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Tag Archives: OS X Lion

Apple Lion OS X Roars, But It Can Also Bite

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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.


Windows 8 Might Just Dull Computing’s “Cutting Edge”

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It’s been something of a maxim in computing circles that processing power (however you choose to measure it) increases over time. This is a good thing, given that it enables faster performance and the development of new applications that would simply be impossible under older hardware. There’s Moore’s famous Law (really more of an observation, but I’m nitpicking) that the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles roughly every two years. More transistors equals greater performance, in other words.

That pace of progress is a good thing in certain ways, but it does mean that systems can become obsolete from a technical standpoint long before they actually stop working as functional machines. The salespeople of the world would be delighted for us all to update our desktops and laptops every one to the three years, but there are plenty of PCs that manage service lives of a decade or more, even though what’s under the hood is well behind the cutting edge. They certainly won’t run the latest games, many of the latest applications or operating systems.

Except, that is, when they do.

Speaking recently at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in California, Tami Reller, corporate vice-president of the Windows division announced that the next version of Windows, currently known only as Windows 8, should have the same minimum system requirements as Windows 7 currently does. It won’t be quite the same experience across systems, as Windows 8 will dynamically adapt performance based on the system it’s running on.

Without a doubt, Windows 7 currently runs better on a high end system than a low end one, but the important detail is that Microsoft’s planning to keep the minimum supported specification effectively frozen for quite some time, especially when you consider that the system requirements for Windows 7 are essentially the same as they were for Windows Vista. A 1GHz processor is hardly cutting edge, but if Microsoft can keep to Reller’s claimed (and widely reported online aim) of “keeping system requirements either flat or reducing them over time” then Windows 8 might just run on some very old hardware indeed.

It’s early days yet — we won’t even see Windows 8 on store shelves this year, and there’s speculation but no strict timeline for when Windows 8 will launch.

It’s a fascinating move from Microsoft, especially in contrast to the software offering that (at the time of writing) Apple’s just about to launch, OS X 10.7, AKA “Lion”. Like its predecessor, “Snow Leopard”, Lion won’t run on older PowerPC based Macs, but it also drops the software that allowed older PowerPC applications to run from the operating system entirely, as well as not supporting some of the very first Intel-based Macs either.

There are catches here; obviously some systems do die a death faster than others whether due to wear and tear, design or even just old-fashioned bad luck. New hardware isn’t just about processing power; you can also add other new and interesting features to a system by updating it regularly, and depending on your use of a computer, that may make sense to you. If you’re on the other end of the spectrum and need every last watt of power you can wring out of your hardware, Microsoft’s plans are certainly more appealing than Apple’s.


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