The Lion Report: Will Apple Finally Fix Long-Time Problems?

December 23rd, 2010

It’s fair to say that making the task of upgrading to a new operating system easier is a good thing. That’s the lesson Microsoft never seems to learn. It’s not just fiddling with the interface in questionable waysto have new features to boast, but making the migration task difficult for the very customers they want to buy those upgrades.

So with Windows 7, for example, there are tens of millions of XP users who have to endure clean installs, which really means backing up and restoring your stuff, including apps, as part of the process. The problem with Vista was that a lot of people didn’t want to upgrade (and we all know why). Microsoft is aching for you install Windows 7, so you have the ability to pin document windows on the corners in Windows 7. Or you want to discover the cloud. At least that’s what their ad campaign wants you to believe.

Now we know that Apple will make the Lion upgrade process as seamless as always. I don’t know whether any of the original Intel-based Macs, the ones that didn’t have 64-bit processors, will be excluded. I kind of feel they’ll be allowed to come along for the ride, at least until Lion’s successor is released, probably in 2013.

As you know, I’m not super impressed with the Lion preview. Few of the features are must-haves. I’m more interested in auto-save and auto-resume rather than an iOS-inspired Launchpad, putting all your document and app windows on a single screen, or having a full-screen option. I would hope that Apple would actually try, for once, to fix the long-standing problems that pretty much afflict all graphical operating systems.

Some of the key offenders include the Open and Save dialogs. As I’ve said previously, they are not as discoverable as they should be. There are many Mac users who continue to double-click a document icon even when the proper app is already open. When I suggest using Open from the File menu, I hear silence, or watch them stare at me as if I’m crazy. It’s not that I’m totally sane, but I’d think that a feature that’s been always part and parcel of the Mac OS shouldn’t be invisible. Yes, I know Open is easily invoked, but when Mac users don’t know it’s there, something is missing, and I’m not about to blame the customer. It’s Apple’s responsibility to find a better way.

These days, I am happy to recommend Jon Gotow’s solution for the Save dialog counterpart, Default Folder X. It’s been around for years in one form or another, and add a number of obvious features, such as the ability to rename or delete files, not to mention rebounding to the last used file/folder. It’s a great workflow assistant, and power users have embraced it, although I think most any Mac user would find things to like. But the real problem is that Apple hasn’t paid as much attention to the problem as they should, although today’s Open/Save dialogs are more Finder like in operation, and thus somewhat easier to handle.

To be sure, managing your stuff on your Mac can be extremely confusing. Yes, Apple has crafted such search schemes as Spotlight to help you sort through the mass of files to find the ones you need. But that’s a band-aid on an open wound. What about a ground up solution? Would a Finder reminiscent of iTunes be the proper answer, or can Apple’s brilliant OS engineers start from scratch and make what should be a trivial process simple for everyone?

When it comes to printer dialogs, I suppose they are all right, though it would be nice to be able to reorder jobs in the print queue with drag and drop, although you can, I suppose, put some jobs on hold to give others priority, but that’s a clumsy workaround. You could reorder those jobs in the Classic Mac OS, as you recall.

A more powerful Location feature would be helpful, so that more of the functions you use on your Mac in different environments would be configured, launched or otherwise available.

The other pressing need is a more user-centric help menu, one that truly anticipates your needs, rather than present a simple browser window where you will, but more often won’t, find the information you seek. Of course, when it comes to third-party apps, it’s up to the developers to provide the instructions you need to make their product run efficiently. Some do it well, others don’t seem to care, or maybe they figure their programs are so accessible you shouldn’t need any extra help.

But I’m thinking of a help system that would, with your approval of course, guide you to better ways to do your work, or help you get out of trouble. I don’t mean those annoying dialogs in Windows where you have to approve so many basic functions by clicking something in an obtuse prompt. I’m not asking Apple to bring back Balloon Help either. I’d like to see an ever-present interactive help system that provides assistance based on your selected, or perceived, skill level. And, yes, it would be readily dismissed (or recalled) if that’s what you want.

Now I realize some of you don’t care about any of this. The real issue is whether Apple is willing to rethink how things work, rather than just add flashy stuff that will sell upgrades but won’t necessarily help you become more efficient and productive.

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22 Responses to “The Lion Report: Will Apple Finally Fix Long-Time Problems?”

  1. Dave says:

    While we’re dreaming, I would love to see an end to the almost mandatory move to file name extensions. Ugly and easily breakable. Only put one on when sending mail with “send windows friendly attachments”. Sadly, things have been moving in the other direction on the mac for the last 10 years in this regard.

  2. Marc says:

    You’ve discussed this numerous times on the Tech Night Owl with various people. It always comes down to wanting something simpler but more customizable. Pick one. Everything people love about iTunes or iPhoto (you don’t need to save or worry about where things are stored) are the very things that other people hate. And the thing people hate most is change.

    It is not that I don’t care about your problems. It is that I don’t have your problems and, therefore, I don’t want your solutions.

    What little I have seen of Lion seems to be the beginning of giving people the choice between iPhone simple and OS-X complex. Apple takes small steps. They do listen even if they do not do. In the end it is hard for me to think of any company that has changed technology more radically than Apple. Which is not to say that people should stop expressing their desires. Never the less, I wish people who say “We need this” reflected more on whether the “we” is really an “I”.

    Best wishes.

    • @Marc, It’s not whether you or I have the problems, but the fact that lots of Mac users do. For Apple to change, people have to continue to remind them what they want. Whether it’s a baby step, or one huge one (such as removing floppy drives), it’ll happen eventually. Or someone else will do it better and change the industry in a different way.


      • Laird says:

        @Gene Steinberg, I would settle for the simple and reliable. Today I learned that Lion cannot deal with a Hotmail attachment where the file name has spaces. Who knew? How would you know? Drove me nuts.

        • @Laird, Ouch. That’s not fun. Then again, I see little value in a Hotmail account. It doesn’t even come in IMAP form, or at least didn’t last I checked. As online accounts go, I’ve always preferred Gmail. But I don’t use that one much either.


    • David says:

      @Marc, People who support Mac users in corporate or home environments should feel free to speak on behalf of those users. In fact I’d say they have a responsibility to do so as most users won’t speak up for themselves or don’t know how to get heard. Gene seems to be more in touch with average Mac users than a lot of people I know. Back in the 1990’s I made my living supporting Mac users, but now the only people I help are my increasingly elderly parents who are still running Leopard and probably will continue to do so until their LaserWriter needs a new toner cartridge.

      I don’t see any contradiction in wanting both simpler and more customizable. All that’s needed is a simple default and a way to unlock the UI to permit changes, but you can rest assured that will never happen as long as Steve Jobs still draws breath. He won’t allow users to mess up his “perfect” UI.

      I wonder why Apple has allowed the Open/Save dialogs to remain as they are for so long. It’s nice for Mr. Gotow, but Apple should have rendered Default Folder unnecessary back in the 1990’s.

      Personally I’ve seen nothing in Lion that interests me even auto save. Maybe I’m unusual but I often find myself wanting to undo changes and go back to the way I said something before. Unless auto-save also comes with a way to revert to a previously saved version then I don’t want it.

      If Lion also means the end of Rosetta then I may stick with Snow Leopard until 10.8. Most of my games and several of my software packages are coded for PowerPC. They still perform the tasks I need them to do and still entertain me so I don’t want to be forced to pay for upgrades or replacements.

  3. Jerry says:

    I only want three things from Lion:

    1. A decent amount of processes so that I don’t get a “fork failed” message every stinking time I open a window.

    2. Don’t remove Spaces. Multiple desktops are important to my work flow. If Spaces actually gets removed in Lion, it will be a long time before I upgrade.

    3. The ability to split applications across spaces. That is, if I have 25 windows in one desktop and 15 in another, they should act independently. Saving the windows as a group should open them in their respective spaces, F10 should only show the ones in the current space. (IRIX could do this in 1995. Why can’t OS X do this in 2010?)

  4. Bradley Dichter says:

    How about fixing an actual problem like the serious slowdown of FireWire with volumes larger than 1 TB?

  5. DaveD says:

    Yes, I am in total agreement.

    After completing the final conversion to 64-bit code, Apple needs to step back. The software engineers should ask themselves this question. After working on my Mac for these eight-hour-plus days, what can be done to make doing tasks easier or simpler?

    Somehow, I am not in a need for new features unless it would make my time on my Mac more enjoyable.

  6. Karl says:

    There are a few things I want out of Lion, auto-save isn’t one of them. But really, the best thing they can do to make it a “must have” upgrade is to make it faster.

    I still wait on start up. I still wait for applications to start up. I still wait for the Finder to load a directory with a lot of files. I still wait for the Finder to render thumbnails. I still wait to mount network volumes. I still wait for files to copy.

    I know not all of this is the OS. But I continue to buy faster and faster computers and still find myself waiting and waiting to do work.

  7. OkieDoc says:

    How about actually fixing friggin’ Spotlight search results, so that I can sort results by date other than the totally useless Date Created and even more useless Last Opened? Where is my sort by Last Modified that I had in System 7? AAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHH!!!

  8. NotTellinYou says:

    Simple? We had a taste of this in OS9 called “Simple Finder” and NO ONE USED IT! You NEVER saw it mentioned anywhere except for K12 schools. It presented you with a 1-click to open an application and limited you to saving ONLY to your documents folder. Again no one besides of elementary schools used it.

    As for double clicking versus using the Open…menu item I would argue that MANY times it’s just easier when the file is in front of you or only a folder away. Why go up to the menu and transverse the folders to get where you might already be? The argument that people are confused about “Open”, something they will pick up pretty quick, to justify a wholesale UI change to an OS is specious to say the least. In other words these hasty generalizations and examples don’t fit the argument for “simple”. To be fair, YES I AGREE the desktop metaphor is showing its age but for all the pontificating by people, like Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini, I haven’t seen a better solution! A lot of talk, a lot of isolated examples of pain, but no unified view of what the next thing as a whole should be, and THAT is the hard part and I suspect what holds the majority of desktop OS UI’s just that “desktops”.

    Now as for customizable, I have DefaultFolder and it’s one of the first tools I install on any new Mac or OS reinstall. Completely agree with you there!

  9. pk says:

    I want to treat attachments like attachments, not put everything inline.

    The things I would borrow from the iPad: the way you can preview mail (similar to outlook), and the way iCal looks.

    And a redesigned (simple, yet functional and fast, font book). I’ve tried all the font programs, I’d still rather see Apple just improve on font book.

    Faster Safari, and a Safari that doesn’t have the current memory leak.

  10. Gene, what do you think of Path Finder?

  11. Zahadum says:

    Fix the frack’n Finder.

    We’ve been waiting T W E N T Y Y E A R S.

    It’s broken, buggy, beyond redemption.

    Start over from scratch.

    (start by firing the whole existing mofo finder engineering team! …

    And learn some damn UML & SDL …

    Rewrite in a HOL functional language eg Haskell

    And make some frackn use of theorem-proving OCAML so that every request can be REASONED about!

    Use RDF (and OWL-based query languages like sparkle) to create an extensible platform for SEMANTIC-ORIENTED filesystem.

    Do something – anything – but let the POS finder live another day to RUIN our productivity by hanging & crashing like a windows machine!

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  12. John says:

    I don’t see the problem with double clicking a file’s icon when the app is already running. Why not?

    Sorry, but the things you mention don’t interest me.

    I’d like to see some sort of virtual folders so that I can temporarily associate files while I’m working on them.

    I’d like to see the list of recently used folders and files extended.

    Take Care,

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