Lion Beefs

Well, it wouldn't be new OS season without some complaints, now would it? Yes, as always, I have some beefs.

The inaugural article on this blog was a piece called Tiger Beefs. Tiger was — and remains — my least favorite Mac OS release of all time. I really hated it and couldn't wait for the next version. Tiger was very much a transitional release. It contained a lot of new and largely unrefined features, and it also had a lot of forward-looking stuff going on under the hood that would later lead to great things. But it had a shitload of problems and not all that much to recommend it.

Lion, like Tiger, is very much a transitional release. It contains a wealth of new features, but many seem unfinished or poorly thought out. And there's a ton of new stuff going on in the guts of this new OS that will someday lead to great new things. But right now, today, my main complaint with Lion is that it's just slow. Slow and a little buggy. And, as with Tiger, after several weeks with this new OS, there isn't much about it that's truly compelling. There's no real "gotta have it" feature in Lion.

Bear in mind that my point of comparison is Snow Leopard. The spirit of Snow Leopard is the complete opposite of Lion. It's an OS with few new features that focuses on stability, consistency and performance. It's a refinement of a previous OS (even sharing a surname). And it just happens to be my favorite version of Mac OS X to date. Maybe — no, I'll go ahead and say definitely — my favorite OS of all time. Snow Leopard was, and continues to be, a superb operating system, with very little to fault it.

To give you an idea of how slow Lion is, earlier this week I needed to use some resources that only properly worked in Snow Leopard (for some reason, the upgrade to Lion broke my ability to use certain fonts in certain Director projects I still need access to), so I booted into my Snow Leopard partition, the one I cloned just before I upgraded to Lion. The one on the firewire drive. It felt as fast if not faster than Lion. That's right, Snow Leopard running off a firewire drive felt as fast if not faster than Lion running from the internal hard drive. I say "felt" because I didn't really run any scientifically accurate tests of performance. But generally speaking, when you boot off an OS that lives on a firewire hard drive, it's noticeably slow. My experience was the opposite; it was seemingly faster than the local boot drive. I've never seen that before.

On Lion I see latency everywhere, and I think this is part of why Lion feels so slow. Even at login, when I click the round icon to select my user, there is a lag of at least a second or two in which nothing happens. And let me just take a moment to say, this is something I'm really getting tired of. It just should never happen. Clicking on something should always produce some kind of immediate response, even if it's just something as simple as a highlight, because when nothing happens, I don't know that I've properly clicked something, so I may start re-clicking or clicking other places, assuming that I've done something wrong, when in fact the interface is just hung. It's really unacceptable, and I see it everywhere. It happens all the time on my iPhone, and now, in Lion, it happens all the time on my Mac. There's really no excuse for it. This sort of latency never occurred in Mac OS 9, I don't see it in Windows XP — if there's a lag in those systems, it means something's really wrong — but latency has sort of been a problem since Mac OS X came to life, albeit an increasing minor one, until now. Lion brings latency back with a vengeance.

I'm seriously thinking of reverting my Lion install at work to Snow Leopard. My home system fairs better, as I have 8GB of RAM —Lion seems quite RAM hungry as well — but at work I really need to get things done, and Lion is just slow. Slow and a little buggy.

And after going back to Snow Leopard for a day, I realize how much I miss it.

There's a lot to like about Lion, and I still like it better than I ever liked Tiger. I still really like the new Lion aesthetic, its focus on content and lightness. Going back, Snow Leopard's round Aqua jelly buttons and scrollbars already look kind of clumsy and silly. But Snow Leopard's performance, stability and consistency are really a joy. Apple was right to keep Snow Leopard around for so long. Maybe they should've kept it around a while longer still.

But just because they didn't, though, doesn't mean I can't go on using it. And by gum, I think that's what I'll do.