Sunday, August 7, 2011

OSX Lion first impressions

Like the last several updates to OSX, Lion is not a very exciting update to me. I like to be running the latest, but there was nothing driving me to Lion other than that. So here's my take on the things i've seen that are noticeable at least to me:

I've been using Mailplane for the last several months due to the fast search, lack of sync issues, and other things you get with a more-native google mail experience. With the new updates to Apple Mail I figured i'd go back to trying a typical local client. The details of that experience are yet another post, here i'll just talk about the differences between the old OSX mail and the new one. Apple added an archive button like they did on the iPhone and the iPad to mail. Thats a nice addition, but unfortunately it doesn't work like it does on the iPad and iPhone. On those other devices the button actually archives your mail to the Google "All Mail" folder. On OSX it sticks the mail in [IMAP]/Archive so then you end up with 2 copies of archived mail from your Apple mail client if you're using google mail -- one in [IMAP]/Archive and one in "All Mail". So they added the archive concept, but for everyone and completely ignored the Google mail use case. We've seen other oddities in using Apple mail with google before and there was the option to "Use this mailbox for" junk/sent etc. Well the new Archive is not one of those. Apple did a half-baked job here. Google mail is here to stay and better integration with it would be nice. For now i'm still on OSX mail but probably not for long given how poorly it works with gmail.

Beyond that, the new conversation views are nice, again another nod and ripoff from gmail. Apples new 3 panel view is better suited to wide screens but its hit or miss with people. Probably about 50% of the people I know hate it and want it set back to the old layout.

The search seems much better now and actually finds things and to me this is the biggest improvement in mail and the reason I didn't immediately switch back to the google interface.

Still, if your mail is served up by Google, Apple Mail is a poor tool for it if you get a lot of email.

Launchpad - FAIL
This is Apples new App launcher for OSX trying to do for OSX what they did for the iPad and iPhone. Personally I still think the app launcher has a lot of maturing to do on those other devices, and here on OSX its actually much worse. First, you have more apps on OSX so you end up with more screens of them. Not only that the icons are HUGE. Multiple screen management is a pain, made somewhat easier by iTunes but you can't do that on the OSX version. You also can't remove Apps from the launcher on OSX so you have a LOT of them -- even the silly ones you don't care about. And after you upgrade you have a huge organization job to do if you want it all organized reasonably. On top of all that I crashed it frequently. I've taken it off the dock, shortcuts etc and forgotten about it. Its dead to me.

Mission Control - FAIL
This is the new replacement for spaces. To be honest I liked the old one better. It was easier to configure and use and I could better pick what ran where and in which direction I could find it. The old spaces allowed spaces in 2 dimensions, now you can only have spaces in a single dimension. Also some apps that used to run in multiple spaces fine (tell the app to be assigned to "all spaces") no longer work in multiple spaces (EyeTV for example). Perhaps those vendors need to fix them but for now its broken/worse. Another annoying thing to me is the dashboard is one of your spaces. While it may make sense for some that use the broken/worthless dashboard, for those that don't it would be nice to turn it off/forget about it. That was a failed concept, why bring it back to my attention again? Anyway, I use mission control since I have no choice, but I would have preferred if they had left it alone.

Saved App States - FAIL
OSX now saves all your open files when you quit your apps. This sounds great but its actually REALLY annoying. You're reviewing a word document someone emailed you, you quit word. 2 days later you open an unrelated document and, bam, the document you were looking at a couple days ago pops up. Thats distracting/confusing/annoying. It would be nice to have this setting only on app crashes or, better yet on a per-app basis, but otherwise i've shut it off -- it makes no sense in its current form.

Scrolling - FAIL
Everyone i've spoken to about the upgrade has complained that Apple literally inverted the scroll functionality with Lion. Few have gotten used to it and most have changed the setting to scroll the way it did before. Combine that with jumping between PC and Mac and virtualization and you have a big mess. What were they thinking?  For now i've kept it with the Lion default myself just to see if I can get used to it. Im getting there. Slowly.

File Vault - FAIL
The support for full disk encryption now is really nice, thats a great feature. But at the same time they killed home folder only encryption. This means encryption is all or nothing. Thats terrible. I have some data that needs to be encrypted and some that I do not need encrypted and don't want to pay the performance penalty for it. Data I don't need to be encrypted is large, things like iPhoto and iTunes libraries etc. Why did Apple not do the reasonable thing and add folder-level encryption in addition to whole disk. That would have been the best of both worlds. But, again, they blew it.

Auto-save - FAIL
Auto save may well save my bacon some day, but for now its been a pain. I recently opened a file, made some changes, and saved it as a new name and quit. Then when I opened the original file again I found my changes were in the original too and I had to go through a fancy and slow graphic experience to get the original file back that I had never saved. There don't seem to be any settings to turn this off either, if you could I probably would.

At this point I had to search to see what else Apple said was in there. Generally the rest was noise and I didn't see it or get excited about it:

  • Address book - new look is ugly to me, I wish they had left it alone.
  • Airdrop - At home its more work than should be needed to move files around. At work I have a shared NAS. I think the sole use case here is a small office environment where they didn't get a NAS yet.
  • FaceTime - already had it (paid for it via App store). I've only used this to play with it though. They still didn't reconcile this with the iChat video chat. Why do we need to video chats created by Apple?
  • Finder - some of the tweaks are nice. But they're tweaks. I wish they had made Finder more resilient to hangups from slow drives etc. Its still bad in that regard.
  • Full screen apps - I work with multiple apps at the same time and i'm not ADD distracted by other windows. I can't find a use for this.
  • iCal - I don't use it, its junk. I use Google Calendar wrapped in fluid. That works like magic. They could have deleted iCal for all I care.
  • iChat - this actually had some really decent updates, not the least of which is supporting other chat protocols. I was using Adium all the time and now i'm using iChat all the time. Apple may have just killed Adium for me.
  • Safari - I was using Chrome, I'm trying safari again. The big draw here is the bookmark syncing with my i-devices and the new reading list (which kills instapaper for me). The draw to chrome was better functionality, better incognito and the speed. Safari so far is pretty quick.
  • Per user screen sharing - great idea, but so far my use of this has locked up the machines in question. When it works it will be a good improvement but for now it doesn't work for me. 
Anyway, as I said at the beginning of this post, Lion is mostly a series of small updates to me. 

OSX Lion Install

I was traveling when Lion came out so I got to miss the mass rush to download it etc. But about a week after it came out I gave it a shot. I bought it and downloaded it and started the install. It gave me all sorts of not-well-defined warnings about installing on a RAIDed volume. My OS disk was an Apple Software RAID RAID-1 volume. Lion told me it wouldn't create a recovery partition for me and sort of implied there may be other things I wouldn't get if I proceeded. I didn't like that so I un-raided the volume before continuing, but it makes you wonder if Apple really supports their own software RAID.

The install went clean after that (first impressions in another post) and I moved on to my next machine. The next machine was my wife's. We're on the Apple MobileMe family pack but because Apple really has no concept of a family group etc, I couldn't just download the package from her App store account because to apple we're unrelated even though both app store accounts are tried to the same family account. Fortunately, from the broken RAID install earlier I had saved off the Lion installer. Rather than login as myself etc on her machine I just copied the installer over and ran it which worked fine. Apple really needs to figure out this family stuff -- its been a mess for years.

The next machine was my laptop from work. That one had file vault on it. I copied the installer over (rather than re-download 4GB) and ran it. The installer took 3 minutes and rebooted to continue but just came back to snow leopard. Did that another time with the same results. What was going on? Turns out I had copied the installer to the desktop and ran it from there. Well, the desktop is encrypted if you have file vault turned on so when the machine rebooted and I was not logged in it couldn't get at the installer to continue installing so it just reverted. The solution was to copy the installer to the /Applications directory (where Apple downloads it to normally) and then the install went clean. You'd think their pre-install check would look for this sort of thing.

I upgraded my desktop machine too at work with no issues after this. All in all it was pretty much what you'd expect from Apple. The edge cases have a few wrinkles but nothing disastrous and things run after you've upgraded. Being in the software industry this is no small thing although you'd think with the numbers of beta testers they have etc they could cover these not-so-edge cases a bit better.

I'll post some impressions in my next post.