Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

So, around two months ago, I upgraded to Lion, and at the time, I penned a (somewhat mixed) review of OS X 10.7 “Lion”. Well, I’ve been using Lion for a little more than two months, and I figured it’s time for a followup. In a word, if you’re thinking about upgrading to OS X “Lion”, well, don’t.

Lion has many wonderful things. The scroll bars are much improved, and aesthetically, it’s just a prettier operating system than Snow Leopard. In addition, there are bits of polish present in Lion which make it a much nicer experience.

There are also some very useful features to be gained in going to Lion. Whole Disk Encryption works nicely (albeit slowly, and while breaking Linux dual-boot), and even more useful is the external drive encryption (useful for locking down backups stored off-site). In addition, there are lots of bits of polish which make life easier, like the fact that plugging your open laptop into an external monitor then shutting it now results in only the external monitor being on. Mail.app is head-and-shoulders above Snow Leopard’s version in Lion, and a number of my favorite apps have now leveraged Lion’s new technologies to create even cooler features. Looking at the list of features, upgrading to Lion seems like a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, Lion broke lots of things. In addition to breaking Rosetta (support for running PPC programs) as promised, Apple also deprecated lots of audio methods, leaving smaller, open-source apps like sndpeek flapping in the wind with bus errors and leaving you scrambling for non-PPC versions/replacements for your older applications. In addition, the hiding of the ~/Library folder has broken many tutorials around the internet, complicating font installs for Granny, and forcing even my IPA guide to send users to the Terminal. In addition, the OS itself is far less stable than SL, with no significant changes or updates since release. Force closes of Apple apps are way up since going to Lion, and I’ve had more forced shutdowns in the last two months than I’ve ever had.

In addition, many developers have taken Lion as a good chance to force a paid upgrade, such that your programs may work OK with Lion, but if you want them to really run well, you’ll need to shell out $__ for the upgrade license. This isn’t a problem with Lion per se, and developers have the right to charge what they want for what they write, but it’s definitely a hidden cost of upgrading.

In addition, Apple has fixed none of the issues mentioned in my first review. Spaces (“Mission Control”) transitions are still offensively slow, and the eye candy still makes the whole OS feel slower, even after disabling as much of it as the internet knows how to do. The Address book and Calendar apps are still ugly (although I’ve managed to re-skin them), and we still have far fewer customization and personalization options than in Snow Leopard, and we’ve still lost control of things as simple as mailbox list fonts. You’ll be glad to know, though, that Apple’s spending plenty of time implementing iCloud in 10.7.2, their newest way of helping users store their data on somebody else’s computer.

When you add in the Lion Passwords vulnerability (still unfixed, although there’s a workaround in that article), Apple’s slow response to fixing the DigiNotar issues, and the simple lack of communication with their users about some of these issues, one thing becomes clear: Lion (and the Mac as a whole) isn’t Apple’s priority anymore, and that’s a problem for you.

OS X: the disappointing elder child

You’re welcome to dismiss me as an alarmist or a “back in my day” luddite, but it doesn’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Apple is making money hand over fist with the iOS and the iPhone, iPad, and iTouch. There, they have a closed ecosystem, and the only way onto the hardware (by consumers or developers) is by giving Apple their cut. Apple has been working to implement that same ecosystem in OS X (the Mac App Store), but let’s face it, compared to iOS, the historically open Mac OS platform just can’t make the same kind of money that iOS can. In the long game, Apple can make more money by slowly locking down the Mac platform and making it more iOS-like, because then they get both hardware and software cuts, and can dull the pain of somebody keeping a laptop for four or five years by dinging the dev for 30% with each software sale.

But right now, as Android slowly gains market share and Apple faces the longest between-iPhone drought since the product’s introduction, it just doesn’t make financial sense for Apple to focus on the desktop. So, based on what I’ve read, instead of tweaking the desktop for a better experience or focusing on fixing the bugs introduced with Lion, they’re currently trying to get iCloud up and running on the Mac for when iOS 5 and the new iPhone hit. Maybe once that has calmed down and iOS is again optimally pumping dollar bills into Apple’s coffers, Apple will spend some additional time trying to get OS X back to stable and secure, but that’s unlikely to be anytime soon.

Don’t

So, in short, if you’re still on the fence about upgrading to Lion, get off the fence and back into Snow Leopard territory. Right now, Lion isn’t ready for use, and unless 10.7.2 brings fixes for at least a few of the issues mentioned above, I’m likely going to revert back to Snow Leopard myself.

I’m hoping that the next major upgrade to Lion (a “Snow Lion” release) will actually bring Lion into stability and use. Knowing Apple’s schedule, that’ll likely not occur for months, and it may well come with yet more user lockdowns which make the price of stability simply not worth it.

I love the Mac OS, and I really wanted Lion to help me fall in love with the platform again. There are still many wonderful things about the Mac OS, Lion included, and it’s still the best operating system available for 90% of users. But the fact is that right now, OS X 10.7 “Lion” is half-baked, and smells a bit funny. Whether you want to brave that is up to you.


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