OSX Lion – A Review

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When it comes to Apple there seem to be two different beasts. On the phone front, it’s largely hype and bullshit with the company claiming it invented things that the world knows it didn’t and offering a service that does less than the competition; but in the world of computers the hype is more justified. Apple is boasting Lion is the most advanced OS ever, and I’m akin to agree.

I’ve always used Windows, from 95 to Xp to Vista to 7. Even with Windows 7 64-bit running on 4GB RAM, there’s no denying that Windows is sluggish. Just turning it off takes far too long, turning it on can feel like a slow death, and constant updates cause annoyance and fear that they will kill the computer. Opening certain programs takes an eternity too, and while Aero and certain aesthetics make it feel more modern, it hasn’t really progressed much. And let’s not forget the constant worry about getting a virus.

When my laptop kept giving me problems I upgraded to an iMac running Lion, my first real foray into OSX. I say ‘real’ because I have dabbled with Snow Leopard on other people’s computers, but by and large I was a Mac novice. With the learning curve being very small and quick to overcome, going to Mac is a design I won’t regret and I can’t see myself returning to Windows.

First and foremost, Lion is fast. It’s no surprise, because OSX has always been fast and this is most noticeable when turning it on and off, and when in sleep mode. With Windows, having the machine in sleep was a recipe for disaster – it took far too long to wake up, if it woke up at all, and very often it would knock the resolution out of whack, too. So with that in mind, I had my laptop to stay on while the machine itself was on, so never in sleep mode. With a Mac, ‘sleep’ seems little more than a black screensaver because clicking a button has it back up and running in a split second. This is also on 4GB RAM, the same as my Windows machine. Updates come along and they are no trouble to install, taking mere seconds and even a reboot is no concern because everything is up and running in under a minute – Lion even reopens all your windows and documents so the computer is in the exact same state it was before it shut down.

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When I first got it, I wanted to setup my wireless printer. With Windows 7 this meant going to the manufacturer’s website and downloading the drivers and setting it up manually. On the Mac? It found the printer and automatically downloaded and installed the drivers – in a fraction of the time it took Windows just to setup after I installed the drivers. A real breeze.

As for everyday usage, it’s a world apart from Windows in that it’s so easy and so advanced. Windows users are still limited to the mouse only, whereas Lion is a gesture-based OS. This can seem intimidating, but for anyone used to a touchscreen phone it’s second nature. By using Magic Mouse or the Bluetooth Trackpad, interacting with the computer is totally different and very intuitive. Swipe up to show all running programs (like an easierALT+TAB), spread four fingers to show the desktop, pinch-to-zoom or, thanks to Mac offering multiple desktops natively, swipe left and right to switch desktops. For me, this means I can have a Word document open on one desktop, mail in another, and Firefox in another, so I can simply swipe to get what I want without minimising or resizing windows. What could be easier?

My main concern was that I wouldn’t be able to use certain programs that are Windows-only. However, with the help of VM Fusion I run Windows 7 as a program within Lion and have my accounting program open in there. That means I can dip in and out of Windows at will without affecting overall performance. Because I have my mail setup on the Mac side, though, I had concerns about getting invoices from Windows to Lion. The reality is that it just takes a swipe – drag the document from Windows to the Lion desktop and there it is, sitting pretty. I can then drag it into an email and it’s an attachment, no more clicking ‘browse’ and navigating to the document.

When it does come to navigation, though, that’s also far better implemented than in Windows. In Windows clicking one folder to go down a level keeps it in the same window, whereas in OSX it opens to the right, and using the mouse or Trackpad a simple left or right swipe shows the previous level. That makes it easy to know where you are and therefore easier to find what you want.

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The Mac comes with various neat little features. For instance, Photo Booth acts like a real photo booth and uses the webcam to take photos, and you can apply an array of effects to them. Hitting a couple of keys on the keyboard takes a screenshot of what’s showing and saves it to the desktop – so no more ‘print screen’, ‘paste’ to Paint, ‘save as’ wherever you want it. It’s fast, easy and intuitive.

Windows Live Essentials offers some nice photo editing software, but OSX goes one further by offering excellent stuff natively. With iPhoto, you import your photos and can edit them at will, but also show and search for people by face recognition. If you use geo-tagging on your photos the Places section shows where on the globe you’ve been to, which is great for finding snaps from specific holidays. Also in iPhoto, you can use the gesture interface to zoom or rotate a photo, no buttons necessary.

Then there’s iChat, giving you multi-platform support for various IM services, while Garage Band lets you compose your own songs with various instruments, for free. The Address Book looks like a real address book and makes managing contacts incredibly easy. Windows has an awkward and confused system of contact cards that frankly are a mess, but OSX doesn’t have this problem.

In fact, during my time of using Windows I learnt that most things require third-party software – I didn’t use Windows Media Player, or Live Mail, or Explorer, or most other things. The only exception was Zune. When it came to mail, I use a desktop client to manage my various domain email accounts and Thunderbird was my client of choice because Windows Live Mail was just awful. I assumed I would continue using Thunderbird on the Mac but I was pleasantly surprised with Apple Mail. Threading conversations on the right-hand side of the panel makes reading correspondence easy, and flagging or moving mail is just as easy. The ability to add or save an attachment by dragging to or from the folder of choice makes life so easy that it’s pretty remarkable, and makes the Windows approach of saving and attaching seem incredibly archaic.

Then there’s the backup client. With Windows I used Acronis because the native client was just no good. Lion has Time Capsule though, an absolutely amazing service. With a symbol in the top taskbar I can click ‘open’ and be taken into a screen that looks like a Star Wars introduction. There are then a series of panels that show the Finder (or Windows Explorer to those who don’t use Apple) and I can search around backups just like I was searching through the computer. Time Capsule is customisable, offering backups every five minutes, then every hour, then every day, so you can delete and save at will confident in the knowledge that your data will be safe. When you do want to save something you deleted, simply find it in Time Capsule and click ‘restore’, and that’s all there is to it.

Purchasing a Mac is a departure from Windows, but a great one. No, it won’t make me buy an iPod, iPhone or iPad, and thanks to the Windows Phone 7 Connector I can still use a Windows Phone 7 device with the Mac. Not only is the hardware all contained in an elegant screen with no tower to worry about, the entire experience is flawless. With Windows using a computer was a battle, with finding decent programs to do simple tasks like backing up or reading emails, or getting anti-virus programs and running anti-virus scans that kick the computer in the balls, to painfully slow start up and shut down times. With a Mac, it feels as though the computer is there to help you get done what you need to, which is precisely what a computer is for.

The hardware and software are combined brilliantly into a flawless product that makes the computer worth every penny.