Why I won’t commit to Lion. Yet.

Christopher Breen
29 August, 2011
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Allow me to provide a little insight into how stories with headlines like these generally work. The Author distends his or her minor objections to New Technology X to the point where said technology becomes something that anyone with a lick of sense approaches only with sterilised tongs and a throwing net. This is done, in part, so that The Reader can choose A Side and shake the nearest gardening implement in either support or fury.

In what I hope breaks from this mold, may I say – without vilifying Apple’s latest Mac OS release or those people who’ve chosen to embrace it – that Lion isn’t yet for me. At least not for the Macs I use for getting much of my work done. I spent many hours with the Lion betas and lived with the final Lion release on my MacBook Pro for a couple of weeks while travelling. I have to admit that I was relieved to return to my Mac Pro running Snow Leopard. And here’s why.

Input devices

One of the major themes of Lion is the touch interface and gestures. To fully take advantage of them, you must use a trackpad. (Yes, I know today’s Magic Mouse supports a smaller set of gestures, but unless you shop in the petite aisle of the local Glovateria, half those gestures are wasted. Any side-to-side swipe with well-fed fingers is a painful and often futile exercise.) I find a trackpad to be a less precise input device than a mouse – more often than I’d like I have to wrestle with my trackpad to accurately place the cursor. So, I’m a mouse guy.

As a mouse guy, gestures are a feature I don’t use. In cases where a mouse click is clumsy in comparison to an operation that can be accomplished with a gesture – swiping to a previous page or rotating an iPhoto image, for example – I’ve found that a keyboard shortcut works admirably (and, unlike a gesture, works every time). Also as a mouse guy, Apple’s natural scrolling is no benefit to me. I understand why it could be useful with a trackpad – it’s hardly a leap to imagine how the direction of iOS gestures can be implemented with a trackpad – but when you introduce a mouse’s scroll wheel, the conceit breaks down. There’s nothing natural or intuitive about moving a scroll wheel in the direction opposite to what we’ve used in the past.

Applications I don’t use

Apple has introduced a number of improvements to Mail, including conversations, the Favorites Bar and better searching. I still won’t use it. The decision to use one email client or another often rests on a couple of features vital to your perceived needs. In my case, I need to be able to quickly categorise people who send me email and then filter that email based on the sender’s category. Specifically, if I receive a PR release, I tag the sender as PR so that whenever that person next sends me a message, that message is diverted to my PR folder. Mail doesn’t provide an elegant way to do this. Microsoft Outlook does. And so Outlook – despite its bugs and slowdowns – remains my choice. Again, this is a very specific need. Mail may be a perfect fit for you.

iCal and Address Book – with their new ‘like the real thing’ look – aren’t for me either. iCal has become less useful to me over the years thanks to Apple hiding its editing features and, now, forcing you to click a Calendars button whenever you want to see a list of your calendars. I’m hopeful (and happy) about these applications’ integration with iCloud, but I manage events and contacts elsewhere – BusyCal for my calendars and Outlook for contacts.

High-concept, lower functionality

When working with Lion I sometimes feel like I’m watching an Andy Kaufman routine – concept is key to appreciating the performance. But when you focus on what’s really happening, it’s just some guy singing ’99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.’

Take Launchpad, for example. The Launchpad idea works well on an iOS device given the constraints of the interface – no windowed environment or sense of a directory hierarchy. But on a Mac where I may have hundreds of applications? There are better ways. I know, it’s one of many options for launching applications. And it’s an option that’s best used by those who have very few applications. But for me – who has those hundreds of applications – it’s a clumsy interface that I’ll ignore.

Or scroll bars. This is another concept that works well under iOS but makes little sense to me in the Mac OS. How, in any way, does removing the arrow buttons from a scroll bar make that scroll bar more functional? The aesthetic of a less cluttered scroll bar (or no scroll bar at all) is interesting, but I don’t need my Mac to be aesthetically interesting in this instance. I need it to provide me with controls for easily navigating windows.

And Autocorrect: I’ve found this feature to be a lifesaver on my iOS devices because of those devices’ small keyboards, where I’m apt to mistype. However, I use a full-sized physical keyboard with my Mac. With that keyboard, I’m a far better typist and yet Autocorrect pops up every so often to ‘correct’ a perfectly fine word. If I’m not careful, wrong words are inserted and I later have to go back and correct the autocorrection.

For power users and not

Lion has a load of features that power users could take advantage of, yet Lion often steps in the way of those same power users. I’ll offer Mission Control as a +1 for power users. Apple took a couple of underused (because they were a bit clumsy) features – Exposé and Spaces – and mixed them together into the rich soup that is Mission Control. Work-environment management has become more powerful and gestures make the thing a pleasure to use in the right hands. But cool-looking though it may be, it’s not a feature that the mythically bumbling new users, ‘your parents,’ are ever going to touch. Both the concept and execution are too convoluted for newbies.

The –1 for power users is permissions. Lion routinely demands that I authorise one action or another with my Administrator’s password or flat-out bars me from conducting an operation because I don’t have the proper permissions. I understand that the notion of the Administrator doesn’t mean what it once did—someone with the power to easily initiate real change on the Mac. And for good reason: Anyone who installs Lion is an Administrator and granting that kind of power to new users isn’t always a good idea. However, if Apple is going to dilute the Administrator’s account to the point where error dialogues fly left and right and I need to access Info windows to alter permissions on files and folders to do things I could easily accomplish under Snow Leopard, let’s create another user level – the Super Administrator. I’m not asking for root privileges, but I would like to be able to move files where I want them, throw out items in the Applications folder (even if they were installed with Lion) and have a visible Library folder in my user folder.

Not baked to my satisfaction

And there’s Lion’s stability. It’s not unusual for these kinds of major OS releases to have problems when they first leap from the gate. Lion is no exception. The initial Lion release was buggy in my experience. The 10.7.1 release has helped, but I still find Lion less stable than Snow Leopard.

Summing up

My hope is that those who are tempted to react to this story’s headline will scroll down to this bit before posting a heated reply. Again, I’m not suggesting that Lion is a terrible, horrible, no good OS. It may be a great fit for you – particularly if you use a trackpad and find gestures convenient. Additionally, like every other version of the Mac OS, I expect it will become better baked with each update. And I also understand that I can switch off nearly all of the features that I don’t care for.

So, what it boils down to for me is this: What in Lion compels me to abandon what is currently a stable and functional version of the Mac OS? As a mouse-centric power user who’s tweaked his Mac to near-perfection, not enough.



14 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Michael says:

    I’m not using it as 4D are still working on a Cocoa version of their database, it’s taken them 4 years now:( Unfortunately I need this for work so I wait……

  2. Geoff says:

    I have gone back to SL. Could not access my media files in Mail or Pages, or through Karelia’s iMedia Browser in Services. Lion won’t let me use FMPro 7 so I tried Bento – couldn’t get it to work at all despite numerous words with Support – now trying to get my money back. Everything works fine in SL.

  3. Richard Jellicoe says:

    I agree with your posting 105%. And need to add the loss of Rosetta would cause a multi-grand investment in new software that currently works just fine for me. I am not one to update applications just to see what horrors (upgrades) have been inflicted upon them.


  4. informationau says:

    I have one MacBook running Lion, and one MacBook running Snow Leopard.

    The latest problem I noticed actually DELETES old drivers, which included my working Laserjet (well done Apple), and it would let me downgrade to the old drivers and now I have had to buy a new printer!!!

    Oh … Lion? It’s good, but it has some really annoying features like not being able to access the System files, but I think I’ve found a workaround, for that, and then there is the launch pad – and there are a few more hiccups.

    So I am waiting for Apple to re-release Lion with “modified” characteristics that will allow a bit of easier access for the users.

    Somehow, I think I could be waiting for a loooong time!

  5. Margaret says:

    Lion is inexpensive but the required upgrades needed to enable my key speciality applications to still function are not. I have read that it is hard to down grade back to Snow Leopard and, in addition, Lion does not support Rosetta.

    I have automated save on all my applications anyway. It is called finger on command and s. The paint on my s key on my laptop is worn off because I have developed the habit of automatically saving by reflex when I have completed a certain amount of work. The s on my imac keyboard has survived better – difference finish and younger machine! Also I use a graphics tablet and keyboard shortcuts anyway so gestures are just a bit of fun for me.

    Lion looks great but I am not ready to spend the literally thousands of dollars and some hours needed to update all of my software and ensure they are all working properly. I have to admit I do get frustrated with “wonderful” Mac OS updates that change the system so substantially major updates are required simply to continue to use applications you have already paid for. To me not having the continuity provided by Rosetta is a real unkindness to those who need more than iWork and iLife and other Apple software.

  6. JC says:

    Hmmm seems like apple has done a Microsoft = Vista. I just can’t bring myself to download 4GIG on Australia’s 3rd world Internet charged at a ridiculous price. To download it would cost me $200.00 approx. And I supposedly have

  7. JC says:

    Hmmm seems like apple has done a Microsoft = Vista. I just can’t bring myself to download 4GIG on Australia’s 3rd world Internet charged at a ridiculous price. To download it would cost me $200.00 approx. And I supposedly have the up to date Internet.

  8. Charms says:

    I too am using Lion as a trial on a laptop and Snow Leopard on my iMac 27 workhorse. I haven’t plugged in printing to the laptop with Lion and it seems happy to print with the printername@my desktop. I turned scroll bars on the maximum visibility Lion allows. I found MyAccount Library in Spotlight on the suggestion of the iMug members email list and then dragged the folder into the SideBar.. Thus if I need a copy of my iWeb file or my email folders which are all within Library – it is accessible. I also set up Mail in Classic mode.. I suspect all this is not the intention of Apple. The worst thing and why I will keep the desktop in Snow Leopard is that Lion cannot use my favoured emailer EUDORA whihc has about 14 years of email in it. There is a Eudora OSE which works in Lion but is still very beta-ish and things like seeing whether a POP mail item is on the server and performing server actions is just not available in Eudora OSE. Also Lion makes you abandon old MS Office (X in my case) and I hate the multitude of ribbons across the Office 11 docs. I also have a strong feeling that Excel is not as easy. Early exploration can’t find how to add commonly used functions such as an icon for SpecialPaste Values to the ribbon. Editing the ribbons seems to have disappeared – maybe I haven’t explored enough – but quick looking doesn’t show it. Also big spreadsheets with screen splits on Lion is hampered by not seeing the scrollbars easily. PLUS numerous crashes and spinning balls in Excel. When documents last used open automatically this crashing can be a pain.

    Maybe by 10.7.5 – Lion will be a delight or I’ll get a new computer and be forced to go the Lion way..

  9. Bob Gilbert says:

    I have been a Mac user since 1989 and a strong enthusiast. Unfortunately, with Lion, there are many annoying features which cannot be switched off (and I know the tricks!) which significantly reduce the functionality which has always been a proud feature of the Mac system. Alas, it takes about a day to go back to SL: a complete re-install from a backup plus re-instituting the many tweaks and app re-installs that are necessary. Had I the choice, I never would have installed Lion.

  10. David says:

    Stability is an issue but personally, I think gestures are the future. It takes some getting used to and the mouse-centric like Christopher will stay stubbornly Ludditic (is that a word?) Your mail issue is a bit of a furphy seeing you prefer an alternative anyway. But I’m greatly enjoying my leonine experience and suspect that it’s more a case of you are not for Lion rather than Lion is not for you.

  11. Pete says:

    As usual, I jumped in early and installed on my 2008 MBP 2.53ghz 4GB, and to be honest have regretted it ever since. There a few nice ideas/features going on, but performance is terrible – very slow within applications (especially Mail) and across the system generally (application switching is especially annoying… there is usually one or two applications that just don’t want to be switched to).

    The things I do like are: mission control, and surprisingly autocorrect – I’ve been a long time user of Text Expander, but Apple’s autocorrect is doing a nice job. But I’m just waiting for my first http://damnyouautocorrect.com/ moment!

  12. Robbie says:

    Yep, I’d agree to nearly all the author says. I simply don’t like Lion nearly as much as SL. I know it comes down to personal preferences but I just hate the new monochrome look – I find it less appealing to look at and much more difficult to navigate quickly. I use colour as well as shape to navigate and now one of these has been removed completely.

  13. duncan says:

    The comment about the mouse scrolling is not one I can support.

    Within a week of using Lion I have constantly found myself scrolling with the mouse wheel the Lion way of Windows machines (i.e. going the wrong way) because, much to my surprise, the Lion way is genuinely the ‘natural’ UI approach for my brain. Strangely the marketing is real, for me at least.

    So I would scratch that off your list as a real issue. It is just a transitional issue.

  14. annieT says:

    I agree with you. No Rosetta is a deal breaker for me. I bought Lion when it first came out and installed it on my iMac, then uninstalled it and thought it might be better on a MacBook Pro, but resisted putting in my Air. Last night I put it on the Air and removed it from my Pro. I think I’ll keep it that way – at least until Lion on the Air pips me off. But Apple will have to do a lot more to it before it gets on my iMac – and I won’t be buying a new iMac until that happens (I usually upgrade every year). Lion’s also put the moccas on my buying a new Air, mine is only 4 months old, but I was going to upgrade to a 4GB i7 11″. That’s not going to happen now either.
    As someone said – maybe it might be usable on 10.7.5. If someone could manage to work out how to use Rosetta with Lion I might change my mind sooner.
    Great review CB, thanks

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