Digital Thingamajigs
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Sunday, July 31, 2011

OS X Lion, Part II: The cons

Let me preface this by saying that with any new operating system, there will be a few bugs — especially with something brand-spanking new like OS X Lion. And while I do feel an obligation to talk about both the positives and negatives with a product that I review, I leave it up to you to reach your own conclusions on the product’s overall qualifications.

With that out of the way, here is my cons list for
Mac OS X Lion:

Scrolling: Apple has always “thought different" … or is it differently? Whatever … From its beginnings until now, Apple has thrown some interesting and unusual gadgets and designs at its users, hoping some will stick. Among those that have “stuck,” were the optical mouse, the Mac Mini, the “dock” in OS X and the iPhone, iPad and iPod. Some things haven’t “stuck” so well: Lisa, Newton, the Cube, the “puck” mouse (oh, what a nightmare) and, here’s my prediction: backward scrolling. The new scrolling interface in Mac OS X Lion asks users to take a big leap by forgetting what they know about how a mouse is supposed to work. By default, OS X Lion works by having the user press the bottom scroll button to scroll up and vice-versa. Now, that's not only different, it's backwards.

Apple’s philosophy on this is that scrolling inherently works different on a tablet or touch-screen device, and they want people to start thinking of the desktop as more of a tablet. But it’s not. The two devices are separate, and no matter how much Apple tries to merge the two identities, I don’t see it working. The desktop didn’t kill the laptop, and the tablet won’t kill the desktop. I could be wrong here, but I don’t see the desktop going anywhere. Nor do I see it merging with the tablet world. Now, all of this could be Apple’s desire to keep up with Microsoft, which has implemented “tablet-like” features in its Windows 8 operating system, to be released in 2012. Whatever the reason, it’s a mistake. Backwards scrolling is just that: backwards. And while you can go into settings and disable it — which I quickly did — by making it the default interface in Lion, Apple is asking a lot from its users.

Compatibility: Anytime you upgrade software, you’ll run into compatibility issues, which is the case with Lion. Right off the bat, a few of my older programs stopped working in Lion. Some of these were applications I use on a regular basis and were not cheap. This has affected me so much that I had to create a dual-boot machine by keeping my version of Snow Leopard on an external hard drive. That turned out to be a wise choice. 

I now how the ability to start up in either Lion or Snow Leopard (by holding down the option key at startup), which is something I would recommend to anybody thinking of upgrading. It’s easy to do. All you need is a backup program, such as Carbon Copy Cloner. Carbon Copy Cloner is a wonderful program that makes backups a cinch. It’s also free — only asking for a donation once you’ve used the product. Once you have that program, you'll need a good external hard drive that is at least as big as your internal hard driveI recommend one with Firewire 800 — the Western Digital My Book Studio is perfect for Macs. Just clone Snow Leopard using CCC to that drive and you have a dual-boot machine.
WD's My Book Studio LX is a perfect backup option for Macs. 

The big picture: Why is that manufacturers always feel obligated to change their software? Is it money? Pressure from competitors? Whatever the reason, it doesn't always make since. Consider this: Company X produces the most PERFECT operating system. It has no flaws, never crashes and makes 100 percent of its users 100 percent happy 100 percent of the time. A pipe dream, I know. But, if that were the case, in a few years, Company X would come out with an entirely new operating system and change perfection, which creates imperfection. Doesn't really make sense does it?

And while nobody can argue that Snow Leopard was perfect, I can't help but think of that analogy here. Snow Leopard was a solid operating system. It had its detractors, and it had a few bugs, but it worked — and worked well. And while my pros list for OS X Lion outweighs my cons list, the negatives that I encountered were pretty big negatives. However, it’s nothing that can’t be overcome with a few tweaks. So, would I recommend Lion? Yes, with a "but". If you do take the plunge and buy it now, it’s a good idea to back up your old operating system on an external hard drive in case you have compatibility issues, and — whether you like it or not — be prepared for a "different" experience.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

OS X Lion, Part I: The pros

I took the plunge.

You see, I’ll usually wait awhile before upgrading my computer’s operating system or software so that the general population can work the bugs out. I mean, why should I have to test it, right? By waiting a little bit, you get the advantage of avoiding the mistakes that others make, and you can read the reviews of other users who are more like yourself.

This time, though, I couldn’t wait.

Apple had finally released its much-anticipated follow-up to OS X 10.6, or Snow Leopard. Mac OS X 10.7, or Lion as it’s usually called, takes OS X into new territory for desktop computers, but familiar territory for mobile, or tablet-style, computer users. It’s mobile-esque interface and fancy new features piqued my curiosity. So, I plopped down a reasonable $29 (download version) and installed Lion on my Mac Mini at home. 

So, if you’re thinking about upgrading but haven’t decided if you should yet, I hope to give you some of the pros and cons to help you decide. And while Apple lists 250 new features in Lion, I’ll try to break them down into the most popular – or useful – features for regular users like you and me.

Today, we’ll take a look at the pros:

Full-screen apps: This is a no-brainer. I don’t often use full-screen apps, but when you need to maximize the real-estate on your screen, this comes in handy. You see, I use my home television for my home computing, which may sound nice on a 42-inch screen, but when you sit 10 or so feet away, it can be very difficult to read the screen. So, anytime you can utilize the entire space, I’m happy. 

OS X Lion enables applications to run in full-screen mode.

Launchpad: Sounds neat, and it is. Launchpad puts all of your applications in one spot and makes it much easier to find those not-so-often used apps. For example, every once in a while, I may use the Preview program, but not enough to put it in my dock. Before Lion, you would have to go to your desktop, open a new finder window, find and click on the Applications folder and navigate to the Preview icon. Of course, there were other ways to access it, but that’s one of the more common – and tedious - methods. That’s where the Launchpad comes in handy. Launchpad is an icon that sits in your dock where you can click it for easy access to everything in your Applications folder. It works a little like Snow Leopard’s Application dock icon, but is much easier and utilizes mouse gestures to scroll through all of your apps and sub-folders. Pretty neat.

Launchpad puts all your apps in one easy to access location.

Overhauled System Profiler: The System Profiler, which is accessible through “About this Mac” is a very handy app for looking “under the hood” of your Mac. This app holds information on all of your hardware, software, memory and more. And with the latest version of it, Apple has created a very nice graphical interface that quickly shows how much hard drive space you have on each of your hard disks and uses a bar graph and color scheme to show which types (music, video, etc.) and the sizes of files you have stored on your drive. It’s still located in the Apple in the upper left-hand portion of your screen.

The graphical interface of Lion's System Profiler is a nice touch.

Well, that’s it for the pros. There are some other advantages that I do like, but these are the major ones. Be sure to check back later this week for the cons to OS X Lion.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Is Facebook dissing iPad again?

Mark Zuckerberg and Co. are ready to unveil an “awesome new product” in connection with their massively popular Facebook site this Wednesday, July 6. And although early rumors hinted at a mobile app for iPad and other tablet PCs, it’s beginning to look a lot like the news may be chat-related.

The website Tech Crunch is reporting that Facebook is planning to launch a new video chat product, which will utilize Skype and work within a Web browser. Tech Crunch is also reporting that the new product — being developed by Facebook’s 40-person Seattle team — will have a “desktop component.” The Facebook video chat platform would provide some competition for Google’s plunge into social networking with Google+.

Meanwhile, as rumors swirl around a possible video chat app, many iPad and tablet users are holding out hope for a dedicated Facebook app for the iPad. Since the release of the Facebook iPhone app, many have been clamoring for an iPad-optimized app to take advantage of the tablet’s larger screen size.

According to The New York Times, the iPad app was supposed to have been released sometime in early July. However, Zuckerberg has been reluctant in the past to release an iPad-specific app for Facebook, stating that the iPad is “not a mobile device.” Many disagree. The only way to use Facebook on the iPad currently is through the Safari (or other Web browser) iPad app or via one of the many third-party Facebook apps available, such as the popular Friendly for Facebook.

It remains to be seen if the announcement will be the much-desired iPad/tablet app or if Facebook will kick the can down the road and delay a tablet app even further. I’m crossing my fingers for a new Facebook app, but for now I’ll have to stick with Friendly for Facebook.