It’s been a couple of weeks since Apple released the latest version of its particular computer operating system, OS X 10.7, more informally known as “Lion”. Apple uses the names of the big cats for its operating systems, which is why previous releases have been named things like Tiger, Panther or Snow Leopard. Which means that presumably, a few years down the track, Apple may release OS X Ocelot.
At $31.99, Lion’s very cheap for an operating system, but that’s more a function of it being part of Apple’s overall computer strategy. It makes money from hardware rather than software, and while that may be changing with the wild success of the iTunes App store for devices like iPads and iPhones, it’s a slow change, and for now the software’s just an inducement to buy the hardware, the same way that car retailers will offer “free” air conditioning”¦ as long as you buy a thirty thousand dollar car. That kind of price might make it seem like an automatic upgrade option compared to the hundreds of dollars a full version of Windows goes for, but there are still some catches. I’ve had some serious time with Lion now, and while there’s definitely some good stuff in this big cat, there’s also some areas where it’s all too easy to get bitten.
Apple’s main focus in Lion has been to slowly merge the kinds of experiences its customers on iOS devices have with its Mac userbase, and as such, touch gestures are now system-wide. This includes the curious decision to reverse the direction of the scroll wheel to match how your fingers move on an iPhone or iPad; Apple rather optimistically calls this “natural” scrolling, and it was amongst the first things I switched off, which thankfully isn’t too hard.
Not surprisingly, my test Lion system has been quicker than it was before, but I’m still unsure if that’s a function of it being a freshly optimised system; I could well have the same speed boost in a freshly installed copy of Windows. Some applications are definitely perkier; Mail in particular may look drab but runs well and now has search capabilities that make it a pleasure to use. I’m also getting a lot of utility out of the app resume feature, which allows you to shut down the Mac and have every window, application and file spring up as it was the next time you power the system on. Likewise, system-wide autosave is a feature that’s been a long time coming to Macs, and so far, seems to work well.
Then there are the things that don’t work so well. Any Mac users of long standing with older applications may find they work unpredictably, or in the case of any code written for PowerPC Macs, that they don’t work at all. This includes some quite high profile applications, including Microsoft Office 2004; if you’re running that particular version of Office (or any older version), you’ll need to weigh up the cost of upgrading the suite as well as Lion.
I’ve also hit a smattering of application and hardware incompatibilities, some of which will hopefully be ironed out sooner rather than later. One of my multifunction printers works for printing, but hangs trying to scan documents, for example. The solution to this, by the way, for any prospective Lion upgraders would be to check with the vendor prior to upgrading for OS X 10.7 compatible drivers. Thankfully for my purposes I can access the scanner from another system.
So does that mark Lion up as a beast that roars, or a whimpering kitty? I’d say that as a new operating system on balance it does fairly well; I’ve certainly seen the same kinds of issues on new versions of Windows when they’ve emerged, with a mix of fixes and applications left by the wayside. It’s certainly worth doing your homework with regards to applications and hardware to ensure it’s compatible before switching over, but at the asking price if those apps aren’t an issue for you, Lion’s something of a bargain.