The latest version of Mac OS has, so far, turned out to be a rather mixed bucket. It adds a number of interesting functionalities, most notably Versions and Resume, but also contains a lot of very poor design decisions in the user interface, as well as the removal of some features for unclear reasons.
- Versions makes forgetting to save a thing of the past—at least in applications that support it, which, in time, will be most.
- Resume restores windows, documents, and other application states—again, in applications that support there.
- Time machine backups are now stored locally until you connect your backup drive, which expedites the backup process significantly.
- Security is buffed by way of delegating as many tasks as possible to helper processes with very limited privileges. Certain privileges are only obtained through user input, such as opening/saving files.
- Mission Control organizes windows by application, rather than splashing them everywhere like Exposé did. It also covers multiple Spaces.
- OpenGL 3.2 is supported (and 4.1 on the way soon), instead of the crappy old 2.1.
- Mail, Contacts, and Calendars are now integrated with a Preference Pane. I haven’t really played much with this because I already have it all set up, but I imagine it makes things easier. The interface for Mail is also significantly spiffed up, and unlike Address Book and iCal, it can be reverted to its earlier interface if you so desire.
- Apple System Profiler has been upgraded to System Information. Although mostly the same, it also includes a more detailed, tabbed version of About My Mac, highly reminiscent of the information provided about iOS devices in iTunes.
- AirDrop looks pretty cool, although I haven’t run into another Lion user, and thus have not had the chance to test it, yet.
- The implementation of fullscreen applications causes them to form their own space, which is nifty. On the other hand, I personally like to see the Dock at all times (except if I really want immersion, such as for a movie or a game, at which point I don’t want hot corners and such to work, as I might accidentally trigger them), so this is mostly useless to me.
- Versions may be unwanted or unnecessary. Although it seems pretty well-implemented, it’s still a little bit too much, conceptually, for many users. Time will tell, perhaps.
- Resume may also be unwanted, especially in certain applications for which it makes little sense (such as TextEdit and Preview). However, there are ways to remedy this (disable it entirely, disable it on an application-by-application basis, or disable it on a case-by-case basis).
- Local time machine backups can consume unwanted space, especially if you’re tight. I saw one person panicking on Apple Support Communities, asking “Where is my space going!?”.
- Rosetta has been removed—you can no longer run PowerPC binaries. I wasn’t under the impression that it added bloat anywhere, so this really mystifies me.
- Spaces are now linearized, which makes them less useful (no more grid of spaces, only a horizontal row). Many people initially think that you can’t assign applications to spaces anymore, but that’s not true; they’ve just shifted it to right-clicking the dock icon while in a particular space.
- Lion is pretty RAM-hungry. You may want to get in the habit of purging inactive memory (type purge into Terminal), especially if you have 2 GB of RAM (or 4 GB if you use virtual machines).
- Address Book and iCal are skeuomorphed to hell. Their design implies functionality that they don’t have, misleads you about some functionalities that it does have (such as the “bookmark” in Address Book), and overall makes the interface less efficient than it could be. There’s tons of space on my screen, Address Book can afford to have three columns. Why the hell doesn’t it?
- Animations have been taken to a bit of an extreme, most notably in switching spaces (by the arrow hotkeys) and iCal (switching months, tearing pages)
- Apple has unleashed the color vampire once more. Color and contrast are good things, I don’t understand why Apple continues to wage war on them. There’s a reason color displays were an upgrade from grayscale, and a reason why people pay more for LED-backlit LCDs than normal LCDs (they have better contrast, particularly blacker blacks). In each version of Mac OS, switching the display to grayscale makes less and less of a difference.
- Mission Control doesn’t show minimized windows or window titles; applications with many windows open end up with a small pile of windows rather than tiny windows nicely spaced out, making it hard to pick through.
- Launchpad sucks. I guess some people love it, but as an experienced user I can get to an application hundreds of times faster by using Spotlight or hotkeys. Luckily, you can ignore it.
- Scrolling has been reversed, to conceptually match pulling/pushing on the document. While this makes sense on a touchpad, the way we’ve been trained to think of input on computers for decades has been in the mirror paradigm; the corresponding virtual object moves in the same direction as the input device. While you COULD think of the mouse as a lever (see Y-inverted mouse control), it’s more natural to think of it as a physical representation of the cursor, right? Of course, when it comes down to it, this is really a matter of preference and what you’re used to. On the bright side, this can be disabled in System Preferences.
- The Library folder is invisible by default. This is presumably to protect it from the noobs.
- The sidebar has been rearranged. Granted, the arrangement in Snow Leopard wasn’t the best, either, but this one really irks me. The notation I’m using here is “top > middle > bottom”— now, it’s Favorites > Shared > Devices. Before, it was Devices > Shared > Favorites (more or less, although it also had some searches in there). Ideally, I’d like it to be Devices > Favorites > Shared, as to me those represent the most basic, localized levels at the top, and the most distant/abstract levels at the bottom, which approximately corresponds to how I use them.
- Dashboard is now shown as its own space—this isn’t an “ugly” for everyone, though.
- Resume, if it bothers you, can be disabled entirely from System Preferences (General). It can also be disabled for a given application with some Terminal magic (defaults write com.apple.Preview NSQuitAlwaysKeepsWindows -bool false), although you’ll have to dig up what the name is by looking in ~/Library/Saved Application State/. Furthermore, you can intentionally quit an application and not save the state by holding option when you do so—this works both as option+command+Q and as holding option as you select it from the menu. Oddly, for certainly applications (I’ve only noticed System Preferences so far, although also for applications where you’ve disabled it through Terminal), holding option causes it to keep the windows, where it otherwise would not. There are several other ways of managing it, too.
- The Library folder can be made permanently visible by typing chflags nohidden ~/Library into Terminal. There are also a great deal of other ways to access it.
- Local time machine backups can be disabled with the Terminal command sudo tmutil disablelocal. You will need to enter your password (sudo, or ‘superuser do’ is the command-line equivalent of requesting administrative privileges, more or less).
- The Dashboard space can be removed in System Preferences (Mission Control).
- Although you can’t rearrange the categories in the sidebar, you can move certain things between categories, such as hard drives (including your internal hard drive partitions).
- Enable the improved list view for Dock stacks: in Terminal, defaults write com.apple.dock use-new-list-stack -bool true; killall Dock (note, for any that use killall Dock, you can leave it out until you’re done enabling dock behaviors, as this just restarts the dock, putting the new behaviors into effect)
- Enable mouseover highlighting in stack view: in Terminal, defaults write com.apple.dock mouse-over-hilite-stack -bool true; killall Dock
- Enable dimming of hidden applications in the dock: in Terminal, defaults write com.apple.dock showhidden -bool true; killall Dock
Things I wish I could change but haven’t figured out how to do (if they’re feasible at all):
- Rearrange the sidebar to be Devices > Favorites > Shared, and put AirDrop in Shared.
- Grant the gift of color back to the sidebar. The icons now appear to be generated by taking the CoreTypes icons and using them as a mask over the sidebar. Conceptually, you can think of this as taking the icon’s shape and stamping it into the sidebar, rather than just slapping it on like a sticker.
- Mission Control. Currently, it clusters an application’s windows in a little disorganized pile with the application’s icon badged over it, labeled with the application’s name. In my opinion, the name there is superfluous; you can easily recognize the application from the icon. Additionally, I’d like to be able to see the windows more clearly, as well as the window titles. Ideally, the way this would be implemented would be by showing the window title and bringing the window to the front of the pile on mouseover.
- Standardize the internal naming: a number of features clearly got renamed partway through development (Mission Control and AirDrop being ones I’ve noticed so far). Internally, they’re still referred to as Exposé and MeetingRoom, which makes looking for some of their more hidden features pretty annoying.
- A fresh install (restoring from Time Machine after installing doesn’t count) will probably perform much better than an upgrade install; this was certainly true in my case.
- How to do a clean installation. This will probably perform better than an upgrade install; it did in my case, at least. However, if you just restore everything from a Time Machine backup afterwards, it’ll be useless, so I suggest manually copying over the just things you want to keep (don’t forget (~)/Library/Preferences if you did a lot of fancy configuration).
- How to install Lion over Leopard. I suggest skipping to the “Quick-but-techie way”.
If you think I’ve left something out, feel free to comment and I’ll see if I can work it in.