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  • The Lion Report: Did Apple Do Too Much?

    September 9th, 2011

    One of the biggest complaints about OS X Lion these days is that Apple tried a little too hard to embed iOS elements, forgetting that long-time Mac users might be confused. Or they might object to being confronted with such choices, such as scrolling that proceeds in a direction opposite to what you’re accustomed to.

    So we take this further: Lion has more gestures, so if you have an Apple Magic Trackpad, a MacBook or MacBook Pro, a Magic Mouse or similar device, you can let your fingers do all sorts of fancy twists and turns and pinches to make wonderful things happen on your Mac’s screen. Launchpad is supposed to mimic the app display on your iPhone or iPad, at the expense of creating tremendous opportunities for screen clutter if you have lots and lots of apps, as I do. And, yes, I did discharge it from the Dock on the first day I installed Lion.

    Apple also wanted to simplify such menial chores as saving and checking previous versions of your document. In the Auto Save feature, Save As is replaced by Duplicate/Save. But this is a specific area where Apple’s best intentions are not good enough. Far too many apps do not support Lion’s features. While many will be updated in the next few months, you may have to wait a lot longer for some, such as the components of Adobe’s Creative Suite. But I do expect Microsoft Office’s Lion updates will come far sooner, since they are at least promised, along with some 10.7 bug fixes.

    The Mission Control feature, an Expose variant that puts all of your document windows and virtual desktops in a single place for quick perusal or access, has potential downsides. With lots of stuff opened, it could also create the climate for clutter and confusion, particularly if you are just getting by on your 11-inch MacBook Air.

    Some of the interface changes, such as gray scroll bars, and gray icons on Finder windows and such, seem compromises to serve some unknown design ethic. Apple seems to want to make the OS so minimalist you won’t know it’s there, except when you engage functions that require its presence. You shouldn’t have to know where your files are located, since the All My Files folder in the Finder’s sidebar will let you keep tabs on your recent documents without having to figure where you put them. That can be a good thing when it comes to alleviating confusion. But it won’t keep you from dropping those files in the usual unlikely locations.

    Of course, some of the extras in Lion can be tamed. You can restore the direction of scrollbars in the Mouse preference pane. Scrollbars can be displayed all the time under General settings. At least the menu bar hasn’t been hidden, as Microsoft has done with its treacherous ribbons. Indeed, the early scuttlebutt about Windows 8 has it that the Windows Explorer file manager will eschew menu bars and replace them with ribbons too. Sure, you’ll be able to change it back, but Microsoft seems to think you’d do better to locate the commands you want collected among loads of icons, rather than click on a specific menu.

    The power users who write blogs and other tech content have mixed ratings about Lion. They regard the changes as a sort of dumbing down of the Mac OS, in a sense betraying experienced users who don’t want or need all that extra fluff, and would prefer to stick with the old ways of doing things. But since Lion’s excesses can usually be tamed in System Preferences or banished from the desktop, I suppose it really doesn’t make a difference. Giving customers a choice isn’t a bad thing, so long as they aren’t confronted with too many changes. But these are, at least, non-destructive.

    With Apple, you are usually forced to face the future, even if you had other ideas, although there are occasional ways to revert to your previous habits. When the floppy disk was banished from the iMac, there were external drives that suited the purpose mostly, except for the inability to read single-density floppies. But who had those in 1998? Raise your hands (I know I did).

    With Lion, I suspect Apple has a larger goal than simply blurring the differences between the iOS and OS X. At the same time, new Mac users will find a shorter learning curve, not to mention less time adapting from one interface to the other when moving among different Apple gadgets. That seamless integration is designed to entice you to go all Apple. If you’re used to the way it’s done on your iPhone or iPad 2, guess what? The Mac is sort of similar, and may become more similar as time goes by.

    Yes, Microsoft realizes that some level of integration between mobile hardware and desktop hardware is also a good thing. But they will likely accomplish the goal in a typically clumsy fashion, whereas Apple will continue to make it seem almost natural. You can take that to the bank, because that’s where Apple is going with all their profits.



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