First Impressions of Lion

I've been playing with Lion fairly steadily now since its release and have some initial impressions I'd like to share.

The changes to the gestures in OS X are dramatically different. I can deal with the change to scrolling direction on a page (up is down, down is up) - that's really not that big of a deal. After less than a week I've completely adjusted to it. You can switch it in settings if you like, however you are better off just adjusting to it if you are exclusively a Mac user since it matches up with how actual touch screens like the iPad work. Apple wouldn't be making a change like this just for consistency, I believe it's to prepare Mac users for the future when a hybrid device that is a merger of iPad and Mac is released.

What is a big deal is that the default behavior for going back in a browser (three-finger swipe left) is changed, now it's two fingers and only works on Safari (not Chrome). I'm hoping I can get this to work in Chrome because for now I'm back to using Safari. I understand why Apple did it but it's made using my Mac feel very awkward for now.

Full Screen Mode
I like it - though having another button for doing this seems excessive. I don't know of anyone that uses the Zoom button (green + in the caption area). We've seen by the gestures that Apple is willing to completely change behaviors, why not this one? I do like that it also hides the menu bar at the top, which is great for letting you focus on content. Move the cursor to the top of the screen and the menu bar "un-hides".

What is a little odd is that moving the cursor to the bottom of the screen while in Full Screen Mode does not bring up the Dock Bar, so you can't easily launch another application while in that mode. This makes sense though since the application you are currently running is taking over the entire screen. Instead you can hit the old Exposé key (or the Mission Control gesture) and launch another application from there.

I haven't upgraded my dual-display Mac Pro to Lion yet (it's actually still on Leopard), but I'm interested to see how Full Screen Mode works in that environment.

Scroll Bars
Like many of the user interface elements in Lion, the scroll bars are now very muted in appearance. The big change is that by default they are set to auto-hide when not actually scrolling. While that behavior is brilliant on an iPhone because of the severely limited screen real-estate, that's not really the case on a full size display on a Mac. Why not? The scroll bar not only provides you with a general scrolling mechanism but it also gives you immediate feedback on how long your document is. Without it there you need to touch the scroll gesture just to see it. Fortunately you can change that in System Preferences to always show them, which is what I have done.

Mission Control
Love it and hate it at the same time. I use Spaces heavily and I don't like that I've lost my nice little grid and that it's now a single line across the top portion of the screen. It's lost keyboard navigation (arrows) between the "desktops" while in zoomed out mode, though I can assign Control-# keys for each of the Desktops. I like that the gestures for Mission Control allow me to simply swipe side to side (3 fingers) to move between them. This should expose it to more people that Spaces, which was really more for the techies out there.

The changes are not too bad on a modern Track Pad equipped MacBook Pro where the Track Pad is very close to the typing position. If you are an external mouse user then it's a much more difficult proposition.

This is just useless to me as a power user. I assume it's there to help new switchers that are coming because they love their iPad or iPhone so much. I can see that it would be much easier to guide a new user through finding and launching an application rather than having them scroll through the Finder's Application folder, however I'll just stick to launching my applications from LaunchBar.

Really like the new Mail overhaul. I use Mail extensively and this is just great. I like the appearance, the way threads of messages are kept together (ala Gmail), the drag metaphor (click and hold a second, then a message is draggable). Looks fantastic in full screen mode.

Calendar and Address Book
This is a rather large mistake by Apple. They are going for a "real world" object look and compromising functionality by doing so. The Address Book in particular is far less usable. Hoping they don't try this little "making it look like it's a real world object" with Mail (look like a piece of paper pulled out of an envelope), iTunes (look like an old record store with a demo turntable), iMovie (an old film splicing machine), etc. This is not enhancing usability at all.

General Stability
I've been getting exceptions thrown in Safari pretty regularly. Since I upgraded from Snow Leopard I had quite a few utilities installed and I think one or more of them could be causing issues. Make sure you check the applications you normally run all the time to see if there are Lion specific updates available.

Other Little Things
If my MacBook Pro drops into sleep mode the trackpad no longer wakes it up; I have to hit a key on the keyboard. One of the utilities I've come to depend on—Growl—is not currently supported and I find myself lost without it. Performance is very good overall, and Snow Leopard was no slouch. Safari is considerably faster and the new Back / Forward animations look very slick.

With Snow Leopard Apple brought OS X fully into the 64 bit world, preparing the operating system for the next generation of software to come. With Lion Apple is now doing the same thing with users, preparing us all slowly for a world that is driven by portable devices, not personal computers.

It's a lot easier for Apple to get the average person to buy an iPad and use that for Email, web browsing and some basic applications. People don't consider that "switching" - it's an entirely new paradigm to them. Given that, I think we will continue to see the innovation at the user level happen on the iOS front and that will drive direction for the foreseeable future.

You may read what I have written and think I'm not happy with Lion. That would be incorrect. I really like Lion and the problems I'm pointing out are because of frustrations I have with something I spend so much of my day using.


waltn said...


To wake your macBook Pro with the trackpad, just click it; you're right, swiping doesn't do it.

Growl 1.2.2 seems to work fine on my MBP with Lion.

I, too, like Lion on both my iMac and MBP.


Chris Steel said...

I agree with most of your impressions. It is taking me a bit longer than a week to adjust to the scrolling, though I am learning. I like the full screen window, but agree about the location of the icon. Launchpad is a good concept, but I don't find myself using it much. Mission Control I use more often and is somewhat more convenient than command tabbing. Overall, I don't see a whole lot of change that I have come to expect from Apple. At $29.00, I didn't expect a ton, but I also feel I could easily live without. It is a lot better than when I upgraded my Windows machine to Vista, but not quite as good as I anticipated. Also, Parallels is not compatible with Lion as of now, but I use VirtualBox so didn't care much. Make sure you check your programs fro compatibility before upgrading. My final thought is that Lion does not provide me with anything I need, but for $29.00 has a few niceties that I may have bought for that much on Mac AppStore.

laporte runner said...

In full screen mode you can indeed get to the dock. Once you have moved the pointer to the bottom edge of the screen, lift your finger (if you are using the trackpad) and swipe downward again with a single finger. The dock will pop right up.


David Alison said...

@Chris: At least at $29 it covers every Mac you "own or control". That's cool.

@Brian: Very handy - thanks for the tip!

Keleko said...

I've run into a few bugs myself with Lion, including some of the ones you've already reported. The worse has happened to me three times now. Sometimes when I try to view a video on YouTube using Flash, I've had my entire system lock up completely. I could move the pointer, but that was it. I had to force power-off to recover. I could not even log in remotely to kill the process. This happened to me in both Safari and Chrome. I know Flash is in a beta version for Lion, and there may be a video driver bug involved, too.

Another, minor, bug I've seen is that if you change the Mission Control gesture from 3 to 4 fingers and then back, it will end up working with both.

Prepare to be disappointed with full screen mode on a multiple monitor setup. Note that it is "full screen" and not "full screenS". It means you will only be able to use the primary display with a full screen app. The secondary display is essentially disabled - you can't do anything with it at all - while using a full screen app.

Mail looks okay in full screen... except when the screen is a 27" iMac. That's a lot of wasted space. Still, I do use it in full screen anyway because it keeps it out of the way when I'm not using it.

When you're using a full screen app, you can bring up LaunchPad to run a new program. So yes, you CAN easily launch another application while using a full screen app by using LaunchPad to do it. This is the iOS way, after all, so it makes sense Apple intends it to work that way on Lion.

Overall I am happy with Lion in general. I recognize that there are bugs, and I accept them by being an early adopter. I hope they get fixed quickly, too. :)

Mark S. Husson said...

Thanks Dave,

Appreciate your writing in that it really, at its core, is you making our lives just a bit easier in this rapidly changing Mac World that we love. Thank you!

Zack said...

Hi David,
I've been a reader and fan of your blog for some time now, ever since discovering it a few months ago. I'm glad to get your impressions of Lion, and find them intriguing at the very least.
I happen to be a totally blind mac user who depends on APple's built-in screen reader, VoiceOver, for much of my work. Consequently, I don't really think about GUI changes as much as you seem to, as a button is a button is a button to VO. I'm not quite sure how beneficial some of the new features are to me, particularly full screen mode and mission control. I can always use command-tab, and can probably count on one hand the number of times I've had to worry about window size per se. It simply doesn't really impact me.
All that being said, there are some accessibility quirks in Lion which are proving frustrating. Mail is difficult for me to get my head around, and Launchpad has a variety of problems and limitations I hope will soon be fixed, as do Mission Control and spaces. Nevertheless, overall I'm happy with the upgrade, even if some of the more cosmetic stuff goes over my head.
Sorry for the rather rambling nature of this post. Do keep up the blog, I really appreciate it.

Josh said...

With Snow Leopard, a MBP and an ACD, you could put the MBP to sleep with the lid down. Wake it via an external keyboard/mouse and the video feed would pass exclusively to the ACD. With the MBP getting hot, you could open the lid to improve ventilation and the video would stay with the ACD only.

In Lion, as soon as you open the lid on the MBP the video is shared between two screens - even if you only want to use one. You can black out the MBP screen using F1, but the video card is still working to supply 2 monitors.

Have found the fans spinning a lot in Lion. About 2000 rpm in Snow Leopard and over 4000 rpm when I have a few programs open in Lion: meaning the need to open the lid is even greater.

Enjoying Lion, all save the extra fan noise and heat and the loss described above about using the MBP with the lid open but with a ACD as a single monitor only.

I also want the MBP lid open to hear the speakers better.

Hope Apple change this.

Alejandro said...

As a power user I liked the full screen terminal, very useful to run some complex maven builds and releases...

David Alison said...

@Zack: Thanks for your comment. It actually put my complaints about user interface issues into perspective. I know Apple put some new accessibility features into Lion. I hope those are able to help you.

Greg said...


I was able to get my three finger swiping in Chrome to work for me after some messing around.

The trick for me was to go to Settings > Trackpad > More Gestures. Set the "Swipe Between Pages" to "three fingers". I had to uncheck and check the option for things to start behaving for me.


brian said...

Good post, David! I agree with a lot of what Chris said. I do think there are a lot of "neat-o!" features that I won't bother with, Launchpad being among them. I use Quicksilver, but any app launcher is quicker and easier. I also cannot for the life of me wrap my mind around emails grouped by conversation. I switched to classic view. I tried it, but I would get a single reply from someone but without seeing my initial question, I would forget what I asked them!

Dartagnon said...

I have a 27" iMac and a 2011 MBP, one at work and the other at home. Each has a different hard drive attached used for time machine backups, and both worked great under Snow Leopard. Now, neither works as Lion caused the system not to recognize these drives!!! I cabpnnot see them in Finder, BUT, I can run disk utility on them, so one side recognizes it is there and attached and the other does not.

I read somewhere that this is some sort of NAS?? Related issue?

I submitted a ticket to Apple 2 days ago, spoke with 2 different advisors, and they have yet to get back with me.

this is an obvious Lion issue that I'm surprised I'm not heaing more about.

Dartagnon said...

Also, I'm trying to get used to the backwards scrolling as well. My problem? If I can focus on only the screen, it seems to look fine. However, scrolling in one direction with the scroll bars moving the opposite is a complete visual distraction!

Mark said...

Hi David,

I did a clean install on my MBP. I saved the OS installer on a jump drive and then erased the HD, before proceeding with the install.

Then I used Migration Assistant to transfer my applications and files, but not my user, from my Time Machine drive.

Then, when I opened iPhoto, my photos were not there. Also, Thunderbird did not have its data file, and my iPhone contacts from Address Book were nowhere to be found. Next, I learned that Time Machine won't help me restore any of those items, so I ended up manually locating those files in my Time Machine backups and copying them onto my my hard drive in Lion.

After I got everything I needed, I went ahead and reformatted my Time Machine drive and started with it afresh, with new backups. I was surprised that Time Machine didn't work in this instance, although I am not sure it's reasonable to expect that it would. I guess Apple expects people to use Migration Assistant to transfer their user account from the Time Machine drive to the new system. Since I wanted as clean an install as possible, I didn't want to do that.

Anyway, my computer is much faster, as a result, and I like the new OS, although I got quickly frustrated with the new scrolling and changed it back.

Josh said...

The "trick" to reverse scrolling is to think about the screen and not about the mouse/trackpad.

Look at the screen and think about pushing it up (imagine it is a touch screen and that you are using your finger) so that you can see the bottom.

Or pull it down so you can see the top.

Took me a day to adjust as soon as I stopped thinking about the mouse and started thinking about the screen.

David Alison said...

@Mark: You may want to try adapting to the new scrolling direction, especially if you anticipate buying more Apple devices in the future; this is pretty clearly the direction (pun intended) that Apple is taking this technology in the future.

You may want to try Josh's suggestion of focusing not on direction but on the perspective and it gets a lot easier.

Lagomorphmom said...

Josh hit the nail on the head.

Just look at the screen and you'll be converted in a couple of minutes - easy for me as I'm using a MBP and the track pad, but principle is the same if you're using a mouse.

When you think about it when we first learned to use scroll bars (hmmphm) years ago, we were probably nearly as bass-ackwards with the convention.