The Lion Report: Deep Into the Second Month

August 24th, 2011

On the first day of availability, Apple announced that some one million copies of OS X Lion had been downloaded. In addition to being a record for a Mac OS upgrade, Lion’s initial success clearly represents a vindication of Apple’s marketing plan. First they built anticipation for some of those promised 250 new features, and they kept the price low, at $29.99, a mere 99 cents more than 10.6 Snow Leopard.

Now don’t forget that Snow Leopard wasn’t advertised as a major feature upgrade. There were a bunch of “enhancements,” but that’s somehow a different animal in marketing speak. Sure, it may well be that enhancements are meant to be less significant than new features, but not every Lion change is necessarily major. It’s fair to say the numbers are clearly fudged to make a little seem a lot, though I grant some of the new features are very significant, whether you like them or not.

Typical of any major OS release — Windows included of course — there are some “point-zero” bugs. More than a few Lion early adopters complain of black screens of death, Wi-Fi issues, and an assortment of other issues. Last week’s 10.7.1 update may have addressed all or most of the Wi-Fi problems, but the complaints persist. There’s also a report that a 10.7.2 update has been made available to Apple’s registered developers, but the rumor sites aren’t listing any changes so far, other than support for iCloud.

My personal experiences have been extremely positive so far. I didn’t have any legacy PowerPC applications to run, so the lack of Rosetta support is a non-issue. But I grant this is a serious problem that may prevent some of you from upgrading to Lion in the near future without being forced to buy new apps; an equivalent or an update if one is even available. Certainly, any software publisher who hopes to compete with Intuit’s Quicken now has a golden opportunity to make lots of sales, particularly if they can accurately parse your Quicken data.

I have avoided such eye candy as Launchpad, since I have too many apps to make the feature suitable. I still rely on the Dock for the apps I need on a regular basis, and the Applications folder for the rest. Yes, I have considered one of those app launching utilities instead, but it’s not a huge issue for me.

Mission Control, putting all your open windows and desktops in a single place, is probably less annoying than Expose. My major interest is Spaces, an OS X feature that lets you place an app or group of apps on its own desktop, with a separate background if that’s what you want. That’s a convenient way of compartmentalizing your workflow, but the feature has been perennially buggy in my experience. The 10.7.1 update fixed some of the flakiness, meaning that apps are better able to stick in their selected desktops, more or less. But I don’t know if those problems are all Apple’s fault, or the fault of app developers who need to take better advantage of OS X features.

On the other hand, Auto Save is a non-starter for me. Most of the apps I use regularly don’t support the feature, and I’m not about to unlearn the Command-S addiction until those apps get Lion-savvy updates. I also have problems with the Duplicate function replacing Save As. Try both and let me know if you feel that the former is a suitable replacement for the latter.

The new richer selection of gestures doesn’t interest me either. I still prefer a traditional mouse, and learning the proper movements to use only when I’m on my MacBook Pro seems a wasted effort. I suppose folks who are migrating to the Mac platform from an iPad or iPhone might appreciate the similarities. But that doesn’t help me.

Most performance benchmarks I’ve read state that Lion is pretty much on a par with Snow Leopard. Some functions are a little faster, some a little slower. As Apple continues to build maintenance updates to fix problems, perhaps that situation will change over time.

Or perhaps not. The usual scheme to make an app or OS run faster is just to get more RAM, a speedier hard drive, or a speedier computer. Developers don’t seem to have much incentive to optimize their code as much as they had to do in the early days of personal computers, when even the most powerful models could be taxed to perform routine chores.

In any case, I’m not seeing a spate of system crashes or any other untoward behavior that would tempt me to revert to Snow Leopard. Lion’s seems a pretty stable beast overall, despite all the changes.

Some of you have asked me if you should upgrade to Lion. Assuming your Mac is compatible, and your apps are all or mostly compatible, you are safe in performing that upgrade. But I still think Apple should better emphasize the need to have a full backup in case anything goes wrong. But if the reports of persistent problems from Apple’s discussion boards and elsewhere trouble you, there’s no harm in waiting for a few more updates before diving in. But if you buy a new Mac, with Lion preloaded, it’s not as if you have a choice.

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9 Responses to “The Lion Report: Deep Into the Second Month”

  1. dfs says:

    The thing I like least is Auto Save. When I’m working on a large document with Pages, which I’m doing a lot right now, I have to sit through unwelcome and intrusive saves that involve looking at a spinning beach ball. I wish there were some way of turning the darned thing off! Maybe there’s some Terminal command?? This gives me a strong incentive NOT to upgrade to AutoSave-friendly versions of the third-party software I use as they become available. My general take on Lion is that it very much aimed at newbies who have come to the Mac from the iPhone or iPod Touch, helping them get aboard giving them a familiar interface. Which is probably great for them, and probably smart from a commercial point of view. But for those of us who are already quite familiar with the traditional Mac interface Lion really doesn’t have very much to offer. And by charging only thirty bucks Apple is admitting that.

  2. rwahrens says:

    I disagree.

    Autosave for me isn’t a chore, but then I’ve got a brand new iMac with 16 gigs of RAM. On the other hand, I just upgraded to Business Card Composer 5, and they’ve got a setting in Preferences that allows you to change that setting to longer periods than the default 5 minutes. It is also in compliance with full screen usage, which is really great! (I didn’t look further as to whether that setting let you disable the autosave completely, it was 11:30 last night and I was tired.)

    I like the new full screen features. Using full screen apps is very easy when you’ve got to change between apps, all it takes is a four finger swipe, and the whole screen slides off to the right or left to reveal the next app in line. A four finger swipe up reveals Mission Control, which lets you jump to an app four screens over with a single click. Navigation is a pleasure, and FAST!

    The new versioning thing isn’t too much to learn, all you do instead of Save As is to duplicate and hit save, which brings you to a dialog box so you can save it the same as the old Save As command used to do. It merely adds a click or two to the process.

    All in all, Lion is a great update – I LOVE the natural scrolling! Back at work, on Snow Leopard, the old way now screws me up regularly. It now seems UNnatural.

  3. Andrew says:

    So far Lion is a winner for me as well. I have it installed on my 15″ MacBook Pro (2010 model) and it came preinstalled on my new 11″ MacBook Air. I am waiting until the end of the month to install it on all of my office Macs as the Lion-compatible version of one application (DayLite) is still in Beta, which works great on my Air, but there is no rush on the rest of the staff.

    I love the natural scrolling and full-screen apps. Most of the new gestures are great, and mission-control is a tremendous improvement over Expose, which I’ve loved since it came out in Panther. Launchpad I honestly haven’t used as I tend to stay in five main applications and find the dock to be a very convenient way to access those.

    • rwahrens says:


      I actually use Launchpad. I find it is easier on old eyes to look at large, colorful icons than small ones next to tiny type (my iMac is a 27 inch one, making normal type much smaller). One can use the two finger page turning gesture easily to go from page to page of apps and just a single click launches an app.

      It is a new way of doing things, but I find it easier on the eyes, and since it is accessible through a simple gesture on the trackpad, easy on the wrist, too.

      • Andrew says:

        I use and LOVE the magnification feature on the dock icons, and since I only really deal with five and their position is the same on both of the Macs I use it is not an issue.

  4. Richard Taylor says:

    I make a lot of duplicates of docs representing drafts and the autosave feature is both alluring and problematic. I’ve decided to continue making dated draft copies as I move my docs regularly between three computers. I’d like to have “Save As” back at least as an option. As it is now I dupe the doc and then rename it in the Finder, a process that seems like a step back in time to me.

  5. DaveD says:

    Thank you, Mr. Steinberg, and all who have responded here for the honest assessment of Lion’s main features. All valuable comments. It was good to learn that Apple is providing the OS delta update through Software Update first and later baking it into Lion at the Mac App Store.

  6. Thib says:

    For me, I see no great advantage to upgrade to Lion. Furthermore, I have one application that is Rosetta. I don’t use that application much but it is the application that runs the digital audio files I’ve recorded for my research. The only reason I’d upgrade to Lion is when I upgrade my laptop.

  7. Liking Lion. Really like the Mail enhancements. One quirky thing I’ve noticed with Mail is that if I’m composing an email and have it open for a long time, auto save puts a bunch of versions in the Drafts folder.

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