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Mac Planet: There's an OS for that

Mac OS X Lion. Photo / Supplied
Mac OS X Lion. Photo / Supplied

Remember Apple's slogan 'It just works'? Apple likes to make something slick and hide all the working bits, to the annoyance of code-heads and the delight of people who just want to get their email or make blockbuster movies.

My favourite example is the smooth, ostensible buttonless Magic Mouse. Under that shiny, curved, smooth white carapace there are dozens of capacitive sensors to differentiate between pressure-clicks, 'sweeps' and other gestures. On the surface it's simple to the point of being featureless - underneath, it's feature-packed.

Microsoft, apparently, showed off this concept first, but Apple beat it to market, according to TechRadar.

The philosophy of keeping it simple by appearance with most capabilities hidden seems to have struck a chord - at least with other tech giants. May I cite Canon's 'Advanced Simplicity' slogan and Panasonic's 'Clever made easy'.

Dell has the rather mundane 'The power to do more' and then there's Microsoft's ___ (fill in the blanks). Actually, Microsoft doesn't seem to have one any more, although on the Compaq/HP site, Windows' slogan is 'Life without walls', which does sound a bit draughty.

Epson, which started out as a division of Seiko watches and timers, has 'Exceed your Vision', which I guess is aspirational, while Sony has the rather less specific 'make•believe.'

Anyway, that all brings me to Lion, Apple's latest Operating System ('OS'). It's been it for a couple of weeks already, enough for it to have become embedded.

Actually, several people I know upgraded and didn't notice anything different.
Well, the buttons are all monochrome and squarer and the drop shadows around things are bigger and softer and have changed orientation so the virtual light source seems to be more from above than it was in Snow Leopard (OS 10.6x).

That's fairly subtle, I guess, but they also failed to notice two new items in the Dock (Launchpad and Mission Control), and AirDrop I the sidebar of Finder windows, which lets you drop files onto other users on the network to exchange them, which is certainly welcome, although the free utility I used in Snow Leopard, called DropCopy, also let you send instant messages, which was surprisingly handy. DropCopy is free for personal use (up to 3 machines on a network) and $25 for larger networks. I suggest (see below) that if your Mac doesn't do AirDrop, you give it a whirl.

Actually, it's understandable some people missed AirDrop - not all Macs support it. It's dependent on the wireless chip you happen to have - but most Macs younger than 2009 seem OK. This site lists those that miss out.

So that's a few changes right there, but Apple reckons the new OS has well over 200 more.

These include additional multi-touch gestures, full-screen apps (look for the icon at the top right of windows), and Resume, which boots up everything that was running when you shut down, which is going to be exceedingly embarrassing for some people.

You can turn this off, workday TradeMe junkies and worse: Launch System Preferences, click on the General tab, and at the bottom of the 'Number of recent items' list, uncheck the checkbox next to 'Restore windows when quitting and re-opening apps'.

Then there's Auto Save (part of Apple's transition, which will be complete when all Macs have SSDs and not hard drives. This is part of Apple's move away from having to save at all, as previously discussed, and Versions, like the history states in Adobe Photoshop, allowing you to track back through versions when things go wrong - but these features have to make it into the applications first. (They're supported in the updated iWork suite of applications).

Anyway, there's a long list on Apple's Lion page.

In use though, it's easy to think Lion is mostly cosmetic. Mission Control is a combination of Spaces and Exposé - fine, except I have to say after an initial dalliance, I didn't ever use either in the last versions anyway. And now that they're combined: wow, looks great, can't be bothered using 'em. Sorry Apple.

same with Full Screen apps. I am so used to juggling windows and the Command-Tab trick to switch, among other things, that it's too late to change for me, but I'm a long-term user, like to be set in my ways, where Apple's new constituency is new-to-Mac 'switchers' who have finally ditched PCs for one reason or another.

I must admit, I have seen others using Exposé and also many users who have powerful Macs yet all they do all day is have email open in the widest possible window - for them, Full Screen is the perfect solution. For me, it's pointless. As I write this, I am watching TVNZ On Demand and surfing the net, but I habitually run two monitors. The last thing I want is either screen fully taken up.

Speaking of Mail, though,it's had a considerable rewrite and I got used to the new layout pretty fast. As to whether it's better or not: well, it's not worse.

Accessibility has had a big boost - always a strong feature of Apple devices, there are new zoom modes, new and better reading voices available, 22 different languages supported in VoiceOver and more. This is great.

On the downside, I hate the new Address Book. It takes me more clicks to do the same things and lots of stupid toing and froing between views I didn't have to do before.

And whereas Snow Leopard was a faster system that took up less space than it's Leopard predecessor, Lion is a bit slower. Consider that I wiped my Mac and installed it fresh on a blanked drive, so there was no cludge. After installing the system, iLife and iWork, Final Cut Pro X (yes, I am working on that), Aperture and Adobe's CS5.5 Master Edition - a lot less than I had before - on my 2010 MacBook Pro 15, I ran Geekbench over it, in 64-bit mode. There was a considerable drop in performance - with Snow Leopard, the overall score was 6384 - with Lion on the same, albeit newly cleaned up MacBook Pro, the score dropped to a disappointing 5258, although in real-life terms it certainly doesn't feel slower.

The biggest drop indicated was in floating point performance, whereas Stream went up slightly.

At the very least, my tips writing got new lease of life. I was starting to struggle to find them. I publish five every Friday on my macnz site but I immediately did 10 for Lion, and I wrapped those into the just-released MagBytes magazine, which is a monthly PDF of news, tips and tricks I produce myself.

And if you think I should have appended the above 'shameless plug', I can't really - it's free to get. You just email me and ask for it. I don't make any money from it. Just click on the Newsletter link on my site to learn more.

In the end, I can't help damning Lion with faint praise: I quite like it.

And at least it 'just works'.

- NZ Herald

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