Monday, July 25, 2011

OSX Lion: First Impressions

Author: Riley Alexander, MD, MBA

May 20 saw the release of the next (and possibly final) release of Apple's Mac OSX--titled Lion or 10.7 if you're going by the number designation. It was announced way back in June at WWDC and was billed as the merging of OSX and iOS. Essentially all the new features were announced back then and they heavily leaned on importing features/functions native to iOS to the desktop/laptop experience. I've only gotten little over a day to play with the new OS so this is by no means meant to be a full review and I will not cover every feature, but it should give you a very good idea of what to expect if you upgrade and, perhaps, reason to do or not to do so.


I'm starting with this (rather boring) part because so much attention has been paid to the unique way in which Apple is distributing the product initially: only via the Mac App Store. That being said, this update is only possible from Snow Leopard so no luck if you haven't updated to that in the last couple of years. Lion is very nicely priced at $29.99 (good for all your computers, too) and is a ~4.5 gb download, though you need around 7 gb to install. It took me a solid couple of hours to download at home, but this was shortly after work when many other Macophiles had also rushed home to download the OS and I'm sure the servers were a little taxed. Installation was, by far, the easiest of an OS I've ever encountered. Once downloaded, it took about 15 minutes and I barely had to press a button. Easy. Between this, no optical drive on the MacBook Air and on the new MacMini, Apple seems to be waging a full-scale war with physical media. Judging by their most recent earning reports, they seem to be winning.


That said, if you left for awhile as this installed and came back after everything was done, you may not have even thought anything happened. It essentially looks exactly like Snow Leopard. Your only real clue is the addition of the new Launchpad and Mission Control icons in your dock. This reiterates an overarching theme with Lion, it is definitely an evolutionary upgrade and not something that is going to change computing forever.


Mission Control: Mission Control (top picture) is one of the hallmark new features of Lion. It essentially combines and replaces Expose and Spaces. So far, in my limited use of the feature, I'm a big fan. It consolidates two nice features that I really liked and conserves a valuable

multitouch gesture (more on these later). It looks to make using more virtual desktops an easier process.

Launchpad: Launchpad (bottom picture) is very iOS-esque. By clicking the button on the dock or using a multitouch gesture or hotkey, the

new feature hides the desktop and brings up all your apps in a tiled format that makes your screen look like a giant iPad. I currently have a lot of programs on my computer so I'm not sure how often I will use this. The app folder in the dock just seems a little easier for me to get to right now. Part of the problem may be that I'm using Lion on my 27" iMac and I really feel that many of the new features are geared towards optimizing the laptop experience (more later).

Mail, Calendar, Address Book: All have received updates to their implementation and styling. I haven't really used iCal and Address Book since upgrading so I'm going to skip those for now. Mail, on the other hand, is much, much better. Apple essentially copied the very good mail app from the iPad and planted it in OSX--no complaints here. I have several email account and would love to use Gmail for all of them, but I've resorted to using the onboard email client for the my non-Gmail so this was a big upgrade for me. The last mail client was passable, but still didn't support conversation views very well and was just very plain. The new email client is much easier to use and much easier to follow long email chains. Well done Apple.

Full-screen apps: Along the themes of merging iOS and OSX, Apple is introducing full-screen apps in Lion. This is not that different from the good ol' maximize button that has been in Windows for ages, but it does make it truly full screen, i.e. it removes the dock and any other item on the screen. I originally didn't think much of this and thought it seemed gimmicky, but with the new full-screen app gesture in Lion, I can see how this might be nice...especially on laptops. Considering Apple's new entry-level laptop is the 11" MacBook Air, using the full screen gains a lot more value. I don't see this being used too often on iMacs or desktop screens though. This also currently is only supported by Apple apps and doesn't have full support on other popular apps like Chrome or Firefox.


I'm placing this in it's own category because it's a key part of the Lion experience. Apple has added many native gesture options to make the computing experience and new features more efficient. I stress native because if you were previously a user of the wonderful Better Touch Tool, you have probably been using a lot or more of these already. A key point in all of these is they are heavily weighted towards Apple's large multi-touch trackpads. If you're an iMac, MacMini or MacPro user and don't use the Magic Mouse or the more recent Magic Trackpad, a lot of the new features of this OS will be lost on you. Despite its ergonomic shortcomings, I love the Magic Mouse--if only for inertial scrolling, but enjoy the multi-touch uses of it. And being I do most of my home computing on my 27" iMac, navigating on a trackpad gets a little cumbersome in my opinion. Unfortunately, this means I am missing out on many of the new "included" gestures Apple placed in Lion. Gestures to open Mission Control and Launchpad are not native to the Magic Mouse, but are to the Trackpad.

The one new native multitouch gesture I really like is the ability to switch virtual desktops with a swipe (the same gesture to switch between full-screen apps--the desktop is essentially one of these "apps"). This is really nice if you're working on a project in one desktop and want to flip back to your browser real quick or iTunes. Before you had to open Spaces and then scroll to the desktop you wanted and was a little frustrating. It also works for switching between Apple's much vaunted full-screen apps (something I won't use much on my iMac---the whole reason you get a 27" screen is to multi-task).

Much has also been said about Apple's choice to use inverted scrolling as a default as well. Well, this may work very well on an iPhone or tablet or maybe even a laptop with a big trackpad, but it just seems weird on a mouse and I turned it off immediately. No need to feel committed to it if you don't like it, a single tick on a box changes it back to the old way if that's what you prefer.


Initially, I am very pleased with the OS. Much of this has to do with some minor tweaks that change some programs and things around and most of this is because it's still very, very similar to Snow Leopard--not necessarily a bad thing. As an iMac user, my biggest complaint is that many of the new features are definitely geared towards laptop users. This is a much bigger part of Apple's market so I don't blame them for this and it really doesn't do anything to diminish the desktop experience--you just won't use the new features as often and you can turn off the ones you don't like. I'm certainly looking forward to Better Touch Tool to upgrade it's gesture options for Lion so I can get my Magic Mouse going with them to make up for some of this.

The only other real complaint you can throw out there is that there's really not anything here so compelling that you'll feel the way you compute to be drastically different. With that in mind, I feel like Apple agreed and muted this point in the best way possible--the price. It's hard to argue against a $29.99 upgrade.


If you're an avid OSX fan, well, you've probably already gotten this and I don't need to convince you. If you're on the fence or may want to wait for some minor stability updates, you really aren't going to be missing out on too much with this upgrade. If you're primarily a laptop user and do a lot of multitasking, you will probably love Lion's new features, especially if you're also and iOS user. If you're a desktop user with a lot of screen real estate, it won't be as useful of an upgrade, but I find it to be well worth the $30 asking price for the beneficial things added.

About the author:

Dr. Riley Alexander is a pathology resident at Indiana University School of Medicine, blog "addict" and avid follower of technology. His primary interests revolve around how technology, especially mobile, will create increased efficiency, enhanced physician education and better delivery of care in the medical field. Dr. Alexander is a graduate of Indiana University School of Medicine with a combined MD/MBA, in partnership with IU's Kelley School of Business. Due to this, he is also very interested in management, healthcare policy and non-clinical aspects of the medical field and enjoys exploring non-clinical opportunities for medical students, residents and physicians. He completed his undergraduate education at IU-Bloomington.

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