OS X Lion Impressions

This isn’t going to be an in-depth look at Lion since there are already plenty of good reviews, like those of TechCrunch, Wired, and a particularly extensive one from Ars Technica.

Instead, I’ll be looking at features that stood out most to me in the day or two that I’ve been using Lion.

Compatibility
As with any new OS, older apps may have compatibility issues. For example, my default browser is Google Chrome, which has a few bugs on Lion. Nothing that really breaks the experience, but annoying nonetheless. Fixes are coming, but in the meantime if you’ve got a program you can’t live without and are concerned that it might be broken in Lion, you can use Roaring Apps to check first.

Installation
If you hadn’t already heard, Lion is download-only. That is, the only place you’re going to get it is on the Mac App Store. It costs US$29.99; I paid AUD$31.99 for it, which is surprisingly cheap considering other OS prices. It’s approximately a 4GB download, which may be a little bit of an issue if you don’t exactly have the fastest connection.

Just about every pundit will tell you that you should backup your files before you start the installation. This is especially important if your computer is a well-used veteran with many files strewn about that you wouldn’t want to lose. My MacBook Air is only a couple months old and most of my files are small enough that I could sync them to Dropbox, so I didn’t need to do any major backups.

On my Air, the installation process itself was smooth and seamless and took only 25 minutes.

Natural scrolling
Ever since I switched to a Mac, one of my favourite trackpad gestures is the two-finger scroll. Using two fingers to scroll through a webpage is so intuitive and satisfying that when I used a friend’s Dell laptop, it took me a couple seconds to realize her trackpad wasn’t going to respond to my scroll gestures no matter how adamant I was.

So, along with the other 999,999 early adopters of Lion on its first day of release, it was with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation that I considered this new ‘natural’ scrolling style.

When your Mac restarts into Lion for the first time, a simple prompt will appear showing you the new scrolling style. It mimics the way you would manipulate content on a touchscreen device like a tablet or a smartphone and is the total opposite of how scrolling has traditionally been done. Basically, with natural scrolling, the content follows the direction of your swipe (as opposed to moving in the opposite way as it always has).

There have been some who claim it’s a better way to scroll, but not everyone is convinced, like Brian Chen from Wired:

Inverted scrolling makes sense on an iPad, where you swipe the screen in one direction and it moves in the opposite direction, like a world globe does in real life when you spin it with your fingers. But on a Mac, I believe it’s the disconnect between peripheral and screen that makes it less intimate than a touchscreen device, and therefore uncomfortable to replace traditional mouse gestures with the real-world swipe.

Having used iOS devices for years, I must admit that natural scrolling did initially feel slightly more intuitive to me. However, I often use my Air at home as my main computer where I use a mouse with a scroll wheel, and natural scrolling does not feel intuitive with conventional mice. At the end of the day, it’s not a touchscreen. But I might just take John Gruber’s advice and give it a week and see how I feel.

[Update: It’s four days later and natural scrolling has grown on me. Feels entirely intuitive now, even on a scroll wheel mouse.]

Launchpad
The most obvious indication of the significance of iOS is seen in Launchpad, which arranges your applications page by page in the iOS style. Pinching with a thumb and three fingers brings it up, and it’s essentially a fancy version of the Applications folder. I never used the Applications folder that much before since my most used apps are on my dock.

An issue with natural scrolling is that it’s tied to the mouse/trackpad option you choose. This means if you stick with traditional scrolling, Launchpad will be a little wonky, especially if you’re an iOS user because you’ll want to use natural scrolling. This could be solved if Apple were to allow different scrolling methods with different peripherals – natural with trackpads and traditional with mice.

Etc.
There are a whole bunch of other new things on Lion, like new and different multi-touch gestures, full-screen apps, Mission Control, a revamped Mail program, and new Finder functions. Some you’ll take to like a fish to water, some you’ll use once in a while, and others you’ll relegate to a dusty folder somewhere, never to be touched.

So, should you upgrade? Well, while it definitely has a few features and functions you’d need to get used to (or simply turn off), it’s a great OS at a great price, and I don’t really see any major reason not to.

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