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December 30, 2011

Mac OS Lion: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Filed under: Mac,Private — Ivan Herman @ 12:33
Tags: , , ,

The poster of the 'The Good the bad and the ugly' MovieI have made use of the winter recess to install Mac’s Lion on my powerbook. I must admit I hesitated for a while (I was not sure that it was worth the trouble) but then, partially driven by sheer  curiosity, I did it. And, as usual, there are pros and cons… Maybe others will find my experiences useful.

1. The Good

My tactic of waiting, i.e., not to install Lion when it was still a cub, paid off. I have seen many stories on the Web, mostly dated back in July, about installation difficulties (e.g., issues about the installation of Xcode). Well, none of these for me. It installed easily, relatively quickly (after download, the installation process was about an hour, with an additional round with the installation of Xcode). Most of the things worked without further ado, although I did have to update some programs (e.g., iTunes, Safari, mercurial, some additional tools for Mail like GPG or Mail Act-On). But these were to be expected and otherwise the system worked smoothly. For example, my local apache server started and worked as before, in contrast to the stories I saw on the Web. There were also some user interface adjustments I had to make (sorry Apple, I do not like the “natural” scrolling, and I also like to have the scrollbar always on), but the web is full of references to the necessary tricks to do these.

The system is faster. Not hugely, but faster in booting, in logging in, and also some applications, like Safari, got some speed improvements. That is always a welcome feature!

I quite like Mission Control. I used “Places” on Snow Leopard, but mission control is nicer, and works well with the full-screen feature. B.t.w., the full screen feature is also great.

I use Mail App as my primary mailer and there are (as far as I am concerned) two major improvements. On the one hand, it has a nice “conversation” feature; the particular aspect I like is that it manages conversations and “related” mails across mail folders (and I have loads of them) regardless of the fact that I use IMAP. This is great. The other nice feature is the improved search, both in speed and in the various options it gives you. Mail is my everyday workhorse, so such improvements made the upgrade to Lion already worthwhile.

I love the fact that, at last, I can resize my windows easily. I change screens often (I have an external screen at home, another one at my institute, and they are different in size…) and the fact that, on Snow Leopard, I had to grab the lower right hand corner of a window to resize it was really a drag.

At this moment I am not at my usual place, meaning I am without an external screen; I can just refer to what I read, namely that handling external screens became smoother in Lion, too. I hope that is true, the old way of closing, restarting, whatnot, was also a pain.

There are a number of additional small improvements (e.g., better spellcheck in Safari; really helpful as I write these lines:-). I am sure I will find out more as it goes.

2. The Bad

Of course, not everything is nice and rosy:-(

I miserably failed with iCloud. I tried to use it to synchronize my iPhone and iPad easily with my Mac. It simply did not work reliably as far as the calendar was concerned. I regularly ran into the problem of adding an event to my calendar on, say, my iPhone, and the result was not visible anywhere else (I tried explicit synchronization when it was clear how to do it, wait for half an hour, etc; no success). I tried it through the built-in calendar application on the iPhone (which I do not particularly like, b.t.w.) as well as some other calendar apps, to no avail. After a while I just gave up, and reversed back to my previous self, i.e., using iTunes’ synchronization. Taking into account that, with IOS 5, one can also sync from iTunes over the Wireless, it is so easy to synchronize that it does not really bother me. It is, nevertheless, surprising that Apple comes out with such a much heralded feature that simply does not work properly.

I did run into some awkwardness in the user interface of the Mail App, too. For example, one would think that this application is a prime candidate to be used full screen. However, beware: if you reply to a mail in full screen mode, you cannot switch windows (e.g., you cannot reply to two mails in parallel, stuff like that) which might make it awkward. In a sense it is understandable, but it was a surprise nevertheless. Another issue is with the conversation feature: I display my mails with increasing date order but, within a conversation, Mail keeps on using decreasing dates; I have not found a way to change that…

And then there is Launchpad. Having it is a great idea, in fact. If set up properly, it gives you an easy way to get to applications, it reduces the size of the Dock (which can be an issue on a small screen), etc. If set up properly, that is. But… I did run into several issues. Some examples:

  • At the start I saw loads of duplicate entries. This is because I organized my Application collection to my own taste before, with subdirectories, aliases, etc; I have too many applications to leave them as a flat list. This led to a bunch of duplicates. Which is understandable, but it is fairly difficult to remove application from Launchpad: although the “official” version is that one can do the same as on an iPhone (pressing an icon, and using a big X on it), but this method did not work for most of the applications. (No idea why.) Fortunately, I have found a program called Launchpad Control, which can do that for you (thank you, Andreas Ganske!)
  • There are missing entries. Hence the big question: how does one add an application to Launchpad? Answer: no idea. I have seen proposals on the Web (e.g., move the application’s icon on top of the Launchpad icon on the Dock or create alias and put it to ~/Applications): none worked for me (Maybe if I restart? I did logged out and in again, that did not change, and I did not want to restart the computer only for this.) For the time being, I gave up on that.
  • Launchpad is the typical case of an application that asks for a keyboard shortcut to start. I have found, after all, a way to do it; but does it have to be that complicated? (Actually, I saw some notes on the Web that the keyboard shortcut will disappear after reboot. I hope that will not be the case…)

Bottom-line: although I will use Launchpad, probably, it is not what it should be. Hopefully later releases will improve this.

3. The Ugly

No new item here, just a remark: it is really surprising to me that Apple would come out with such unfinished products like iCloud or Launchpad. It is perfectly o.k. to come out with Lion, add these programs in the state they are in, and make it clear to people that this is work in progress. Everybody would understand that. But doing it this way simply reduces the credibility of Apple… Pity.

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1 Comment

  1. I got my MacBook 1.5 years ago and I’m still doubting whether or not to upgrade to Lion. However, a faster Mail is one of the things that could convince me, since it’s an important workhorse for me as well. Maybe I should consider a New Year’s present for myself :)

    Comment by Ruben Verborgh — January 3, 2012 @ 12:56


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