Noel Rappin Writes Here

In The Jungle, The Mighty Jungle

Posted on July 28, 2011 mac

A few quick notes about Lion, mostly first impressions and things I haven’t necessarily seen a ton of coverage on.

The install itself

This is, I think, my third major OS upgrade since I started using OS X all the time. It’s by far the easiest install. The biggest problem was the time it took to download the installer. I also had a problem where the XCode installer finished but didn’t register itself as finished, such that it appeared to hang. That took a little effort to track down, but wasn’t actually damaging.

Beyond that, though, nearly everything just worked. I had to reinstall exactly one Unix-y binary (ImageMagick, ever the outlier when dealing with annoying installations). I was afraid that I’d need to fuss with things like MySQL or my Ruby install, but by and large, I didn’t.

That Darn Scrolling

The most obvious change as you go to Lion is the new scrolling – it’s such a big deal, that Apple even gives you a dialog box on your first Lion boot reminding you that things have changed.

So, is the change irritating or merely annoying? Okay, for the first hour or so, it was completely unmanageable, to the point where I could feel the tension in my wrists from straining to remember which way to push the track pad.

At the risk of being obvious, what’s happening here is a metaphor shift. Rather than imagining that scrolling is the act of moving a window over your document up and down – moving the pointer down moves the window down and shows you a lower part of the document you now imagine that you are moving the document itself so moving the pointer down drags the document down and shows you a higher part of the document. As pretty much everybody has noted, this is exactly how scrolling works on iOS devices, where you the metaphor of dragging the document itself is much more concrete. (Weirdly, I used iOS devices for quite a while before I consciously started to think about how iOS was backward relative to the Mac.)

After a few days with the new scrolling I’ve basically got it. I find that if I don’t look at the scrollbars when I scroll, it’s much easier to imagine that I’m dragging the document. Also, for some reason, I took to the new scrolling most quickly in minimal apps or apps that are very similar to their iOS versions, such as Reeder. And I can’t seem to get it right in iTunes for some reason.

Is this change a good thing? Dunno. It’s clearly a thing. It’s a little weird to have something as fundamental as scroll direction be subject to user whim – I expect it’ll make pair programming interesting if it really becomes something that a significant minority of users don’t switch to the new version. There’s one problem with the new system that I think is unambiguously bad – since the scroll bars fade to the background when they aren’t used, it’s much harder to see how large a document is and where you are in the document from a quick glance. That’s a loss of information that doesn’t seem to be counterbalanced by anything. It’s also weird that you can still grab the scroller itself, and move it in the traditional direction (although since the scroller is now on top of the view in many apps, it’s sometimes hard to actually grab something at the edge of a document). My overall feeling is that this would make total sense if we had been doing it for fifteen years, but right now it’s going to feel weird for a while.

Another thing is that if the document is scrollable in two directions, it seems to be much harder to keep a pure vertical scroll without it drifting into a slight horizontal scroll. Also, I can’t imagine this working if you were using a mouse instead of a trackpad.

Overall look and feel

Broadly, it seems like there are three overlapping mandates for the look and feel changes in Lion – make interface elements less prominent (with the glaring exception of iCal), incorporate successful features from iOS, and animate anything that’s not nailed down. So scrollbars and other basic interface elements have become more muted across the board. Those changes are not dramatic, but I like them, they do tend to keep focus where it belongs.

I really like Mission Control as a re-imagining of Spaces/Dashboard/Expose. The Mission Control screen is very nice, easy to see, and it’s very easy to manipulate spaces – this is one case where the gestures really work. (I never was able to stick to using spaces before, but I have been using them a bit in Lion). The new full-screen mode doesn’t work for me, mostly because I’m often in a dual monitor situation, and the second monitor is ignored in full-screen, which seems a waste, but I can see how making each full-screen app its own space makes dealing with a bunch of full-screen apps much easier. Launchpad seems to be something that I don’t need, and it feels like it would be hard to manage.

The animations don’t bother me as much as they seem to bother other people – though ask me again about in a few weeks. I’ve seen some complaints about the speed of the animation between spaces, but it seems reasonable to me.

That said, the iCal redesign doesn’t do much for me, but I’m not a heavy iCal user. Address book I like better, though I still think it’s a little hard to use. One feature that I do like is that, if you use iPhoto’s faces feature, Address Book can easily search iPhoto for pictures matching the name of the contact to use as the avatar for that contact.

Auto-Save and Versions

One of the biggest functional features of Lion is the auto-save and versioning. Lion-native apps auto save when idle or at a timed interval, and automatically save when the app is closed. They also automatically restore state when the app reopens. Apps have a Time Machine like interface to view old versions of the same document. Points:

  • Basically, this is awesome.

  • I think it’s going to be much harder to break my typing tic of pressing command-s at the end of every sentence then it is to adjust to the scrolling thing.

  • I also think it’s going to take some time to get used to the new “Save a Version/Duplicate/Revert To Saved” wording in the file menu.

One thing I haven’t seen commented on is that there seem to be two different kinds of version support in Lion. Which may mean that I’m getting this wrong. But it appears that there is a subtle difference between apps like Pages, Keynote, and other applications. In Pages and Keynote, you have access to every save point over the history of the document.

For other applications, if you are connected to your Time Machine drive, you have all time machine snapshots. If you aren’t you seem to have access to maybe the most recent time machine snapshot. I’m not 100% sure exactly what’s going on and I’m not sure yet if it’s an app thing or a document type thing – for example, it seems like Apple’s TextEdit can create multiple versions of a text document, but, for example, Byword can’t. But Byword is Lion-compatible, in that it has the new-style File menu. Ultimately, as cool as this is theory, it’s a little confusing in implementation.

New Apps

I’ve started playing with, which I stopped using about two years ago on the grounds that it was really irritating. It’s a lot better now, with a more useful three-column layout (that can become a two-column layout), conversation threading, a really, really nice search feature and a bunch of animations that straddle the line between charming and annoying. For the record, the popout animation for replying I find a bit much, but they way sent messages fly up off the top of the screen kind of makes me smile. (And if you liked the animation from the App Store where the icon files into the dock, note that Safari uses something similar for downloads, and Mail uses it for replies.)

One nice touch that I haven’t seen called out much is that in Mail and iChat, and I’m not sure where else, inline url’s have a little arrow after them, which triggers a quick look preview of the web page, similar to the way Google’s quick preview works. That’s nice.

Anything else I can think of

Lion has also added a system wide autocorrect clearly based on the iOS version. I thought this was going to bug me, but actually I kind of like it. It appears to work a little better than the iOS version at identifying and correcting actual typos, the UI is a nice combination of unobtrusive but yet making you aware that a change has been made, and it’s much more responsive than TextExpander (which I love for deliberate macros, but which has always felt a little sluggish when correcting typos). Also, the autocorrect has fixed like five typos just in this paragraph, and only got one of them wrong. I’ll actually take those odds.


Too many words to say this: I like Lion so far, although some of the specific choices puzzle me cough iCal cough. It’s taken me less time to get used to the changes than I thought, and I’m finding some of the changes making definite improvements in my normal workflow.



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