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The Lion Report: Hits and Misses?

The reviews are coming thick and fast. OS X Lion (the word “Mac” is now restricted to the hardware, not the software) is a hit. Apple’s huge experiment, changing a few cherished Mac OS features to conform to iOS conventions, isn’t getting a huge number of complaints. For the most part, it’s as snappy or snappier than Snow Leopard.

So is there anything worth a complaint?

Well, you can complain to Apple because Auto-Save and Version doesn’t work in all your apps. But it’s up to each software developer to update their apps to make them Lion savvy. A number of updates are out already, but the key publishers, such as Adobe and Microsoft, will take a while to get their stuff finished. It won’t happen overnight, and it’s quite possible Apple will have to release one or two maintenance updates to 10.7 to make it all possible. The watchword is to be patient.

That doesn’t mean, for example, that Office 2011 for Mac is necessarily crippled. It’s not, really, although there are a few glitches here and there. What Microsoft ought to worry about is the fact that the refurbished email client/contact manager, Outlook, has become less and less useful in Lion. Combine Address Book, iCal, and Mail, along with support for Exchange Server 2010, and most of the people who might have required Outlook don’t need it. There are some power user features that might be required by some, and having an app compatible with the Windows version of Outlook is a good thing for the business world. I have tried Mac version of  Outlook, but still find it too buggy for regular use, at least for me.

The Adobe CS5.5 apps I normally use, such as Photoshop and InDesign, seem to work reliably enough for my needs. I just formatted two large books in InDesign, and every feature that I require worked just fine. No support for Lion’s Auto-Save, of course; I won’t be able to liberate myself from the Command-S addiction for a while longer. I suspect that it will take at least six months for most Mac users to feel confident that this important function can be handled behind the scenes, without your intervention.

But it was right for Apple to want the system to take over the manual chores that have been inflicted on personal computer users for so many years. You shouldn’t have to worry about remembering to save a document, and you shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to restore a previous version if that’s what you want.

The security experts say that Apple has some good things to improve OS X security. Sandboxing walls off apps, so one compromised app can’t infect others, but it’ll take time for apps to get with the program. Address space randomization is yet another feature that helps keep the Internet criminals at bay. It doesn’t mean that OS X is completely secure. In addition to the security lapses that continue to be patched, there is the matter of social engineering. That means your misstep can result in downloading an app that might cause mischief because you have been fooled into thinking something useful will happen. Consider the MAC Defender episode, a scareware outbreak, in which a fake app claims to be able to remove viruses from your Mac, at the expense of separating you from your money.

As far as real bugs are concerned, they might be mostly app related. But I know of one issue encountered by a colleague, author Kirk McElhearn, where his iMac would predictably crash under certain circumstances when he played videos. Kirk originally thought, and suggested on my radio show, that the Apple RAM on his spanking new 27-inch iMac might have been responsible, but he was able to duplicate the problem without those memory modules. He’s still investigating, and we’ll update you when the true cause is known.

Besides, you can be assured there will be a 10.7.1 before long, though the rumor sites haven’t mentioned anything about when it might arrive; instead, they are talking of a 10.7.2 update that will be needed for iCloud when it arrives this fall.

One article I read dings Lion for its high system requirements, which is a questionable claim. You need an Intel-based Mac with 2GB of RAM and a Core 2 Duo processor or better. Most recent Macs meet the memory needs; older models require inexpensive upgrades. But no Mac user would expect Leopard or Snow Leopard to delivery snappy performance with less than 2GB of RAM.

Besides, it seems unrealistic to expect Apple not to want to exploit the potential of more recent Macs. Sure they would rather sell you a new computer, but I installed Lion on my son’s 2008 MacBook, with 4GB of RAM, and performance was pretty much on a par with Snow Leopard. What’s more, all the apps he needs work just fine, thank you. If he had a complaint, I’d hear it fast.

As Mac OS upgrades go, Lion seems off to a fine start.