So I got a Macbook in early 2009 and was immediately impressed with the useability, integration, customisability and less text-based feel of the operating system (which was then 10.5 – Leopard). After a week or so of minor tweaking, personalising and refining things to my taste I was doing things in literally half the time that my Acer laptop with Windows XP would take me and I felt much more in control of things.
Later that year came an OS update 10.6 called Snow Leopard. This had virtually no new graphical changes or features, but was more of a below-the-bonnet update concentrating on reducing the footprint of the OS and speeding up/streamlining tasks. So I was happily tapping and swiping all over the place on my trackpad and things were happening even more quickly, taking up less space and (noticeably) booting up and shutting down lightning-quick.
About 2 years later comes the next update – £21 and a rather hefty 4GB download from the Apple App Store – 10.7, Lion. So, is it a king of the jungle or a lazy, sleepy cat? Let’s go through some of the changes. (NOTE: This is a rather involved and particular techie comparison between Snow Leopard and Lion so may be irrelevant and of little interest to most people!)
Firstly, the installation is very easy. Not very fast, but very easy. After it has completed you are presented with the new Lion logon screen which has a new background – a sort of close-up of an imitation grey cotton fabric which is familiar to users of iOS (on the iPhone and iPad) who scroll past the extent of a document and see it in the background. It’s a small and simple pattern tiled over the screen but looks a bit dull and harks back to old Windows 3.1 desktop patterns. This new page hints at a lot of the changes actually – an increasing creep of iPad/iPhone looks but coupled with a reduction of colour and a greying of most icons and sidebars.
Once in the system itself, it looks very similar to before at first, except the background image has been changed. As soon as you try to do things, however, you’ll notice a number of small changes. None of my settings had been respected, so the default direction for scrolling through a document or page vertically (using two fingers on the trackpad) is reversed, but strangely horizontally it is not. This is hugely confusing and counter-intuitive. Unlike the iPad where you are touching the content, using the laptop you are not: you are touching a trackpad and that makes a big difference. The arrow keys to scroll aren’t reversed, so why is the trackpad? Reversing the direction only vertically is not natural and gets you in all sorts of trouble when you scroll sideways as well. Horrible, but thankfully you can turn this option off (for now), but I don’t appreciate having to in the first place.
This grabbing sytem-possession of the gestures continues unfortunately. Mail has a nice new look, but you can no longer scroll up or down to the next message with a three finger swipe. You can’t initially swipe backwards and forwards in your Firefox browsing history either with three fingers (although you can configure it back). You can’t use three fingers in documents or Firefox web pages to go straight to the top or bottom of the page/document anymore and this combined with the auto-hiding of the scrollbars makes it harder and slower to get there.
To switch between open and minimised applications in Snow Leopard I configured the hot-corners so that a cursor swipe to the top left corner shows the desktop and a swipe to the top right shows all the open windows in a grid, with a line of minimised windows below it. These settings combined are the essences of a Mac computer system for me and were things I would use approximately every second. Something like dragging a file from one window into iTunes or into an email become incredibly quick and easy. Well, when you try to do this now you notice that ‘All Windows Expose’ has been replaced with ‘Mission Control’. Mission Control is similar but with a few key differences – open windows aren’t displayed in a grid, but clustered according to application type. So if you have three or four Finder widows open for example, they are clustered together and obstruct each other. You can expand the application cluster a little, but it doesn’t help and so this means it’s harder to identify the correct window. Also, minimised windows are not displayed at all – a big oversight. And why remove ‘All Windows Expose’? I used it all the time.
When you go to restart/power off, by default every open window and application is remembered and booted up again when you restart/power on. This is not what I want from my reboot either, but you can tick a box to stop it doing that so that you start afresh when you power up, only thing is you have to tick that box every single time you shut down or restart. Why make me do that every time?
Other additions are GUI tweaks really. The finder sidebar has turned things the other way around (so devices are not at the top) and washed out all the colour to make the icons grey (like iTunes 10) which makes it much harder to navigate to where you want to easily. Its all very well saying you don’t want the surrounds to take away from the content, but if you can’t get to the content in the first place then it’s useless. The scrollbars are smaller and auto-hidden now, content ‘bounces’ off the stops when scrolling, the selected text is slightly darker, the active window is a slightly lighter grey (which can sometimes make you wonder if a window is active or not), buttons are squarer and dots below active applications in the dock are removed by default (why?). The calendar and address books have been given an iPad makeover (no real opinion here). Launchpad gives you another way to launch applications by overlaying an iPad-style grid of icons on the screen. Compared to either clicking the icon in the dock, clicking the application from a stack on the dock, spotlighting the application or finding it in finder, Launchpad is inferior and adds nothing.
Finally, the graphical engine seems slower and a little more jerky, especially in Mission Control. It is also more resource hungry and slower than Snow Leopard.
So, you’re left with an update which removes three or four key usability features, slows the system down (admittedly only very slightly) and adds nothing but GUI changes and tweaks. £21 to remove key usability features is not an attractive proposition, so after a few days of trying I decided to revert to Snow Leopard, which was very easy thanks to the regular backups I had been taking with Time Machine. I emailed Apple with my thoughts and requested my money back and they were very polite and accommodating and did refund my purchase.
Lion feels like a small step in completely the wrong direction, an “iPadification” of the operating system in a sort of knee-jerk “well the iPad was successful, so let’s make our computer OS just like that, yeah?”. I have an iPad, it’s great. I have a macbook, it’s different, it’s great. That is fine, they are not the same thing. Don’t try to slam the iOS into a laptop for the sake of it, it’s pathetic.
Sony’s Walkman range was (and is) very successful, but they didn’t try and incorporate it into their range of televisions. Likewise their PS3 is very successful but you won’t find one in their cameras.
1 on 5