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The Lion Report: Just the Facts Please!

There’s an amazing amount of information out there in the wild about Mac OS X Lion. Apple has offered a reasonable description of the new features, buttressed by a host of articles that cover the ins and outs, even ahead of the official release. It also appears that Apple isn’t being hard-nosed about clamping down on the people who are reporting their experiences with the prerelease versions made available to registered developers and book authors.

At the same time, there are lingering questions that Apple might answer in the early days, with loads and loads of Knowledge Base documents. Other Q&As will come from hands-on experience, and quite often that information will be far more useful.

But there are already some issues that threaten to make a Lion upgrade a non-starter.

The basic problem is just getting a copy. About a quarter of the U.S. population doesn’t have broadband; some can’t get it, others don’t want it. But to retrieve a file estimated to be close to 4GB, you may have little choice. Yes, you can take your portable Mac to an Apple Store and use their wireless connection to download Lion. I expect that independent resellers will usually cooperate as well. If your nearest dealer is a long drive from your home, I suppose you can have someone copy Lion onto a DVD — and the legality of that act is questionable unless they share your iTunes account or you order a copy anyway, even if you can’t retrieve it.

Or just do without.

Another big reason to avoid Lion is the loss of Rosetta, confirmed by Intuit and others. If the apps you require for your work or leisure are strictly PowerPC, you’re stuck. I suppose if enough of you clamor for the return of Rosetta, Apple might do something, but that’s doubtful. A better possibility is that someone might license the technology, but Apple would have to offer it. That may be possible, since Intuit claims they are hoping to license Rosetta libraries to allow you to use, say, Quicken 2007 for the Mac under 10.7. But that’s just a lame excuse for a multibillion dollar corporation that’s seems unable to hire a handful of smart Mac programmers to restore the lost features in Quicken Essentials, or just build a new Intel-based version of Quicken that is otherwise identical to the Windows version.

However, logic is often lost on large companies, and I won’t exclude Apple.

When it comes to the snazzy new features in Lion, some will require a Lion savvy app, which means developers will have to update their software to support the new features. Full-Screen Apps is a key example, but don’t forget about Auto-Save. It’s a great feature, one offered by third parties for years, and it allows the OS to periodically save your documents in the background, so you don’t lose your stuff in the event of an app quit, freeze, or system hangup of some sort, if you forget the manual save. But those other auto-save utilities didn’t require developers to update their apps. It’s appears that Lion does, which will create the unfortunate situation where you will have to look for telltale indicators in the File menu to see if the only Save option is the one you’ve always had in a Mac app. Sure, some Mac apps, such as Word, provide built-in auto-save functions. But I expect some Mac users will be burning up Apple’s support lines complaining about the features they can’t find, even though it’ll be someone else’s fault.

Other features will depend on your preference. It appears Lion’s scrollbar scheme is reminiscent of the iOS version, where pushing down on a scroll bar moves the document down, which you might compare to a car with front wheel drive. But the traditional Mac (and Windows) scrollbar metaphor calls for scrolling down to make the screen move upward, which might be likened to a car with rear wheel drive. In addition, scrollbars will only appear if you touch (or mouse over) them, which may be OK in the iOS, but is otherwise a poor decision. Wouldn’t you want to know if a document’s length and breadth exceeds the screen size without need of a touch or pointing device? At least that feature will apparently be switchable.

As I said, even Apple does things that seem to strain one’s logic.

With over 250 new features, I’m sure you’ll find some that are difficult to live without. But Apple hasn’t said much if anything about Lion’s performance. Will all the eye candy and heavy-duty system enhancements bog down your Mac, or will it be as fast and fluid as Leopard? Yes, the minimum RAM requirement of 2GB, something you find in an Apple press release rather than in the current online description, may be enough to install Lion and run some apps. But will it be sufficient for snappy performance? If your Mac is stuck with 2GB, and a MacBook Air is a good example, you are going to just cope. Or stick with Snow Leopard.

Of course the real issue is whether there’s anything in Lion to entice you to upgrade. It’s cheap, and if you have a Mac with 10.6.8 and a decent broadband connection, it may be a no-brainer, assuming your apps are all or mostly compatible. Otherwise, you may wonder why anyone whould bother.