Taming Lion: A Few Months On

With the release of Mac OS X Lion, many of the fundamental Macintosh concepts to which we have grown accustomed began to change. We were released from the heavy burden of having to click ‘Save’ periodically (in some apps at least), with Auto-Save and Versions. We welcomed in Launchpad, the iOS-inspired way of firing up our favourite apps. We even had the scroll direction reversed.

In the first few days of using Lion full-time, I found myself struggling with some of these changes. It took some time re-learning which way to swipe my fingers to move down a document, and I often found myself puzzled by some of the dialogue boxes inviting me to ‘Unlock’ or ‘Duplicate’ my files.

Several months into using Lion, have things got easier? How has the transition gone?

Auto-Save and Versions

Initially, one of the most disturbing things about Lion was how much something as rudimentary as saving our documents had changed.

There are certainly disadvantages. Our very own Mike has had frustrations with trying to resize an image temporarily in Preview. Auto Save makes it difficult to make a change you don’t actually want to keep, where before you could simply answer ‘Don’t Save’ upon closing the document. In addition, doing a relatively simple ‘Save As’ command now requires multiple steps — a ‘Duplicate’, opening a brand new window, then a ‘Save’ on the new document. It is arguably more fiddly for some common tasks.

The inconsistency makes Auto Save difficult to work with too. You have to remember two different ways of working — the traditional ‘Save’ mentality and the new Auto-Save workflow — because only some applications fully support the new features. This perhaps isn’t Apple’s fault; it is reliant on third-party developers to update their applications, but it nevertheless means that we are still in the awkward transitional stage for this feature.

Despite this, I have found myself starting to get used to Auto-Save, in supported applications. It isn’t natural yet, I certainly wouldn’t call it ‘intuitive’, but I am not thinking about it quite so much when getting work done. Placing the trust that your work is being kept safe automatically is a leap of faith. Getting used to the new dialogue boxes and new concepts takes some time too.

It’s a medium-term project, but I’m getting there and it’s getting there.

Lion 'Versions' feature screenshot

Scroll Direction

The changing of the scroll direction caused a lot of pre-Lion anxiety, but I actually found this transition one of the easiest.

Largely, it took me only a few hours of working with Lion to re-learn. For perhaps a week after that, I would come back to the computer after a break, forget, and scroll the wrong way, but it would be quickly corrected.

Now, the new scroll direction feels completely natural to me, and it’s nice to have parity with iOS scrolling too. I found myself, much more quickly than I had anticipated, ‘at one’ with this change.


Launchpad is another way to launch apps. There’s no real requirement to use it if you’re already comfortable starting programs another way, but it is there if you do like it.

I haven’t made this transition. I don’t use Launchpad at all and I don’t find it useful.

I have no doubt that for many users, it makes a lot of sense and simplifies launching applications. It is just not for me.

What I will say about Launchpad is that the tiled icons and grouped folders remind me of something else entirely: Program Manager in Windows 3.1, circa 1992. Go on, tell me there isn’t any resemblance:

Launchpad vs Windows 3.1 Program Manager

Mission Control

Mission Control brought together Exposé, Dashboard, Spaces and the new full-screen application support into one interface. As a user of Exposé and someone particularly enthusiastic about Spaces, I was concerned Mission Control might break the way I liked to do things.

My concerns were not entirely unfounded.

Under Leopard and Snow Leopard, I had four Spaces, consisting of two columns and two rows. Mission Control throws out the two-dimensional aspect of Spaces entirely — you can only have your Spaces in one row.

I have had to change the way I work. I now have my four Spaces in a row, sandwiched between Dashboard on the left and any full-screen apps I have open on the right. At times, especially when some of those Spaces aren’t being used, I find that the full-screen apps are a few swipes away, which slows things down more than it needs to.

I like Mission Control’s birds-eye view perspective, and the fact that the Exposé features and a quick view of what’s happening on other Spaces are available in one place. I did very much like the two dimensional Spaces, but the new way of doing things is an acceptable compromise. There’s enough about Mission Control that I find really useful that I will forgive it for being a bit ‘1-D’.

Mission Control screenshot

What Do You Think?

Have I got to grips with Lion and the changes it has required of me? Yes. I think so.

Not everything feels right, not everything is exactly how I would want it to be, but as a productive operating system in which I can get things done, it works.

Over time, as more third-party applications get to take full advantage of Lion’s features, I think it will become more and more capable. Perhaps we should expect an inconvenient, and at times frustrating, interim period.

So now I throw it over to you:

What do you think of Lion’s changes? How are you finding it? Was it an immediate success, or is there still some way to go? Did you hate it so much you went back to Snow Leopard? Please do leave a comment to share your views on Lion and the changes it brought with it.