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The Lion Report: Keeping it Simple

It is surely commendable for Apple to want to unify the iOS and OS X as much as possible. That makes it easier for users of both to switch back and forth on a regular basis. Certainly, adding loads of new gestures to Lion was designed to speed the process, assuming you care to take the time to learn some of them. That also assumes that you are using Apple’s own input devices for the most part, to take advantage of most of these features.

At the same time, you can be assured that there are loads and loads of tips and tricks designed to change the setups, not just with Apple’s own visible settings, but with Terminal hacks and third party utilities.

The other day, for example, I read an article specifying 18 different ways to make your user level Library folder visible (a 19th has since be added). It’s quite a worthy effort, actually, although you might wonder what the fuss is all about.

You see, your ~/Library folder is a place where cache files, preference files, email files, and loads of other data is stored. It’s an easy place to visit if something goes wrong on your Mac, but removing the wrong preference file may revert an app to its default settings — or force you to reenter a registration serial number. Removing a file in Application Support may render an app unusable, forcing you to reinstall. I suspect Apple fielded lots of support calls from Mac users who had messed with this folder and did something wrong, so they decided to make it harder to reach. So with Lion, the visibility “flag” is turned off. You can’t see it without performing a few tricks.

To keep it simple, the best way to find that folder is simply to click on the desktop, hold down Option and you’ll see Library in the Go menu. Forget about all the other steps, because that’s a place you will seldom need to visit, and if you’re not a fairly skilled Mac user, you should avoid it altogether unless you are following the directions of a support person, a magazine or online article, or a book. Even then, the support person might be the best resource to help you solve a problem.

When it comes to scrolling, Apple decided to take a natural approach, meaning that the OS X version mimics the iPhone and iPad’s behavior. So you move your fingers up to travel towards the bottom of a document, and down to get to the top. Instinctive I suppose for new users, but the opposite of the method traditionally employed in graphical operating systems for decades. Getting used to scrolling upward to see a document move up on your Mac takes some getting used to. I avoided it for a while, before giving in, more or less.

Now maybe Apple expected Mac users to understand the change, which can be jarring at first brush. But they don’t put up a warning prompt on the first scroll. They leave it for you to discover, just as you might discover the option in the Mouse and Trackpad preference panels that says, “Move content in the direction of finger movement when scrolling or navigating.” Uncheck that option, and scrolling reverses itself, thus restoring the old ways.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide which way is better.

There’s yet another set of behavior defaults that might cause confusion, the ability to restore windows when you relaunch an app. Now this is a native Lion feature that may or may not work on the apps you use, depending on whether they were upgraded to Lion versions. But some apps, such as Adobe InDesign 5.5, and Word 2011, seem to support the restore feature for the most part, although they are not yet Lion savvy, and here’s where things get dicey.

Just imagine that you had half a dozen documents opened in InDesign, which is quite pokey about launching and opening documents. So you launch InDesign, and you may wait long minutes for all those documents to reopen, whether you want them to or not. One solution is to hold down Option when you quit the app, which reverses the function, meaning windows aren’t reopened. If you tire of this mostly global resume feature, visit the General preference pane and uncheck “Restore windows when quitting and re-opening apps.” After you’ve done that, an Option Quit will reverse the procedure, meaning the windows will be reopened at next launch.

Unfortunately, resuming and not resuming may not be consistent. Your mileage will vary. Some of that is due to the apps themselves, and some of it may be due to lingering bugs in Lion. I suppose the picture will clear up somewhat when 10.7.1 ultimately arrives, whenever that is.

My biggest criticism about the whole thing, as you can see, is changing expected behavior in Lion updates without a clear warning. Not every Mac user is tuned in to such matters. Maybe it makes sense on a clean install, or when you set up a new Mac, but I expect these serious changes will be fodder for a fair number of service calls, at least in the early days. Maybe I’m wrong, but Apple shouldn’t assume all or most Mac users have studied the fineries of Lion and know what to expect.