This page was last updated 29 February 2012

Apple MacOS X 10.7, a.k.a. Lion

The executive summary: Lion is fine on new computers. But do not install Lion on older Macs! It's full of flaws that haven't been fixed in 10.7.1, 10.7.2, or 10.7.3. Expect to pull the power plug every day on such a machine; in my case a 2010 27" iMac. In particular, anything that has to do with Wifi is badly broken. Since Apple was unwilling or incapable of fixing this crippling bug after three revisions, we can assume that they'll never fix it. "We don't care, we don't have to, we are... Apple."

Also, the whole versioning idea is bad, and the attempt to make a desktop OS look like a phone OS is just as misguided as Microsoft's previous attempt to make a phone look like a desktop. The half-hearted merge of MacOS X and the mobile iOS makes me wonder if Apple's normally perfect design compass got a hit that left it spinning. Personally I decided to wait for 10.7.2 before updating my main machine - and now that I did I wish I had never put this dodo on my iMac!

Also, keep in mind that Lion, like all previous MacOS versions, is a single-tasking operating system. It cannot do two things at the same time or parallelize an application over multiple cores, unless all of the tasks are CPU-bound and do no I/O of any kind. Start a major disk or network operation, such as a Time Machine backup, and everything starts to crawl whenever it needs the OS for anything. And Time Machine will be very busy for a while after upgrading Snow Leopard to Lion, or if you use a disk-intensive application like iPhoto or Aperture.

Lion is a very shiny interface built on a very outdated foundation.

I did my tests on a 27" quadcore i7 iMac without a 2 TB disk and 8 GB of RAM, and also a new Macbook Air i5 with a 128 GB SSD and 4 GB RAM.

Lion has a problem on my iMac, but not my Macbook Air: it keeps losing its wifi (WLAN) connection all the time. Apparently the wifi hardware goes to sleep to save power and doesn't properly wake up. This is a known problem in Lion (MacOS 11.7) that was not fixed in 11.7.1, 11.7.2, or 10.7.3. Evidently Apple isn't interested in the problem. If you have an older system like an iMac, and you use wifi, do not upgrade to Lion! Running the following command in a Terminal seems to help a little but does not fix the problem:

   ping -q apple.com &

Apple released a fix at the end of February 2012, but the fix does not work.

Also, do not use Airdrop on such a machine! It will lock up the Finder and all networking when sending large files (more than a few megabytes), and you'll have to pull the power cord.

Applications

To begin with a pleasant surprise, the new Apple mail is excellent. I got used to the thread preview pane very quickly. A worthy successor to the old Apple Mail, well done. It's so good that this one alone is almost worth the upgrade to Lion. If tabs like in Thunderbird were added, and maybe a way to visually distinguish mails and mail threads better, I'd be in email heaven.

As before, Apple Mail isn't usable for business email because it still doesn't support IMAP subscriptions. It's all or nothing.

The new iPhoto '11 (9.2) is badly broken. Mine first converted my iPhoto library to a new format, and then froze and could not be started anymore. All I saw was a spinner on a gray background. It took me over a week of experimenting and lengthy restores from backups to find out that I can get iPhoto '11 to work by deleting the files InterruptedUpgrade, ThemeCache, and ProjectDBVersion.plist in the iPhoto Library directory. Apparently some genius at Apple decided to rename the Originals directory in the iPhoto Library to Masters, and after iPhoto '11 is done upgrading the library it leaves behind identical copies of all photos in both directories! This doubles the size of the library. Originals can safely be deleted and replaced with a softlink to Masters.

iPhoto '11 has a new full-screen mode but I find it useless because it doesn't support the hierarchical album list. Instead it shows me 517 little stacks of photos in a big rectangular grid. Five hundred seventeen! And it's very slow to scroll too. Brain rot. I used to think that Apple is good at design. No longer.

The address book and also the calendar are very ugly. Both try to look like paper books with leather decoration, and in the calendar case even show completely gratuitous paper fragments from the "tear line". Page turns in the address book are done by pressing a little red bookmark that has nothing to do with bookmarks, and the red/yellow/green app bullets and "+" button moved onto the page mixed with the data and other buttons. Completely nonintuitive. The old convenient three-pane design (category, address list, address details) is gone as well, now I must turn a page.

I can't believe that Apple designed this, they must have bought it from Microsoft or Adobe or something. Google's calendar web interface is actually better and prettier now, I have used them side by side and then switched to Google. Apple used to be known for their unerring sense for good design, are they losing it? To Google?! Shame on them!

Calendar syncing is easy and reliable (unlike in Snow Leopard, where syncing frequently crashed the app). That's important for people who don't live in a 100% Apple world.

Gestures

There are many new gestures, but they lost their obviousness. Quick, which of the two is Mission Control and which is Launchpad: Swiping four fingers up, or a four-finger pinch?

Swiping up to scroll up is very intuitive when done directly on the display because you get a sense of pushing a piece of paper. But it doesn't work for me at all on a detached trackpad. Fortunately this new behavior can be turned off.

By accident I discovered that a three-finger drag is the same as a single finger tap + tap-and-drag on other systems: it selects an area or moves a window. This works quite well. The alternative is to drag with a single finger, pressing hard enough to depress the hardware click. The trackpad has no dedicated buttons but it's clever enough to work as if it did.

Incidentally, the hardware click doesn't work too well so it's good that there is the three-finger alternative. The hardware switch works well at the bottom of the touchpad, but requires great force near the top. Apparently it's hinged there. A single finger tap can be used instead of a hardware click if enabled in the system preferences.

Oh, BTW: a nasty mouse bug is back that had been fixed early on around MacOS X 10.3: when moving the mouse, sometimes it jumps to the left or top of the screen. Extremely annoying! The mouse still works better than the trackpad for clicking tiny buttons or selecting text.

Finder

There's a conspiracy at Apple that requires that the Finder will asymptotically approach the level of technology of 1999 but never modernize substantially. It's still the best looking but also the least useful in the OS crowd. The Lion Finder is really good only for looking at files on a local disk. It can't even display files on FTP or WebDAV servers without special connection dialogs. And it still doesn't have a path edit line where you can enter or paste a path or URL. (It shows the path at the bottom, but it's not editable, and usually unreadable because it's too abbreviated.) Beginners may like clicking icons and pulling down menus and calling up dialogs but after a few days you aren't a beginner anymore and then it hurts.

There's a new "My Files" category that sorts your files by type and relevance. Apple is very proud of it because they think that their users are too dense to understand and use folders. It works really well in the shop demo: in the Pictures section, you have a dozen pictures or so, and you can scroll them sideways. But if I do that on my brand-new Macbook, I get over 9000 pictures, I can see exactly four of them, and I can't even see where I am in the list. This design is not merely broken, it's preposterous.

Displaying files on other hosts is cumbersome, and requires a special command (Apple-K). Surprisingly Apple-K does let you enter an URL, even an FTP or WebDAV URL, but sometimes you get extra Finder windows with no button row and no device/places column. I haven't figured out that one yet. It's best to always kill any window created by Apple-K and use the original one. The connected server will show up in the sidebar under "SHARED", with the volume as a subdirectory. BTW, found a little bug: when the Time Machine is busy, its spinning arrows overlay the config pulldown, see the picture on the right.

Apple-K does support NFS (Network File System). NFS appears to be the only way to access files not in your home directory on another Mac. You'll need to put / and /Volumes/whatever into /etc/exports on the server Mac and start nfsd in a Terminal, as root, after every reboot, to make it work though. NFS file systems are shown in the sidebar with the host name, and you need to click it to see the mounted volumes from that host - except for the home directory which has its own entry in the sidebar and lacks the ".local" suffix. NFS lets you export any part of the file system or local devices you want, while the standard connection dialog likes to show you only your home directory on the other host, and I like to keep my archives elsewhere to simplify backups.

For quick computer-to-computer transfers - Lion-only of course - Apple has invented a new method called Airdrop, with a curious GUI. You see all local Apple computers and can drop a file on any of them. After approving on both ends, it shows up in the Downloads folder (not near the Airdrop interface where you might expect it). Like Apple-K, it feels alien and bolted to the side of the Finder as an afterthought. Worse, if the file size is nontrivial, it can lock up the system and require pulling the power plug. You can remove Airdrop from your Finder side bar.

When connecting to your home directory on another Mac using the default AFP protocol, you pretty much have to allow the Finder to save the password. Otherwise you are frequently asked for the password when you navigate away from the directory and return.

I never tell anyone how to browse a Bluetooth device with a Mac because I am too embarrassed. Guess what, the Finder doesn't do Bluetooth. And don't even dream of tabs or split views.

BTW, the Finder shows the resolution of an image only in icon view. Not in the Info window and not in the multicolumn preview, there you only get the size ion kilobytes. An idea for 10.7.2...

Summary: the Finder wasn't great in 2001, and since then it fell more and more behind the competition. Networking was slapped on as an afterthought, which stopped being reasonable in 1984 when NFS was created. Apple, please ditch that Windows 95 mindset! We live in a connected world now.

Versioning

Apple is now versioning changes to files. You no longer save files, MacOS does it for you, and it remembers previous versions. You can't configure this and you can't turn it off.

Like others it's not a fundamental service but requires application support. Hence, it works only with some tools but not others; it's not like Time Machine which always works everywhere. You can no longer save files but you can "Save a version", which sets a checkpoint. This is quite confusing.

The whole idea seems badluy broken to me. I have just filled up a disk with old versions, so my program (Numbers) refuses to save because there is no space. But MacOS is so advanced that it no longer has a Save-As option so I could save my changes elsewhere. Duplicate opens a new Window, in which the mysterious "Save a Version" option turns into "Save...", once. This way I managed to salvage my data, but then I found no alternative to reformatting the drive. This is gross.

There have been reports that you can no longer reliably delete a confidential file because older versions might stick around. Time Machine understands this and can delete all copies on request, but versions apparently cannot do this globally. The TextEdit help says it deletes old versions when the document is deleted. This uncertainty is a critical flaw. The other problem is that it becomes difficult to make room on your disk (those SSDs are fast but small).

Nice idea, Apple, but very bad execution. And I don't like the way you are treating me like an idiot. You try to make it all so easy for me and then you mess up and leave me stuck in a corner. That is how Microsoft operates - attempting to make things easier but ending up piling up messy complications with no obvious solutions. Check out how NetApp solves this, those people are storage pros and you are not. Apple, are you losing it?

There's a bit of related weirdness in Time Machine: it locks files after they haven't been edited for two weeks. It's not clear whether this applies only to applications that implement special APIs. For files I edit every months this is a bad idea, buit the limit can be increased to up to a year in the Time Machine preferences. To me it's not clear why Apple has this strange overlappimng (mis-)feature set in Versions and Time Machine. It reminds me of Microsoft, who love to make things "simpler" for their users by layering one complicated mechanism and GUI after the other on top of the original design until nobody understands anything.

Launchpad

This is a grid of icons that can be overlaid on the desktop, much like the home screen of the iPhone. It works sort of ok on a small notebook, but on a 27" iMac it's silly, all the icons are huge. Unfortunately you cannot arrange icons freely, for example arranging all the office apps along the bottom, because icons must always go top to bottom with no gaps.

When I recently helped someone set up an iPad we were surprised that new applications vanished into a black hole. They never showed up on the home screen. We discovered by accident that the iPad had created a second page for new apps, even though the first one wasn't full. Lion does the same.

I bought Pages from the App store, and for some reason it now appears twice in Launchpad, both on the first page, while all other purchased apps, like Numbers, went to the second page.

Mission control

The list of desktop spaces along the top is easy enough. You can click one to move there. After creating a space by dragging a window to the "+" icon, a new space is created. Keyboard accelerators can be assigned to spaces to switch quickly to a desired space, because the Mission Control gesture or button followed by a selecting and clicking a space is very cumbersome. A shortcut can only be created for existing spaces.

Full-screen windows also appear in the spaces list. Unfortunately I haven't found a way to define a shortcut for a full-screen window so I never use this feature. Besides, only a few programs support it; Google Earth, for example, doesn't and Firefox has its own which works better with MacOS than Apple's. In any case, the Mission Control pane of the system preferences shows some Mission Control-related shortcuts but not the ones for switching; those are in the keyboard pane.

I have chosen Alt-1 for space 1, Alt-2 for space 2, and so on. Curiously, while mission control is up, Alt-1 is the Dashboard (still as useless as ever, can be disabled), Alt-2 is space 1, Alt-3 is space 2, and so on.

Application shutdown

Something is wrong with the old Apple-Q shortcut. You can, for example, still close Preview with Apple-Q, but next time you display a file with Preview, the old window comes back with the old content, in addition to the newly opened one!

This may be a bug in Apple's new policy of taking control of when applications run and when they shut down. You aren't supposed to worry about that anymore. An app always comes up as you last left it, regardless of whether you minimized it, quit it, or rebooted the system. Good idea in general but it seems there a few kinks.

BTW, Apple tries to restore the window and space layout after rebooting. This is a good idea but it doesn't always work. Some windows restart in the wrong space, or in the wrong place, or not at all. Network connections are not restored. It's trying to be like Linux but can't reach the goal. (It still feels odd to compare the graphical MacOS and Linux (KDE) interfaces and find Linux - or aspects of Linux - superior. That didn't use to happen, Linux was always the server geek of the family, but I guess it's catching up and Apple is resting on its laurels a lot these days.)

The migration assistant is worthless.

It offers to copy applications, users, settings, and other folders. But apart from the user list you get no choice of which items in there get copied, so you'll likely end up with tons of garbage. Took long enough to get it started. On the new box, it rolled an error tab madly up and down for a very long time, saying that it lost connection to the other Mac. Eventually it just stayed up and the assistant had to be canceled.

Since I did this on a Macbook Air, I had to use WLAN, which may have contributed to the problem. Reliable wired Ethernet is not available for the Macbook Air - except with an USB adapter that must be bought as an accessory. Since Apple supports only the obsolete USB2 standard, this workaround is far inferior to standard gigabit Ethernet, which was introduced late in the previous century. Apple botched that one. Again.

Back to my Apple page.

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