Mac OS X Lion

I’ve taken the plunge — this blog entry is being completed through the new Mac operating system, OS X Lion. Some friends have asked me what I think, since I upgraded on the first day (naturally) and I figured it was time I post a quick review.

In short, nothing too terribly revolutionary, there are some cool features, and I have a couple of cautions for you.

First of all, Mac OS X Lion is incredibly easy (and inexpensive) to purchase. For $29.99 you can purchase the upgrade on the new Mac App Store, and once you’ve purchased it, you can download it to ALL of your machines. (Yes, this means one upgrade fee, regardless of how many laptops/desktops you are upgrading. Hooray!)

One you’ve upgraded, you’ll notice some minor changes to the look-and-feel, essentially a fresh coat of paint on the display. Nothing too mind-blowing. But you’ll quickly notice two new icons in your Dock:

  • Launchpad: For anyone with an iPhone or an iPad, this will look incredibly familiar. The applications on your machine are now grouped together in a nice uniform display, which will immediately remind you of the home screen on your iPhone/iPad. It’s one more subtle reminder that Apple is gradually moving everything towards the highly successful iPhone/iPad model.
  • Mission Control: This replaces the Exposé functionality in the previous version of Mac OS X, which frankly I never really used. Basically this pulls back your view and shows you all of the applications that you have open, letting you quickly find something specific you wanted to flip back to. One neat feature of Mission Control (which may or may not have been in Exposé, I don’t know) is the ability to switch to the Desktop view from Mission Control.
  • Moving past the two new Dock items to some functionality additions…

  • There are now all sorts of ways to control your computer through swipes of your fingers on the touchpad. To be honest, I haven’t really explored these fully, but Apple has helpfully posted this cheat sheet: OS X Lion: About Multi-Touch gestures
  • There’s a built-in auto-correct for spelling errors, which is (once again) very reminiscent of the iPhone/iPad operating system. Now it goes beyond the old squiggly red underline and will offer to, and if not stopped will automatically, correct your spelling errors. I actually like this, though I will say it does reduce the “lesson learned” that an underlined error made. (With corrections happening seamlessly, you don’t always registered the error and mentally correct your spelling.)
  • Full-screen view: Sure, cynics will note that Windows ALWAYS gave you the option of going full-screen, but this full-screen goes a step farther: instead of just taking up the entire window, this actually covers your entire screen (including the spaces where normally you would see the time, the toolbar across the top, etc.) Think of PowerPoint’s full-screen presentation made, and you’ll get the idea. It’s not something I’m likely to use very often, but it’s nice to have the option.
  • Multiple desktops: I haven’t even tried this, but apparently this is quite the big deal. Multiple desktops lets you better organize how you’ve got files clustered together, in sort of the same way that a computer with two monitors lets you build more efficient collections. I don’t really use my Desktop screen much anyway on my personal computer, because I spend most of my time in applications like Mail, iCal, Safari, and iTunes, but as someone with a highly organized desktop on his work computer, I can appreciate the value of this.
  • Airdrop: This will prove to be VERY handy for a household like mine with multiple Mac users living together. Essentially this is a built-in peer-to-peer network, where you can drop files and share them with one another. Much easier than the current Shared Folders system when users are on the same Wi-Fi network, Airdrop lets you accomplish easy transfers anytime your computers are close to each other with their wireless modems turned on.
  • There’s also been a fresh coat of paint all over: Apps like Mail, iChat, iCal, Safari, etc. all have had minor adjustments, mostly in the interface (not necessarily in functionality.)

    Since Mac OS X Lion apparently includes over 250 new features and functions, I’m clearly not going to be able to quote them all to you here. Apple again comes to the rescue with this large list of enhancements to the operating system.

    Three bits of caution, since I was taken by surprise:

  • Swiping to scroll up and down is now reversed from the way the previous operating system (and basically every other desktop/laptop operating system, ever) worked. To scroll down and read what’s below the part of the screen you’re seeing now, you actually two-finger-scroll UP on your touchpad or magic mouse. This is incredibly disorientating for a few minutes — until you realize that it’s basically what you’ve always done on your iPhone/iPad. Did I mention that the Mac operating system sure does seem to be morphing into the mobile operating system? (You can change this setting if you’re resistant to the change, but I kind of like it now that I’ve started getting used to it.)
  • Some really old programs may not work in the new operating system. Example: Quicken 2007 is not compatible, which meant I unexpectedly had to buy Quicken Essentials for Mac. (Side-note: great program, very nice improvements, I encourage you to get it for managing your checkbook/bills/budget.) If you’ve got applications that are several years old, check to see if they need to be upgraded BEFORE you install Mac OS X Lion, as upgrading afterward may be tricky.
  • If you’ve stashed files anywhere in folders OTHER than your personal folders, such as in a system folder somewhere for whatever reason, move those files into your personal folder before upgrading. I accidentally overwrote a bunch of stuff that I had put in the Library folder, because the new operating system doesn’t store files that way anymore. (This probably won’t impact anyone who doesn’t foolishly get creative with file storage.)
  • All in all, Mac OS X Lion is a solid upgrade, with a few major enhancements and lots of minor tweaks. It’s definitely worth the $29.99, particularly if you have multiple Macs or frequently interact with other peoples’ Macs. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the new functionality, and I’m already very happy with it.

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