Living with Lion: Confessions of a Mac Switcher

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One of the most underrated features of Apple’s new Mac OS X Lion is the built-in Windows Migration Assistant. This tool transfers everything from your calendar and contacts to your iTunes library and browser bookmarks right to your new Mac. What Migration Assistant doesn’t offer is a way to swap your Windows brain with a Mac one. As an experiment I tried ditching my ThinkPad for a week for a new 13-inch MacBook Air, and I was pleasantly surprised by some things and frustrated by others.

Here’s a recap of my experience so far. Have you switched from Windows to Mac OS? Share your likes and dislikes in the comments.

What I Like About Mac OS X Lion

Super Search with Spotlight
Spotlight is the ultimate universal search tool. Just click the little magnifying class in the upper right corner or press Command + Spacebar on the keyboard (a great shortcut) and start typing. Spotlight will instantly return results as you enter letters, neatly breaking down results into multiple categories, from documents and folders to messages and webpages. And now with Lion you get Quick Look previews just by hovering your cursor over the results. Brilliant.

Maybe it’s because I’m a regular iPhone and iPad user, but there’s something reassuring about Launchpad, which presents an iOS-like grid of shortcuts to all of your apps. It’s cleaner than the way Windows handles apps, but I’d like to see Apple offer the option to let Launchpad be the default view on the desktop. Right now you have to press F4 or pinch with three fingers and a thumb to get to it.

Much Improved App Installation
The other reason why Launchpad is a godsend is that it works hand in hand with the Mac App Store. If you download a Mac OS program from the web, you have to click on the file name in the Downloads window, then drag the icon for the app into the Applications folder within a small window. (Many times you also have to agree to download an app from the web.) It’s almost like a cruel joke. When you download an app from the App Store, it automatically pops up on the Launchpad, ready for you to access.

Instant On and Resume Save Time
When you’re extremely busy, a notebook taking several seconds (or more) to wake up from sleep can mean the difference between using the laptop and looking up something on your phone. For real work a notebook is always better, and that’s why I love the way the Air’s flash memory and Mac OS X work together to snap the system back to life when you lift the lid. I haven’t seen anything as instantly responsive from the Windows camp yet, with only the Samsung Series 9 coming close.

I also appreciated the new Resume feature in Lion, which remembers where you left off in an application you quit. When I re-launched Pages, the OS automatically opened the document I was working on and brought me right back to the paragraph I was completing.

Multitouch Done Right
While Lion has gone a little overboard with gestures, there are a few that I’m already using a lot. I love that I can go back a page in Safari with a two-finger swipe and that I can pinch with three fingers and my thumb to activate Launchpad. Up until now, Microsoft and its partners haven’t made the most of multitouch, with the experience varying wildly from notebook to notebook. As for two-finger scrolling, the new default Natural setting in Lion—which mirrors the way you scroll on the iPad—felt very much unnatural. So I just turned it off.  

No Annoying Security Update Pop-Ups!
That pretty much sums it up.

What I Don’t Like About Mac OS X Lion

Quitting vs. Closing
This isn’t a Lion-specific complaint, but I don’t get why clicking the red circle with an X in the middle on an Mac app doesn’t close it. Doing this just closes the window. To truly close an application you have to hit Command + Q. With the new Resume feature in Lion, there’s even less reason to not let that X do what it should. Now, the keyboard shortcut isn’t hard to execute, but I think it should be just as easy to close apps with the touchpad. If Apple really doesn’t want to budge on how the red circle is used, a three-finger click on the trackpad would be a nice quit shortcut.

Mission Out of Control?
I generally like the idea of Mission Control, which is designed to make it easier to see all of your open apps in one place. However, I don’t like that Lion puts full-screen apps up top and non-full-screen apps in the middle of the display, even if it’s the same program. It would be much easier if the top of Mission Control were reserved just for Spaces (new desktops), and all apps resided in the middle. I also wish Apple would add little X’s to those windows so that you can easily Quit apps from Mission Control.

Auto Save Kills Save As!
For the most part, the Auto Save feature of Mac OS X Lion is great. You click save once, and the software is smart enough to automatically save your document as you work. And, thanks to the Resume feature in Lion, you can close the app or shut down your system entirely and the app will pick up right where you left off. Our biggest beef with Auto Save is that it kills the Save As option in apps such as TextEdit and Pages. You can decide where you want a file to reside the first time you save it, but after that if you want to save to another folder you’ll have to create a duplicate first. That’s an unnecessary extra step.

Apps on Top of Other Apps
Here’s a head-scratcher. So I’m in the Help Menu on the MacBook Air and I decide to maximize the window. Then I tried to act on the advice I received by opening System Preferences. Nothing happened. Or at least it didn’t seem like it. As it turns out, System Preferences was open—I could tell because the menu bar had changed at the top of the screen—but the rest of the System Preferences was open behind the Help window. If you open an app, it should open on top of what you were doing. Period.

iPhoto Confusion
Maybe it’s because I use mostly on Windows, but I found organizing and editing photos on iPhoto to be a chore. Yes, it’s nice that this app now runs at full screen, but I don’t get why resizing an image requires that you export it. I was also surprised to learn that you can’t two-finger scroll through images; you have to literally click arrows on the top right of the screen. Finally, while you can create new albums with a keyboard shortcut (Command + Shift + N), I didn’t see a way to create a new album right in the Album menu with the touchpad. I just downloaded the Pixelmator photo editing program from the App Store instead.

Would I Switch to Lion?

Some of my issues will seem like nitpicks to Mac users. But for someone who has been wedded to Windows for so long, the Mac Way sometimes seemed downright illogical. For example, I had to look up that renaming a folder required clicking the folder and then pressing Return on the keyboard. On the other hand, being able to resume my work instantly in Lion, the welcome Launchpad feature, and superior multitouch gestures go a long way toward making the computing experience feel less like work. Ultimately, I would switch from Windows to Lion, but I’d need more time to adjust—and to learn a lot more shortcuts.

Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on
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  • smithy Says:

    I honestly feel that "switching" is a passe, last gen, old fashion concept.

    I run 4 computers, 2 desktops (1 mac 1 win) and 2 laptops (also 1 mac 1 win).

    The macs i love for play and photoshop work but when it comes to serious work like a proper powerpoint for a client or a 10 page proposal that needs to be shared around, edited etc, then Win is king.

    New age thinking? Horses for courses, get mac and win, get iOS and win or in my case, iOS and an aging symbian.:)


  • SteveP Says:

    Unfortunately you didn't "cite" anything!
    You did, however, demonstrate amazing ignorance in both your thought and your use of language.
    "Real" work can be done on either platform.

  • Bobby Says:

    I think real works could be done only by PCs because Microsoft is a giant software company. Switching from PC to Mac is like using a hot fever tablet for a real work that is impossible. Hence although someone may have both PC and Mac, but as cited, real works could be done only by PCs.

  • ViewRoyal Says:

    Hi Mark, there are many differences between Windows and OSX, the two are very different (thankfully ;-)) due to different philosophies behind the user experience.

    Because of these differences, users coming from Windows PCs to Macs find things a little disorienting for the first while, but then the rationale for the differences become apparent (and are usually appreciated).

    For example, in Windows each document window of an application becomes an instance of that application, with a menubar repeated on each window taking up valuable screen space, and each menubar located in a different area of the screen. Macs on the other hand have always seen separate document windows as just that... documents. There is only one application running, so why pretend that it is many copies of the same application. This accomplishes two things: 1) the menubar is consistently placed at the top edge of the screen for all applications, including the Finder, and 2) each document window is minimal leaving more useable space on the screen (especially useful on portable computers).

    Regarding your comment about Mission Control: "I don’t like that Lion puts full-screen apps up top and non-full-screen apps in the middle of the display", it actually does make sense. The larger desktop area is there to accommodate the Finder and all of the applications that have not yet been updated to run in full-screen. So, this area must be larger to show everything (Finder windows and the windows of the applications running). Eventually, all applications will be updated to run full-screen. When that happens, all spaces will have equal prominence.

    Once you become accustomed to OS X, the things that bother you now will probably not be meaningful to you, and you might actually enjoy the differences.

  • Anthony Says:

    Mission Control isn't designed for utility. Not even close. It's there to make Windows users feel like losers.

    Although I enjoyed Expose and Spaces, all the 'dancing around' of windows did seem needlessly titillating. I want these features back and Mission Control turned off, but in the meantime I'm using this free APP --

  • Cloud Says:

    Double clicking on the folder name slowly lets you rename it. I don't know why Apple doesn't include that functionality in their help article.

    I agree the help window thing is silly, I can understand their reasons but help should not float above everything. Open terminal and paste this in to fix it: defaults write DevMode -bool true that program will let you bring back gestural support for the app switcher which lets you quit apps quickly (just press q while an app is selected) You can accomplish the same by using command tab to invoke the switcher.

    Text edit already fixed the quit/close thing so I bet the next iwork version will fix it as well.

    I don't have the latest version of iPhoto so I can't comment on those issues.

    Hope that helps.

  • jb82 Says:

    As a recent windows-to-mac user myself I agree with a lot of the article.

    The biggest complaint for me switching between windows and mac is more to do with the additional 3rd party software you can run. EG you mention and after trying out a mac I miss it too. Nothing is a good for a free program. There are many other examples where the windows additional software is better or just simply available on windows but not on a mac.

    Got to love the speed of boot up and shut down and also how good the touchpad and multi-gestures are though on the mac - but probably not enough to make me change long term ... I keep going back to my windows computers and using bootcamp/parallels.

  • Jeff Says:

    Windows Migration Assistant would be great, if it actually worked. I bought a new iMac a month or so ago, and wasn't in a big hurry to switch the stuff from my PC; I still have to use a PC for work, and figured I would wait until the much ballyhooed Lion roared, then use WMA to wirelessly move my stuff, then boot the PC to the nearest curb. Well, there is a little problem with WMA not seeing my PC, and Apple Support wasn't much help, saying that a lot of people were having issues with that, and recommending that I used a cable to do the switch! Hmmm... that sounds like an answer from the PC folks, not Apple.

  • Jesse Says:

    Most of your negative column, are just mac behaviors. IE, imo it's idiocy to quit an app just because you've closed a document in the app. Anyway, it just shows you didn't commit.

    Mission control your just wrong with, it's expose on crack.

  • Patrick Says:

    Good points, some I agree with, some I don't.

    I do have a question, though. Why do you care if an app is running or not?

    I'm guessing you want to manually manage your computer's apps so that you can improve performance. I put it to you that: 1. Your manual management does NOT improve performance; 2. The time you spend in manual management is wasted.

    If an app is in the background, it's almost certainly not taking up any CPU cycles. Also, it's not "using" memory that your other programs want - anytime a foreground app wants some memory, it just goes and gets it. If there's no unused memory laying around, the foreground app just overwrites memory that a background app was using. No fuss, no muss.

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