Roar. A brief review.

Last Wednesday, Mac OSX Lion was released.

Last Thursday, I downloaded it.

I’m not normally one to jump in quite so quickly, but this time I couldn’t resist. My impressions so far? Mostly, I like it. But there are some quirks that either need to be got used to or got around.

Full Screen Apps. (Are they really called apps these days even on a desktop computer? Applications, please.)  

PC users are accustomed to applications opening full screen, and as a PC user at work I’ve got used to this and have occasionally found the Mac’s lack of proper full-screen support frustrating. So this was a feature I was looking forward to. I have to say, the way Apple have done it is beautiful. Applications running in full screen mode really do take up the whole screen. All toolbars slip neatly off the edges of the screen leaving you with just what you’re using. It’s neat, and lovely. And the way you just ‘slide’ between applications is beautiful, too. 


It’s limited at the moment as not many applications support the new full screen mode yet. Software developers will need to update  their applications to take advantage of it, and until that happens the only ones that benefit are Apple’s own – and even then only the latest versions. For me that means I can use Safari, Mail, Pages, Numbers, Preview etc in full screen, but not much else. iTunes has of course been updated, but it was only when I was using iPhoto that I noticed it didn’t have the necessary new icon to switch to full screen. My iPhoto is iPhoto ’09, and it’s only iPhoto ’11 that has it. So nice though it is, not as nice as I’d hoped.

New Mail Application

Mail has been updated rather nicely. Threaded “conversation” view does make it easier to navigate around bulging folders of emails, and the application very neatly strips out all the superfluous rubbish that tends to build up following a long email correspondence and neatly shows you only the actual content of each new message. (Unless you ask it to show you the rest, of course.) And composing rich text messages has been made just a bit simpler. Font and formatting controls were previously tucked away in a separate font window that had to be opened separately, but at last they’re now available at the top of each message as you type.

Autosave and versions

Another one that only works on Apple’s own Applications for now, this seems destined to change the way you think about working with documents. Half way through working on a spreadsheet? Need to shut down? Go ahead – just shut down. No “do you want to save changes?” dialogue box pops up; it’s already saved. Changed your mind about some changes? You can look back at every version there’s been, and revert. Or just copy and paste the relevant bits. I’ve not realy used this in any depth yet, but it seems pretty clever stuff.


Related to the last one, Resume simply means that when you re-launch an application it opens up just as it was when you last used it. Same windows open, even the same text selected. Also, when you power up your mac in the morning again everything’s just as it was when you left it. (I’m one of those rare Mac users who actually switches it off overnight.)

Sounds useful, but I’m not sure about this one. Many I time I’m using the Mac in the evening, and my wife switches it on in the morning. She’ll now be confronted with all the applications I was using. I wonder if there’s a way to turn this off?

And here’s the controversial ones…

“Reversed” scrolling.

So, you’re browsing the internet. You’ve reached the bottom of the screen and there’s still more to read. What do you do? You pull your finger towards you on your scroll wheel or trackpad to see what’s ‘below’ the screen. That’s what we’re used to, isn’t it?

But think about what’s happening. You pull your finger down, and what’s on the screen goes up. Why is that logical? It’s historic, really. A legacy action. Most of us have used some kind of touch screen device these days, an iPhone or iPad (or non-Apple equivalent). Want to see what’s ‘below’ the screen? You touch the content and slide it upwards. It’s completely instinctive.

So that’s what Apple have done. They’ve reversed the convention and want us to move the content around rather than our view of the content. And you know what? It works. Of course it’s utterly confusing at first. But give it a couple of days and you soon realise it makes complete sense on a desktop computer too.

Apple have given an option to turn this behaviour off, but I’d say leave it well alone. It works.

But this is a weird one…

Take a look at this screen shot:

See what’s happening here? I’m typing an ‘a’. There are a few accented versions of an ‘a’ available, and Apple have created a brilliantly simple way of accessing them. Simply press the ‘a’ and hold it down for a second, and up pops this little box. Pick your accent by pressing the appropriate numberfor clicking with your mouse. Simple. Brilliantly simple. It’s another behaviour that they’ve lifted straight from their mobile touchscreen OS.


Hang on a second. Didn’t holding the key down already have a behaviour attached to it? Since the very beginning of computing, haven’t we held keys down to repeat them? Yes. Yes, we have.

For example. My son is only four, but even he knows that when you sign off an email to your grandma you are obliged to add loads of kisses. Something like this:


But when he tried to that the other day, he dutifully held down the ‘x’ as he normally does. AND NOTHING HAPPENED. He had to press the ‘x’ loads (and loads) of times to type his kisses. And let’s face it, most of us want to type loads of kisses far more often that we need accented characters. Well, in English anyway. So, Apple, where’s the option to switch this one off, then? Answer: it’s not there.

A quick search online reveals lots of people not liking this one. And thankfully does also reveal a way to revert it, but one that does involve messing around with some code in Terminal. Something I’d normally shy away from. I may have to delve in behind the scenes on this occasion.

There’s many many more changes, most of which I’ve not discovered yet and many of which I’m sure I will never ever know about. And one of my main reasons for updating is for iCloud and the improved and simplified iPhone synchronisation that it will bring, but that won’t be fulfilled until the new iOS5 is released later in the year.

Good grief, this is one of my longest posts in ages. If, like me, you haven’t a clue what on earth I’m talking about, this introductory video from Apple (in their usual cheesy style) will explain all:

And if you’re after a more in-depth review from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about, try this one from Ars Technica. (No, seriously, much more in-depth. Nineteen pages of in-depth.)


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