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  • 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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