Ok, I upgraded to Mac OS X Lion Thursday night. Here are my initial thoughts about the new features I have been able to play with in the first few days. The new “natural scrolling” is probably the most disorienting thing. It works like the scrolling in iOS, i.e., backwards to what you expect on the desktop. This is very strange when using a mouse wheel or a Magic Mouse, but it feels natural after a little while when using the trackpad on a MacBook or a Magic Trackpad. Also like iOS, scroll bars are not visible by default and only appear when you are scrolling. Not seeing scrollbars is a little weird. You do have the option to change these back to the previous version’s behavior, but I am sticking with it for a while.
Launch Pad is basically the iOS springboard (the iOS “desktop” app launcher) for Mac OS X. It is more convenient than navigating to the Applications folder for applications that you don’t want in the dock. It is not as fast as using Spotlight to launch apps but I suspect it is more comfortable for ordinary people.
The applications that appear here come from the Applications folder and sub-folders. You can create folders and arrange applications exactly the same as iOS. Making changes in LaunchPad does not affect the files and folders that contain the applications, so you can’t break stuff. I like that.
My major issue with Launch Pad is with how it populates initially. The first page is all the default included applications. Your applications are added after all of these, generally on subsequent pages. This means you need to do some serious reorganisation to get your applications onto the front page to really make the most of it. This is tedious at best.
There is a Launch Pad icon on the dock by default and a multi-touch gesture to activate it as well but I personally prefer using a keystroke. The new Macbook Airs have a Launchpad key instead of the old “Dashboard” key but everyone else can map set a keybinding for it in System Preferences.
Mission Control is an evolution of the Exposé feature from previous versions. It now integrates Spaces (AKA virtual desktops) as well instead of Spaces being managed separately. Windows for each application are grouped together instead of each being treated as independent entities. It’s also possible to drag single windows or entire groups from one Space to another.
Holding down the control key when you press the Exposé key (or should that now be the Mission Control key?) enters a subset of Mission Control that only has the windows of the currently selected application. In this mode you can click on icons in the dock and it switches to showing the windows for that application. Applications that support this mode correctly will also show a list of icons for it’s recently used documents. Interestingly enough it seems that the application doesn’t even have to be running for this feature to work. Pretty cool, I’ve noticed this specifically in OmniOutliner and Scrivener.
I’ve never really gotten into using Spaces in Mac OS X but I was a pretty heavy user of Exposé, and Mission Control is a nice update to it.
Full screen apps are interesting but I don’t really have much use for it. The new full screen API essentially allows an application to occupy the whole screen and become its own virtual desktop or “space”. These appear in Mission Control just like a regular space and be switched between using the same gestures and key commands. I’ve never really gotten into the whole virtual desktop thing in Mac OS X but I can see how this could be useful for some applications, especially on smaller screens like the 11 and 13 inch MacBooks.
The terminal application now lets you specify a blurring factor as well as opacity for the background which produces a very attractive look. Other than that, it’s just terminal and works like it always did.
The new mail is great, I like the changes to the UI. The conversation view is nice, the favourites bar is handy (especially with smart folders), and addition of one-click message archiving makes Mail much more useful. I really hope they port these features to the iPad. The new mail search is pretty cool, but I haven’t really had a chance to really “use it in the field” yet.
Safari’s Reading List is interesting too. I’m still using Instapaper heavily due to its integration with Reeder on the desktop as well as several iPad apps, but we will see how it goes when support for this is added to iOS. But I do like the list appearing as a side-bar in Safari. A good Instapaper Safari extension that provides something like this would be excellent.
I haven’t had a chance to play with the AutoSave and Versions features because none of the applications that I work with have been updated to supported them yet. Looking forward to Scrivener having support for this.
I don’t use any PPC applications so the removal of Rosetta didn’t affect me.
The only two things that did stop working (that I’ve noticed anyway) were the Safari plugins for Evernote and 1Password. This is more to do with Safari 5.1 removing support for the deprecated plugin model in favour of the new (a year ago) extensions architecture. The same problem also exists on Snow Leopard now that Safari 5.1 is available there.
1Password has a fix in their beta version, so that was a case of configuring 1Password to update using the beta updates. I guess I’ll update from the betas until they have a final release with the new extension.
However for Evernote it seems that I am just going have to wait until they release their new extension. The Evernote Team says this will be another couple of weeks.