Upgrading to Lion

Upgrading to Lion

by Richard White


Are you working on an Apple machine that’s running Snow Leopard? That’s OS X version 10.6—click on the Apple in the upper left corner of the screen and select “About this Mac…” to see what version of the operating system you’re currently using. If you’re currently using OS X 10.6, you have the option of upgrading to OS X 10.7, code named “Lion.”

How you go about upgrading to Lion is relatively easy to do. From you Dock or the Applications folder, launch the “App Store.app” and do a search for “OS X Lion.” Downloading the app will cost you thiry bucks—a bargain for updating this particular operating system—and following the crystal clear instructions will take a couple of hours, depending on how fast your download connection is.

Should you upgrade your system? Yes, of course… at some point. You’ll absolutely want to upgrade to the most current version of your operating system at some point, for lots of different reasons. A new OS is typically safer, more secure, faster, and in some cases required to run recent software. For most people, though, I’d recommend that you update your machine later rather than sooner.

There are three reasons why you don’t necessarily want to jump into early-adopter “update now” mode.

1. If you’re running a “production machine” which has software installed on it that won’t be able to run under Lion, you obviously shouldn’t upgrade. A silly example: I have a friend who still uses the AppleWorks word processing program that Apple stopped distributing over ten years ago. AppleWorks won’t run under Lion, so my friend is going to need to convert AppleWorks files to a different format before upgrading, or resign himself to working with an obsolete program for the rest of his life.

2. If you’re running a machine that can’t upgrade to Lion. In addition to running Snow Leopard, you need a computer that has these minimum hardware requirements. If your machine doesn’t meet those requirements, you can just chill with your old machine running Snow Leopard until you’re ready to buy some new hardware.

3. It’s often a good idea to just wait a bit until the “first release” kinks get worked out. Each new verson of an operating system—10.7.0 in this case—is typically a first draft, and despite efforts to test the system under a lot of different conditions, there is always the potential for unexpected surprises, and the release of Lion is no exception. If you’re not willing to put up with some of the inconveniences that occasionally accompany early adoption, you should probably wait for another month or two until 10.7.1 is released. That will potentially give you a much more stable experience.

There. Have I convinced you not to upgrade? Good for you. You can stop reading.

Still here? Okay, if you insist on going through with the upgrade process, here are some tips for you.

1. Do a full backup of your system.
If you don’t use Time Machine, or SuperDuper!, or Carbon Copy Cloner, then you’ve got bigger problems than installing a new operating system. Do a full backup, and come back when you’re done.

2. Set aside a couple of hours for the download/installation process.
There shouldn’t be any problems—the installation process has been extremely well tested—so just follow the instructions and you should be up and running again in a couple of hours.

3. Bask in the wonders of the new system.
You may have heard about some of these. Full-screen mode for interruption-free work. Automatic document and window saves. Automatic version control. New user interfaces and styling for Apple-branded apps like Mail.app and iCal.app. New support for multiple workspaces (“Mission Control”). Apple’s attention to detail in the user experience, as always, shines in this new release.

4. Configure your new system.
Lion works a little differently from Snow Leopard, obviously. Other changes, in addition to those listed above: Two-finger swipes on a trackpad work the opposite of how they used to. Lion tries to auto-correct practically everything one types, it seems. There are some new apps in the Dock, including LaunchPad and FaceTime. If you have any experience with an iPhone or an iPad, some of the changes in Lion are designed to bring your experience on the computer closer to what you do on a touch screen.

Of course, not everyone always appreciates the changes brought about by a new operating system. From tweaks to the user interface to new controls and key combinations, you may find that some behaviors that you really like have changed under Lion. Fortunately, many of those changes can be reconfigured to match your needs.

Here are some of the modifications I made to my own machine after upgrading to Lion, along with a brief description of why I made those changes.

  • Remove LaunchPad, App Store, and FaceTime from the Dock
    I tend to use the Dock only for apps that I very frequently use, and these are just cluttering it up.
  • Select Apple Menu > System Preferences > General > Show scroll bars: Always (instead of Automatically based on input device)
    In an attempt to clean up the screen, Apple removed scrollbars from Windows, apparently not realizing how important scrollbars are for identifying whether or not a window contains additional information, and how much information there is.
  • Select Apple Menu > System Preferences > Trackpad > Scroll & Zoom: uncheck “Scroll direction: natural”
    The default setting on Apple machines now is for a trackpad to mimic the behavior of a touchpad, and this doesn’t work for me. On my iPhone, while I’m perfectly comfortable swiping a document UP to look further down that document, that’s because that’s how I would actually interact with a real piece of paper under my finger. For Macs and PCs, for the last 25 years, that’s not how mouses and trackpads have worked, and I continue to use PCs with trackpads that don’t follow Apple’s new convention. They knew this was going to be controversial when they introduced it, and that’s why they wisely provided the option to change this behavior via that checkbox. I’ve unchecked it!
  • In Mail, select Mail > Preferences > Viewing: check “Use Classic Layout
    Some people are really happy about Apple’s new 3-vertical-pane layout. I prefer the old one, thank you.

    If you ARE going to use the 3-vertical panes, consider changing this preference: Mail > Preferences > Viewing: List Preview: “1 Line”. This will allow you to see more of your messages at one time.

  • Select Apple > System Preferences > Language & Text > Text: uncheck “Correct Spelling automatically”
    Damn you, Autocorrect! I love spell-checking when writing a formal document or pounding with my big thumbs on the iPhone’s tiny screen-based keyboard. In most other circumstances, my computer trying to second-guess me is just annoying, and actually gets in the way of what I’m trying to do. Try leaving Autocorrect on for a day or 3 and see what you prefer.
  • In Terminal, type chflags nohidden ~/Library
    Apple has chosen to hide the user’s Library folder to keep the average Joe from digging around in there and messing it up. It’s true that most people shouldn’t be dinking around in there, but I do from time to time, and it’s nice to be able to navigate to that folder directly.
  • Select Apple > System Preferences > Time Machine > Uncheck “Lock documents 2 weeks after last edit”< br />
    In another move designed to protect users from themselves, Apple think that if you haven’t worked on a document in a couple of weeks, you probably don’t really need to edit it any more, at least not without typing in your password to verify that you really do want to edit that document. I work on old files all the time, and don’t need Apple holding my hand during that process.
  • In Terminal, type defaults write com.apple.Mail DisableReplyAnimations -bool YES
    This turns off annoying Mail-related animations. To change it back: defaults write com.apple.Mail DisableReplyAnimations -bool NO
  • In Terminal, type defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSAutomaticWindowAnimationsEnabled -bool NO
    This turns off a subtle but potentially annoying zooming window effect that affects how new windows appear on the screen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.