Stop the Noiz

Lion: King of the Jungle or House Cat?

Frank Fox - 2011.07.19 - Tip Jar

OS X 10.7 Lion is the "consumer" version of Mac OS X that has Paul Thurrott excited, which can only mean that I will hate it. Any time the owner of Paul Thurrott's Supersite for Window says nice things about Apple, it is time to start looking over your shoulder.

Just to be clear, I am not a developer. I have not used a prerelease copy of Lion. Except for a few screen shots and Apple's talking points, I know nothing more about Lion than the average person.

iOS Is a Lightweight

In general, it is the marketing and positioning of Lion that I oppose.

I own both an iPad and a half dozen computers with Mac OS X. It is seldom that I use the iPad and think to myself, "Wow, I wish my computer could do that!" The iPad is the toy car to my Toyota Corolla.

What is nice in the toy is not acceptable for my working device.

Sure, it is nice that my toy car is free from dependence on foreign imported oil. But I don't really want to hassle with winding up my Toyota to drive to work. What is nice in the toy is not acceptable for my working device.

When OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard made its debut, the features that got advertised were the technological advances. It had better 64-bit features, such as more theoretical allowed memory. There was OpenCL with the ability to use the video card for general program uses, tapping into the power locked away for graphics. It has Grand Central Dispatch to give developers easy access to the multi-core power in the newest Macs.

It was technology, technology, technology.

Great Expectations Unmet

The problem is that most of those promises never quite happened. For example, Apple promised:

Snow Leopard extends the 64-bit technology in Mac OS X to support breakthrough amounts of RAM - up to a theoretical 16TB, or 500 times more than what is possible today.

You still can't install 16 TB of DDR3 RAM in the latest Mac Pro desktop. The most that Apple supports is 64 GB, and that only in the dual-processor Mac Pro.* The limit is built into the hardware, and updating your operating system is not going to change it.

The problem with 64-bit operation, OpenCL, and Grand Central Dispatch is that they rely on developers to implement the changes in their programs. These are the same developers that kept using PowerPC code (instead of creating universal binaries) years after Apple switched to Intel. Based on history, Apple can't expect new technology to get adopted fast enough for consumers to notice the difference.

To be fair to developers, most of what we do on a computer doesn't need these improvements. For writing articles and surfing the Web, software is already fast enough. At the end of the day, the technology promises are nothing but wasted potential.

250 Useful New Features or 250 Pieces of Fluff?

This time, we get served up an integrated Mac App Store, Launchpad, and full screen apps. Whoopee!?

Maybe these "advances" will get used, but they are not successes of technology, except for the servers in the huge iCloud data center in North Carolina. I want technology on my computers, not those running in NC. (To appreciate the irony, I live in NC.)

To be honest, I don't even like these "improvements". The App Store is not about buying a product. You are not buying a product. There is no CD or DVD. All you are purchasing is the license. Technically, this was all the software vendors promised in the EULA, but when you got a CD or DVD, you had something to resell on eBay.

Now you have nothing but the license.

The App Store is a glorified license manager, tracking which licenses you paid for. If you don't pay your license fee, access to that product is terminated. No more pirated software. No more reselling old versions of apps. Once everyone has switched to this software model, additional restrictions can be implemented like annual subscriptions, termination for unauthorized use, in app advertising, etc.

It is a software vendor's dream. Apple gains more control over your computing experience, and it gets to make whatever profit it wants. The fact that Apple is now skimming 30% off every app installed sold on its App Stores, puts even Microsoft profiteering to shame.

Screen Clutter

Full screen apps are another joke. We wouldn't need full screen apps if software developers didn't fill the screen with all their menus. Apple and Microsoft are half to blame. Windows has the start menu at the bottom of the screen and wants to stick the app launcher on the right side. For Macs, we have the Dock at the bottom and the taskbar at the top. Then every program window has similar docks, menu bars, and floating palettes.

All of these could have been designed to hide like the Dock can.

As monitor size grew, so did all the junk cluttering up the screen. It's like software developers worried more about sticking the controls in our face so we didn't have to learn where to find them. The ribbon interface by Microsoft is the biggest offender, with its large buttons gobbling screen space. Sure full screen apps will be great, but only because developers screwed up by filling the screen with cruft.

Ribbon from Microsoft Word 2010
Ribbon from Microsoft Word 2010

Launchpad is eye candy for the busy computer consumer, but the reality is that two buttons is all most people would use. You need one to launch the web browser and a second to launch a chat/email/text editor combo app.

The Launchpad in OS X 10.7 Lion
The Launchpad in OS X 10.7 Lion

Dumbing It Down

Let's face the truth: Apple is dumbing down the operating system for those who do the least on a computer. We can pretend that they will use dozens of programs, but the only dozens that they will use are games. We could rename the launch window the game launch window. Aside from games, surfing the Web is the only other thing most people do.

I could have put up with all the consumer fluff if Apple hadn't removed Rosetta. Rosetta is needed to run older programs written for PowerPC Macs, of which I have a couple. I wouldn't mind Apple dropping Rosetta from Lion if there were an easy way to run an older version of Mac OS X along side Lion. If Lion were allowed to virtualize Snow Leopard the same way virtualization software can run Windows, everything would be great.

I'm a cheapskate who thinks software should last for years, especially if I've paid for it. If I switch to Lion, I will be forced to buy new software - not because it does something new that I need. I will have to purchase software only to regain what I lose from switching to Lion.

I guess what I really hate about Lion is what it says about us. It is a reflection of the modern computer consumer. It really is what we want and/or need.

We are no longer a group of hackers, working away for hours on code. We are your mom, dad, and grandma Regina. No one care about 32-bit versus 64-bit, just give us a computer that works.

That is what Apple does best, and it is delivering. LEM

* Publisher's note: Other World Computing sells a 96 GB upgrade for 8-core and 12-core Mac Pros at a whopping $2,600. If you could buy 16 TB of system memory at the same price per GB, it would cost over $4 million. A single terabyte would set you back over $250,000. To the best of my knowledge, 16 GB is the highest capacity memory module available today, so while OS X 10.6 and 10.7 can theoretically support up to 16 TB of memory, none of today's Macs could support it even if 1 TB modules existed - nor could you afford it if it did. dk

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