OS X Lion: What Works, and What Doesn’t

by Bryant Plano on July 25, 2011 · 114 comments

Apple’s latest operating system – or service pack, depending on who you talk to – brings a lot of changes to the basic OS X interface.  Between all the new features (Apple totes 250+, but you only probably see 15-20 of those) and the user interface enhancements, it can be a little overwhelming when you first start using Lion. It’s a huge success already in terms of sheer number of downloads, and Apple has even updated its Macs so they are primed and ready for Lion. So what is so great about the new version of Mac OS X, and what isn’t so great?

Works: Aqua Enhancements

Example of a download bar in Lion, with the yellow "minimize" button at the top left.

Aqua is the Mac user graphical user interface (or GUI, pronounced goo-ee). This has changed quite a bit from Snow Leopard. For example, the classic Mac “stoplight” buttons – in a practical red, yellow and green on the top left of your windows – have gotten smaller and given a bit more curved appearance. Download bars have changed, going from a dark blue to an interesting robins-egg-blue opaque bar. There have been some other small visual enhancements too, like tab color changes and some precision font work. All-in-all, it looks great, and really gives OS X a clean feeling.

Doesn’t Work: Scrolling

The "natural scrolling" feature, at the top left, will mess some users up.

Some people have been using the OS X Lion distributions since they were first released as betas for developers (like me), and they don’t find this too much of a change. However, I’ve heard from several of my friends that scrolling has completely messed up their way of life. Apple has reversed the default scrolling procedure. OS X used to scroll up when you scrolled up and scrolled down when you scrolled down – which seems relatively logical. However, this is reversed in Lion – scrolling down takes you up a webpage, and vice versa. Luckily, this is reversible – Hit the Apple icon on the upper left of the screen, go into System Preferences – Track Pad – Scroll & Zoom, and uncheck “Scroll direction: natural”. You will then be back to the up-is-up and down-is-down scrolling. Still, it can take some getting used to.

Works: Mission Control

Mission Control does its best to make a ton of open applications manageable.

Combining Expose and Spaces may have been one of the best – or worst – decisions on Apple’s part in OS X Lion. Personally, I love it – I hated having two different features that seemed to play a similar role and was ecstatic when they announced Mission Control. The Expose feature in past versions of OS X allowed you to see all of your open windows in a tiled view on your desktop with the click of a button. Spaces allowed you to create virtual desktops – essentially separate screens for performing your work. Mission Control combines these two features and gives you a sleek capture of all of your open programs, with easy-access to your Spaces and Dashboard at the top of the screen. It’s extremely useful, though some people will hate how cramped it can become on smaller screens.

Doesn’t Work: Launchpad

I know I'm supposed to be relatively unbiased about this, but seriously, this is annoyingly like my iPod Touch.

Excuse me, but what is this? This is a feature I found extremely ANNOYING in OS X Lion. The Applications folder has been replaced by a little rocketship in a feature that Apple dubs “Launchpad”. Essentially, it’s the Application folder… that looks like it was pulled straight out of iOS. What in the world? I mean, sure, it works – your applications are separated into Apple System apps and Downloaded Apps – but why, oh WHY, does it need to look like a couple of iOS home screens? I think this is a silly “improvement”, but it gets the job done. It still looks like iOS.

Works: (Most) Full Screen Applications

Full screen applications make researching and creating of documents a breeze.

If there is one feature I’ve been looking forward to, it’s the use of full-screen applications. And has it been worth the wait. Nearly all of Apple’s native applications run in a glorious full-screen mode (after a system update, if you’re install Lion fresh). Safari works well in a tabbed form (though Google Chrome has yet to be updated to take full advantage of Apple’s new full-screen API), iTunes looks great, iCal is wonderful, and Pages gives you a no-hassle space to write your papers. Aside from the few third-party programs that don’t work just yet (and some OS X apps that have yet to be updated in the Mac App Store), this is an absolute win for Apple.

Doesn’t Work: Rosetta/PowerPC Applications

This person is screwed. Lots and LOTS of PowerPC applications.

And then comes this issue, which newer Mac adopters will have no issues with, but those running certain software/hardware will have major grievances. First, a quick explanation: Rosetta was a transitional software put in place by Apple in Mac OS X during its move from Power PC processors to Intel processors. It allowed PowerPC applications to be used by Intel processors, albeit at a loss in performance. Now that Apple has been in the Intel phase for five years (the last PowerPC Macs were discontinued in 2006), they have seen fit to drop support for the older software/hardware by offering OS X 10.7 as an Intel-software-only release. Thus, people running programs like the following: Quicken (all versions), Adobe Creative Suite (CS2 and earlier), Microsoft Office (2004 and earlier), FileMaker Pro (Versions 8 and earlier), and older games like Diablo III and the original Starcraft will not be able to use them in Lion. This will irk many people who don’t want to spend the money to upgrade to new programs, but that’s how the industry is moving nowadays. New OS means newer software. I hate to say it, but I won’t complain about this move – then again, I don’t have a new $1,600 Adobe CS5 license to buy either.

Lion: It Just Works… For Some People

It’s hard to recommend Lion to everyone. For the average, non-specialized Mac user, it’s a solid upgrade. For new Mac users, well, you’re stuck with it as the default OS on your new Mac, so you’ll get used to it. For the hardcore and “ancient”-program-using-users, you’re going to be in for a shock. Lion definitely brings some new things to the table, but you may need to make some sacrifices from your applications folder (or your wallet) to get your Mac up to speed.

(Pictures via HeresTheThing, MacThemes, PCWorld, PSBlog, Technobaboy, and OSX Daily)

Be Sociable, Share!

Previous post:

Next post: