7 days with Mac OS X Lion
While most Mac users are just downloading and upgrading to Lion on June 20th, I was fortunate enough to install and use the GM seed build last week. Here are my first impressions of Lion over the first 7 days I used it. Keep in mind that this is a journal of a long-time Mac user, and OS X systems administrator trying Lion out for the first time rather than an objective review. So how did my first week go?
Day one: Install and first uses. Clean install difficult at first blush.
Apple is clearly setting Lion up for the in-place upgrade that the company started making the default approach in Snow Leopard. In fact, being a download makes the option for a clean install seem virtually impossible at first blush - maybe not impossible, but hard to find.
On the one hand, I like the simplicity and sheer speed of doing an in-place upgrade. It was a few clicks, a restart in the middle, and one of the simplest install or upgrade of an OS I've ever seen.
On the other, major OS X releases have always been the time where I use a clean install to help me do some spring cleaning. It adds to the process since I end up reinstalling apps and copying files, but it ensures unused apps, orphaned preferences and app support files, and other types of extraneous system extensions I've tried don't move forward unless I want them to. Ditto for any old documents or project files that I don't need anymore (like all the notes, network diagrams, tools, and disk images associated with that consulting gig six years ago).
Have to say I dig the new login window. First impression of Mission Control is positive. Still on the fence about Launch Pad. That's probably all the years of just having the Applications and Utilities folder nestled in my Dock.
Not a fan of the new "natural" scrolling. It isn't a huge issue, and it may be more "natural" in some ergonomic way, but it makes trackpads (or the Magic Mouse) scroll opposite of how we're all used to them working. At least Apple pops up a movie about it as part of the install and you can turn it off in the Trackpad System Preferences pane. I think leaving it as is could get confusing if you switch between Lion and other OSes regularly.
Day two: Full screen apps, Dashboard, Mail, and iCal. Love Mail's new search features. ICal, not so much.
I've been trying to get used to Mail and iCal as full screen apps. Mail seems to be really well-suited to running full screen. In fact, Mail's new search features, message threading, and multi-pane view rock. These are things that have been long overdue in Mail. Kinda wish Apple hadn't changed every icon/button though – most of them are intuitive, but that junk mail one is going to take some getting used to since it looks like something to rate messages with more than marking them as junk.
iCal is really cool as a full screen app. It reminds me of those giant paper desk calendars that all my teachers had in school. As much as I really want to like iCal though I don't. Apple completely removed the sidebar as an option. I have so many different calendars (articles for different publications, mid-long term projects, personal and family things), which was a great organizing feature in older versions of iCal for me. They're still there, but the first calendar in the list is now the default for any new event. I'm used to being able to select a calendar in the sidebar and have it be used for any new events while its selected – an option that was easy and efficient… and that's gone completely. Now adding events seems like there's too many extra steps of editing them once they're created. I'll keep trying it, but I may end up looking for an alternative.
Speaking of full screen apps, Mission Control is throwing me a bit. It certainly makes the virtual desktop options better than Spaces was in Leopard/Snow Leopard but it doesn't seem quite as intuitive as I'd like. I'm sure it'll get easier with use. There is a part of me that wishes I could just turn it off at times.
Two big tips for readers here though. First, if you want to view a different space in Mission Control, hold the option key when clicking it because simply clicking it will switch to it, and exit mission control. Second, if you get confused by spaces automatically rearranging on you, you can turn that feature off in System Preference – by default, Lion will rearrange them so the most used spaces are always to the left.
On the same subject, I'm not sure I like Dashboard as a space (thankfully, it's easy to restore traditional Dashboard functionality). First, the background is awful. More importantly, it seems to deprecate Dashboard as a feature. I guess I'm not surprised as Dashboard never took off as much as I think Apple intended, but it's a feature that I really like. It does make it easy to get quick status type things (weather most importantly) and access things like contact information without launching a full blown app.
Of course, Dashcode (the Dashboard widget development solution) has always seemed like a great stepping stone for web developers looking to get started with Xcode for Mac or iOS app development. The interface is similar enough to become acquainted with tools and concepts, but using languages a web developer is already fluent in.
Day three: Full screen Mail and auto-resume start getting on my nerves
So, overall I like running Mail full screen. The full screen concept breaks down at times though. For example, I was replying to an email regarding a current project. I needed to reference a preview email (other than the one I was replying to) and there is no way to leave the email your composing onscreen and search or even view other messages. I had to save the message as a draft, find what I was looking for, and go to my Drafts folder. For all Mail's bells and whistles, I felt like I stepped back into the 90s having to do that.
A similar frustration occurred when I needed to add several attachments to a message. We've had drag and drop instilled in our minds for so long that it felt almost unnatural to have to search through the file system in an Open dialog box.
Of course, neither of these issues are really major. For one thing I could've turned full screen in Mail off (and eventually did). But it seems to show that while bringing all these iOS-inspired touches to OS X is evolution, if it isn't done just right it seems a bit like devolution at times.
I haven't talked about auto-resume yet. I have to say that I love it overall. I have my iMac set to shut down at one every night (because I want access to iTunes content on the Apple TV in the bedroom before sleep but don't want to worry about the cats sneaking into my office in the middle of the night since they've been known to climb on my desk and do things on my Mac). Auto-resume overall is awesome because after I login in the morning, I go get coffee and everything is back like I left it the night before.
It's a feature that sounds nice and that once you get used to it, it's hard to imagine not having (even after a couple of days). But it doesn't seem to play well with some apps. This morning I came back with my coffee to a blank Word document and Fetch asking me to enter the address of an FTP site.
The issue is that both Word and Fetch have a feature to automatically start a new something (document, FTP session) on launch. Since my iMac shut down without anything open in either app they defaulted to that behavior when Lion launched them as part of auto-resume. Future app revisions will probably make this less of a concern, and it is possible to turn most of the launch preferences off in almost every app. Still, it's something that could become annoying fast if you don't upgrade or change app preferences.
One last note for day three - I found myself going through my system for apps that won't run on Lion because they aren't Intel-native (and Apple removed Rosetta support for such apps). While there weren't many, I did find myself doing some spring cleaning and getting rid of a bunch of apps that I don't use and don't expect to. It was particularly sad tossing iWeb, but since iCloud won't support site hosting like Mobile Me/.Mac did, there was little point to saving it - and between iWeb itself and some very old iWeb site data, I reclaimed just over a gig of space.
Day four: A clean install
Following yesterday's spring cleaning (total of 20GB reclaimed, by the way), I decided to see what a fresh install of Lion looks like. As with many upgrade installs, Lion preserves a number of settings and in my case that included things like displaying hard drives on the desktop (note: I've since read this particular setting doesn't reliably get carried over for everyone).
Performing a clean install of Lion has been a topic of a lot of debate since clean installs are usually done from an install DVD or similar media. For this experiment, I did the install on an external hard drive (iMac booted into Lion from single partition internal drive). The process went perfectly smoothly after the extra couple of steps early on to select the alternate drive. The Lion recovery partition was still created as part of the install, which seems like it may be problematic for later repartitioning since the external drive had three active partitions that can no longer be resized.
It was really easy to see how much Lion's default configuration is different from previous OS X versions when nothing is carried forward in an upgrade. Very easy to see that longtime Mac users might need some getting used to here. It's clearly still OS X but the new look of Finder windows really stands out more - as does the updated setup process for Mail when starting from scratch. That doesn't even mention the completely blank desktop.
On the other hand, for new Mac users that have already owned an iPhone or iPad, the process is going to seem perfectly familiar. The setup process is easy, Launch Pad and the Dock items look very iOS-like, and for the most part everything works like it does in iOS. This might actually be a better way to go for all users actually.
It is worth noting that the setup process after a clean install is still very Apple-like and looks like an evolution from Leopard/Snow Leopard. There are some clear shifts, but they're very minor.
Note: If you're looking to perform a clean install of Lion, instructions for creating a Lion install disk on a hard drive, flash drive, or DVD are available. Apple will also begin selling Lion on flash drives for $69 in August.
Day five: Some little things - Safari reading list comes up short
It wasn't until after I played with a clean install yesterday (back to my familiar upgrade install today) that I noticed how iOS-like the new spell checker/auto-correct is. Before it just popped up and really slipped my notice since it's really just an extension of the existing OS X spell checker in a lot of ways.
Safari's reading list seems like a great idea but not well carried off. I've gotten used to the InstapaperIt extensions that adds a simple send-to-Instapaper button. Reading list requires clicking a button to display the reading list drawer/sidebar before being able to add a button – fine if you want to leave the drawer up all the time, but I don't. Of course the real power of this feature will be when iOS 5 and iCloud launch.
I turned off the All My Files option in the Finder Sidebar. I wanted to like the idea but it just doesn't fit with how I use a Mac. This is easily done in the Finder preference (select Finder in the menubar and then Preferences), where you can also toggle other items that appear in the sidebar and what items appear on the desktop – overall where you can make Lion a bit more Snow Leopard-like.
AirDrop is a great new Lion feature, but I wasn't able to get it to work on my test iMac (Early 2008) - turns out not all Lion-capable Macs are supported by AirDrop.
Day six: Had to hunt for the Library folder
After my application house-cleaning, I realized today that I probably left a bunch of orphaned files in my Library folder since I just tossed apps the other day. When I went to look for the Library folder, I discovered Apple has hidden it. It's still there and there are plenty of ways to get to it – the easiest to me is click the Finder's Go menu and press the Option key (you can use "chflags nohidden ~/Library/" in the Terminal to permanently make it visible as well).
This isn't a huge issue since most of us rarely visit this folder, but it's definitely worth noting.
As I suspected, I'd left preferences files and application support files behind. Didn't add too much when I cleaned that out though.
Note: if you're not comfortable cleaning out the Library folder, you can also use a tool like App Zapper when removing old apps.
Day seven: Lion Server - SMBs will love the Server app, setup process, basic feature set
Overall, in less than a week I went from hesitant about some of Lion's UI changes to being happy with most of them. Largely that's constant use, but as with any new piece of software it also involved tweaking things to my liking.
Today I took the next step and installed Lion Server. I can say that for small businesses, the new Server app, setup process, and basic feature set will be a dream to use. The new Profile Manager is a great addition that makes the $79.98 combined cost of Lion and Lion Server beyond valuable with its ability to manage and secure iPhones and iPads. All very good. The long-time OS X Server admin in me is going to need probably more than a week to come to terms with the advanced administration features, however.