Friday, June 17, 2011

Why I'm Excited about OSX Lion

I’ve been excited about Lion for a while, partially just because I like new OS versions, but when I talked about my excitement with one of my friends last week, he said that the whole thing seemed unimpressive. Let’s face it: this is not the same as the shift from DOS to Windows, Pre-Ubuntu-Linux to Ubuntu, or System 9 to OS X[1]. I was and am really excited about Lion, and couldn’t imagine a person who wasn’t. Of course, as a contrarian, I’m excited for subtle reasons[2]: I’m not excited about all of Apple’s big bullet points, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be excited about.

I’m excited in four basic areas:

  1. Apple tried to make it look pretty

  2. Apple tried to make it like iOS

  3. Apple tried to make it unbreakable

  4. Apple tried to extend its awesomeness

1. Looking Pretty

Here’s what looks better in Lion:

  • Textedit: the icons more integrated with titlebar. Since I hardly ever ⌘Q this application, this is big for me.

  • iCal and Address Book are skeuomorphic. Since I like actual things (as opposed to virtual things), this is nice. If you don’t like skeuomorphism, I understand, but I think it looks pretty.

  • Full screen apps everywhere. While I don’t always like this (right now I’ve got Notational Velocity opened in a window and TextEdit in another), I can’t deny the appeal of the ability to run an app full-screen at some point. Running Preview, iCal, Mail, Terminal, and TextEdit full-screen (with a system-wide API and keyboard shortcut) seems like an obvious good thing. I love the full-screen mode in the latest iPhoto

  • iCal Heat Map: There’s a new year view (!), and iCal will show via colorized heat map which days and weeks are most and least busy. Instant information, at a glance. BusyCal, plz reproplicate.

2. Just Like iOS

Here’s what’s (wonderfully) iOS-like in Lion:

  • The scrollbars. Hail iOS-like scrollbars. In a year we’ll all wonder what we did without them. “How can I tell how far I am in a document? That doesn’t matter as much as being constantly forcefully reminded how far you are in a document. I’m in TextEdit now and even though I haven’t finished a full page, I see a greyed-out space for a scroll bar. Honestly, this should have come years ago.

  • Menubar notification for location services. Hear me out on this one. I know we all have too many icons in our menubars already, but this one just pops up every now and then. Now, Google or Facebook or whatever can request our physical location from a browser. Like most of us, the first time it happened I clicked “OK and stop bugging me.” Now I have no idea when it happens, and honestly I don’t want a giant pop-up each time. A transitory menubar icon seems right, and after using iOS a lot, the little purple ➤ jumps out at me.

  • Color (!) Emoji font system-wide. I can’t wait to start using this with Typinator, even if it’s just for personal usage. I expect it to be standard on Windows 8 (or maybe Win8 SP1) after Apple takes the lead. Potentially annoying, yes, but must-need for mobile/desktop compatibility.

  • Character-picker: Hold down a key and instead of getting “nooooooooooooo” you get “n+[oóòôøõö].” If this does not seem cool to you, then either A) you type “nooooooooooo” too much, B), you only ever type in English, or A+B.

  • Auto-correction: If the word is misspelled (or potentially misspelled), you’ll get a pop-up with a little X next to hit. Click X to keep the current spelling. If this also works with doublespace → period-space, I’ll be in love.

3. More Unbreakable

I don’t want my anything to break, but I know it will eventually. Here’s what mitigates that:

  • Time Machine works on the go, away from a backup drive. Blink, take a drink of water, go for a walk. Blink. Scream as loud as you can. Yeah, it’s like that.

  • If you have to restart your system (admittedly rare in Mac compared to Windows already), you don’t have to close your apps. As far as I can tell, even the ones with unsaved files. They’ll be there after you restart—same window positions, same highlighting, same cursor and mouse position. Again, feel free to scream a bit.
  • Auto-save and Versions: “Microsoft Word already auto-saves. Time Machine already stores backup versions.” This is true. But this adds A) system-wide APIs for auto-save that every application can use, and B) non having to go through Time Machine to get to the previous version of just one file. Have you ever used Time Machine to go eight directories deep to check on one odd file? Either you haven’t and you’re confused or you have and you’re excited about Lion.

4. Extra Awesome on Top

I think Mac OS X 10.5 & 10.6 are the best operating systems ever, for the same reason I think the SNES controller is the best ever. Think of slider bars that feature “functionality,” “beauty,” and “ease”—every time you adjust one, the others move two. 10.5 and 10.6 have those bars pushed up farther than I knew they could go after 10 years of Windows experience and 4 years of Linux experience. There are tradeoffs, but they’re small. 10.7 Lion only adds to the awesome:

  • Preview is the best Mac app, and it’s now even better:

    • Add signature to PDF documents. Hold some paper with your signature up to the iSight/Facetime camera, and Preview captures it and puts it on a PDF. Boom.

    • Preview supports iWork and Office. Concerning system resources, Office » iWork » Preview—that is, iWork for me starts twice (or more) as fast as Office, and Preview feels like I’m on an SSD. Unless I want to edit a file, I’m going to want everything to open in Preview from now on.

  • Quick Look, my 2nd favorite part of Mac, after Preview. As much as I talked about Preview, I think I’ll be living even more in Quick Look, although I almost include them as the same app. Here’s what’s new:

    • Now it’ll support addresses (through Google Maps), Address Book contacts, and more.

    • In Finder, less-focused on popovers, but now actual windows. “Open in…” buttons.

    • Everywhere else (Spotlight, Mail, and other places you don’t want full windows) using popovers. Definitions included. Wikipedia included.

    • 3-finger double-tap to look up a word in Dictionary/Thesaurus/Wikipedia, just like the ⌃⌘D of 10.5-10.6.

Bottom Line

Okay, that’s a lot of stuff. Mind-blowing? It’s not as cool as a new iTunes that allows you to read your iBooks on a Mac would be. It’s not as cool as AirPlay to the Mac would be. It’s not as cool as the revolutionary 10.5 Leopard (Time Machine, Spaces, Boot Camp, Preview, prettification), or even 10.4 Tiger (Spotlight, Automator), but it has a few distinct benefits:

  • Cost: It’s $30. Yes, this is obvious—Paying over $150 for Leopard is one thing, but isn’t ⅕ the price worth these things? I’ve covered 18 things, which comes out to $1⅔ each. Just buying single-use apps to do that stuff would cost at least twice as much, and I haven’t even covered AirDrop, FaceTime, gesture customization, iChat unification, Launchpad, Mail Conversations, Mission Control (each desktop can have its own wallpaper!), QuickTime can rotate video or export audio only, Drag-and-drop from Spotlight, system-wide vertical text support, or being able to play albums from the iTunes album art-tile screensaver. $30. $30. $30.

  • Access: It’s not just $30, but $30 no matter how many machines you run. My wife and I have two laptops using the same iTunes Apple ID, but Snow Leopard cost us $50 for the multi-user pack. For us, to upgrade two computers, Lion will essentially cost us $15 each.

  1. The relative importance of all of these shifts, and others I haven’t mentioned, are arguments all to themselves—arguments I’m not going to address right now.

  2. Everything from the main Lion features page here