Lion's Hairpin Turn

I finished John Siracusa’s Lion review late last night, and as I’ve said before, it’s a tremendous achievement. The level of depth and insight is wonderfully impressive.

A few episodes ago on Hypercritical, Siracusa explained his desire to weave a narrative into his Mac OS X reviews, rather than provide a laundry list of technical changes from the previous version. The result is a better understanding of the big picture: Mac OS X’s history, its current state, and where it’s heading in the future.

In keeping with that mindset, the final paragraph of Siracusa’s review reads:

Over the past decade, better technology has simply reduced the number of things that we need to care about. Lion is better technology. It marks the point where Mac OS X releases stop being defined by what’s been added. From now on, Mac OS X should be judged by what’s been removed.

Apple has always had an affinity for simplicity and minimalist design, and Lion is the next evolution of those tenets. As Siracusa explains in his review, the emphasis of OS X has shifted from the addition of new features to the subtraction of those deemed obsolete in the computers of today and tomorrow. Tiger (10.4) introduced over 150 new features, and Leopard (10.5) boasted over 300. Then things changed: Snow Leopard (10.6) explicitly contained zero new features, instead offering many under-the-hood improvements. It’s as if the first six incarnations of OS X saw Apple speeding toward an optimal number of features, and, once reached, Snow Leopard finally saw it putting on the brakes.

With that deceleration comes the ability to change direction. Much has been said about how Lion challenges computing conventions that have existed for decades, and what we see with 10.7 is Apple moving its desktop OS even further into the realm of simplicity. The removal of scrollbars and introduction of Fullscreen apps both contribute to a decluttering of the interface. Features like Autosave, Resume, and Launchpad all seek to remove barriers from the average user’s experience.

For us nerds, however, these changes can be quite unnerving. Siracusa repeatedly mentions “geek panic!” in his review and on last week’s episode of Hypercritical, when he revealed many power users misinterpreted his review’s final paragraph as containing a negative tone. That is, “removal” is a bad thing, more akin to maliciously taking something away than simplifying or improving an experience.

I disagree with this reading, and I think Siracusa makes it very clear that these changes are, overall, for the better. As he explains, technology should eliminate, rather than create, things we need to worry about. Lion eliminates visual elements, like scrollbars, but it also eliminates the fear of not saving, the fear of not knowing where you installed something, and the fear of finding documents amidst what seems like hundreds of files. The realization of these fears can be catastrophic for a typical user. But in Lion, the features that made those users feel unconfident about their computing abilities are now gone, replaced by reassurances and safety nets.

So, as OS X turns a corner and heads off in a new direction, we have “lost” some features of old, but we have gained a simpler, more user-friendly experience. And while it may take time for us nerds to adjust, Lion also opens up a host of new possibilities, and for the majority of its users, a world with far less fear.

Much Ado About Scrolling

Arguably, no other feature has caused more of an uproar than OS X Lion’s new “natural” — that is, inverted — scrolling. On a trackpad, for example, you now swipe up to move the page down, and down to move the page up. Additionally, in keeping with last October’s “Back to the Mac” event, Apple has brought its fading scrollbars to the desktop: gone are the scroll arrows and alleys, and the thumb now only appears when in use.

Ever since the first developer preview of Lion, many people, even the most Mac-savvy among them, have been disturbed by these changes. I know several of my Mac-owning friends will soon be experiencing a similar reaction, so to them and all of the afflicted, I offer two reassurances:

  1. Yes. You can turn these features off. But!
  2. Give it a week first. If you’re still unhappy, then you can turn them off.

As John Gruber and Dan Benjamin discussed at length on last week’s episode of The Talk Show, Apple seeks to bring a more natural feel to the way we interact with content on our machines. As Gruber put it, Apple has “removed a slight layer of abstraction” by doing away with scrollbars.

According to the naysayers, this form of scrolling is a perfect fit for iOS, but doesn’t make sense when translated to the desktop. On the iPhone and iPad, screen real estate is limited, so the presence of a permanent scrollbar would have been both displeasing to the eye and a waste of space. Further, the touch interface makes the inverted scrolling feel natural because your finger is making direct contact with the content. Flicking the page up to go down feels good, as does going in the opposite direction.

As for the fading, the arguments against it are well-founded. An always-present thumb shows your position on the page, and its size allows you to know approximately how many more screens of content you have left before you reach the bottom; i.e. a thumb that’s a third the height of your window lets you know you’re looking at a third of the total content on that page. Subsequently, you know you have about two more screens worth of content to go.

For my part, it only took a couple of days before I got used to the new scrolling, and I’ve always loved the fading scrollbars. Everything looks much cleaner. To help ease the transition, imagine you’re grabbing and moving the content itself rather than a scroll thumb. Apple clearly believes we’ll be better off accepting the changes, since the inverted scrolling is described as “natural” in System Preferences, implying that the old way is unnatural. Again, I recommend sticking with it for a week or two, but I think you’ll start to prefer it much sooner than that.

For a more impressive analysis of Lion’s scrollbars, check out John Siracusa’s colossal Lion review over on Ars Technica. It’s an incredible piece of work.

Adding Signatures in Preview with Lion

One of the myriad new features in OS X Lion is the ability to digitally add a signature to a .pdf document using the Preview app.

Preview Signature

The process is very straightforward:

  1. Open the .pdf in Preview.
  2. Click the Annotate button in the toolbar.
  3. Pull down the Signature drop-down menu.
  4. You can then create a signature with your Mac’s built-in iSight camera, or add a signature you’ve used before via the “Manage Signatures…” option.
  5. If you’re creating a new signature, simply hold up a piece of paper with your signature on it so that your autograph is on the blue line. Click Accept when it looks good in the preview window.
  6. Finally, just click where you want the signature to appear. You can then move and resize it however you want.

For me, the hardest part was writing down a good version of my signature. Unfortunately, since Preview doesn’t improve one’s legibility, this took several hours. But, if you’ve already got your signature down, you’ll have your .pdf signed in a minute or two.

Farewell, hellish fax machine.