Why Mac OS X Lion 10.7.0 can improve or break your system

Since last wednesday when Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion” was released, I’ve downloaded and installed it immediately. Downloading it from the Mac App Store went surprisingly fast, got it in 15 minutes thanks to my 120 Mbps connection 🙂
Didn’t hesitate to install it, because I’ve been testing my applications in the latest Beta versions to make sure they where all compatible (and they where).

For the people who don’t yet know, Mac OS X Lion can only be retrieved from the Mac App Store. So don’t waste your time going to an Apple Store, although they can install it on your Mac for you if you’re gonna bump into an issue somewhere. When the download of Lion has been completed, an installer will appear on your Dock and into your Applications folder. Of course you can load it onto an external drive, thumb drive or optical disc if you’d like by following the guide I’ve written in this post. That last step is even required if you’re going to perform a Clean Installation, because launching the installer will only upgrade your existing installation.

Although users of Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” can download Lion using the Mac App Store (which is included in 10.6.7 and higher), I am wondering how users of 10.5 “Leopard” are going to install it, because as far as I know you can’t get the Mac App Store on 10.5. I wonder how Apple is going to solve this. A logical step would be to upgrade to 10.6 first, before upgrading to 10.7. But the question is, if 10.6 is still going to be available for purchase in the coming years. Or is this just a way for Apple to sell a new Mac? That would be a crucial mistake, because users of 10.5 are just going to download pirated copies of Lion. Not because they don’t want to pay for Lion, but because they just can’t download it in the first place!

Anyway, going back to my experience of Lion I have never seen such a smooth upgrade and stable x.0 release in my life (says the guy who has an Intel Xeon powered Mac Pro and a Macbook Air with a Solid State Drive). The applications that I use are Safari, VMWare Fusion, iWork ’09, Aperture 3 and for work I use Microsoft Remote Desktop, Microsoft Office 2011, Microsoft Entourage 2008 (thanks to the slow adoption rate of Outlook 2011 by Kerio) and Cisco MOVI. They all run without any issues (although Entourage 2008 sometimes crashes when exiting the application), although the performance is a bit worse. And of course I’ve anticipated a loss of performance because of the higher system requirements. I have spoken with some people who have installed Lion on their Macs. They all say that you need around 4 GB of RAM to get proper performance (the bare minimum is 2 GB), that would make these requirements even higher than Windows 7. So the argument of Mac OS X having way lower system requirements than Microsoft Windows is invalid from now on.

The major difference in Lion compared to older editions of Mac OS X is the way it integrates the iOS features found on the iPhone and iPad. You can swipe between spaces and the dashboard, browse through pages in your Web Browser and scroll through pages and lists by pushing the contents up and down instead of moving the scroll bar itself. This of course requires the new glass-coated Trackpads on MacBooks, a Magic Trackpad or a Mighty Mouse. Other mouses and the Trackpad found on older MacBooks (the ones with a button below them) only support scrolling. You won’t get any of the other gestures on those devices, unfortunately. Although there are quite some discussions going on about whether the inverted scrolling direction is right or wrong. When using a touch screen like an iPad, you actually ‘touch’ the information. In that case it’s natural to swipe upwards to move the page up, and downwards to move the page down. But with a Trackpad or a mouse you don’t actually touch the information, so there is no need to have the same scrolling direction as a touch screen. You need to get used to it, but people like me who use different systems and don’t want to get used to a different scrolling direction every time you’re using a different system, it will be better to change the scrolling direction in the System Preferences. If the people at Apple or Steve Jobs have an opinion, that doesn’t mean that every computer user must now change the way they operate their computers.

The big question is, should I upgrade to Lion now or should I wait? That’s a good question, because Lion has just been released and is still in the x.0 phase. This means that not all applications are compatible and there could be some serious bugs which might only be noticed when it gets used by the masses. At this point it is absolutely necessary to check if your applications are fully compatible with Lion, or at least compatible enough to use it for your needs. This won’t really apply to home users, but users who need it to perform their job need to check compatibility first. This especially applies to designers who use Adobe Creative Suite, Apple Pro applications or other designing applications. But also any device drivers need to be checked first. For the low purchase price of Lion, you could download it and create a clean installation on a different partition. You can use that to check the compatibility with Lion and if it doesn’t work properly you can immediately go back to Snow Leopard and wait for updates on both Lion and the applications you use. And before I forget to mention, make sure your applications are still supported by the companies who release them. You absolutely don’t want to use an application that’s not supported anymore for a few years. In that case, keep using Snow Leopard until you’re able to upgrade the application to a new supported version.

Let’s summarize all of this. Mac OS X Lion has many improvements which are great to use, yet new releases may contain bugs or create issues with your applications. In that case, you need to wait for updates to be released. Most home users can upgrade to Lion straight away, but business users need to check if their applications are compatible by either reading forums or testing this in a lab environment. But whatever you do, do not complain if some applications don’t work straight away on a new OS. There have been beta versions of Lion available for half a year to developers. Large companies should be expected to test their applications on beta versions, because they can afford a developer account. Community Projects on the other hand might not have those funds or manpower available to be compatible with a new OS within a few days. Give those people some time to make their applications compatible.

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