My upgrade to OS X "Lion"

For those of us who live on Apple-brand devices, there’s rarely an OS release that goes by without a rush of excitement that should normally require followups with a physician. While the majority come in the iOS (read: iPhone, iPod, iPad) space, there are the odd ones that come out for the desktop hardware.

One such example is the recent OS X “Lion” release, hailed by Apple as the next coming of operating systems, and anyone foolish enough not to install it might as well ship themselves off to a leper colony. Of course, anyone who has done systems support in their life (i.e. me) knows that upgrading to any “new” OS just begs for things to go wrong.

Which is why I volunteered to be a guinea pig.

There’s more than enough people out there who’ve been complaining about the new features in Lion to make one stop and wonder if it’s safe to do a mass upgrade in an office comprised almost totally of MacBook Pros. All you need is one feature to not work to totally ruin your day.

Like, say, Time Machine, running against a Drobo-based file share. (Apparently, the Drobo FS has an issue with Lion; Drobo’s working on a firmware update as I speak.) When you depend on said service to ensure business continuity, it’s mildly important to have people go forward with due diligence.

That’s where I come in. “Due Diligence” is my middle name. (Y’know, right after “Benton”, “Danger”, “Jerk”, “Righteous Asshole”, and “Are You Going To Finish That?”) I wanted to make sure that within our gilded walls, we’d hear not a whine.

So last night, I finally managed to get Lion up and running, and today did the final run of initial tests. So far? No show-stopping issues (aside from the above-mentioned Time Machine — but we have a Time Capsule to handle that for now), and Lion does seem to behave a little nicer, all things considered.

My impressions? Allow me to share…

  1. Lion is a pig to download. It’s more than 4 GB, and Apple’s servers run a lot slower with Lion than they do with the newest iTunes HD release.
  2. Expect upwards of an hour to install. The installer suggests “about 33” minutes when it starts, but I think Apple’s estimation algorithm was ripped out of Windows Explorer, ‘cuz it was wildly inaccurate, and even reverted 14 minutes at one point for no explicable reason. The “1 minute equals 4 minutes” timewarp is especially unsettling at nearly midnight, when all you want is to go to bed…
  3. The Login screen (if you use it) is a little different, but not unsettlingly-so. It’s a little cleaner, and the “wake up” login is almost devoid of anything but the password box.
  4. Almost everything has a slight animation. It’s unnecessary, really, but it’s also not annoying.
  5. My name initially appeared in the top-right corner of the screen, on the menu bar. This was a quick-switcher to other users in the system (possibly because my user is also an administrator?). This is potentially handy when you have a system with multiple users, but I’m the sole user on my work lappy — I disabled that through the Users & Groups preferences.
  6. Immediately, the Setup Assistant lets you know about the awe-inspiring new way your computer handles page scrolling … which is the exact opposite we’ve been doing it for the better part of two decades. (This is an example of how, as Brian X. Chen of Wired puts it — Lion is trying too hard to be iOS.) At least they tell you up-front.
  7. My mouse cursor kept disappearing just above the Dock, and I’ve yet to understand why. It still worked — I could click on things — but I had a hell of a time guessing where it was. When I restarted Skitch, however, it reset whatever was wrong and my cursor came back.
  8. CS5ServiceManager prompted me to install a Java runtime (really? JAVA? C’mon, Adobe!), which begs the question — did Apple remove the Java runtime from Lion?
  9. Gestures, gestures, gestures. There’s a bunch of ’em now, at least if you have the unipiece trackpads. And — to be honest — I like quite a few of them. Some of them are even supported on the Magic Mouse without any additional fiddling or software.


On a single monitor, they’re fine. On a dual-monitor system, they make the secondary monitor change as well. I can understand this to a point, but it’s rather overkill. Not to mention that being able to see a list of numbers that you might be tabulating with the Dashboard calculator widget is suddenly a LOT harder to see.

  1. Stickies finally actually scroll! Well, for me, anyway. Never did before, for whatever reason.
  2. Mac Mail gets a fairly significant overhaul, not just visually but also in operation (there’s a database upgrade that can take a while if — like me — you’ve got a lot of mail). Make sure you do a Time Machine backup before you upgrade to Lion, folks!Mac Mail also gets a fairly significant UI change, and will (after install) present you with something very unfamiliar — though refreshingly handy. That said, if you absolutely cannot do without the “classic” interface, you can restore it through Mail > Preferences.
  3. Mail’s new interface also — inexplicably — turns off the folders previously seen on the left side. Easy enough to turn back on, though.
  4. Despite a few people saying that Flash and Air weren’t working on Lion, I have yet to notice any issues. Nor have I noticed the worrisomely “huge” increase in CPU usage (the only “huge” increases I’ve noticed have been in mdworker and mtmfs processes, which are OS X apps).
  5. Spotlight, that handy search tool, is going to reindex your computer. You’ll know when it sounds like a jet plane is taking off next to you as your CPU goes crazy with the mdworker process. That said, once finished, the overall CPU load actually seems lower.
  6. Mail, Contacts, and Calendars configuration in System Preferences seems like far less the bastard child of old, and more like real options. And if you’re like me and have a lot of accounts, this is a Good Thing™.
  7. I’m torn on the “All My Files” pane that’s now in Finder. It’s quasi-handy, but it also hides reality. For example, finding pictures? Neat. The “Developer” section gloms files together from several projects, which is grossly misleading. It’s likely going to be disabled before the end of the day.
  8. QuickTime Player now occupies the entire screen, and dominates the display when you’re playing back. Admittedly, not too big a deal when you’re watching a movie.


It does this also on dual monitors, rendering the other monitor useless. Really? Steve, you wondrous jerk — what the hell?? What if I wanna watch a movie while I work? Not an option?!

  1. Right after I finished Lion, I needed to download a new iTunes, too. Couldn’t be a part of the Lion install, guys? Really? I was already downloading over 4 GB — another 60 MB was a breaking point?
  2. Calendar now looks like we’ve reverted to the 90s; it resembles one of those giant pads that used to sit on office desks. Yeah. ‘Cuz that paradigm continues to live on and all. And there’s no way to turn that off, or choose something different? What is this, Microsoft?
  3. “Full screen” mode for apps is … well, I’m not sure what to make of it yet. Handy? maybe. But I’m a windows freak — I have at least a couple dozen going at any time, so hiding all of them behind an impenetrable wall doesn’t strike me as “handy”.
  4. The scrollbars for nearly any window are now disappearing tricks. Some windows have them always on, and some don’t. The latter are the trickier ones, since when you scroll the scrollbars appear, and shortly after you stop scrolling they vanish. Also, there’s no more little arrows to help nudge you little-by-little (useful on Excel spreadsheets, which are periodically hell to scroll with because of too-tall cells).
  5. Apparently, documents will get “locked” 2 weeks after they’re edited. This is to support the Auto Save feature. I haven’t run into this yet (can’t wait; my entire dev repository will be a pain in the ass), but it apparently can be disabled through the Time Machine configuration.
  6. For some reason, the Drobo FS won’t work with Lion’s Time Machine, as I mentioned earlier. Hopefully, this is the worst we see.
  7. Finder moved the “Devices” list to the bottom of the left sidebar, which I find particularly irritating, since I use that list a lot more than I do “Favourites”. Nor can I change the order of those items.
  8. Finder’s Path and Status bars are also turned off in Lion; they can be enabled through the View menu.
  9. Under Snow Leopard, I could shift my Magic Mouse and the computer’s screen would light up. Now I have to click. Not sure if this is a setting or not — can’t seem to find one.
  10. Air Drop is a neat feature, and seems to work fairly well. We have a network issue in-house that’s causing some hiccups, but a local test moved along the 4.3 GB XCode DMG in less than 10 minutes (which ain’t bad, considering the size).
  11. Scrolling. Yes, the one most complained about. After installing, it’s set to “Natural”, which is the scroll you see on iOS — pull down on the screen, and the page goes down. (This was previously known as “inverted”.) I know people who love it, but it’s the first thing I changed. I might yet give it a try, but we’ll see…

So that’s what I’ve found so far. Overall, it’s stable, decent, and hasn’t given me an ounce of trouble. Ever app I’ve got (including Photoshop CS5, VMWare Fusion, Evernote, my LAMP stack, Office, and my plethora of dev tools) continue along like nothing ever happened.

Next up… the rest of the office!