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And Now the Good Stuff

Entry 1319, on 2011-08-01 at 20:27:39 (Rating 1, Computers)

In my last blog entry I commented on some of the problems I have had since I installed Mac OS X 10.7 Lion. Now it's time to talk about the good stuff and to decide whether, on balance, the upgrade is worth doing.

I am almost always very positive about Apple products but on this occasion I would advise most people to wait for the first update to Lion which should fix the annoying bugs. And there are many small bugs as well as the more significant problems I mentioned earlier.

But now I really should list the good stuff. This is the stuff that I like already and which many other users will also find useful when they install that first updated version (presumably Mac OS X 10.7.1).

There are two big trends in Lion: the first is borrowing from Apple's iOS devices and the second is incremental upgrades to what we already have. Many of these might sound minor but they really do make using a Mac a more positive experience and it's actually quite hard to go back to Snow Leopard - a sure sign that the updates have really worked.

Mail has been majorly re-designed. It is now more like the mail program on iOS devices (especially when it's in full-screen mode). The overall look is cleaner and simpler and I think it is also easier to use. Other useful functions include the ability to Quick Look URLs to web pages, the show related messages function, message contents folding, a favourites bar, and content preview in the message list.

If an email contains a URL pointing to a web site a single click will preview the page in a pop-up window inside Mail itself. Related messages lists all of the messages in a "thread" or a "related messages" list listed one after the other. If the messages are long they will be "folded" to shorten them by removing quoted information (a really cleverly designed function). The favourites bar makes it easy to view and move messages into commonly used mailboxes. And the message list column can now be displayed vertically and can include a preview of the first line or lines of the message.

These functions are all quite simple but together they make managing email (something that many people spend a lot of time doing) a lot easier and quicker.

The Finder has also had some useful enhancements made. Dragging a file into a folder where a file with the same name already exists now gives the new option of keeping the existing and the new file. The new file is renamed so it doesn't conflict with the existing one. Two folders of files can be merged in a similar way. As a file is dragged into a folder with a different view the file changes its size (and multiple files change their layout) to reflect their new appearance.

Maybe the most useful feature is the ability to arrange Finder windows in different ways. For example icons can be arranged by the date they were last accessed then sorted by name within those categories. Another useful attribute to arrange by is label (colour), that way icons can be arranged in any arbitrary way by changing their label.

Again none of these are totally revolutionary in themselves but together they just make working with files a bit easier.

There are many other miscellaneous enhancements. Lion uses gestures a lot more than previous systems. This works well on the built-in trackpad on laptops but desktop users might want to consider an Apple trackpad to take advantage of these features. A controversial default setting is "natural scrolling" where a two finger drag moves the document in the direction dragged, just like the iPad. Previously Macs moved the "viewport" in that direction which is effectively the opposite of what makes sense. It takes a while to get used to but after a while it really is more natural, as well as being the same as iOS.

Dragging any window edge re-sizes the window in that direction. Yes, I know that's the way Windows has done it for years: Microsoft do get things right every now and again!

The new screensaver is nice. While it is running the keyboard can be used for pausing, playing, moving forward and moving back. So the screensaver can become a useful photo viewer if it is set to display a folder of photos.

This blog entry isn't intended to be a complete list of Lion's new features, just the ones I have found most useful so far. There are others which will become more prominent as Lion is improved and becomes more widely used. For example the "Airdrop" function which allows easy file transfer to and from nearby Macs also running Lion. The problem is that there aren't any at the moment.

So in summary, yes I like Lion. But please Apple, send me an update to fix those bugs!

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