Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Week With OSX Lion

Note: I will keep updating this post if any new findings. (8/4)

Been upgraded to Lion on MBP (late 2008) for about a week, here are some findings.

My favorite features are:

No. 1: Safari's two fingers double-tap

In Safari, you can use two fingers to double tap on any region of a web page to zoom in. A great usability improvement brought from iOS' mobile Safari. With this feature, you don't really need the "Reader" feature most of the time while reading articles. And as claimed by Apple, the zoomed in page is "razor sharp", beautiful.

No. 2: Mission Control

The usability bright spots are:

1. Application windows are grouped with a big icon

Prior to Lion, Expose places zoomed out windows across the screen, at that level of size - thought you might not be aware of - you actually need to "waste some energy" trying to find which zoomed out window is the one you are looking for, based on the application window's shape/toolbars surrounding the fuzzy content.

Now comes the big icon - intuitively let you spot the application without a second thought, then pick one window out of the grouped windows.

2. Creating "Desktop" on the fly

When Mission Control is activated, you can drag a window to the top right of the screen, a new "Desktop" will be created instantly for you to "dump" that window into it, so to avoid cluttering your major working desktop.

The neat thing is the multi-finger gestures to swipe between desktops:

(1) In Mission Control mode, you can use 3 (or 4) fingers to swipe through all the desktops' "thumbnails"
(2) In a normal desktop, you can also use 3 (or 4) fingers to "drag the screen" left/right - to have a sneak peek of the next desktop before switching to it - "are my stocks going up??... ah, boss is coming... (release the drag, back to work!)"

Comparing to Snow Leopard's fixed numbers of "Spaces", this "on-the-fly" desktop creation and gestures gives you a completely different sense of the virtual "space" that the OS has delivered. In Lion, you definitely feel more freedom, lightweight, intuitive and fun to work with.

No. 3: More Memory Available

I've upgraded to 8G mem recently while still using Snow Leopard, because I've got quite some memory hungry apps running (such as virtual machines).

After upgraded to Lion, I just noticed that, with the same amount of big memory occupiers running, I actually have around 1.5G of mem remaining while I got almost no free mem remaining in Snow Leopard.

Though I didn't technically verify this finding, but I do believe that bringing iOS "Back to the Mac" should not only bringing usability enhancements, but also underly/invisible-to-end-users technologies.

Once you know how to make super slim/efficient OS/applications on resource limited mobile devices, it's super natural to bring those optimizations to a more powerful device - then, you are actually delivering values to end users - same "old" hardware, but more computing resources released from the OS. (Think of each time Windows' upgrade requires more powerful hardware...)

No. 4: Super natural Text-to-Speech

I've been learning Japanese for while. Based on my English learning experience, "read extensively" is an essential part. I always think that - what if I can subscribe to some Japanese ニュース (news) feed, and read a lot of them?

Opening a Hiragana character/pronunciation mapping while reading (quietly in brain) is really a mental burden, I actually never did that until I realized Lion already integrated the Text-to-Speech technology from Nuance.

After downloaded several voice packages (China/Taiwan/Cantonese/Japan), now I'm using "Kyoko"'s voice and bind the "Option + s" key to read any selected Japanese text, in a super natural way!

There are many "Kanji" (Chinese Characters) in Japanese, with Kyoko reading them to me, I do feel that my Japanese character to pronunciation mapping is speeding up. Really useful to me.

Since I'm also a native Mandarin/Cantonese speaker, I've downloaded the other 3 voices just for fun (and showcase to friends), I must say, the Cantonese voice "Sin-Ji" is the best of them all, "her" voice sounds like the professional Hongkong TV news reporter's, smooth pace, and all the tones are just right.

There are other good things such as full screen app, but I would like to pause here and look at some of the "inconvenient"/"unexpected" things for Snow Leopard users:

  • Finder - "icon view", two fingers pinch-to-zoom is gone. In a folder with many pictures, you can no longer zoom the thumbnails. I don't know why Apple decided to remove this feature. based on the behavior I saw - some picture folders can show big thumbnails, some cannot - is Apple trying to make the "icon view" smarter but half baked?
  • System wide 3 fingers swipe left/right to go back/forward in applications is gone - made room for the desktop swiping. Though you can get it back by using 4 fingers to swipe desktops, then some 3rd party gesture tools (like JiTouch/BetterTouchTool) to bind "cmd + ["/"cmd + ]" to 3 fingers swipes
  • "Lion won't sleep when lid closed!" - yes, I initially thought my OS was in trouble when it just wouldn't sleep when I closed the lid and waited for several minutes. Actually, it's a new change in Lion, when external monitor is connected, closing the lib will simply switch the major desktop to that external screen, and only put my MBP's screen into sleep. So now you have to disconnect the external monitor physically before closing the lid to put your laptop to sleep. Or, you can click the apple menu or use keyboard shortcut instead.
  • Full screen app renders external monitor(s) "useless" - when swipe to a full screen app in your major screen, the external monitor will be displaying a gray dotted background, you can put nothing on it.
  • Update: double-tap-to-drag is gone too. In Snow Leopard, you can first tap on something (window's title bar, a file in Finder), shortly follow another tap to start dragging around. Since Lion added a "Three finger drag" gesture, this is by default disabled, you can get it back in System Preferences > Universal Access > Mouse & Trackpad > Trackpad Options > tick the Dragging without Drag Lock, it can coexist fine with three finger drag. I think this is rather an improvement than inconvenience, a friend of mine became Mac user not long ago, she came to me and asked how to drag things around with the Trackpad, when I demoed to her, she seemed couldn't get the right "feel" of the tricky second tap until she practiced quite a while. She's our company's seasoned QA, I think it wouldn't be too easy for others. This "Three finger drag" should be intuitive and much easier to master for most users out there - though it's not enabled by default. (7/31)
  • Update 2: Mail.app, conversation view - (when using with Gmail) you may be curious why message you sent are not showing up in a conversation. A quick "fix" is click the "Show related message" button from the toolbar; an ultimate "fix" is in Preferences > Viewing > View conversations > (tick) Include related messages. (8/4)
  • Update 3: Bluetooth devices (trackpad, keyboard) won't auto reconnect after wake up - a temporary fix: make sure to check the option: System Preferences > Bluetooth > Advanced... > Allow Bluetooth devices to wake this computer. Now you need to be careful to shutdown your Bluetooth devices before putting them into your bag, or you Lion will wake up ;-) (8/23)
  • Update 4: the Bluetooth device auto reconnect problem has been fixed in 10.7.2, you can turn _off_ the "Allow Bluetooth devices to wake this computer" now. (10/20)

At last, a side note:

I confess that I was a pirated/shameful/shameless Snow Leopard user. Though the Chinese government has made itself super rich in the world and gained a lot of "faces", average people in this country don't make a lot of money, and the huge amount of invisible tax paying is the government's trick to suck people's hard earned money to make itself richer.

A fresh graduate's salary in IT (one of the "top paid" industries) is generally around 2,000 ~ 4,000 RMB/month ($307 ~ 615/mo) in big cities like Beijing. And that's pretax, also, some amount also has to be reserved for insurance and social benefits, etc. After paying your daily meals and apartment rent, you don't get much "freedom" left to support a piece of software that cost hundreds of $$.

As someone suggested, to fight piracy - lower the price. I think Apple made a good move in Lion, when users already bought your pricy hardwares, the OS should be (much) cheaper.

When the $29.99 (RMB 195, you can get a pair of good shoes) was announced, several Mac friends around me told me that they would "definitely" buy it, and we did.

As the well educated generations are growing, getting better paid, the overall awareness of intellectual property, and the same respect/protection they need when they start their own business ("as app developers we want others to pay, we pay other developers' apps too"), will be growing and eventually catch up with developed countries.
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