Justifying the roar: a relook at OS X Lion (Filevault updated)

I have posted a pre-release article on some of the notable features in Lion, as well as a post-release article about some of the first impressions I had of Lion. My recommendation for every Mac user has always been to get it, but of late I started rethinking my stance.

It started with a conversation I had with a friend. He told me that he didn’t see a need to upgrade, and before I could start to convince him, I realized that I didn’t have the answers myself. In fact, in my usage of Lion since the upgrade, I hardly used any of the features I wrote about.

I upgraded because it was new, and it was cheap(er). And that was the best I could come up with.

In my previous post, I wrote about my intent of not publishing another review, in part because there were so many great ones out there. However, I felt the strong need to publish an article on why anyone should bother with Lion, or at the very least, justify my own purchase. So I went back and started thinking about Lion again.

With more reviews read (including Siracusa’s 27,000 word essay) and slightly more experience with Lion, this is my justification for the roar.

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Reasons for Lion

Filevault*

I’ve never used Filevault for the entirety of my Mac history, which is about 4 years, but after Ben Brooks wrote about it, I quickly enabled the feature.

In short, Filevault is a security feature of OS X, and in Lion, it does full disc encryption compared to Snow Leopard’s home directory encryption only. Furthermore, according to many reviews, it works now when it mostly screwed up your computer in Snow Leopard. What this means for you is that your data — especially if you are mobile — is safe should it be misplaced.

It’s like locking the doors and windows of your house, and pulling down the blinds, as compared to just locking your money box in a house with closed, but unsecured doors.

[Update: I have always struggled with one question about Filevault (FV). You see, FV encrypts your data yes, and decrypts it with your login. Now, what then is the difference between a computer that has a login password but not encrypted as compared to a computer that has FV enabled? To me (and I believe most users), both computers are unusable without login, which seems to negate the point of encrypting the data. I ran this question through Ben Brooks and his reply was that hackers could remove my data without logging in; in other words bypass my login and steal my data. Since it can be assumed that my computer will only be decrypted when I’m using it, it then stands to reason that FV prevents anybody from making sense of any data even if they managed to steal it.

Going back to the house analogy, having no FV is like locking the doors of your house only to leave a small window poorly locked where sufficiently skilled robbers can enter through. Having FV is like locking the doors and still leaving that small window poorly locked, but now everything in your house is within another safe vault; sure people can break into your house but they will find the effort futile, since there is no furniture usable to them.

I’m not saying that you will be the target of hackers, but according to Murphy’s Law, you might just end up as a random target of a hacker. When that happens, ask yourself if you mind having people see your data. If the answer is no, then FV becomes an imperative.]

This alone is worth the money for me. However, that’s not all.

Autosave

I’ve written rather extensively in my pre-release article about it, but I think many of us underestimate the value of Autosave. Sure it helps me save and I can refer to previous versions, but since I always save my work, I have no need for this feature.

Really?

First of all, Murphy’s Law is alive and kicking; the time you didn’t save will be the time your computer crashes. However, I think this misses the whole point of Autosave. Autosave is not just here to save your work should the system crash — after all, Macs aren’t supposed to crash that much. No. The point of Autosave is to help you focus on your work and not have to worry about anything else.

There’s much talk about having a minimalistic environment for work, and with that an avalanche of distraction-free writing apps like iA writer and WriteRoom have taken center stage. Even Lion’s full-screen feature touts the same effect. However, what is the point of a distraction free environment if my mind is half occupied with saving?

It’s like boiling water over the fire while playing with your kids.

Autosave essentially replaces your old kettle with an electric one; one that will turn off by itself.

As an aside, Autosave currently only works for Apple productivity apps like Pages, Keynote, Numbers and TextEdit. And it’s not immediately obvious.

If you have only one version of the document (as in you are just typing straight without any saving), you’d see this as the document title:

Versions 1

document title when document is autosaved

 

The moment you do a save (or rather, Save a Version) and start typing, you’d see this instead:

Versions 2

document title when document has unsaved edits (i.e. versioning has happened)

 

Mouse-over the words Edited and a drop down menu will appear, showing the options for Versions.

I felt that Apple could make it a bit more obvious, but nonetheless, this alone is also worth the money.

Automatic termination

Those who use iOS devices will be familiar with this. What this does is that when your device is low on resources it kills the last used app to free up resource for your device, automatically.

It’s now happening in Lion. Once again, it’s along the vein of creating that focus on work in that the user don’t have to be concerned about closing apps just to save on resources. As a case in point, I used to close every single app before I ran iMovie just so I have enough resources. With Automatic Termination, this step is moot.

It’s like playing with your kids with multiple toys, only to have the some toys magically returning to their original positions when the play area gets too cluttered or too messy for you to handle.

This alone is not worth the money, but it’s part of the bigger picture of allowing Mac users to focus and not to have to worry about the system.

Finder

Two things in Finder stands out:

The first is the inclusion of a new folder called All My Files, which as the name suggests, lists all your files. This is great because one don’t have to worry about file management. Also, there is this new Arrange by button. Use the latter to display your files in All My Files by date modified, and you can quickly find the file you have been working on recently.

The second is search tokens. Think of it as advanced searching.

Now, opponents of search tokens might argue that it’s not useful as long as one practices good filing; worse still it might make us poorer organizers. My take is that one should always practice good filing for it often cascades to good organizational skills in life, but one need not go through the layers of folders to locate a particular file.

It’s like having your own dewey decimal system for all your kid’s toys, except that it’s not numbers but rather common speech.

This, like automatic termination, is not worth the cost alone, but contributes to the larger picture.

However, this is not all. There are some nice new stuff about Finder which aren’t exactly glamorous, but definitely welcome.

From the Apple website**:

Merge folders:When you try to combine two folders with the same name, the Finder now offers to merge them into a single folder.

Group as folder: Instantly create a folder from selected files by choosing the “group as folder” item from the contextual menu.

Drag files: When you drag multiple files from one location to another, they flock together. An indicator also appears next to the cursor, telling you how many files you’re moving.

Keep both files: When you attempt to add a file to a folder that contains a file of the same name, the Finder now offers to keep both files, appending the word “copy” to the name of the new file.

—————

Reasons against Lion

There’s actually only one reason not to get Lion, and that is app incompatibility. Then again, system patches and optimizations will come, hence this is not exactly a reason against Lion.

The real reason, is you love Snow Leopard too much (or for that matter, too comfortable with it).

—————

Some things I didn’t care for

There are some features I have written about or were touted, but hardly used or found no need for. Here’s some of them:

LaunchPad

I use a launcher called Alfred (free from the App Store) and it’s much faster than launching (sorry) apps from LaunchPad. However, LaunchPad is not without its merits. Siracusa wrote:

But the Dock falls short, especially for novice users, as an application launcher. Or rather, it falls short if the application to be launched isn’t actually in the Dock…

If you don’t understand how typing the name of an application into a search box can be so much more difficult than clicking an icon in the Dock, I suggest that you have not spent enough time with novice users. Such users often don’t even know the name of the application they want—or if they do, they don’t know how to spell it. That’s before considering the frequent disorientation caused by the rapid-fire search results refinement animation in the Spotlight menu, or the existence of multiple files whose contents or names contain the string being searched for. And this all assumes novices know (or remember) what Spotlight is and how to activate it in the first place…

In Lion, Apple aims to fill that gap with an application launching interface that’s meant to be as easy to use as the Dock while providing access to every application on the system.

In short, despite what many people say, there is a value in LaunchPad, and though I cared not for it, it might make someone else’s application management experience better (both finding, launching, and deleting). In fact, for this group of people, it might be worth every penny of Lion.

Mission Control

I’ve used it, but while I liked how it looked, I preferred how Exposé worked in Snow Leopard better. In the latter, Expose showed you minimized applications. Now, Mission Control only shows apps that are on the desktop — one can say that Mission Control doesn’t in fact manage all your running apps, but rather manages your desktop. Furthermore, Snow Leopard displayed all the windows of a particular app in an Exposé grid when you clicked and held down on the app icon. That was brilliant! Now, to see my minimized stuff, I use the three finger down-swipe to activate App Exposé, and tab between the apps.

That, is not smart. Actually, if not for the fact that I don’t care much for Mission Control, I might actually classify it as reason against Lion. For those who love (not loved) Snow Leopard’s Exposé function, make an informed decision.

AirDrop

When Apple revealed AirDrop, I jumped. It was absolutely brilliant! In fact, I might just get Lion if only for AirDrop!

Except for a teeny weeny problem.

I don’t have a use for it.

I work in an environment where company issued laptops excluded the Mac, and I’m the only one working on two machines (mine and the company’s). AirDrop, though brilliant, is redundant for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love it, but to call it a killer feature just because it’s brilliant isn’t exactly justifiable.

Mail

I’ve been using Sparrow since it first came out, and in Lion, I’ve tried going back to Mail. I actually grew to like the latter, especially the fact that I manage my accounts not in Mail but in System Preferences (meaning the account information results in system-wide integration — this however is not strictly a Mail feature, but what the heck). However, setting up Gmail accounts that don’t end with gmail.com in Mail required too much work; it was far easier in Sparrow (that was Sparrow’s selling point actually). Furthermore, Mail lacked Sparrow’s quick reply, which was, well, quick.

In short, Mail has improved a lot, and I love it. In fact I’m using Mail on my Lion installed MacBook Air, and Sparrow on my Snow Leopard iMac, just to compare the two and decide later on which I want to stick with. However, with the presence of Sparrow, I would hardly call Mail a reason for upgrading to Lion.

Even with Conversation view.

Yes it’s pretty but it’s something I can do without.

One more thing

Actually it’s some more things, but I couldn’t resist the heading. I’m now ploughing through the list of Lion’s 250+ features as advertised by Apple, and here’s some that might tip the scale in favor of Lion.

FaceTime

It’s a 99 cent app in Snow Leopard, but it’s free with Lion. If you must have it, and factor in the cost, Lion is now $29 instead of $29.99.

iCal

If you are still using iCal despite the garish new look, it now supports natural language, meaning you can type something like “Dinner with John at 7 pm” and iCal will create a new event for you.

Preview

Use the inbuilt FaceTime cam to take a photo of your signature and Preview uses that image to create a signature annotation for your PDF forms and documents. Brilliant.

QuickTime Player

The name is a bit of a misnomer — QuickTime does far more than just playing videos. Sure it can’t play as many different video files as VLC, but it is a nifty little video editing tool. In Lion, you can now use QuickTime to merge clips, export audio only, rotate clips, capture a part of the screen. show clicks on capture and share to various platforms easily. It’s powerful enough to not have to rely on iMovie all the time, and for new podcasters, I think QuickTime Player is a great start.

Character picker

In iOS devices, hold down on a character in your keyboard to bring up accented characters. Lion now ports over this function, making typing things like é especially easy. Just hold down a key.

—————

Conclusion

I would like to think that I’m more clear headed about Lion now.

With that, would I still recommend upgrading? Yes, unless you love Snow Leopard too much, or you have app incompatibilities.

Many others have written about the grand unification of iOS and OS X, as well as Apple’s efforts (said so by Apple themselves) in removing the burden of certain systemic habits from users.

Personally, what I felt about Lion as I wrote this re-review, is that it’s almost like Apple didn’t want you to worry about running apps (see Automatic Termination) or managing your desktop (Mission Control against minimizing apps to make space on your desktop); if your desktop is cluttered, just use Full-Screen mode.

In a nutshell, Apple is telling you: Don’t minimize, don’t close, don’t manage.

How this pans out I’m not sure. It might lead to the stupid-ifying of users, or a burst in creativity because people don’t have to worry about the system. Or it might just get more people to use computers. Either way, Lion has shipped, and any arguments for or against it is moot.

The question is: are you roaring or not?

—————

*I must confess that I don’t understand Filevault entirely, and am in the process of seeking answers from more knowledagble people. Will post more when I finally get my answers. You can find Ben Brooks via his Twitter handle @brooksreview.

**More on Finder’s new features can be found here.

My pre-release post can be found here, installation of OS X Lion here, and the post-release one (my previous post with links to many other reviews) here.

Also, here are some more reviews/nuggets about Lion that are worth reading:

Andy Ihnatko (for Chicago Sun-Times): Apple OS X 10.7 Lion roars with futuristic, and maddening, upgrades

Ben Brooks: Some Additional Lion Thoughts (this is the article that got me to enable Filevault)

Andy Ihnatko: Making Desktop Webapps in Lion (a must read; though a little geeky, it’s a brilliant little tidbit for creating that simple app to open that site you visit all-so-often)

Matt Legend Gemmell: Using Spaces on OS X Lion

Varsity Bookmarking: On the little red close button. Really cute and a fast-read. Check it out here.

PCWorld: Lion Upgrades Go Well… Mostly

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