A day with Lion: first impressions

I’ve successfully installed OS X Lion on Thursday, and managed to play with it a little these two days. The first and most lasting impression, is that Lion is pretty. I mean, it’s pretty enough to make the Snow Leopard running on my iMac look dated.

Seriously.

Here’s some of the more significant changes to me:

Finder

Finder  SL

Finder in Snow Leopard

Finder  Lion A

Finder in Lion, annotated

The first thing you’d notice about Lion are the grey monochrome icons on the left side, which are prettier but now I tend to refer to the icon title more as the icons are less obvious; or it could just be a transitional thing. Ben Brooks* pretty much summed it up:

I like the subtlety of the monochrome and I like to look at it. However, I don’t like using the OS as much with these changes, I find it just to difficult to find what you are looking for — too much subtlety and not enough usability.

I’m pretty much on the fence for between the two looks.

But it’s more than just looks. There were some changes that were more significant.

There’s now a new Arrange option at the top, for us to choose if we want to view the files by name, or type etc. Previously one would have to do a right-click and navigate the menus; now it’s just a click away.  Also, at the top-right you’d notice that the oval button for expanding the finder window is now gone. What this means is that what you see in Lion is final — there is no expanding or reduction in size or information. At the bottom, you no longer see the grey bar with information on the storage available, nor the number of files, which is kind of troublesome. At the bottom-right you no longer have the 4 diagonal lines (which were there to signify that you resize your window only at that spot), which meant that you could resize your window on any corner now.

Here’s a tidbit from Shawn Blanc** (emphasis mine):

The ability to grab any edge of an application window and resize it. (Try holding Shift or Alt while doing so.)

Also, there this nice new ‘folder’ on the left menu bar called All My Files. It literally shows you all your files by type (images, PDF etc). Very handy.

Overall, the Finder gained a lot, but lost a little on the information side.

Viewing of (HDD) storage

Since you can’t know the amount of available storage in your computer via the Finder window, you’d have to find it elsewhere. So I went to snoop around and went to About This Mac. There, I was pleasantly surprised; Apple revamped the whole look.

When you click on More Info…, you are greeted with a simple summary with four tabs on the top separating the different parts. If you wanted to know more, you could click on System Report… which is something most of us are not concerned with. This new look was clearly designed for the casual user in mind. Here’s the difference in look for the storage section:

Storage  SL

System profile in Snow Leopard

Storage  Lion

Viewing storage in Lion

Clearly, Apple drew heavily upon the memory usage representation from iTunes for iOS devices. Incidentally, when I wanted to find how much space I had in Snow Leopard, I had a hard time because I haven’t realized that Apple would put my hard disk under the label of Serial-ATA (I mean, yes it belongs there but can’t they pick an easier name?).

Isn’t the look in Lion much more intuitive? There’s also the Disk Utility… button at the bottom for one to access just in case we want to go there after reading about our storage usage.

I love the new look.

Trackpad

Trackpad  Lion

Trackpad preferences in Lion

I must say this upfront: I disabled the ‘natural’ (inverted) scrolling.

Not that it was bad, nor did it drive me nuts; in fact I sort of got it in the sense I’d scroll as before, notice that it was wrong and immediately scrolled the ‘natural’ way.

Then I realized that I do ‘natural’ scrolling on my iPad, and ‘non-natural’ scrolling on my MBA intuitively; there were no disconnect. Why? The thing was that on the iPad, I’m touching my information or screen literally, and inverted scrolling just felt right — it was literally, natural. However, on the computer I am manipulating the screen through a distance; nor are they in the same plane (the screen is vertical and the trackpad horizontal). I knew that I was manipulating the interface through a hardware, and muscle memory (of traditional scrolling) kicked in instead of intuition.

It was not natural to use ‘natural’ scrolling in a non-natural environment. So I killed it.

What impressed me however, was the inclusion of two videos in the above screenshot. Select ‘natural’ scrolling, and the video would show you how it looked and worked; deselect it, and it’d show you another video of how traditional scrolling looked and worked. It’s a minor thing, but a very nice deliberate touch to help people adjust better.

System Preferences

Sys Pref  SL

System preferences in Snow Leopard

Sys Pref  Lion

System preferences in Lion

If you compared the two system preferences, you’d notice some new additions. The one that I’d like to highlight would be under Internet & Wireless > Mail, Contact & Calendars. Here, you’d add your mail accounts, such as MobileMe or even Google, and your mail, contacts and calendars from these accounts are available system wide, most notably in the Mail app and in Address Book. This is different from Snow Leopard where you added your accounts into Mail and Address Book separately; the integration is much better.

Extended desktop and Spaces

I use my MBA in class for presentations and I ran into a weird problem with Lion. Basically, I’ve set up my laptop to display an extended desktop when connected to the projector (an external display), and this allows me to run the presenter view for presentations. In Lion, when an app runs into full screen, it goes into a new Space and this causes the external display to show a blank screen instead of the app — so I have my desktop on my laptop, the app running full screen in a Space that is not seen anywhere, and a blank external display.

What I then did was to mirror my desktop, and switch to the Space with the app running full screen. It’s less than elegant and I’m sure there’s a solution; I haven’t got to test it yet but I’d post it here when I do.

Some last thoughts

I haven’t used Lion enough, but Apple added a lot of nice touches that made Lion not so much the revolutionary OS, but rather an OS made for humans. I’d say it again:

Lion feels like it was made with humans in mind, to the extent of making Snow Leopard feel like it was engineered by robots for robots. And Snow Leopard was supposed to already be intuitive.

Shawn Blanc** echoes this when he wrote:

Lion is what OS X was meant to be: refined, attractive, and user-friendly.

One note though: Lion felt a little slower than Snow Leopard, especially when launching the Mac App Store. To be fair, I didn’t time it, nor did it affect my usage. It was just an observation that seemed to run contrary to many reviews.

So would I recommend Lion? Definitely, unless you have a strong reason not to as mentioned in my previous post, or if you need apps that don’t work well with Lion***.

Recommend/further readings on Lion

This should be my last post on Lion (as a review), and if you are looking for more information, the list below should suffice.

Disclaimer: I don’t do everything recommended in the readings, and if you only have time for two, I’d recommend Ben Brook’s and Shawn Blanc’s. Ars Technica’s review is über long (27,000 words); I haven’t read it myself but John Siracusa who wrote it is well-known for his reviews. Also, the article posted by Apple on recovery for Lion is an important read for those wondering about recovery without a physical disc.

*Ben Brooks: Time for the Big Cat

**Shawn Blanc: OS X Lion

Ars Technica: Mac OS X 10.7: the Ars Technica review

Apple: Introducing Lion Recovery

Cult of Mac: OS X 10.7 Lion Is The First Great PC Operating System Of The Post-PC Age [Review]

Macgasm: Review: OS X Lion is here and rawrtastic

Wired: Lion Is Smooth, But Tried Too Hard to Be iOS

Gizmodo: The OS X Lion Survival Guide

Engadget: Apple OS X Lion (10.7) review

TidBITS: Our Favorite Hidden Features in Mac OS X Lion

CNET: 5 hidden, awesome Lion features

***Adobe: Known Issues with Adobe products on Mac OS 10.7 Lion

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