Over the past few weeks, I’ve published my reviews of several key components of Mac OS X lion (mostly cranky). Some people have suggested that I must have too much time on my hands, when just the opposite is true — I have been spread much too thin since mid-2000s, constantly updating eight books and hundreds of articles, finishing a degree, etc. And yet I still chose to make time for this!
For pity’s sake, why?
Above all, because I’m a hobbyist, raised on computers, tinkering since the TRS-80 CoCo. But technological literacy is a modern necessity, and a particular occupational hazard for me, and
reviewing identifying and bitching about the quirks of my tools is simply important and no more eccentric than RingTFM. (RTFM is a geekronym for “read the fucking manual,” used like a club on those who obviously haven’t. Here’s a shocker: reading manuals and looking things up is actually a very good method of learning how software works.)
I am struck but how much more there is that I could do. It’s astonishing how large Apple’s “ecosystem” (hate that word) has become. I’ve barely scratched the surface of Lion, and yet iOS and iCloud are also now major factors in my daily computing, and professionally relevant. iOS would be unavoidable as a technology that many of my customers are using, even if I didn’t care — though I do.
But there are limits to my dedication. I don’t have the “luxury” of studying and reviewing Apple products full time. And so this review series now comes to an end with …
A somewhat ignominously anticlimactic list of lion review miscellany
- Where’s the library? Lion hides my Library folder! Apple, I know what the Library folder is and I want access to it, thank you. Sure, it’s easy for a power user to fix (chflags nohidden ~/Library/), but I find it offensive in principle. The thing is, it’s a problem even for the beginners it is supposed to paternalistically protect. Too many valuable things are in the folder to hide it! And God help you if you’re trying to help a beginner with this. “Oh, it’s there, but it’s invisible. Because Apple thinks you’re a fucking idiot. Now, have you ever heard of ‘the terminal’?”
- Where’s the scroll bars? Lion tries to do away with scroll bars, like on iOS. But killing scroll bars clearly only makes sense where screen space is limited. The loss of good information on a larger screen is glaring. Killing them on my system is just rude. I restored mine right quick.
- Autosaving and versions are flagship features that win, and good candidates for a more thorough review if only I cared enough. Suffice it to say that I think it’s terrific, and I have no reservations — not even about the much bemoaned collateral damage to “save as,” which I think I understand and can accept.
- Resume is another pure win. As a heavy BBEdit user, I have known the joys of app state persistence for a long time now. It’s just pure goodness to have it spread all over my Mac now.
- The new file vault is smart as hell, full points, two thumbs up. But it makes the old file vault look like a joke. (Except, oh yeah, the oldfile vault already looked like a joke.) This is a useful, valuable, robust feature for those what need it.
- Full-screen apps are a waste of code for me. I don’t get it. They make sense on iOS. I have yet to see the appeal on a Mac, where elaborate task juggling between apps — especially on a multi-display Mac. The real deal-breaker here is poor handling of the extra displays. Clearly, no one at Apple put any thought at all into the relationship between full-screen modes and multi-display systems.
- Mission control is a good but relatively trivial repackaging of technologies we already had. The same desktop management features I loved before, I still love. The ones I found useless before (Spaces, Dashboard) have not been made more useful. But they are all more tightly integrated and nicely presented, I guess.
- Äccénts are cooler: the new method of selecting accented characters — hold down a key — seems like a bit of a stroke of genius to me. Holding a key down to repeat was a virtually useless “feature”, and yet it’s an incredible accessible action — why shouldn’t it be put to better use? Great idea.
- File auto-locking, oh my. If I couldn’t turn it off with a switch — in the Time Machine preference pane (huh?) — I’d have to use a gun. Locking files I haven’t used “in a while” would result in having to unlock about one in every three files I open! Who is this feature for?
- Smart zoom to page sections in Safari seemed pretty awesome at first, but I’ve barely used it, and in fact I have mostly been annoyed by accidentally triggering it.
- Gestures, gestures, gestures. One of Apple’s biggest technological pushes is to bring gestures to the Mac. Despite genuinely diligent effort — actually drilling and review! — I am not a convert. A couple gestures have “sunk in,” but the rest remain obscure novelties that I can’t remember half the time, and half the time I remember them it takes three tries to make them work. If I had to rely on gestures to run my Mac, I would probably lose my mind.
- Gag-inducing cuteness. My vote for the single most awful UI choice in Lion: skeumorphism in iCal and address book, but particularly the achingly slow and unnecessary skeumorphic page-turning animation madness in iCal. It makes me throw up in my mouth a little.
- Big, smooth mouse cursors! A properly scalable mouse cursor is one of those tiny little improvements I’m grateful for. On vast 27” screens with high pixel density — never mind the array of three that I use — it’s really easy to lose a tiny little cursor. In the past, blowing it up with the Accessibility preferences made it glaringly jaggy. Now it just gets bigger!
- Screen zoom, one of the best features of OS X for aging eyes and the visually impaired — and still generally awesome, not just a good thing but a good thing done well — is tragically unreliable in Lion. It was particularly bad before 10.7.2, but continues with a couple failures per week — just stops working until a system restart.