Lion Review

Fiaz Mogra Reviews Lion

Lion isn’t about dramatic changes. But about hundreds of subtle changes and the cohesive merge of iOS like abilities. Together they make Lion a great release.

Lion, a fantastic new operating system that is brought from the world of Apple Inc. However is it as good as some reviewers say it is? Many reviewers are classing Lion to paraphrase as robust but new, that people are not willing to take a dynamic change just yet, from positive to contrast, we give you a full coverage on the Lion OS and what makes it well, a cohesive operating system that’s neither perfect nor is it a bad release. We go over some of its prominent features and discuss on the Apple echo system and conclude with our thoughts on it.

Lion is available in the Mac App Store, exclusively, for a price of $30!

The Mac App Store

The App store is a great mechanism to purchase your applications. The move from retail to digital downloads, streamlines the customer purchase and makes the Apple ID purchase a one stop solution for your software purchases/downloads. Lion is an App Store only release, and thus can be downloaded from the Mac App Store, exclusively. Relatively new, but not directly a new program, it’s easy to use, fluent, simple and is very similar to the very familiar iTunes Store. With the ability of managing apps directly through the Mac App Store, provides the ability to update apps with a single click within the Mac App Store window. The only downside is, apps currently do not match with the number of apps and the quality of apps its sister App Store for iOS presents. Major software makers such as Adobe and Microsoft haven’t yet appeared in the Mac App Store.

Purchasing and downloading an app is simple, and achieves a download to an install in just a few clicks. However, to access the Mac App Store, you must have Snow Leopard (10.6.8 to be able to download and install Lion). But worry not, users on previous editions of OS X will be able to buy a physical thumb drive of Lion in August at Apple retail stores. [Note: You could make a similar thumb drive by yourself, too]. Upgrading to Lion, we must confess, has been the easiest sort of major upgrade ever (counting how difficult Windows upgrades really are).

Multi Touch Gestures

Apple has already worked on their gesture capabilities a lot on their celebrated iOS devices. Lion brings a whole new level to gestures to OS X.

Out of the table, the peskiest feature for most would be “natural scroll” (by default settings). Under this, all the scrolling we have been used to for over two decades is reversed to more natural style of scrolling, similar to the iPhone/iPad. So when you scroll downwards you are actually scrolling upwards in the traditional way of scrolling. This of course, can be changed by checking “Reverse Scroll” in the system preference. Although, this may seem pesky in the beginning, it is definitely feels much more natural after a week of use. You will NEED to give it a massive amount of time to get used to it. We recommend you do stick with the default settings.

Other gestures would include, two-three & four finger gestures that have been refined. We must however note, that the best experience from multi touch gestures can only be achieved by using the trackpad. Apple is slowly outlawing the mouse by bringing more gestures to the trackpad. That would also mean choosing the trackpad over the mouse when buying iMac’s, etc. All put together, Apple is by far the best in gestures and is far ahead in its trackpad technology, which is flattered even more in Lion.

The Finder

The Finder now occupies a grey theme, icons have been changed in reference to Desktop, Documents and so forth, however it matches the simple outlook of the interface of Finder. A new All my Files option now exists, to find the latest files worked with but the Home folder remains paramount. Snow Leopard and Leopard users that manage Quick Look and the Cover Flow view, have not transitioned significantly in Lion as these are available. Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of Finder and the other applications is what was presented of a full dragging the window from any corner to make larger or smaller. In fact, in Lion every window can be dragged by any corner/side to be resized.

All my Files is like a custom Smart Folder to have an overview of your current workings and it’s not essential but definitely useful. The ability to glance all of your files in one convenient location classified neatly in the form of Images, Videos, etc is more than useful for power users. Also, Finder now represents these new types of hierarchies in the form of a mini-coverflow-esq way. The new look however is something that takes a moment to grasp.

Launchpad

In Leopard Apple created Stacks, a conventional folder system in your dock to launch your applications. Of course Stacks could be customized, so you could have documents as a folder and launch in a stack view. In Snow Leopard no new added feature was given, however Launchpad becomes an application whereby applications are given utmost diligence in organization and relative use towards it’s layout. A simple click on the application in your dock, gives an outlook of all your latest applications, just like iOS. Lion after all was modeled after iOS and it does look pretty neat. Functional for the Apple users who are not using Stacks. Launchpad again is not essential but allows a much more easier system for managing your apps. Stacks remains present. It’s also about easier accessibility, rather than going through Finder and clicking on apps, this provides an adjusted viewpoint in one mechanism. Getting to your apps is much simpler now.

We should make a note that Apple (by default) has turned off the illuminated lights that appear beneath every active app in the dock. A somewhat dis-orienting feature, but a clever one. Apple in Lion has enabled (by default) to switch some non-active apps on your system to pause, a feature copied from iOS, saves system memory. This makes the dock a less functional place, and the Launchpad is definitely the primary place to get to your apps, solving the problem of some users having too many apps in their dock or too less apps. Launchpad is now the focus point for all your apps.

Mission Control

Mission Control was an application cleverly created for the Mac. A merge between Spaces and Expose, a functionality that has windows in a space to choose, each application between each space and simply managing what you wish to work on by clicking on the relevant application. Mission Control makes the user functionality manageable on notebooks and desktop computers in a far greater sense.

Mission Control will assign a space, for each application in full screen mode, so that you are able to work on something, then assign it a space. Through it’s expose feature, you can easily see an overview of what your working on. Mission control is the tool that lets you manage your applications your working on, which makes it simpler to see which work to place in which section for easier workflow. A great feature for power users.

Address Book and iCal

Address Book and iCal. These applications received an overhaul, but in the like of the iPad. The graphical effect of a book like mode, rather than a single window in Address Book because when you select Groups it has another outlook. iCal offers a dynamic viewing with more emphasis on the graphical perspective. The two applications look much more refined and easier to view, especially iCal. In the previous iCal there was a more structured view and more option viewing, this version is simple and all the clutter has been removed to offer a more rich user interface. Both are well created software programs that deliver to the content functionality. The interface between iCal and iTunes remains the same.

That said, the redesigned address book and iCal represents “Skeuomorphism”. It copies real world interfaces, which may seem fine on touch enabled devices such as the iPad, but looks hideous on a desktop. Ben Brooks of TBR explains this best:

In theory, and perhaps in movies, this is a great look — in fact from an eye candy perspective it looks amazing. The problem is that these apps that mimic a real world interface make for pretty terrible computing interfaces. Real interfaces, those printed on paper for calendars, or molded out of plastic for calculators are static — computing interfaces are dynamic. The difference is that to make a sheet of paper show 7 days worth of appointments means that you have to print all seven days. Once it is past the first day it would be impossible to dynamically shift the content so that it keeps the seven forward looking days view. On the computer though this is easily done, yet no one does it — why? I guess it is because that is not how paper calendars work, and that is just a silly convention to stick with.

Mail

Apple’s Mail client is perhaps the only application to have received a completely redesigned outlook. The previous Apple Mail (since Tiger to Snow Leopard) were very straightforward. Inbox and options on the left, E-mails on the right. Then came the viewing as “threaded”, so that emails could be collated. Now, Lion offers a more dynamic iOS like view, with reference to easier manageability and simple functionality, where conversations are now easily readable and clearly visible.

Mail now displays additional options at the top – for Inbox, Sent, Notes and Draft. All folders appear in grey (just like the Finder). Most of the icons have been changed, while more options appear (by default) for the toolbar at the top. This app is somewhat easier (in comparison to prior versions) to come across and use. None of the other apps on Lion have received such drastic changes. Essentially, Apple Mail is a new identifiable way to send e-mails and manage your inbox. With the ability to read emails in conversation view, added with the already existing features, makes it a solid workspace email client.

Auto Save, Versions & Resume

Autosave, the much advertised feature is a nice add to the feature list of Lion. Basically, you never need to save your document or files ever again. It saves your changes immediately. With Versions, on the other hand, all of your changes to your documents can be viewed on the same file. Just click on the option at the title bar and you will enter a Time-Machine type look where all your changes can be viewed in a vertical cover flow. We love this. Adding to this nifty features, Resume allows you to do exactly what it sounds like. It enables you to go to the last known setting on  any particular app before you had quit the application. Providing you to quickly return to your workflow, even if you shut down your system.

Air Drop

Up until now, transferring files with neighboring users on a computer has always been, frankly, a chore. Either you transfer using a flash disk or have an internal LAN system setup to transfer PC-network-PC. All of the options to collabrate on files is a time conosuming task in the work space. Air Drop just solves that. You head up to the Finder, and click the Air Drop on the side bar, and choose the user you want to transfer the file to, with a swift prompt, you will be sharing the file immediately. An extremely simple yet extremely useful feature.

Safari & Preview

Safari now has added a Reading List, a similar function as Instapaper. Also it is now upgraded to the next version of WebKit making it more snappier and on par with Chrome, etc. Advanced features such as sandboxing, etc have been added for a better experience. Preview, for me has always been a wonder. It just works amazingly well. I even wonder why Apple hasn’t made it a paid application. The new Preview feels much more snappy and has a good amount of new features. Also the ability now to make electronic signatures just by holding your signature up to your webcam, a feature I can’t stop admiring about. Previously, we were required to use costly hardware to create good electronic signatures. But now, the process is seamless and integrated.

Security

Lion has added a slew of new security features. With the addition of Filevault 2, which automatically encrypts your system to a DoD level file system. And several other security advancements will be much appreciated by corporate users.

Lion Server

Apple has removed a sepearate server edition by adding a “Lion Server” app on the Mac App Store, which essentially turns any Mac into a server, with advanced server capabilities. The Lion Server is available additionally in the Mac App Store for $49.

The general OS and other applications

The general OS has been upgraded, boot time has been lowered significantly, System Preferences has a changed list of menus and more options to customize it, Mail, Address Book and iCal have all received upgrades. The addition of “Reading Lists” in Safari is a nice little add to Safari which would become even better when iOS 5 adds “Reading Lists” to Safari for iOS (which would be syncable).

FaceTime (available separately for a price 99 cents) is a new app that allows HD video conferencing whereas iChat remains in the background and not in the standard dock.

Lion adds the ability to run apps in Full Screen by clicking on the extended arrow buttons on the corner of any application (that has been updated to Lion). This presents a beautiful viewing experience of apps such as iPhoto, etc.

The Spotlight search bar is slightly larger and every item can be quick viewed right from within the Spotlight. Additionally, a Windows Migration assistant is also available for Windows users switching to a Mac.

Conclusion

The whole look and comprehension of the operating system gives a more refined and integrated outlook compared to Snow Leopard. With iCloud, Apple makes the core basis of a UNIX operating system friendly and simpler for Windows Users. Snow Leopard with Exchange support along with reference points made it simpler to manage for Windows users but with a full new migration assistant, the switch has never been easier. The addition of FaceTime, video conferencing for all iOS devices makes a more streamlined process and with the updated Full Screen viewing, makes using applications like iWork simple. Having this on board with iCloud for sharing documents between the Mac, iPod, iPhone and iPad a seamless way to not lose that important document.

Having the new refined Apple applications as part of the Lion operating system, Apple users have a new way of reaching with the Mac. It’s more simpler and an even bigger outlook than from Leopard to Snow Leopard. The pricing standpoint is substantial for current Mac OS users to upgrade, to how they download the application through the Mac App store. The customer purchase is becoming easier but also, the applications are more simpler but offering the same functionality.

Having said that, however, the new changes may seem more drastic to existing long time Mac users to absolute new users to Personal Computing and users coming from the Windows platform. A 4 year old would naturally expect the mouse to scroll in similar fashion as the iPad/iPhone does.

The complaints about Lion, most famously by Gizmodo naming it the Vista of Mac OS X, and the ones on the Mac App Store review (8% of the rating has given it a one star rating) seem to be about scrolling, compatibility of apps and other such changes.

Bottom Line

Lion is about several hundred subtle changes across the operating system. The operating system feels much more natural, removing several complicated functions and UI features that make computing look rocket science like. All together, a much needed and deserving upgrade.

 Zaid Rahman contributed to this article

Authored by Fiaz Mogra on August 11, 2011 under Editorial § Tweet Like