How I Dislike Thee, OS X Lion, Let Me Count the Ways

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So you’ve got Lion, or maybe you don’t, because you’re still downloading it. It’s over 4GB after all, and trying to grab it over the freebie Wi-Fi connection at the coffee shop down the street was, you know, maybe not your finest moment.

But let’s say you’ve managed to pull it down, somehow, and as Adele might say, you’re rolling in the deep.

(REVIEW: With OS X Lion, Apple’s Macs Enter the iPad Era)

Everyone seems to love Lion so far, and why not? It has over 250 new features. It remembers stuff (even non-Microsoft stuff!) when your system crashes. It turns your laptop into an iPad. It’s named after the king of the jungle (well, the savannah, technically speaking). And it’s just $30.

Okay, it doesn’t really turn your laptop into an iPad—for that, I’m still hoping Apple opts to make its 11-inch MacBook Air’s screen detachable—but it does make your interface more iOS-like (though, as Georgia Tech video game designer Ian Bogost amusingly puts it, “Mac OS X Lion: everything you hate about your iPhone, on your laptop”). Fans and not-fans of Apple’s touchscreen interface, assume your respective battle positions.

I’ve been using OS X Lion for the past week, and I don’t (yet) have a battle position, though I’ll say I am impressed enough to keep using it. But you know all about Lion’s positives, right? They’re the, ahem, “lion’s share” (yuk-yuk) of all the wall-to-wall press coverage. What about Lion’s quirks, foibles and letdowns?

For starters, deploying a clean “from scratch” Lion install involves a bunch of extra steps (as well, extra hardware) to convert Apple’s 4GB+ download into a bootable slice of discrete media. Apple might like us to believe running over-the-top OS upgrades are digitally hygienic, and for all I know on some byzantine technical level that may be true. But for those of us who periodically rebuild our computers like Howie Mandel washes his hands, getting from A to Z (until Apple releases dedicated USB keys this fall) involves a bit of jury-rigging.

How about the new interaction acclimation curve? Apple apparently wants to shoehorn everyone into its touch-based iOS world—one interface to rule them all. In Lion’s case, that means pretending your mouse pointer is literally your fingertip and reversing the way the screen scrolls up or down. I’ve already made the mental switch—up is now down, down is now up!—but it’s worrisome that Apple seems to be trending toward “one-size-fits-all” thinking, when the interface gulf between an iPhone or iPad and a laptop or desktop is (and stands to remain) vast.

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