Apple Mac OS X Lion

Mac OS X Lion review: a shock to the system

Apple Mac OS X Lion
  • Apple Mac OS X Lion
  • Apple Mac OS X Lion
  • Expert Rating

    4.50 / 5


  • Great price


  • Many features are different to Snow Leopard

Bottom Line

In the past, Apple has charged $129 for upgrades with far fewer improvements than this, and that price upgraded just a single system. At $30 for all the Macs in your world, the only reason not to upgrade to Lion is because you rely on old PowerPC-based apps that won’t run on it. Otherwise, it’s a more than fair price for a great upgrade.

Would you buy this?

Security In some ways, OS X has fallen behind Windows in terms of security technology--mostly because Microsoft has had to defend Windows from the massive amount of malware the platform attracts. But Apple has introduced several security features in Lion, including increased memory randomization and iOS-style application sandboxing (which Mac App Store apps will be forced to support, eventually). I'm a little concerned about just how strong that sandbox needs to be--depending on how Apple enforces those rules, it has the potential to cripple the Mac platform. Familiar, functional Mac apps could potentially have to remove features in order to fit in Apple's sandbox. We'll have to see how it plays out over the next few months.

Apple is also adopting the iOS approach to file encryption. The new FileVault encrypts your entire drive. Once your drive is encrypted, you can instantly wipe its data just by telling the system to delete the decryption key; that's the same technique used to wipe iOS devices. When you're not logged in, the data on your drive is inaccessible. It sounds like a good idea, and much more of a holistic approach than the original disk-image-based FileVault. I worry about users who might encrypt their data but then lose the key (through mental or technical error). Apple is trying to reduce that risk by generating a recovery key that you can store in a safe place, separate from your password.

Apple IDs everywhere It used to be your iTunes ID, but it's now an Apple ID. This fall, it'll work with iCloud. And in Lion, it's more versatile. If you want to grant someone file-sharing access to your Mac, you don't have to create a new user: just enter the person's Apple ID and they can log in using that; same goes for Screen Sharing. And AirDrop uses Apple IDs to verify the identities of other users. Apple's on a mission to get that Apple ID in every crevice of its ecosystem.

Screen Sharing As someone who keeps a Mac mini in a closet as a server, I use the Screen Sharing app a lot. It's gotten a few nifty improvements, my favorite being the ability to log in as one user on a remote Mac while a different user is logged in locally. I love the idea of quickly popping into my home iMac and moving a few files around without making my wife log out first.

AppleScript and Automator Fans of scripts and workflows will be happy to know there are upgrades to both AppleScript and Automator. AppleScripts can now access all the Cocoa frameworks, offering huge power to scripters who learn even the most basic Cocoa tricks. Some cool new services are installed by default, including the ability to convert videos into formats that are consumable by iOS devices and auto-generation of ePub-format ebooks. And installing Automator actions and services just got a lot easier--when you double-click on them, the system offers to move them to the right place for you.

Resize anywhere Apple's given in to the Windows convention: you can now resize a window from any side, not just the bottom-right corner. This eliminates the small shaded area in the corner of every window. After using the bottom-right corner to resize windows for the past two decades, it's going to take me some time to adjust to this.

Restore partition When you install Lion, the system automatically creates a special startup partition on your hard drive. This means that, if something messes up the contents of your hard drive (but doesn't physically damage the drive), you can reboot, hold down the Option key, and then boot into the restore partition. From there you can run Disk Utility, reinstall Lion, wipe the drive and restore from a Time Machine volume, or even load up Safari and browse the Web for troubleshooting advice. It's not a feature that will help you in the event of a catastrophic hardware failure, but it's a great backup for those times when the contents of your drive get hinky.

Is it stable?

I've been using the final version of Lion for weeks now and have seen very few bugs. It's been a comfortable ride. That said, this is Mac OS X version 10.7.0--note the zero at the end. If you are someone who wants to try out the cool new features of Lion today, by all means take the plunge. But back up your drive first, in case you need to fall back to Snow Leopard. And on systems where you do critical and time-sensitive work, you might be best advised to wait a little while until the developers of your most vital apps certify that they're good to go with Lion. No new system release is without its quirks. As stable as this release has been for me, it's a major update and you should proceed with caution. I've upgraded my work iMac and my MacBook Air to Lion; the home iMac that my wife and kids use will remain at Snow Leopard for a little while longer, just in case.

Macworld's buying advice

After a long period of relative stability on the Mac, Lion is a shock to the system. It's a radical revision, motivated in part by the vast influx of new Mac users coming to the platform from iOS, that makes the Mac a friendlier computer. Veteran Mac users who don't like those changes can turn many of them off, or just opt not to use them.

Auto Save, Versions, and Resume should together reduce the amount of time you spend managing files, so you can focus on the more important task of actually using them. Mission Control sweeps several window-management initiatives into a more cohesive whole. The new search system in Finder and Mail is so good you'll wish it was in Spotlight too. Finder's All My Files view is a handy way to quickly get a grasp on what's new and changed on your Mac. Mail's upgrade is impressive, especially its expanded view of conversations and related messages.

On the downside, Launchpad owes a bit too much to the iOS, limiting its utility, and it's too hard to organize apps. Full-screen apps have potential, but only if developers embrace the format and truly re-invent their interfaces; even then, users of multiple monitors will find that those interfaces waste perfectly good screen-space. And Apple's reliance on a downloaded installer app causes needless complications, especially when a hard drive dies.

Can novice users fresh from the Apple Store and grizzled Mac vets who have been pounding out Terminal commands since 2001 share one operating system without driving each other crazy? It's an interesting question. With Lion, Apple seems to be doing a fine job of adding novice features without making them too maddening for more comfortable users. That's good, because novices become veterans over time.

In the past, Apple has charged $129 for upgrades with far fewer improvements than this--and that price upgraded just a single system. At $30 for all the Macs in your world, the only reason not to upgrade to Lion is because you rely on old PowerPC-based apps that won't run on it. Otherwise, it's a more than fair price for a great upgrade.

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