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a blog by ken pardue

Mac OS X Lion: My Review

I’ve got my two home Macs set up running OS X Lion now, which was released last Wednesday.

Overall, I like Lion.  It seems to me to be a solid release for Apple.  When Apple released Snow Leopard in August 2009, it was supposed to be a release that took a break from adding new features to the operating system in order to focus on replumbing the internals, as it were.  But even given that, Snow Leopard barely felt like new window dressings, and understandably so, since Apple had their team focused on cranking out iOS features (which frustrates me as one who prefers desktop OS X to iOS).  But Lion feels like Apple really did their homework to not only polish user experience but really strengthen the OS X’s security foundation.

Visually, Lion feels more mature.  It drops the blue lozenge buttons in favor of more subtle, squared off buttons.  Scrollbars make their exit in this release, appearing only while actively scrolling.  Scrolling itself is somewhat changed: what was scrolling down before is now scrolling up, changing the metaphor to more closely match the iOS style.  Instead of “scrolling a scroll wheel down a page,” you’re “pushing the page up with your finger.”  It’s taken some getting used to, but the metaphor translates well.  Also brought in from iOS is autocorrect, which in my limited use I’ve found to be much more helpful and less annoying on Lion than on iOS.  Mail looks drastically different, mirroring its iPad cousin much more closely.  iCal and Address Book now have user interface looks that resemble their leather-bound, real world analogs.  I don’t think I’m so fond of this change, and am confused why Apple, a company known for pushing the boundaries of design to deliver more usable experiences, would resort to a look resembling something that most people these days have scarcely used.

Lion really seems to be the under the hood plumbing update that Snow Leopard should have been, as well.  I think Apple is realizing that as its market share grows, they can’t depend on being safe from viruses just on account of the relative obscurity of the OS.  People will inevitably begin to write viruses for Mac, but Apple is doing their part to make this difficult.  OS X Lion introduces more robust support for Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR) which makes it difficult for hackers to identify the location in memory that code may be running, and also offers better sandboxing of applications.  Microsoft has surprisingly set the gold standard in security the last few years.  Windows 7 has been known to be a very secure OS.  One security company describes OS X Lion as being Windows 7 Plus Plus, as far as security is concerned.  It means a lot to me to hear security researchers say that with Lion, OS X has surged ahead of Windows and Ubuntu Linux in terms of security.  Another new feature is full-disc encryption, for those worried about the security of their data.

What’s most exciting, though, is the support that third party apps will be building into their software in the coming months/years.  With Lion, Apple has provided a framework that completely eliminates the “Save” button.  And really, why not?  The very concept of the Save button is as obsolete as the floppy disk that so often represents it.  Why should the user need to worry about saving a file after x amount of changes?  Why should the user have to scream to the computer gods in agony when four hours worth of work is lost when a program with unsaved data crashes?  I say, let the Save button die, especially with the elegant system of versioning that Apple has introduced.  The beauty is that the file one is working on is always saved.  Every time you make a change to a document.  If the program crashes, when you reopen it you’re brought right back to where you were.  The computer gods need not be appeased.  When you close the program (or whenever you arbitrarily want to make one) a version is created, which makes a snapshot of the current document.  You can go back and browse previous versions, restore them, or copy and paste bits from one version to the current one.  And, since only the changed parts of the file are saved, rather than the file itself, versions aren’t very expensive as far as file size goes.

The next big thing coming for Lion is iCloud support, which ties together all the Mac and iOS devices (and even Windows, too) that we all own these days.  Apple will allot 5GB of free storage to store all of your settings and documents, and whenever a file is changed, the changed part of the document flies up to Apple’s servers and is then pushed back out to your other devices.  So let’s say I’m working on a Pages document, I throw in a chart and edit some text, run out of my house, open my iPad, and without giving so much as a thought to it, my document with the recent changes are present there.  It solves the biggest problem I have with cloud computing while giving me the biggest advantages: rather than having my data stored in someone else’s cloud and praying that they don’t decide to shut down my service for some random reason, I have a local copy of my files on all of my machines, all in perfect sync.

Windows users, do yourself a favor and get a Mac.  The new Mac Minis are real screamers.

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