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

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.