Friday, July 27, 2012

Mountain Lion: First Impressions

Let me start by saying that Lion was pretty awful. Felt like buying a wrecked Malibu that somebody spent a lot of time making look like a new BMW – looks nice, but things just didn't fit together or work right. Slow, buggy, annoying.

Enter Mountain Lion, America's big cat. In summary, it's been a breath of fresh air. It feels much snappier, and everything so far has been smooth and responsive and better.

If you want a detailed review, John Siracusa at ArsTechnica once again comes through.

First the bad:
  • Still RAM hungry. Big cats eat a lot, I guess, and just running 5 apps wipes out my 4 GB of RAM (wow). When I switch between apps, it often spins the SBBOD while it swaps RAM to disk. Curious, those 5 apps use about 1.5 GB, and there's another 1.5 GB "Inactive", which with the 1 GB of "wired" leaves 35 MB (effectively 0) free. If you want to run more than a few apps and switch between them, you should consider going to 8 GB of RAM. Fortunately, you can probably get 8 GB of RAM for about $50 these days.
  • It acted funny when I first logged in, BBEdit had the wrong font and wouldn't let me change it. Seemed like it was trying to get set up (font caches?) but didn't tell me it was doing anything. All those problems soon went away.
  • Gatekeeper. Computers have been pretty lax about what apps you can run -- download stuff and run it. This new Mac OS by default only lets you run things you got from the Mac app store, and the Mac app store apps have to be "sandboxed", meaning roughly that every thing they do internally must have already gotten a "mother may I" from Apple at one level, and the OS at another. This is meant to crush malware – your computer will just refuse to run it. But you can't buy MS Office, Photoshop, or most other big apps because getting mother may I's for everything they do at this point is expensive, hard, or in some cases impossible. The good news is that you can order this new big burly gatekeeper however you like ("go home", "let this guy through", etc.) -- it's just another step you need to be aware of.
  • Still no Rosetta (Lion dropped that ball), so if you have apps that you bought years ago on a PowerPC and need them to work, stick with Snow Leopard.

Now the good:
  • Mission control fixed. You can turn off the window groupings in Expos√© (hooray!).
  • Responsive. Almost everything feels more snappy -- reminds me of how I felt when I got Snow Leopard.
  • New apps. iMessages, Notes, Reminders, Calendar, Contacts -- all sync with iCloud so I see the same things on my computer that I see on my iPhone. This is where we really wanted to be for all the years we've been using computers. I have one contacts list on iCloud, and can edit it from any computer or from my phone, and it all stays up to date. Nice!
  • AirPlay. Super easy to mirror what's on your computer to your AppleTV. Even Netflix video worked surprisingly well, though my computer got pretty hot while doing it. I don't recommend using your computer to play DVDs onto your TV with it, though -- my understanding is that it would be reading compressed video off the DVD, decompressing it to your screen, then taking what's on the screen, compressing it back into a compressed stream, streaming that over wi-fi to the AppleTV, which then decompresses it again to show on the TV. Both devices working very hard. I think it's more for showing PowerPoints, browsing the web, looking at pictures, etc., so everyone can see it. Still very cool.
  • Built-in dictation. Not word by word as you probably hope, but still pretty cool. Double-tap the "fn" key, say some stuff, hit "fn" again, and the text appears. Anywhere you have a cursor. Seems to do pretty well.
  • qi.pngIn-line dictionary. If you have a laptop, three-finger tap on a word and it will pop up a definition for it inline. Neat!
  • Lion document model opt-out. Lion tried to help people who don't understand the classic file/folder hierarchy by storing incremental versions of your document for you (without you hitting "Save"), and trying to save "state" when you quit apps, etc. I never understood it, and it didn't work with Office or other big apps anyway, so Mtn. Lion letting you partially opt-out (see the "General" pane of Sys. Preferences) is a good thing.
For $20, this appears to be a good move for almost everyone.

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