Showing posts tagged osx

Mountain Lion

Last month Apple released the eighth major update to its operating system, OS X Mountain Lion. By this time, most people must have read various reviews. This review is not intended to detail every single change in the OS, but rather things that I think are quite important and is not talked about enough in other reviews. As usual, John Siracusa released his usual massive review, which you should read if you want a more comprehensive review. In addition to Siracusa’s big review, I also like Ask Different’s collection of little nice things in Mountain Lion. They are worth a read if you don’t have that much time to read mine or Siracusa’s review.

UI Changes

In Lion, Apple made a bold move in the scroll bar by making it look and work like iOS. Not only it looks like iOS, but as we have now been using for a year, it also scrolls like an iOS device. In Mountain Lion, this behaviour is still the same, but now when you mouse over the scroll bar, it gets bigger and it is now easier to drag. Maybe this is just me, but I don’t drag the scroll thumb1 that often when I use a trackpad or a Magic Mouse. It just seems to me that dragging the scroll thumb is very clunky to me. It just takes such a lot of steps when I want to drag the scroll thumb. Unless the document is very very long, I will usually just scroll. What I do though, is to clik on the scroll bar itself to make the thumb goes to where I click. By default you need to do option click to do this, but I made this behaviour the default in my machine. I also think that Magic Mouse and the trackpads are designed to scroll instead of to drag.

The other enhancement is that the scroll thumb now appears every time you put two fingers on a trackpad. This is pretty neat, because in Lion I see some people scroll just the tiniest amount just to see where they are in the page, because the scroll bar is hidden when you’re not scrolling. They don’t have to do that anymore, but people who uses Magic Mouse will still have to do this. Why don’t Apple make it visible for the Magic Mouse users? My guess is that the mouse users, who only needs one finger to scroll, place at least one finger on their mouse almost all the time; whereas the trackpad users, who needs two fingers to scroll the page, do not put two fingers on their trackpad unless they have intention to scroll. This will save the mouse users from seeing the scroll bar all the time, and Apple doesn’t want the scroll bar to hide the content. I applaud Apple’s effort in enhancing the scroll bar, but I do think that they’re trying to drive people away from the mouse to trackpads. This hurts people who uses mouse full time. They are being treated as a second class citizen in Mountain Lion. For the record I think Apple trackpads are the best in the market right now, but some people still likes using mouse.

iCloud

One of my most favourite iCloud features is Photo Stream. Last year after Lion was released, I complained about not being able to buy more storage for Photo Stream. A year later with the release of Mountain Lion, there is still no way to buy more storage for Photo Stream. This once again bewildered me. How can Apple be offering up to 50 GB more storage for my iCloud documents, but not Photo Stream? I think most Apple customers, including me, really likes being able to store photos in Photo Stream, because it appears everywhere. There have been so many occasions where I pull out my iPad and seeing pictures from my iPhone and my Canon camera magically appears in the Photo Stream. It is such a pleasant experience.

I do have a theory on why Apple is not allowing this the users to have bigger storage in Photo Stream. I think if they let us buy more storage in Photo Stream, people with DSLR cameras who’ve just imported pictures to iPhoto will suddenly lost a lot of space in their iOS devices. While Macs can hold many gigabytes of photos, many iOS devices can only hold 16GB of storage. Maybe this is why Apple isn’t allowing people to buy more Photo Stream storage up until now.

I’m not sure if Notification Centre counts as an iCloud feature, but it seems that they are trying to market it as such. Really great implementation. I’ve been a Growl user since Leopard and lots of other apps that I was using weren’t in Growl.2

Once again, a knock to the mouse users – there isn’t any mouse gesture shortcuts to get to Notification Centre. Again, this bewildered me. The Notification Centre icon is on the top right corner, where spotlight used to be, and yet there isn’t any gesture to trigger it from a Magic Mouse. I think this and the lack of a keyboard shortcut for Notification Centre makes it less discoverable and discourages people who don’t have a trackpad from using it.

Another gesture that Magic Mouse users still don’t get is a shortcut to Launchpad. This is more forgiveable as the F4 button on the new Apple keyboard is mapped to Launchpad, and the default dock from a fresh Mountain Lion install also contains a Launchpad icon.

Document Model

One of the boldest change that Apple have been trying to do since Lion is to introduce a new document model. Apple thinks that users shouldn’t need to understand how file systems work in order to use a Mac. In Mountain Lion, Apple made even more changes to the document model to make this happen. As an example, users will see an their iCloud files instead of an empty document when opening TextEdit. TextEdit will try to open the last closed files, but if there isn’t any then it will show you your iCloud files.

In just over a year, Apple has enabled people to use Macs without having to understand file systems at all. But what about those people who have been using file system? There are a lot of us. I’ve basically been using the same file system paradigm for my whole life. Is this going to hurt people who understand file systems? I don’t think it will be. Mountain Lion does not force you to leave the old paradigm, you can still do whatever you want to the file system like you always have done.

So if you don’t have to understand file systems, how are you supposed to share your file across other apps? Like iOS, Apple decided to put share buttons. Share buttons are everywhere in Mountain Lion. It’s in Finder, Quick Look, Safari, Preview, Contacts, and lots of other bundled apps. In this new file-system-less world, when you want to email a photo you would open the photo via Preview, click the share button, then click Email. This may sound very weird to people who have been using the old file systems paradigm for a long time, but let’s think about it for a moment. How many times have you got a document open that you want to email to someone, and you’d have to go back to Finder and find that document and then attach it to your email. Share buttons will let you email that document without going to Finder. For people who don’t understand file systems, this is a really great solution.

One of the biggest hole in this new paradigm is when a file can be opened with more than one app. For example, if you have a text file and you have more than one text editors. If those text editors uses iCloud document storage, they can’t share the same storage. If I saved a text file in TextEdit, I won’t be able to open it in other text editors unless I understand the file systems. Currently there isn’t a button that says “Open in TextMate” in TextEdit, there’s no way that a user can do this unless they understand the file systems. There’s no way they can do this unless they use Finder. Maybe Apple will come up with a clever way to do this in 10.9. This topic is discussed in great depth in Hypercritical episode 81, and I highly recommend that episode for readers who wants a depper discussion in this topic.

Performance

Just like how Snow Leopard felt after upgrading from Leopard, Mountain Lion also feels so much faster than Lion. So many of my colleagues and friends told me they experienced a great performance boost.

In addition to the general OS performance improvement, I also felt that Safari is very fast in Mountain Lion. I also really like the new loading indicator in the URL bar.

In Mountain Lion, pressing the fn key twice will bring up a Siri-like voice dictation popover. I know that my Asian accent is very funny and hard to understand, especially for computers. I found dictation to be very slow though. It could take more than 10 seconds for Apple’s server to finish parsing my sentence. I don’t know if it correlates to the length and complexity of the sentence, but I certainly could type faster with a keyboard. In iOS this works better because most people can’t type very fast on iOS devices. I have Dragon Dictate in my iPhone and it understand my english so good, it gets what I’m saying almost 100% of the time. Again, I have an Asian accent and I set it to English (Australian), but Dragon Dictate is very fast and accurate. I think Apple needs to do a lot of work to make this good so people will actually use it.

The other thing that was concerns me is iMessage. I tried to send messages to my brother’s Mac, while doing a FaceTime call with him, but it seems that he didn’t immidiately get my messages. I know there’s nothing wrong with mine or his interent connection, because we IM each other in Facebook and doing FaceTime without any lags. I’ve also heard a few people told me their iMessages can get minutes to be delivered. I suspect this, as with the dictation feature, is one of the limitation in Apple’s iCloud server. I hope that this will get better over time. I really like the idea of being able to message someone without worrying whether they’re on their computer or phone, or whether I’m on my computer or phone. But for now I will have to trust WhatsApp and Facebook more than iMessage.

Gatekeeper

Another interesting thing that I want to discuss is Gatekeeper. Lots of geeks throughout the internet were angry when Apple announced Gatekeeper. They said Apple is trying to stop users from installing third party apps that are not in the App Store. Of course this is not true. If you are techy enough to know Gatekeeper, you would have been able to find the setting to turn off Gatekeeper. But for the other people who don’t even know what Gatekeeper is, it’s much safer for them to keep in the default setting. Such a lot of computer mishaps are from third party software. If you don’t install any third party software in your computer, I bet it will still be working until the hardware gives up. It’s the third party software that can eat your RAM, put malicious files in places you don’t know, and do other stuff that you may not want.

The middle ground that Apple sets is pretty good. Out of the box your Mac will be able to run apps from the App Store and signed third party software. I think this is a perfect default setting. I kept it that way. Over the past few weeks I have seen a few dialog boxes that says this app is not signed by a certified Apple developer. I can get through this by right clicking on the app and press open. Apparently Apple think this shows my intention that I want to open this app even if the app is not from a certified Apple developer. If you’re installing a lot of unsigned apps though, then you’re probably better off turning Gatekeeper completely off.

For some people who runs a lot of third party apps, I can see a bit or reminisence of Windows Vista’s famous permission dialog. Those people should turn Gatekeeper off.

Nitpicks

There are some other small nitpicks that I think are worth mentioning. Even though Mountain Lion is currently very stable, I find a few things that are worth mentioning:

  • Some of the apps that’s bundled with Mountain Lion does not have full screen support. Example of this is Reminders, Contacts, and Dictionary. This makes me wonder where do they draw the line when providing full screen support to their apps. I can see that the Contacts app has a very customised borders, so it may not look good to add full screen support for Contacts; why does Messages got full screen support but not Reminders? I think it’s a strange omission.
  • All software updates are now from the Mac App store. I am in this weird group who bought iLife ’11 DVD when it came out. So in the Mac App store I don’t have license to iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand. What will happen when an update to those apps comes out? Do I get them from Mac App store? This is still a bit of a mystery for me.
  • In Mail you can see whether the person who sent you the email you’re reading is online in Messages. This is pretty neat.

Conclusion

So should you upgrade to Mountain Lion? If you’re from Lion, then the upgrade is definitely worth your $20. If you’re from Snow Leopard, you basically got a $30 discount by skipping Lion. I think it’s a worthy upgrade.

If you have any iOS devices, then Mountain Lion will fit into your workflow even more. If you use Apple’s iWork suite you will to be able to create and edit documents in iOS and Mac and keep them in sync with iCloud. Documents on the cloud was a big ommitment from Lion, and I think Mountain Lion fixed most of the holes that was left by Lion.

If you don’t have an iOS device or an iCloud account, I think you can still benefit a lot from Mountain Lion. I know a lot of people who hates Apple with passion, but they have Macs because Apple makes the best laptop and desktop. Even if you use Android and other devices in your life, Mountain Lion does not really force you to sign up and use iCloud to use the OS.


  1. Scroll thumb is the lozenge inside the scroll bar that indicates where you currently are in your page. 

  2. If you are a big Growl fan, you should try Mountain Growl. I haven’t tried it yet but I heard good things about it. 

Mountain Lion

Yesterday, just seven months after Mac OS X Lion was announced, Apple announced their next major OS update: OS X Mountain Lion 1. As John Gruber wrote, OS X is going to adpot iOS style one major update per year development schedule. I don’t think in the PC history, any companies has ever promised this rapid OS development schedule. I can’t help but think that this kind of development schedule will severly fragment OS X. As well as Lion sells, I’m sure that the majority of OS X users are still on Snow Leopard or below. That’s because people don’t upgrade their desktop OS as quick as they upgrade other things. Upgrading OS is quite a demanding task, needing to ensure everything that you use to work will work as before. I think one of the reasons why it will be possible for Apple to release one major update per year is because OS X probably shares a good portion of the code base with iOS now. This also means that in the future all the good stuff that are in iOS and sensible to be ported to OS X will be ported.

The message is very clear, Apple wants OS X to share features that iOS has. In fact, the value of owning both a Mac and an iOS device has now increased significantly with Mountain Lion. In this case the seamlessness of iCloud will really show when someone invested their tools in Apple ecosystem.

One of the Mountain Lion features is Gatekeeper, which basically restricts the user to install either apps from: App Store only, App Store and apps signed by Apple developer ID, or any apps. The deafult behaviour in Mountaion Lion is the second one, which as many people pointed out is basically the same default as Android. In my opinion, this is the best choice for now. If any of the readers remember about the MAC Defender trojan that happened sometime last year, the same trick wouldn’t work in Mountain Lion by default. It may be just small thing for readers, but I know that the MAC Defender story isn’t really blown out of proportion: there are people who don’t know how computer works and just click on dangerous things like this. Gatekeeper will stop all those people from doing stupid things.

One of the arguments against Gatekeeper from some people is that that one day Apple will only allow apps from the App Store. I disagree with this. Playing the straw man on Apple is not fair, because there is no such evidence that Apple will do this. Whatever thing that you were able to do in the previous versions of OS X, you will still be able to do it in Mountain Lion and there is no evidence that Apple is removing that ability. If you don’t feel this way, it’s because this feature is not for people like you. Gatekeeper is for the kind of people who got their Macs infected by MAC Defender last year, kind of people who don’t know how dangerous third party apps can be. For the rest of the people, they can just switch the setting to the previous setting if they want. But I do actually want to try this and see how well this works, because even as a developer, I sometimes don’t trust myself not installing malicious apps.

So why do Apple bring such a lot of iOS to OS X? It’s not only the features, but even the name of the apps and iOS UI elements are being ported into OS X. However the thing that I see in here is that Apple knows where to stop. They didn’t just port everything back to OS X, but they carefully pick the things that are just going to work great in OS X. One example is that Mountain Lion does not have swipe to unlock feature that iOS has2. Whereas it seems like Windows 8 is going to a completely different direction where they do want to bring all tablet features to their desktop OS and vice versa. I don’t know about Windows users, but I don’t like having a photo login in my desktop. Yes I know you can turn this off, but it shows that some things in iOS are just never going to make its way to OS X.

From the last three revisions of OS X we can clearly deduce that Apple is following Intel’s model of tick tock upgrade where in Apple’s case their tick is a major feature upgrades and the tock is refining the features delivered in the tick. Snow Leopard’s tock was refining the under the hood performance, whereas Mountain Lion’s tock was refining the iCloud integration (that I would argue was very poorly implemented in Lion). I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence but iPhone’s hardware cycle happens to follow this tick tock upgrade model as well. So whatever Apple calls OS X 10.9, we should be able to predict the big cat’s name for OS X 10.103.


  1. Note that they’ve dropped the Mac from OS X. 

  2. I will bet for Apple never ever putting swipe to unlock in OS X. 

  3. Not that there are many more cats names left for Apple to use. 

Lion Impressions

So I’ve decided to upgrade to Lion. A few things that I want to note that I haven’t read anywhere else. Of course for the ultimate review check out John Siracusa’s Lion review (19 pages). I actually read his review first before installing lion.

Three finger gestures are broken in the twitter app. I used to be able to swipe three fingers down and up to switch between timeline/mentions/DM/etc, but now I can’t do that anymore. This is because three finger gestures are now registered for Mission Control and App exposé. Btw, exposé has some bugs:

Mail is now really awesome, however conversation is still not as good as gmail conversation view. Gmail had this feature for almost 6 years now, and I don’t think any other competitor got it quite as right as gmail. Gmail sort the messages in a chronological order, whereas Mail now sorts is the other way around. This makes sense for Gmail since it collapses the old mails into just a line of header, but for Mail this is probably the most right behaviour they can get (if they don’t want to collapse the old mails). I also like Gmail’s text box at the end of the messages, when you click on it it’ll automatically create a reply message to the person you’re talking to (regardless who emailed last). I thought Mail can’t show sent messages, but I found out that I can display those by going to preferences, viewing, and tick the box “Include related messages”. Still, Gmail is way better.

Inverted scrolling direction got me confused for 15 minutes. I hesitated to change the preference, because I may want to give this a try. Turned out it’s actually not too bad. If you’re really annoyed by this, I say give it a few hours. I can’t say yet that the inverted scrolling is better than regular scrolling, but right now it’s not much different (If you’re not using a trackpad then don’t worry, switch it back).

Launchpad is good. Many people said it’s whimsical, but I actually use it. I had way too many apps in my dock, so I used TabLauncher in Snow Leopard to keep my dock clean. I have a shortcut to my application folder in my dock, I thought I could get rid of that, but I don’t think so yet. First of all launchpad does not preserve my folder structure in the application folder. Secondly launchpad actually remembers if I’ve opened an app from a folder, and it does not close that folder. It kind of annoys me, because what’s the chance that I’m going to open another app in the same folder? This is the same problem that Lukas Mathis presented.

As much as other people hates auto correction, I actually like it in my iPhone. In Lion auto correction is on by default, but there is one app where I write in such a way I don’t want it to be corrected. Yes, that’s in safari when I’m writing in Facebook. The crazy thing is it took me a while to figure out how to turn it off (it can be turned of system wide in system preferences, or per app), turns out I have to click to on of the text boxes in safari (try to pretend that you want to comment on someone’s status update in Facebook), then you can right click and go to spelling & grammar. I actually don’t hate it that much in Lion. While writing this I actually got corrected a few times. It’ll be nice if they could indicate which words has been auto corrected so it doesn’t look funny in the end.

Spotlight indexing was very slow for me. It showed 36 hours remaining, then 15 hours remaining, then 9 hours remaining, then it was stuck. I unplugged my external hard drive, restart my laptop, and boot back in. Spotlight says 30 minutes remaining and it actually finished within that time. My suggestion is not to connect  your external hard drive while spotlight is indexing, else it’ll try to index that hard drive as well. Do it after spotlight finished with your internal hard drive.

Performance-wise, I don’t feel the machine’s slower. I’m running Intel Core 2 Duo with 4GB of RAM, 2008 Macbook. It sure doesn’t feel like the ones in Apple store, but runs very well even while opening Eclipse and Safari. I’d say it’s about par with Snow Leopard. Conclusion is, you should probably upgrade. It’s so easy. Just remember to back up your hard drive first. Try to also check your hard drive’s health if you know how to do it.

By the way, if you’re a programmer of any kind, please please pretty please try to implement auto save in whatever programs you’re working on. It can be done for Windows programs and Linux programs too (Lion just gave some nicer API), I don’t think end users should worry about saving anymore. It’s 2011 and people has enough CPU and hard drive to do auto save.