24 hours with Lion, 'it just works' (mostly)

By Jonny Evans

There's already over a million Apple [AAPL] Lion OS users worldwide, and the feedback on the new operating system is coming in fast and furious: "It just works". Well, to qualify that claim, it mostly just works (with the usual exception of those dull Adobe problems) and a lot of users are having problems getting their finger memories around reverse scrolling. You can turn it off, but my advice is don't, you will get used to it.

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Credit where it's due

First things first: you have to hand it to Apple this time round -- if you think back to previous attempts at synchronized online software roll-out (MobileMe, iOS updates and so on) you see Cupertino has a patchy record for such a wide scale online release.

There were no problems this time around -- those Mac users who had decent broadband connections got their software reliably. Installation was easy -- many used these instructions to create a bootable Lion DVD -- I've seen no widespread reports of people having problems with installation. Well done, Apple.

Well, almost well done: I keep encountering this System message: "There was a problem connecting to the server. URLs with the type "file" are not supported." As yet I've not been able to trace the problem, I have used Disk Utility (including from within the emergency Restore partition) but the error persists. I'd like to get rid of it. It looks like this...

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Focus on Finder

I miss color in Finder windows and immediately took against the 'All My Files' default view within Finder: it leads me to files I forgot I had and just isn't very useful. I changed this within Finder>Preferences>General>New Finder windows show: (choose a folder). I also kicked 'All My Files' out of the sidebar within Finder>Preferences>General>Sidebar by unticking the relevant checkbox.

Beyond this, Finder is slick and responsive. I continue to explore the new features, though I note that 'Send file via Bluetooth' seems (and I stress, 'seems' as my comparison systems are one older desktop and one older notebook) to have disappeared from the option-click drop-down menu. Some of the old sidebar elements have been moved around or replaced.

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Philosophically

The big change is the use of MultiTouch. I'm finding this relatively easy to get along with. I had a few hours of mild logic panic as I tried to come to terms with reverse scrolling, and while it was awkward at first it gets easier, and now I'm a natural on both Tiger and Lion systems. Well I say natural...

It really is helpful that within the Trackpad Preferences pane Apple has made little videos of how the various gestures are meant to perform. However, given that there's a few new gestures, and that not everyone is familiar with MultiTouch, Apple could make it a little easier to access this information without needing to be in System Preferences. I'd like that guide to be a floating palette you could reference from within other apps, for example.I've listed all the Trackpad gestures my systems recognize on a separate page here which you could perhaps bookmark if you want an easy-to-grab reference, and of course add comments for additional gestures of OS X shortcuts if you should so desire.

Philosophically, of course, these touch-based gestures take the Mac a few steps closer to the iPad, and the iPad closer to the Mac.

Given that Snow Leopard burnt out the majority of the OS's legacy support, and Lion eradicated the last of that support, mainly for legacy items such as Flash and anything dependent on the dated data which is Rosetta, Lion is lean.

It strikes me that between releases the ambition has to be to create an OS that's dependent on the minimal amount of code and capable of delivering the maximal amount of power. One day you'll run Macs on mobile devices, after all, so that move to combine both OS X and iOS is no thin veneer.

Launchpad and Mission Control

I've taken to Mission Control. I'm less taken with Launchpad -- I do think Launchpad is the future of the Dock, which implies that there isn't a future for the Dock...

Once you figure out how to create a Space, the implementation of Spaces on Lion works quite well. I make a lot of use of Spaces when shuffling about between projects, How do you set a Space up? Open Mission Control, tap on an app or window, drag it to the top right (on my system) and you'll see a little desktop appear and drop it on that -- presto, you have a space. Add or subtract between your Desktops as you wish. I did find at times while learning about this I've ended up enabling Dashboard, for some reason I find it hard to escape from this view. not sure why. Is it my system, the user, or is this view a little buggy?

Which brings me to full screen Apps.

Am I the only one who doesn't really care about these? I find them awkward to use, partly because I am still learning all the OS-specific new commands, and partly because I find performance slow on my MacBook when working in full screen. This could be data-bloat, or could be that I need to install more memory. I'll be installing some more memory shortly, and can update this report at a later date if it makes any difference. However, at present, full-screen Windows will almost certainly be really useful to photographers and video editors, but doesn't do too much for me. I have no doubt I'll be living in absolute awe of them in a few months time. Right now though, not much excitement on these here.

See, while full screen apps make my Mac a little like my iPad, my iPad is a stripped-down mobile system and pitching between apps and projects and so on is fast and seamless. Lion is pretty fast and pretty seamless, but doesn't feel quite as responsive as iOS, at least, not to me. To be fair, though, Lion is very fast and responsive of itself -- it is the best performing Mac OS I've worked with yet. Far, far faster than System 6, for example. Heh.

Little details

I love Resume. I love that when I restart my Mac everything is as I left it, including things I'm working on. This is a big deal -- there's not too much you can say about it, and I'm sure there's users of other platforms sneering, but I don't care about that, I just think the Resume feature is going to make a lot of people happy, and save a lot of time. As will Mail, it works really well and is a lot like Mail on your iPad, but with a ton of additional tools, including conversation threads, search suggestions...

After 24-hours with Lion, I'm liking the little details. Things like the ability to change a preference in Energy Saver so that your Mac will restart automatically if it freezes; things like a deep firmware level password which should make your Mac a completely useless device if it is stolen; things like the best in class security improvements; those new and sexy voices licensed from Nuance....

So Jonny, where's the voice control?

Has anyone else heard of the increasingly close relationship between Apple and Nuance? All I can definitively tell you is that Nuance does seem to have raised its game in terms of its efforts in the Apple market, including recruiting Apple-focused staff. I also note that its existing Mac Dragon voice product is incredibly capable and I can imagine that in future it might gain an increasing number of system-specific features, including voice control of the Mac itself. It's just you'll need to purchase the Nuance software. Why won't Apple buy the firm? Potentially it is because Nuance owns all the premiere voice recognition technologies, which are offered on multiple platforms.

Scratching the surface

There's so many more things to explore: AirDrop, Facetime, so many Safari improvements.... I really feel I'm only scratching the surface. I'm interested in learning how well the OS performs on different systems, I'm particularly interested in collecting those hidden shortcuts and less visible changes. I'm really interested in your own first reactions to Lion and would like to read about them in comments below.

Conclusion so far

Has Apple changed the world, fed the poor, ended war and found world peace? No. Is this the most amazing innovation since the GUI? No, I don't think it is. Lion is a robust and highly sophisticated operating system that just works. It should perform well on any Mac, and is festooned with dozens of new features and tools which should help most users become that little tiny bit more productive. It's also a pleasure to use, even the reverse scrolling thing is nothing more than a gift to help you change.

Where Snow Leopard was the slash and burn, slaying all that legacy PowerPC nonsense in favor of a lean, mean computing machine; Lion adds some weight back, but focuses on the future, a future of connected devices and platforms operating in an increasingly server-centric manner. Apple may not have changed the tech landscape with this release -- yet -- but it has set down an important foundation stone which will enable it to drive that change in future. Which is why the next exciting thing to look forward to is iCloud.

Let us know in comments below. I'd also be ever so pleased if you began following me on Twitter so I can let you know when new reports get published here first on Computerworld.    

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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