Apple released their large overhaul to their Mac operating system with Mac OS X Snow Leopard in June of 2009. This update seemed fairly basic to the naked eye as there weren’t many end-user feature updates, but under the hood the OS took strides in performance, efficiency and memory consumption. It was essentially laying the groundwork for the future. While I think Mac OS X users were happy with this update, I can say from personal experience that there was certainly some anticipation for what was next.
Mac OS X Lion launched barely two months ago and I was quick to give this new operating system a try. Developers had been working with versions of the operating system for some time prior and were talking about some of the features that were being played with by the Apple team. It appeared that this would be that major update that we’d been waiting for, bringing along with it many new end-user features.
I’m the type of person that is always looking for ways to be more efficient with my work. This is essentially a never ending journey, but the quest always continues on nonetheless. I grabbed a copy of Lion soon after it was released, anxious to see how the new features I had read about could possibly improve my productivity and efficiency.
I’ve been using the operating system now for about three months and decided to make a conscious effort from the beginning to try to utilize the new features of Lion. There are some substantial changes and new features that I was anxious try to work into my workflow.
The introduction of Mission Control in OS X Lion was quite substantial. While the features of Mission Control have more or less been available in one way or another through multiple applications for a while, this re-thinking of the problem that utilities like Exposé and Spaces had been trying to solve has proven to be extremely useful for me.
While I did grow quite attached to Exposé, there were times when its usefulness was questionable. If my workspace got to the point of having many application windows open it was still very difficult to keep everything straight and I’d end up with, quite literally, a pile of windows in no particular order. You could argue that I should have been using Spaces to group my applications or job functions, but I just could never get myself used to Spaces. It always seemed more cumbersome than helpful to deal with multiple Spaces.
In a sense, Mission Control both combines the functionality of Exposé and Spaces yet also completely rethinks the problem those applications were trying to solve. Being able to easily see groups of application windows, intelligently grouped based on the application, helps greatly in staying organized making it much easier to find that one stray window you’re looking for.
Desktops would be the closest equivalent to Spaces and I would argue makes the concept much more usable. Adding a new Desktop is insanely simple and managing applications on multiple Desktops is very simple as well.
I’ve set a few applications that I use regularly to only open on certain Desktops. So for example, I have dedicated a Desktop to iTunes and other music applications. While I use these applications everyday, they can be a little distracting. Having those applications segmented off on their own has limited my wandering time in those apps greatly. A trackpad gesture (we’ll talk a bit more about this soon) allows me to quickly switch between Desktops should I need deal with my music.
I do a fair amount of writing and also some coding. Both of these functions typically require a little bit of browser viewing as well. When I’m working on website code I’ll have my code editor open on one Desktop and Safari in the next. It’s not as nice as having multiple monitors to work from by it does present that feeling, at least partially, making you more efficient while using just one display. On my 13” Macbook this is a killer feature and one I’ve become completely dependent upon.
When the glass trackpad was introduced ,along with it came the possibility for gesture functionality. While some gestures have been available in the past Lion, has expanded their function and I personally have made more of an effort with Lion to better utilize them.
First of all, these gestures can all be customized to your specific needs. That alone is a huge feature. I’ve actually become quite used to the default gestures and there are a few that feel second nature already.
With my adoption of using multiple Desktops, the ability to quickly switch between them could potentially be a deal breaking. By default a three finger swipe in either direction will allow Desktop flipping. I can’t tell you how much I use this gesture and in conjunction with using multiple Desktops, it has made my Macbook mobile work environment much more useful. A three finger up swipe will display Mission Control. I mostly use this for a quick re-organize of applications or to find a particular application window. It’s easy to move an application from one desktop to another if you feel the need to bring that window into your current workflow.
I’ll make a quick note on the natural scrolling, which by the way I refused to turn off and go “back to normal” as was suggested by some people. This is a major rethinking and one that after a little bit of use has become second nature to me as well. In fact, it seems strange to back to that “normal” direction.
Full Screen Mode
I’m a 13 inch Macbook user and I don’t feel as limited by the available screen real estate like I used to. A big part of this is utilizing multiple desktops as I just discussed but also the ability to use an application in full screen mode I’ve found quite nice.
I was a bit skeptical that this would provide me any benefit, but after working with some applications in full screen mode I have to say I completely love it. You wouldn’t think you would gain that much real estate, but the additional application space is noticeable.
The new features I’ve talked about have individually made me more efficient on my 13” Macbook. But the real and most substantial value comes when they are used in conjunction with each other. As I was thinking about this article that quickly became evident. I use these three features a lot and leaving one or there other out just wouldn’t yield the same results.
This is a perfect example of why I love Apple and have become so attached to what they produce. Mac OS X Lion is a substantial revision on an already wonderful operating system that was essentially picked apart to make better. Some of the changes seem subtle, but their effects when combined, can have a big impact on how you use your Mac.
With Lion, I’m able to accomplish tasks more quickly and with less effort. Apple products always have that feeling of being more of something you work with rather that work on. Lion has taken a big step towards becoming more of a human extension and less of a tool.