Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Lion – first impressions

I made the plunge and installed Lion last night. The install takes a little under an hour all in all, including 2 reboots. During the second phase, i.e. between the two reboots, you can pop open a log file viewer which shows you what it’s actually doing, of which at least 10 minutes is spent running an fsck check on your disk and then creating the recovery partition, which you can use in case your Mac won’t boot properly. (In the past, you would have used the install DVD for Mac OS X, but as Lion is a digital download you won’t have this option anymore).

Anyhow, the install went okay, so here are my first impressions:

  1. Natural Scrolling – I immediately turned off ‘natural’ scrolling, because it felt like anything but natural. I suppose I could have tried to get used to it, but I use a Windows machine at work which has a scrollwheel that works the ‘classic’ way and would rather have consistency. It’s bad enough having to cope with two different keyboard layouts. Natural scrolling is fine on touchscreen devices like the iPhone but I just don’t think it works with a mouse and separate screen.
  2. Scrollbars – I’m very much against Apple’s decision to hide scrollbars by default, and only show them once you already start scrolling – how do you know whether to scroll something if there are no scrollbars? So I’ve told Lion to always show them. On the other hand, I do like the new minimalist look of the scrollbars.
  3. New theme – Lion brings a lighter and more understated look to its windows than Snow Leopard. I like it on the whole, barring the lack of colour in some places and the very light colouring of the new title bars. I’ll probably get used to it though.
  4. Mission Control – liking this so far – really improves on Exposé, and still very quick.
  5. Launchpad – a good feature, but poorly implemented. When you install Lion, it enumerates all of the applications in your /Applications/ folder and subfolders, and then adds them all, putting the apps that came with OS X on the first page. Problem is that it includes all of your applications, including uninstallers, patches for World of Warcraft and other stuff that just doesn’t need to be there, and, as I mentioned, Apple’s own apps are on the first page regardless of whether you’ve used them or not (which in the case of iDVD, iMovie, Garageband etc., is never). What’s worse is most apps cannot be deleted from Launchpad unless you downloaded them from the Mac App Store, and for most long-term Mac users this isn’t the case. I hope an update will allow you to remove any kind of app and have more intelligent sorting, based on actual use, when Lion is installed over an existing installation – I’d consider these to be quite major bugs. As it was, I had to spend quite a bit of time moving things around to suit me, although now that I’ve done that it works well as a way of accessing programs that aren’t important enough for the Dock but still need to be within easy reach.
  6. Mac App Store – I found the App Store application to be a bit slow and unresponsive in Snow Leopard; unfortunately this hasn’t been fixed in Lion. Frequently when I click on one of the 5 tabs at the top, it does nothing but show the spinning beach ball of doom for a few seconds. Some visual feedback registering my click, and a change of the content pane to ‘Loading’ would feel much better. Also, if the App Store is now the preferred way of installing new applications, then Apple need to do more to help developers grandfather their existing users into it – i.e. if you’ve bought a program before the App Store, then you should be allowed to have a special code to switch to the App Store version without paying for it again, for example. This would be especially useful for programs like Adobe PhotoShop Elements for which I have the retail copy and don’t want to spend another £55 on the App Store version.
  7. Full screen apps – not had much chance to use this as only Apple’s own apps support it right now. Where I have used it, it seems to work okay but is a little slow due to the animations – or at least it is on my 2009-era Mac Mini. Faster animations, like with Mission Control, would have been better. Getting out of full-screen is also a little un-intuitive as you have to hold your mouse at the top of the screen to show the menu bar – Apple would have been better having the close button in the same place on the window itself.
  8. Apple Mail – since this got some love in this update, I decided to give it a try and see how it stacked up to Thunderbird. I wasn’t really impressed – it’s a bit ugly now that Apple have removed all the colour from it, and the fonts didn’t seem to render very well in the mail listing pane. Although it started up quickly, I found it slow when working with multiple IMAP accounts in comparison to Thunderbird.
  9. New voices – You can now download several extra voices for the text-to-speech feature. I downloaded ‘Serena’, a British English voice that sounds like a Radio 4 newsreader. It’s a big improvement on the existing voices, sounding more natural and less robotic than ‘Alex’ which was the voice added in Leopard, although it’s not quite perfect yet. New voice packs are a 200+ MB download though.
  10. iTunes – just a note that if you installed iTunes 10.4 before installing Lion, you’ll need to do so again as Lion will revert it back to 10.3 for you, and it’ll throw back an error when you try to launch it saying that your library is for a newer version. Again, hopefully a 10.7.1 will correct this.
  11. Software issues – only major software issue I’ve encountered is with NTFS-3G, which allows read/write access to NTFS volumes using MacFUSE. MacFUSE itself needs an obscure beta version to work, but even then NTFS-3G will sometimes pop up an error when mounting an NTFS volume. However, in my limited testing it was still able to write to NTFS volumes. There’s also some niggles with Dropbox – it works okay but some smaller features are missing. A beta update is available.
  12. Bigger desktop icons – something I noticed was that icons that appear on the desktop are larger than before. I think I preferred them smaller.
  13. Performance – I haven’t noticed any real differences in performance, bar some initial sluggishness whilst Spotlight rebuilds its database which may take an hour or two after installation is complete. Previous OS X updates have brought minor speed improvements, the lack of perfomance improvements in Lion is therefore a bit of a shame.
  14. Resume, Autosave and Versions – none of the apps I use support this yet, so I haven’t tried it. However, NeoOffice will support these features in a beta version due out next month.

On the whole? I’m slightly underwhelmed as I can only see myself regularly using a few of the new features. There are also a few niggles that Apple should sort out, as well as some bizarre and unintuitive user interface changes. In Lion, Apple’s direction was to let the computer get out of the way of the user, yet the ‘bugs’ in Launchpad, natural scrolling, no scrollbars by default and my issues with full screen applications actually get in the way of the user, in my opinion. But, it’s early days, and this is a .0 release. Allegedly 10.7.2 is already available to developers so 10.7.1 must be on the way soon and will hopefully alleviate some of these issues. My advice would be to wait a bit.


  1. Dammit, and after reading Dave2’s review, I’m still finding myself sitting on the fence about upgrading 😉 When I saw you’d upgraded I was like, sweet this should help me make up my mind. But I’m still in two minds about it 😉

    I guess I will upgrade, be underwhelmed by the features I won’t ever use, and then get on with my life. Or something.

  2. Hmm… Half the things you’ve complained about seem to be things that I was really looking forward to, and which really annoy me in Snow Leopard. It would have been a day one update for my, except the X1600 in my MacBook Pro seems to have melted, and updating the OS on a machine that needs to be replaced ASAP seems a bit of a waste. (Know anyone with a spare/cheap MacBook?)

    It drives me crazy that scrolling on Snow Leopard doesn’t behave in the same way as iOS. I want to be able to flick the trackpad and have the window contents shoot up beyond the movement. I don’t want scrollbars by default. They’re ugly, especially in full screen apps like MindNode. And if I’m reading I generally have my fingers on the trackpad just fidgeting anyway, so getting rid of them wouldn’t hide the length of documents. Inconsistency with Windows is something I’d really like to see more of. Windows is effin’ horrid, and ports of Windows apps that scroll like Windows (Steam and OpenOffice I’m looking at you) annoy the crap out of me.

    The LaunchPad issues sound annoying, but again, they’re largely a result of poor app design, not the principle of the system. I have exactly the same issue now with CS3 scattering shite all over my applications folder, and (along with the price) it’s part of the reason I’m always on the lookout for good alternatives to Adobe software that still feels as if it were designed for OS9. Blizzard have been designing for OS X for long enough now that they really should know how to bundle up software properly. I’m not about to start buying games from the App Store when Steam gives my a multiplatform version for the same price, or often less, but I would like them to behave in an OS consistent way.