Automation and Feedback

One of my overarching problems with Lion, I'm slowly realizing, is that it's trying to do too much for me. Don't get me wrong, I think this is, in many ways, a good direction. I've long wondered why I had to save every document revision by hand. Isn't this a job a computer would be way better at than a human?


But the problem with the computer doing too much for me is really an implementation problem, and in the end it boils down to one main issue: communication. I don't mind the computer doing things for me, but I need to know about it.

Case in point: automatic spelling correction. Apple has rolled iOS's auto-spell correct into Lion, and now I find myself making all the same sorts of word choice errors in my documents that I make in my text messages. Here's the thing, though. In the past, when I'd make a spelling error, TextEdit would put a big red squiggle under my misspelled word. Later, when revising something, I'd easily spot the mistake and correct it by hand.

Now, with automatic spell-correct, TextEdit sees my misspelled word and corrects it, so there is no red squiggle. And with no red squiggle there's nothing to tell me, upon revision, that there might be mistakes in my document — mistakes which take the form of incorrect words rather than misspellings, but mistakes nonetheless — mistakes made by the computer.

While I generally like auto spell-correct, I think it would be much improved with some sort of notification system. Perhaps a subtle highlight, or a blue squiggle, under every word that was corrected by the system. That way, when you go to revise your document, you can see where the computer has intervened and perhaps made an unfortunate word choice.

Extend that idea to Versions and I think I'd have a lot less to complain about with the versioning system as well.

Overall, I think there are some good ideas here in Lion. But there's definitely room for improvement.

So Bucking Fuggy

If there's one thing that drives me crazy about Lion, it's the bugginess of the Finder. I'd mentioned the problem where Spaces clears the Desktop of icons in my initial review. But I've since found additional problems.

For years now I've kept my Desktop organized by file type. I like this because it groups all my files in a way that I find logical and easy to visually parse. One glance at the Desktop and I can find all the PDFs, for instance, and these will be ordered alphabetically. It's a personal preference, and it's worked well for me for years. But it's broken in Lion.

In Lion, sometimes items of the same type group together, but sometimes they don't. The other day, for instance, I downloaded four PNGs to my Desktop. Three of them were grouped together, but one was just put somewhere random. Restarting the Finder caused all the items to group properly. This little trick was repeatable on both my system and on other Lion systems in my facility.

Moreover, eventually the items will group properly, and I'll see, out of the corner of my eye, my Desktop suddenly rearrange itself for no apparent reason.

But here's the thing: without consistency, the feature that allows you to arrange your Desktop by file type is essentially useless. If I can't rely on it to present me with accurate information all the time, then there's no real point in using it anymore.

So I've switched to manually arranging items on my Desktop. That's right, I've now abandoned the method of Desktop organization I've used for years because Lion has broken it. But here's the kicker: manual organization doesn't always work either. Even manually arranged items get disordered from time to time after, say, a logout.

Another thing that happens — less annoying, for sure, but indicative of the sad state of the Lion Finder — is that when I log in there is often one item on the Desktop that's missing an icon. Again, restarting the Finder fixes the issue. But still...

And then there's this:

From an item on my Desktop. Jesus.

At this point, for me, the Desktop is essentially completely broken; it's nearly unusable. I'm not sure how the folks in Cupertino even use this OS without driving themselves up a wall. And I don't know how they can allow these basic and obvious bugs to persist.

The sad state of Lion's Finder really shows Apple's level of commitment to the desktop version of their once great OS. It's just tiresome to have to be wrestling, after ten years, with the most basic piece of Mac OS software: The Finder. But that's where we are today.

Versions Part 2: Unsaved Files

Here's a Versions mistake I've made numerous times at this point.

  1. I open a document.
  2. I make some temporary or test changes — changes I don't intend do actually keep.
  3. Once I've seen what I need to see, I quit the application.

In the past I'd have been asked if I wanted to save the changes to the document. I would say no, because these were only temporary changes. But now these changes are saved to the document, and I've likely forgotten that I've made those changes. The next time I open the document I'm shocked to see that it looks completely wrong.

Yes, it's true, the upside is that I need merely look through the previous versions of the document in order to find and revert to the correct one. But I still find this problematic, and there are two reasons why.

First of all, under Versions there is no good way to make temporary changes to a document. This is something I do way more than I ever realized. It's not so much a feature of the old document saving paradigm as a side-effect of it, nevertheless it's extremely useful. And it breaks in potentially jarring and disconcerting ways under Versions. If you're used to making temporary changes to documents, then simply reverting by not saving the document, you may be in for a surprise one day. Let's just hope you remember to check your versions.

Secondly, the way this all works is simply too quiet. I've just opened a document, made changes to that document, and closed the document. There's nothing now to confirm that these changes have been made, and so they are committed to this new version quietly and without warning. Attempting to edit a locked document, on the other hand, is completely the opposite experience, with warnings and multiple dialogs replete with confusing text. It's a strange juxtaposition. But frankly, if I just made a bunch of unsaved changes to a document, a little confirmation dialog at quit time might be nice.

Look, I get that this is a new paradigm, and behaviors need to be adjusted to some extent. But the way Versions works isn't perfect, nor is it set in stone. It can and should be better.

It Should Be Noted

Here are a bunch of little things I've noticed, worthy of sharing but not big enough for their own post.

A Lion Correction

I had originally reported that one of my favorite new Lion features was that Quicklook stayed active even when switching away from the Finder to another app. This apparently only happens on my 30" monitor at work, and I don't believe it is the intended behavior. Kinda sad when a bug is preferred over proper operation. Go Lion!

Lion 10.7.2 Update

10.7.2 fixes a few things that were bothering me.

For one, the bug where Desktop icons disappear when you partially swipe to another Space, stop swiping, and stay in your current Space, has been fixed. Do this now and you'll even see the Finder redraw the Desktop icons.

Also, when navigating sorted columns using arrow keys, the headers now don't get selected.

Finally, performance and memory use seem to be a bit better in 10.7.2. Specifically, the green slice of the memory pie in Activity Monitor is consistently larger than in previous iterations of the OS.

iOS 5 On iPhone 3GS

If you're wondering why Apple's new Reminders app doesn't give you the option to geofence your reminder — i.e., you can't set a location — it's because that particular feature is for users of iPhone 4 and up. Now you can stop twiddling your GPS settings and get some sleep.

iOS 5 Little Thangs

A few other things I stumbled upon while playing with iOS 5.

In the Camera app, swiping right now takes you to your camera roll. Also, you can now set macros, so typing "omg" will actually write out "Oh my gawd!"

Also, custom ringtones! Huzzah!


Reader Matt points out that Quicklook does, in fact, stay active when viewing apps other than the Finder on his system. So I started investigating, and it seems that the feature works for other users on my computer; there is a problem specific to my account which is breaking it for me for some reason. I'm presently looking into a fix. For now, suffice to say, this is a real feature in Lion and, for most folks anyway, should work just fine.

Thanks, Matt!


Got it! Trashed my Finder prefs. Now I got the Quicklook all the time!