For an operating system that hasn’t officially been released yet — and all bets suggest it’ll happen by mid-week — there is some misinformation already flowing fast and loose. Maybe it’s not so serious yet, but you can see the handwriting on the wall.
One particularly annoying tidbit suggested that you need a RAM upgrade to run Lion.
If you examine Apple’s official system requirements for Mac OS 10.7, you’ll find out it’s all about the processor: “Your Mac must have an Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, or Xeon processor to run Lion.” Nothing said about RAM. But most of the Mac models included on that list, which dates back to the end of 2006, have at least 2GB of RAM. As I said in my weekend column, upgrading RAM isn’t easy on some models, and impossible on others, specifically the hot-selling MacBook Air. Indeed, the entry-level MacBook Air, and MacBook for that matter, still provide 2GB of RAM. If you buy one today, either is eligible for a free Lion upgrade, and you don’t need to fret over the memory needs.
That doesn’t mean that Lion will be as snappy as you might like, or that you’ll be able to run loads of your favorite apps in a 10.7 environment without things bogging down. But Apple clearly expects performance will be decent enough that customers won’t feel cheated. Nobody doubts they have used 2GB Macs as part of the internal test scenario, and certainly developers installed Lion betas on a variety of hardware to test for compatibility with their products.
I suppose that tale arose in response to rumors that Apple is quietly asking their retail employees to upgrade memory on demo computers. The story has run in several places, yet it seems nobody bothered to question how that would be done on a MacBook Air, unless they somehow expect service people to perform logic board transplants, which is utterly absurd.
So much for increased memory needs.
The second tidbit of advice will be nerve-wracking if you follow the usual directions. Knowing that there will be no support for PowerPC apps, some uninformed tech pundits suggest you highlight each of your apps, separately, choose Get Info from the Finder’s File menu (or press Command-I), and see if it’s strictly PowerPC. If it is, that app won’t launch under Lion, period. I mentioned Office 2004, and various versions of Intuit’s Quicken as examples, but there are lots more, some dating back to the early days of Mac OS X, in 2001. Most of you will be able to upgrade to a newer version, or perhaps find a different app to fill the same need. If you can’t, you’ll have to avoid Lion, keep Snow Leopard installed on a second hard drive or partition, or use a Windows alternate with Boot Camp or a Windows virtual machine.
But there’s an easier, faster way to find out how much software on your Mac is PowerPC only. Just choose About This Computer from your Apple menu and click More Info, which will launch Apple’s System Profiler. On the left sidebar, choose Software / Applications, and you’ll see a list of everything in a single window, though it may take a few moments to appear. Click on an app’s name, and an information display will appear in the bottom pane that will reveal whether it’s a PowerPC app. You still have to do them one-by-one, but the process is far more efficient. You may also find a third party utility online that’ll catalog these obsolete apps.
When I ran a System Profiler check before writing this article, I was comforted to discover that the apps I need for my work and leisure would still work, though there may be Lion-related glitches that will require updates. Still, a surprising number bore the dreaded PowerPC label, and a few Classics (for the original dead and buried Mac OS) appeared on the list. So you can bet I’ll be reviewing those relics so see why they are still on my Mac’s startup drive, and make a final decision what to do with them. They will likely all be trashed. You may not be so lucky.
But none of this means you should take the Lion leap on Day One. Typical of any major Apple OS upgrade, there will be bugs in the first version that won’t be fixed for a few weeks, when the inevitable 10.7.1 arrives. You may just want to examine the official reviews and online chatter to see if there are show stoppers that would prevent you from having a great experience. But remember that no matter how reliable an OS release might be, someone somewhere will have problems. Maybe their system configuration is off the beaten track and thus creates problems most of you won’t encounter. Or maybe it takes a rare confluence of circumstances to produce a nasty symptom.
As for The Night Owl, we’ll be upgrading to Lion on the very first day, and we’ll will make sure there are recent “clone” backups in case the previous Snow Leopard setup has to be restored. Whatever decision you make about upgrading to Lion, always consider regular backups as your first line of proper system protection.