ignored, even though it was a prominent Tiger feature. Spaces are great for Linux and Unix converts who are more familiar with X-Windows systems. Still, these three features were often overlooked, especially by new users, so Apple combined them and they complement each other nicely. Exposé works a little differently, grouping by application (you can turn on the option to do in-application Exposé), but it results in a less cluttered way to find things you’re working on. Dashboard can either be used as a Spaces or an overlay, and you can turn off Spaces or use them for both full-screen apps and multiple desktops. Right now, there is no real way to roll it back to the “old” way for Expos&ecaute;, but people still have the option to ignore any or all of these three features.

The Launchpad has also gotten a lot of flak for adding a redundant option to launch applications. Many Mac users have the Applications folder in their Dock, which has worked well for years, but the idea now is that the Mac App Store and users can put anything and everything in the Applications folder and not worry about it. Adobe and Microsoft loved to hide their apps in folders upon folders, and Launchpad is a great way to organize your apps in iOS-like folders without worrying about the actual file hierarchy. I got in the habit of using it for my “B-list” apps that don’t need to be in the Dock, but I don’t want to go digging for. I still use Spotlight for launching, too, but it’s nice to click one item and only have apps I want to use display on the screen. I suspect Apple will offer more options in the future, and maybe improve performance (early Core 2 Duo Macs seem to struggle with opening folders). Still, if you don’t want to use it, drag it out of your Dock and forget it.

~/Library

Most people don’t want to deal with the Library folder, if they even know what it is. Inside this folder are preferences, caches, and resource files. For power users, it is a great way to troubleshoot and free up some disk space, but the average user may never really need to use it, or could muck around with it and cause more harm than good. Despite complaints, it’s still there in Lion, but hidden. You can access it in a number of ways, including holding Option while picking the Finder’s Go menu, or making it permanently visible with this Terminal command:

chflags nohidden ~/Library/

Again, Apple may be simplifying the interface, but at the end of the day, it’s still the OS X we know and love under the hood.

What Did My $29 Get Me?

This question seems to have come up a lot from folks who don’t eat, sleep, and breathe Apple. Windows converts are used to seeing a completely new interface with every OS upgrade, complete with a flashy new name. OS X’s .1 increases are actually big upgrades, and Apple cares more about improving the user interface over time instead of throwing it out completely. If you look at the original Mac’s operating system and compare with Mac OS 9, you’ll see a lot of graphical similarities. The same goes for the first version of Mac OS X and Lion. Looks are evolutionary. Features are revolutionary.

The best justification I’ve seen for Lion for the non-techie user are the following:

  • Do you have an iPhone or iPad? Do you love how it’s simple, yet powerful? Your Mac can be like that, too.
  • Do you want a three-column view in Mail?
  • Are you using a laptop and want better use of your screen real-estate? Full-screen apps and swipes are great.
  • Would any of these things make life a little easier?

Wait It Out

Lion is a first-release product, so there are a number of bugs. If you demand something to be rock-solid, wait a little while for 10.7.1 or 10.7.2. Those who installed on Wednesday or Thursday really shouldn’t be complaining about small issues or stability problems in comparison with Snow Leopard.

At the end of the day, Lion’s price tag is about like a few good apps, so if you can pick out 3 or 4 features that make it worthwhile, in addition to future-proofing your Mac, go ahead and pick it up. If there are features you won’t use (Launchpad, gestures, full-screen apps), nobody is forcing you to use them.

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