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Friday
Aug262011

Thoughts on Lion

Well, I've been using OS X Lion for a little more than a month now, and I must say, there are a few aspects that really surprise me. I knew that I was going to like it. Every release of OS X has added improvements and refinements to the system. But I'm a little surprised by how much I like some of the features--and exactly which features I now find indispensable.

Let's face it, when Steve Jobs first announced Lion, I thought some of the new features looked a little gimmicky. I mean, full screen apps. Seriously. I guess they're OK for some people, but why would I want to limit myself like that. And yet, full screen apps have quickly become one of my favorite features. No, I don't use it for all my applications, but full screen Safari is a thing of beauty. Xcode also works much better as a full screen app. I can comfortably open the navigator, two editor areas and the utility sidebar. Everything's available at my fingertips without feeling overly crowded.

Of course, there are a few odd side effects. For example, full screen apps hide the clock. I know, this seems like a minor detail, but I was actually surprised by how much this affected me. Apparently I glance at the clock more often than I realize. Once I started doing hard-core coding in Xcode, I quickly found that I had completely lost my sense of time. I was almost late picking up the kids one day because of this.

In some ways it reminds me of my first few months reading from my Kindle. I always had this slightly lost feeling. Reading the dead-tree edition provides a constant, tactile feedback. I knew, without looking, how far I was in the story, as well as how rapidly I was completing it. I was also obsessive about reading until I finished a chapter or section--and would often scan ahead to see how many pages I had left until I could stop.

Over the years, those feelings have gone away. I have adapted to using the progress bar to judge my position in the story, and, In fact, I now prefer knowing the exact percentage finished. The chapter thing is still a problem. More and more books have the chapter breaks marked in the progress bar--but its almost too course-grained to be useful. Mostly, I've just adapted my reading style. I've let go of my obsessions. I'm much more willing to stop reading mid-chapter, and I'm probably happier for it.

Another surprising feature is the new scrollbars (or lack thereof). Again, when apple announced this, I thought it was just a piece of fluff. But, it turns out that I really like having those few extra pixels. I mean, OS X had already trained me to use two-finger gestures on the trackpad for scrolling. I hardly ever use the scrollbars these days. To be honest, most of the time I don't even realize that they're gone.

There is one, small complaint, however. I wish there was some keystroke that could make the scroll bars appear. Every once in a while, I do need to scroll faster or farther than is practical using the two-finger gesture, and getting access to the scroll bars can be a little awkward. I have to start a scroll gesture, then move the mouse over to the scroll bar once it appears.  It would be so much more convenient if I could skip the first step. If I could just hold down the option key (for example), and the scroll bars would automatically appear. Then I could move my mouse over and grab it in one step.

There are a few other rough edges here and there. While I love Mission Control (^→ and ^← are my new ninja moves), sometimes the full-screen apps seem to get confused--especially when they try to open a second window.

And something really odd happens when I start typing. Often, I click in a text field and my fingers start flying. My computer seems to lag for just a split second. No real problem, but when it catches up, the first letter I typed ends up three or four letters into the first word. I really have no idea what's going on--but I can't help wondering if it isn't a problem caused by TextExpander.

I don't even notice the reverse scrolling anymore. It's neither good nor bad. It just is.

And then we have LaunchPad…Yeah…. LaunchPad is (for me at least) just a gimmick after all. It might be more useful if I actually took the time to organize my application icons--but, quite frankly, I just can't be bothered. Of course, this may have more to do with my love of Alfred. Why swipe through page after page of icons, when I can just press a hot-key combination and type the first few letters of my desired application.

Finally, I'm not yet able to use Lion's truly awesome features. These days, I spending most of my time using Microsoft Word (somewhat against my will), which doesn't support versions. Also, Apple hasn't released iCloud support yet.

I'm sure many of these irritations will be ironed out as Apple releases updates and third-party developers update their apps. All in all, Lion is a sizable step forward, and its future seems to be bright. I can't wait to see what Apple does with it.

-Rich-