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MacBook Air: Stumbling into Mac OS X Lion
Lion brings significant changes that, though highly beneficial in many cases, also cause problems for a variety of applications. As usual, the first thing I did when I received the new model was to fire it up and use Apple's Migration Assistant to move all my data, settings, and applications from my old Air. This process took about two-and-a-half hours over 100Mbps Ethernet before finishing successfully, but 140GB of data and detritus takes time. At the end, the new Air rebooted and I was able to start working immediately without reinstalling anything apart from Microsoft Office (more on that below). Migration Assistant really is crazy cool, but Apple users are used to it somehow.
What wasn't so successful were a handful of applications that are now orphaned due to the fact that Lion jettisons Rosetta, software that allowed previous versions of OS X to run programs compiled for PowerPC processors on Intel Macs. Among the PowerPC apps sent to purgatory was Intuit QuickBooks, which simply will not function under Lion. As it stands, I'll either have to keep my old Air around to construct invoices and handle business finances or move to a completely different tool. I have yet to decide on that count, but it's a bummer either way.
Also, I'm writing this review on the new Air -- in TextEdit. While Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac was successfully transferred over from my old Air, it refuses to accept a valid license key and claims it needs to be reinstalled to function properly. There are many tales of Office 2011 having bizarre problems with Lion, and this can be added to the list.
It should come as no shock that a significant OS upgrade like Mac OS X 10.7 Lion will come with some hiccups, and those will generally be found with third-party applications that have been developed outside of Apple's Xcode framework. Applications that have been developed "properly" as per Apple will have a much easier time making the Snow Leopard-to-Lion migration. Software vendors that have been borrowing heavily from their ancient PowerPC roots (such as Intuit with QuickBooks) face significant hurdles in moving up to Lion's stricter standards.
In the meantime, note that upgrading to Lion may cause important applications to become unusable. This was nearly a showstopper for me when dealing with an IT outage that required a Raritan remote KVM application that won't run on Lion due to the lack of Rosetta. Luckily, my previous Air was with me, and going back to Snow Leopard saved the day.
Lion also brings myriad changes throughout core OS X applications, such as Apple Mail. The layout is vastly different, opting for a columnar view across rather than the top-and-bottom split screen of old. I've never liked that view, but it can be changed to Classic View easily enough. Other UI changes abound, such as the new LaunchPad, which is easily accessed with the F4 key. Overall, I like LaunchPad, but it'll take some getting used to.
One thing I'm leaning toward changing from the Lion default is the trackpad scroll direction. When I'm using an iPad, the scroll method seems natural, as the content tracks finger motion (you're moving the content, not the scrollbars). It's the same in Lion, but on a laptop trackpad, my natural reflex is the opposite, and I wind up scrolling in the wrong direction. If the Air were my only computer this might be OK, but as I use trackpads on multiple computers running multiple operating systems that all work the opposite way, it's proving to be a difficult transition.
Otherwise, the new trackpad gestures to invoke Launchpad, Mission Control, and application switching seem natural and easy to get used to. One caveat is the removal of the Dashboard button and the Dashboard now functioning as its own virtual desktop rather than an overlay. Many times I've used a widget on the Dashboard to work with data on the desktop, such as for a quick trip to the calculator to run some numbers in an email. Unfortunately, that's no longer possible.