Roar power – OS X Lion review
Apple’s new OS X Lion operating system is a bold update that introduces more than 250 new features to the Mac.
The integration of these iOS features, which were introduced on the iPhone and iPad, is supported by a range of new gesture controls to create a new and easier way to interact with your computer.
Apple has made some significant and logical changes to streamline the way you work and play and organise yourself.
Even the look of the interface has also had a slight makeover to make it less obtrusive.
It was the first time Apple offered the upgrade through the Mac App Store with the 3.5GB download taking about 20 minutes on a cable broadband connection.
Installation started automatically after the download was complete and took about another 40 minutes.
We installed Lion on a 27-inch iMac and on a 13-inch MacBook Air.
We downloaded the file to the iMac first and when it came to install on the MacBook Air we just went to App Store, which is on the same account as the iMac, and clicked on Purchases.
Lion was sitting at the top of the list and we downloaded it again without having to pay for it a second time. Apple says users only have to pay for Lions ($31.99) once but still be able to download and install it on all of their Macs at no extra cost.
Here’s a look at the new features:
If you’re using Lion on your MacBook the trackpad is your gateway to an enhanced experience.
If you’re using an iMac and don’t have an Apple multi-touch Magic Mouse or a Magic Trackpad or both with Lion installed it will be like driving a Porsche with the handbrake on.
The influence of the iPad is plain to see with the most obvious influence being the multi-touch gestures
Many of the most common commands can now be done with a gesture from pinching to zoom on pictures and web pages to two finger scrolling and two finger tapping to zoom.
But this has also been extended to other things like leafing backwards and forward through recent web pages in Safari or between applications.
Scrolling on web pages, documents and images has been reversed to recreate the way users scrolling a touchscreen with their fingers on the iPad and iPhone.
In other words to scroll down a page on a iPad users drag the bottom of the screen up. To go back to the top you drag the top of the screen down.
For us it was the first thing we noticed when scrolling using a Magic Mouse. Usually moving our finger down the surface of the Magic Mouse moved page down – sliding our finger up took us back up the page.
Lion’s default position is the opposite of this, like the iPad, but it was something we found we could easily change in the preferences.
Those coming to a Mac for the first time from an iPad or iPhone may prefer it the new way.
FULL SCREEN APPS
Another echo of the iOS operating system is the ability to view your apps in full screen mode.
This only works with Apple’s native apps like Mail, Safari, Preview, iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie etc.
Once click on the full-screen button in the top right corner and the app elegantly expands and the desktop slides away.
The menu bar even recedes away and only returns when the user mouses over it.
Full screen apps allows you to concentrate on exactly what you’re doing with less distractions or just enjoy a larger view.
It’s also possible to switch between the open full screen apps like moving between pages of a book.
And when you’re done and want to see the desktop, it slides back into a place and reveals itself once again.
Remember Expose – the feature that lets you see all your open apps at once? It is no more. But it has been replaced by something better called Mission Control.
A three-finger upward swipe on a MacBook trackpad (four finger swipe on the desktop trackpad) provides a top down view of all the open apps on your desktop. Users can also just click on the Mission Control icon in the dock.
It also reveals all of the open full screen apps and makes navigating to another app even easier.
When you look at an iPad’s home screen you are presented with all your apps arranged in a grid.
Now you can do the same thing on your Mac with Lion.
Pinch four fingers togther on the trackpad or click the Launchpad icon in the dock and you’re apps all fly into place and fill the entire screen.
And like the iPad and iPhone, users can move between pages and even create folders to group apps together in the same way you would on an iOS touchscreen device.
We found this to be a quick way to access applications you may not have room for in your dock.
The definition of “resume” is to pick up exactly where you left off and this is exactly what this feature can do for you in Lion.
Users can quit an app and be able to open it again and be right where they were before with even the cursor in the same position on a document or the same tabs and sites open on the browser.
This feature can also be utilised across your whole system after a restart so every application and document can reappear exactly where they were in exactly the same way.
Users can disable this simply by unchecking the “reopen windows” box when they shut down or restart.
AUTO SAVE and VERSIONS
One of the first things we are taught when creating documents is to save it often to prevent losing it all accidentally.
Now Lion can do that in the background for you so the reflex save is now a thing of the past with Apple apps like Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Preview and more.
Users can lock off a particular version of a document and even revert to earlier saved versions.
It’s also possible to compare the current version with earlier versions side by side by clicking on the document title which is now a menu.
Other apps like Microsoft Word are not Auto Save ready yet but hopefully this and other non-Apple programs will be updated to include this feature.
Mail has been changed significantly and all for the better.
We found Mail has been greatly improved and, again, it offers a similar look and feel to the Mail app on the iPad.
Messages run down the left with the selected email with plenty of room to be read on the right.
Search has also been enhanced to make it easier to find an email by name, subject or a keyword.
Messages can now be viewed as they came in rather than the clumsy old way which just presented an endless single email with colour-coded entries.
The icons on the top of the application have also been redesigned with a nice little animation added every time you reply to an email.
Apple have also made some changes under the hood in the Safari web browser.
One addition is Reading List which allows users to collect web pages to read at their leisure later.
A click on the eyeglasses icon on the top left of the bookmark bar opens up a viewing pane on the left hand side of the browser
The Gestures also come into their own in Safari, especially when moving back and forward on web pages you’ve viewed.
Using a Magic Mouse a single finger swipe in either direction allows the user to navigate back and forth.
We found we could even drag the previous page over enough to have a peek at what is before completing the gesture.
This did take some getting used to for us because before Lion this operation used to be a finger swipe on the Magic Mouse but nowhere near as elegant.
We can now pinch to zoom on a trackpad in the same multi-touch manner we see on an iPad and iPhone. There’s also tap to zoom to focus on a particular area of a website.
When downloading files in Safari, usually a separate downloads window opens up to check the progress.
After we installed Lion we downloaded a file but the window was nowhere to be seen. We searched through the menu to open this window and even searched through the help window to find it.
After a while we noticed a new button on the top right side of the browser which showed a progress bar. One click and the download window extended out of the button for us to check the download’s progress and another click sent it back.
The tiny progress bar on the button, we discovered, reflected the actual download revealed in the window. A nice touch.
Another cool name for another cool feature.
Ever wanted to exchange a file with someone right next you outside of network. The usual procedure is to save it to a USB or maybe try link using Bluetooth.
Now there’s an easier solution with AirDrop for swapping files between Macs.
Even without a wi-fi network, AirDrop creates its own peer-to-peer wireless connection between the computers within range.
These can be seen from within the Finder window and documents can be simp’y dragged to the icon representing that user’s computers.
No configuration or set up was required – it just worked.
Another little touch we liked was when the word AirDrop was highlighted in the Finder window the icon turned into a little radar screen.
Another nice little entertaining surprise that made us appreciate Lion and our Mac even more.
WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE
While we give Lion a huge thumbs up there were some things we didn’t like.
After our Lion install we found most of the apps like Safari, Mail and other were a little faster. But there were some that had become painfully slow at times – Preview and the DVD player.
Preview’s sluggish behaviour was quite noticeable. We thought it may have been the fact it was opening the last four or five images we’d viewed because of the Resume functionality. We closed down all the images and then quit the application it and it was still taking longer than normal to open.
Loading a DVD on our iMac and resuming from where we left off in a few seconds now takes minutes on Lion. So long that we’d though the app had crashed because we were just presented with a blank screen.
And while Gestures are great and now an essential part of the experience, people who move regular between a MacBook and an iMac like we do have to remember two different gestures for the same commands.
For example, getting to Mission Control on MacBook’s trackpad is a three finger upward swipe whereas it takes four fingers on the Magic Trackpad connected to our iMac.
Lion is one of Apple’s most impressive upgrades with some brave new features that offer an all-new approach to how we work with our computers.
When used with a Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad on an iMac or with the built-in trackpad on a MacBook, Lion literally provides hands-on control.
Bringing the popular features like Gestures and Launchpad from the iPad across to the Mac is a masterstroke and makes using a Mac even easier and more intuitive.
If you own a Mac, upgrading to Lion, at just $31.99, is a must.
OS X LION
Four and a half stars (out of five)