Friday, September 9, 2011

Mac OS Lion irritants that Apple should fix

When Mac OS X 10.7, otherwise known as Lion, first came out, I published a series of reviews.

Here is an update after about 45 days of using Lion.

Overall I still find Lion an improvement to snow Leopard, but only just.  I have found myself using the optional new features less and less. For example, I practically never use Mission Control and only occasionally use LaunchPad. The 'compulsory' new features, such as the change in scroll direction, and the new look of Calendar and Address Book, remain more negative to me than positive. I have continued my practice of turning off 'Natural' scrolling, for example.

Although in my earlier post I rated Autosave and Versions highly, in a months use I have actually found details of their current implementation to be very irritating. I will explain why below.

The thing that probably saves Lion, for me, and results in considering it a marginal improvement, is my confidence that backups are now being done when I am away from my backup machine.

Here is a list of what irritates me about Lion. All of these things could be fixed easily in a future update of Lion. Hopeful Apple will take notice:

1. Stability: It is normal in a new OS version to have stability problems, but Lion is worse than normal. I have had about four OS crashes, which is considerably more frequent than I experienced in the last few years with Mac OS. With Snow Leopard, I experienced about one OS crash every 8 months. I would leave my computer running (or in sleep) for months on end. I have also had nasty crashes in a few applications, most notably NetNewsWire, which now crashes over and over again every few days, probably when some malformed RSS item appears. This started occurring the day I installed Lion and has ever since.

2. Slowness due to firing up attached hard drives. If external drives are attached and sleeping, Lion and its apps now sometimes insist on spinning them up to speed, displaying the 'beach ball' while doing this. That delays one's ability to do work, and never happened in Snow Leopard.

3. Lion won't sleep when a second screen is attached: I usually work with two screens, my laptop screen and an attached larger screen. In Snow Leopard, closing the lid would cause sleep. Now, if the second screen is attached, closing the screen results in that second screen taking over as 'main screen'; sleep does not occur. This is highly irritating, and I haven't been able to find a way to deal with it in a satisfying way. The workaround is to remember to unplug the second screen before closing the laptop, but that should not be necessary. Apple should have a preferences option allowing users to choose which laptop-closing behaviour they like best.

4. Drag and drop in Finder is harder to do: Apple has made drag and drop more 'fancy' by adding graphics and animation to the set of items being dragged, however this makes it more difficult to position the cursor accurately over a small target, resulting in items being all-too-often dropped in the wrong place. The subdued colours in Lion also make it harder to see whether the target is selected. A good solution would be to animate the target, when selected, making it grow in size, like the dock does.

5. Sideways signatures: The 'signature' feature in Preview is cool. I like being able to sign documents electronically using the web cam. However it has one weakness. It won't allow you to rotate the signature. If someone sends you a scanned document sideways and the pdf file thinks that 'up' is one of the sides, then Preview will insert the signature sideways. There needs to be an option to rotate the signature when placed on the page. Rotating the pdf file doesn't solve the problem. The current workaround is to print the pdf file to pdf. You get an identical file, except that it now knows which way is up!

6. Restart/restore needs per-application control: One of Lion's key 'features' is that it restarts open applications and reloads open files upon restart. But the fact that there is no way to fine tune this is just plain annoying. It is possible to turn it on and off entirely. What is needed is an ability to turn resume and file reopening on and off for specific applications. Why? Applications like Word and Excel open a blank page when started. This just gets in the way when rebooting. With other applications, like Preview and BBedit, one way to clear out tons of open files was to quit.  With applications that do things like maintain a network connection, it makes no sense to start them until I am ready to connect to that network service. But I don't want to turn the feature off entirely since it is quite useful in a few apps.

7. Autosave and versions disrupts workflow and causes crashes: Although I gave autosave and versions an A+ in my earlier post, I have come to dislike the way one is forced to use them. Currently they are only available in Apple apps and certain third-party apps. My experience is with Preview. One of my main workflows in Preview is to work through a long list of JPEG files, adjusting them in rapid succession. Autosave has a hard time keeping up; in one case I was taking less than a second per file to reorient a whole load of files, and was working faster then autosave could keep up. Eventually Preview crashed. Another workflow I use extremely often is to take a document, modify it and then save the modified version with a different name. In Apple's new setup you have to 'export' a version and restore the original file, or remember to make a copy first then modify that copy. Sometimes you don't know until you have made a few edits whether you want to create a new file out of the old, or apply the edits to the original. There needs to be a 'Save as...' menu item that will make a new file with the changes, and by default, restore the original file to how it was.

8. Calendar event entering is subpar: I find that Calendar's method of interpreting free-form text to make a calendar entry doesn't work well, particularly since I always need to open the dialog to set other fields anyway.  How about popping up a non-modal dialog with all the available fields if you hit enter without typing anything.

9. File renaming is more awkward in Finder: When you rename a file, it momentarily flashes the old name. This is a visual annoyance more than a functional one, but gets in the way mentally when doing a lot of renames.

In addition to the above, I have started using Safari as my main browser. I used to use Firefox. The following are the irritants in Safari that Apple should fix:

10. Remembering passwords is modal: In Firefox, the 'remember password' feature works nicely. After you enter a userid and password into a website, Firefox transmits the information and you get logged in (or not if your credentials are wrong). Only then are you required to confirm that you want Firefox to remember the password. Safari, on the other hand, has a modal dialog shown below: You are forced to confirm remembering the password before you get to see whether you got it right. This is absurd. It also adds delay. I have well over 100 passwords, so password management to me is very critical, and my memory often gets it wrong. I really want to know that I got it right before confirming that to Safari.

11. No memory of larger font: I often use command-+ to make the font bigger, so I can read text more comfortably. Firefox remembers, on a site-by-site basis, when you have done this. That is an extremely nice feature. When I am reading a news site, each page appears with the font size I have selected in the past. Safari, however doesn't remember this information, so I have to command+ every page I visit. Incidentally, Internet Explorer on Windows seems even worse, often not remembering font size when using the back button.

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