Mac OS X Lion review

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Mac OS X Lion

Mac OS X Lion

Today, Apple shipped MacOS X Lion via the Mac AppStore. It sells for $29.99 USD, and it is topping the charts at the store.
This is the first time Apple went with a complete Internet-based approach to dealing with an OS upgrade. In fact, it’s the only time I have ever heard of an OS being sold strictly via digital download. Words on the street seem to suggest that if you go to an Apple retail store, they will install Lion for you through a local cached version of the OS. Thus, saving you the hassle of downloading 3.5GB over the net. It’s not really a life saver if you ask me, but it’s interesting to see how Apple is handling things for now, and the days to come.

My initial impression of Lion was fairly positive, but not overly impressed with the changes.

Pros:

  1. No major compatibility issues with applications. Everything minus a few utility apps works fine on Lion out of the box, or requires a quick downloadable update. I’m guessing since most apps these days were written in Cocoa already, it wasn’t much of an hassle to fix the few kinks in Lion.
  2. New Mail app is great! New UI with an option to switch back to the classic view if you want to.
  3. System icons are mono-toned. This may be my personal preference, but I think colours can sometimes look a bit messy and disorganized.
  4. System pop-ups, and transitions are super fast and smooth. Apple really took everything they learned from making efficient 2D effects on iOS to the desktop.
  5. iTunes was rewritten for Lion in 64-bit! This is not really a Lion feature, but it sure has been a long wait.
  6. New features – Air Drop, Versions, Resume , Full Screen, FaceTime etc.
  7. No notable increase in disk space usage. It didn’t bloat unlike many Windows Service Pack updates.

Cons:

  1. No support for legacy authentication method in SMB or AFP

    Major compatibility issues with accessing Samba and AFP shares! This was certainly bad news for us who are using my FreeNAS build guide and are accessing files through either SMB or AFP. Apple decided that the authentication method – DHCAST128 was insufficient and they disabled support for it in Lion! This will break compatibility with all over-the-counter NAS boxes, including our DIY NAS. However, there are remedies that you can follow to work around it. Check out my later post.

  2. Time Machine does not work over non-Apple network shares! This is a huge deal for people who use a thirdparty NAS box to host Time Machine backups. Unless your box can support the latest AFP stack in Lion, Time Machine will NOT work! You can put a sparsebundle on it… but it simply will not work. Time Machine only works through the latest AFP stack.
  3. New features.
    • Air Drop is Lion-only. There is no Air Drop app for previous versions of Mac OS.
    • Versions is only an API that apps can be written on. It is not a system wide feature, and it is up to the developer to implement.
    • Resume can be really annoying if you are using Safari and don’t want your web page views saved all the time! The setting to turn it off is also very hidden. You have to go to System Preferences -> General -> uncheck Restore Windows when quitting and re-opening apps.
    • Full Screen is also app specific and requires the developer to provide support. Don’t know why they could just implement it some other way to resize the window to full screen.
  4. Mail database took a good 15min. It was surprisingly slow! Maybe I had too much stuff in there.
  5. No Java runtime in the OS. But the OS is smart enough to automatically download it when you need it, through Software Updates.
  6. Multi-touch gestures in Lion

    Super weird scrolling and gesture changes! The scrolling direction by default in Lion is the complete opposite of what you are used to. Apple call this the “natural” direction. But it’s really not so nature to me – natural is what I am used to. Don’t fancy me Apple. Thankfully, you can change this through System Preferences -> Touchpad -> uncheck scrolling directions. Apple also changed gesture to do Expose (now known as Mission Control), honestly this will need some getting used to. There are no settings to give you back the familiar Expose gestures. (ex. four finger down = show desktop, up = expose all windows, no more 3 finger scroll to get to the top of bottom of a page)

  7. Uninstallers in LaunchpadMinor annoyance – Launchpad shows all the uninstaller apps as well. This is terrible if you have Adobe CS installed. You will get a bunch of uninstallers listed with the apps and it’s almost impossible to find your apps! Yes you can do folders, but if you have a lot of apps… good luck sorting all of them. Launchpad is especially useless in this situation when a Spotlight search can open you any app with a few keystrokes.

To sum up, I’m not overly impressed with Lion. Especially the decision to drop legacy SMB/AFP authentication! I think if Apple didn’t sell it for $29.99 I wouldn’t even recommend it to people. Some of the changes are certainly nice, but nothing groundbreaking as you would expect from a major OS release. In fact, many of the neat features you saw during WWDC are app-specific and it will only benefit you if the developers choose to use it. Apple likes to build only the API and leave the rest to the developers, where from a customer’s perspective we like Apple to implement it in the system so all apps may take advantage of it. This is especially true regarding Versions. Apple could have improved the filesystem to support version control natively.

Having said that, I do think it is worth the $29.99 it sells for and Apple is certainly on the right path of revamping its OSes to stay ahead of the curve.

See also: