Low End Mac Round Table

OS X Lion: Run With It or Run Away from It?

Low End Mac Staff - 2011.08.19

Several Low End Mac staffers have been using Macs since the System 6 and System 7 era, and it seems that with everystep forward there's also a step back - losing 24-bit support withMac OS 7.6.1, the new HFS+ filingsystem introduced with Mac OS 8.1,the big leap from the classic Mac OS to Mac OS X, and Leopard (OS X 10.5) leaving behindClassic Mode are among the changes to the Mac OS that have brokenbackward compatibility and made it difficult (and sometimes impossible)to move forward without adopting new software and/or hardware.

This week our writers explain why they have made the migration toOS X 10.7 Lion - or why theyhaven't yet gone there and may not go there.

Jason Schrader (Maximize Your Mac):I'm not upgrading to Lion, because my hardware is PPC based.

Austin Leeds (Apple Everywhere):Personally, I don't have any Intel Macs, so Ican't upgrade to Lion. However, I have installed Lion on other Macs,and it is a dream to use.

I know, I'm the iPad guy, so I'm a little biased. Still, I view mostof the advances in Lion as very positive things. The loss of somebackwards compatibility is understandable, but since I don't have anyIntel Macs at home to work with, I've just always found ways to use myPowerPC Macs with Windows PCs (blech!) or Linux machines. I've evenexperimented with Linux on some of my PowerPC machines, although it'snot quite satisfactory yet. If I need to install software on my 68kMacs, I can always find a copy of the disks on the Web and write themto floppies using HFV Explorer onmy older PCs. So, overall, I've rarely used an Intel Mac to support anolder Mac (and even then it was easier to use the PC to support it,sadly) - -without that string attached, I've been gung ho aboutupgrading to Lion on Macs that support it.

Adam Rosen (Adam's Apple): Thebi-annual "should I upgrade Mac OS X or not"question has presented a real conundrum for me the past few years. As alongtime computer user and a professional Macintosh consultant, myoverall philosophy is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Systems thatare working and compatible are more productive; lots of problems canaccompany a latest and greatest release. In the end, the computer is atool I use to get work done; I want to keep it operational. However asa Mac consultant, I need to stay up-to-date and familiar with Apple'sofferings to be able to serve my clients and their needs. What todo?

I decided to upgrade only one of my two primary systems, my Mac Pro office desktop. I knew thatI'd have to upgrade any Rosetta-dependent apps before making the jump,and after an expensive credit card payment to Adobe, I was ready to go.The upgrade went smoothly, and I've experienced few problems; for a"point oh" release, Lion 10.7 has been stable and snappy. I likeMission Control, window resizing from any edge (borrowed from Windows),and the integration of gestures throughout the OS. Reverse scrolling,lack of bundled Flash and Java, and the discontinuation of Rosetta arethe biggest overall negatives. Fortunately all but the last arefixable.

I've kept my MacBook Pro on OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard - this is thesystem I use on the road, and it has to be stable and trouble free.Every new release of OS X seems to bring glitches and WiFi connectivityproblems; I don't need to deal with those while attending to myclients' needs. It's also helpful to have access to older PowerPCsoftware in the field, and the vast majority of Mac users have notupgraded to Lion yet. By pursuing a dual OS strategy on two systems,I'm unlikely to run into any serious roadblocks, and I can check outthe new while preserving the old.

Allison Payne (The Budget Mac):I'm content to keep OS X 10.4 Tiger on my PowerBook G4 andSnow Leopard on my Aluminum Unibody MacBook.

However, I'm also considering purchasing the current generationMacBook Air, which is Lion-only (for a native OS; I'm always happy totry other operating systems in virtual environments, but they can bequirky.)

I'm looking forward to the speed and portability of the 11" Air, andit will be a novel experience to own a new machine with the newest OS.I can always default back to one of my other machines if I needFireWire Target Mode or Rosetta.

Dan Bashur (Apple, Tech, and Gaming):My stance opposing Lion has been made clear in myown articles and responses to others. To reiterate and further explainmy personal situation: I never plan on upgrading to 10.7 for threeprimary reasons:

  1. First and most obviously, I simply can't upgrade to Lion since I amrunning all PowerPC equipment.
  2. The second most obvious: No Rosetta. It would not be cost effectivefor me at all to upgrade to Lion due to the fact that all of myapplications are PowerPC. I would have to start off with a clean slateif I were to purchase a brand new Lion 10.7 or later Mac - not good fora guy like me that has 10 years worth of PowerPC applications layingaround or installed. I'm not going to purchase new hardware and beforced to turn around and buy/download all new applications as well.This means that my cut-off (for the time being) is early 2011 modelsthat can run Snow Leopard, and hence Rosetta giving me access to myapplication. I'm also with Dan Knight on not giving up AppleWorks 6.It's an excellent and powerful production tool that is easy touse.
  3. As a writer and longtime Mac user, I have gotten by just fine onMac OS X` 10.4.11 Tiger and 10.5.8 Leopard for all of my fairly modernapplications using my 1.42 GHzeMac and 12" 1.5 GHzPowerBook G4. I also have my 600 MHz Summer 2001 iMac G3and Pismo PowerBook forMac OS 9 native applications. In short, I have all the tools andcomponents to make everything I have continue to work (and worktogether over a network). I'm not going to reinvent the way I do thingsuntil the changes made to the workflow (with an OS update) arejustified in enough increased efficiency, while still beingfeature-rich. Right now, I don't feel Lion has accomplishedeither.

In summary, not only does the look and feel of Lion seeminconsistent to what I have learned to love for so long, but muchfunctionality has been taken away with the elimination of Rosetta andthe dumbing down of the OS in general. Although many of the iOS themedfeatures in Lion can be turned off (once you upgrade), what's the pointin upgrading in the first place once you do so? I'm passing on thisone, Apple!

Charles Moore (several columns):Upgrading to Lion? I'm torn, but not a wholelot. I'm more casually curious about than enchanted with the changes inLion, and some I know I'm going to hate. I'm certainly in no rush atall to upgrade. The crunch will come, of course, when applications Iwant to use start requiring Lion as minimum system requirement. You canswim against the tide for only so long before you have to make thechoice between going with the flow or getting out of the water.

Having been an iPad 2 user now for acouple of months, I can think of absolutely nothing the iOS does thatsuits me better than the way things work in Snow Leopard, and there'smuch that I like a lot less.Consequently, making the Lion UI more like the iOS, with a lot ofdumbing-down and more of the OS making control decisions for you (e.g.:autosave, autocorrect) does not appeal from the get-go. To say nothingof the loss of Rosetta, which is huge.

Aspects of Lion that I recoil from include:

  • Hidden Scrollbars - This is partly reversible, but even if youmodify the default setting so scrollbars are visible at all times,they're pathetically anorexic compared with traditional ones. I alsowould revert to traditional scrolling behavior from the so-called"natural scrolling, which is okay on the iPad but not on a laptop ordesktop.
  • Multi-Touch swipes and gestures in general - After a couple ofmonths on the iPad, I'm more convinced than ever that that I'm just nota touchscreen/multitouch kind of guy, and I probably never will be. Ifind that memorizing gestures, especially ones not used frequently, isa facility that eludes me. I've had a MacBook with a multitouchtrackpad for nearly three years now, and I've almost never used any ofthe trackpad gestures it supports, and I keep a mouse or rollerbarplugged in wherever practical. I can live with a trackpad in itstraditional role for pointing and clicking, but gestures? Not somuch.

On the iPad, my biggest irritation is text selection, copying,pasting, and so forth. I find the hit or miss imprecision oftouchscreen input maddening to the point of fury.

Sometimes you tap or gesture and get the results you want first try.More often than not you don't. Wasted motion and wasted time. Iprofoundly miss the predictable precision of using a mouse or otherdevice for pointing and clicking. Find a snippet of text in an articleonline that you'd like to save? First you have to get it selected,typically a major tussle. Then try to paste it into a Mail message tosend it to yourself. But the selection you copied is truncated by Mail.Arrrrgh! For some reason, I find email composition and sending worksmore reliably in the Notepad app, which sends through Mail (but doesn'trandomly truncate pastes), than Mail itself. That's typical of whatmaddens me about trying to do stuff in the IOS. Most everything feelshalf baked and inefficient compared with the (traditional) Mac OS way.Adding insult to injury, different apps behave inconsistently.Superimposing this sort of efficiency-strangling behavior on the Mac OSseems woefully regressive to me.

After 19 years of using the Mac OS as the main tool of my trade,I've developed a complex ecosystem consisting of a suite of productionapplications I use and a workflow I've developed around them. I managedto compensate for losing Classic Mode when I transitioned to 10.5Leopard, although not without sustaining a bit of a productivity hit,but Lion at this point appears to be a burned bridge too far.

For the immediate present, it's a moot point. I haven't enough roomleft on the MacBook's 160 GB hard drive to use my second partitionvolume for a fair-trial Lion install, and I'm not nearly ready to saygood-bye to Snow Leopard. I'll probably buy one more Mac sometimebefore mid-2012, most likely a Certified Refurbished Core "i" 13" MacBookPro that can run Lion comfortably and still boot from Snow Leopard.After that, it will remain to be seen.

Adam Rosen: (Adam's Apple I agreewith you about trackpad vs. mouse forcursor precison. Night and day. I'm using both simultaneously on my MacPro.

Simon Royal (Tech Spectrum):Charles, that is so true.

While Apple really seemed to have turned up the heat with Lion andtake up is not simply a deal of new OS, but a massive change in yourcurrent hardware and software. This has slowed down a lot people whowould normally be early adopters.

I'm all for holding on to older hardware. The iBook G4 I am writing this onis the fastest Mac I have had in years, but it is still swimmingagainst the tide, and every day I face times when I start to drown. Atsome point I am going to have to go down the Intel route and possiblythe Lion route.

I thought going to Leopard-only was a big step. It meant I had todrop Classic support, and with my iBook I also had to drop native OS 9booting. 30% of my software is now not usable, so I understand thesteps needed when facing an OS that doesn't support your software andthe frustration when you have no other choice.

You can hang on and push PPC support as hard as you like - but atsome point, as you say, you will have to move to Lion or get out of theMac world. People needing to buy a new Mac will have no choice to haveLion and lose a lot of the software they own.

Charles Moore: Of course what one must try to avoid, despitedismay and apprehension at what's happening to the Mac OS, is storminginto a closet and slamming the door. Sticking with PowerPC and one ofthe older versions of OS X will work for some of us in the short-to-midterm, and I intend on doing just that with my old Pismos and OS X 10.4Tiger, but I expect that compatibility issues will eventually renderthat impractical for production efficiency.

The conundrum is where would one jump if deciding to jump ship.Going to either Linux or Windows would involve a steep orientationcurve and most likely worse compromises and inefficiencies thaneventually gritting my teeth and learning to live with Lion. Windows 7,in some respects, would be more tolerable than Lion, but Windows 8,based on early reports, is afflicted with the same tabletization andtouchscreen-style input unfortunateness as Lion is, while desktop Linuxis spinning its wheels and losing traction in the marketplace, sinkingfarther and farther below a one percent market share, which doesn'tinspire confidence in its long term viability as a competitivealternate platform.

Dan Knight (Mac Musings):I won't say never to Lion, but I don'texpect the move to Lion - whenever it comes - will be an easy one. Ittook years before I made the switch from Mac OS 9 to OS X 10.2 Jaguar, and to this day Icontinue to use Classic Mode on a PowerPC Mac running OS X 10.4 Tiger.I have a second Power Mac G4 running Leopard, and I only went toLeopard because one program I depend on (NetNewsWire) stoppedsupporting syncing with Tiger.

I do have an Intel Mac, a competent little 2007 Mac mini with a 2.0 GHz Core 2Duo CPU and Intel GMA 950 graphics. I am running OS X 10.6 Snow Leopardon it and could run Lion on it if I wanted to. At present, the Mini hasits original 1 GB of system memory, and I just upgraded it with a 320GB 7200 rpm WD Scorpio Black, because for the past two days my externaldrive has been making frightening noises. Rather than risk losingeverything on the external drive, I spent $75 at the local Best Buy,used iFixit's guide, and swapped the hard drive - not a task you wantto attempt without a guide!

Why do I not plan on moving to Lion in the near future? Because,like most of our staff, I have a comfortable workflow developed over20-some years using Macs and 14 years publishing Low End Mac. Somedaythere may be a killer app for my work that is Lion only, and that'swhen I'll contemplate making it part of my production environment.Until then, my trio of Macs works very nicely (the Mini does need moreRAM), and I can continue to be productive working on the Web withoutusing the newest version of OS X.

I'm sure that I'll get a copy to play with sometime in the next yearor so, but as someone who is completely comfortable with the pre-iOSway of doing things on Macs, there's no compelling reason to abandonwhat works well for something that will require a fair bit ofrelearning.

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