The Mac is the computer that doesn’t get in my way. I have shit to do, and the Mac lets me do it. It gets bonus points for letting me do it in style.
I’ve been a Mac user for more than 20 years, and despite the headline of this column, that’s very unlikely to change. But since I’ve upgraded to Lion, I’ve heard mutterings out there. A couple weeks ago I was listening to Build and Analyze, wherein Marco discussed his frustrations with Lion. It made me remember all of mine, and so I started a list.
This list is not exhaustive. These are the issues that actively bug me every single day. There are other issues that bite only occasionally — after all, an operating system is a big thing. Without further ado, I present my biggest Lion pet peeves.
The built-in email client, Mail.app, is one of Lion’s top features. It includes a new threaded view, has a delightful full-screen mode, and supposedly operates better with Gmail accounts. I’m an all-in Google Apps user, with four email accounts powered by the service. From an interface and interaction perspective, Mail is totally brimming with win.
In practice, I became inordinately frustrated with Mail’s performance. It’s just one problem: while composing a message, almost certainly during an auto-save cycle, the app would hang for a few seconds, then crash. Depending on how madly I’d been typing, I might lose anywhere from a sentence to a paragraph, which I could recover from the Drafts folder on restart. It’s absolutely maddening to deal with, especially as I am a high-volume emailer, and became enraged as a crash would ruin my flow.
Fortunately, Sparrow is an excellent alternative that has also received some welcome enhancements in recent months. It works brilliantly with Gmail, and suffers none of the instability.
But that is a big black mark against Lion.
I have a 2010 MacBook Air. When I first got it, I marvelled at the battery life: a good seven hours under normal conditions. For all practical use, that kind of battery life means I don’t have to pack a charger unless I’m going away for a trip; any intra-day foray is fine on battery alone. That means I can travel faster and lighter, and that was one of the Air’s selling points to me (and no doubt, to many others).
That all changed when I upgraded to Lion. I would guess my average battery life is down to about four hours now. I have no idea why, but I’ve heard it from too many other Lion users to believe it’s just me. Apple sure as hell didn’t advertise a 40% decline in battery life when Lion debuted! I imagined that Apple would have received enough reports of this problem to issue a fix, but here we are, two point releases into Lion, and nothing’s changed.
Of all the problems I’m having with Lion, this is the one that has me seriously considering a downgrade to Snow Leopard.
Wifi wake from sleep problem
Dan Benjamin has spent considerable air time talking about this issue. In a nut: open the lid of your MacBook, and there’s no wireless connection. Under normal, pre-Lion circumstances, the network is re-connected before you have a chance to start using the computer. And on many occasions, this is still the case. But very often, waking from sleep leaves you with no network connection. You then need to go to the Airport menu, sometimes wait for your router to reappear (I’m using an Airport Extreme base station), then select it again.
This is the kind of stuff that shouldn’t be happening in 2011.
Spaces and App Switching
I was never a fan of Spaces in Snow Leopard; the behaviour was strange and unpredictable. The new Mission Control and related Spaces behaviour makes a lot more sense; combined with full screen applications, and you’ve got yourself a terrific solution for working with a lot of open documents and applications. In fact, the new Mission Control and full screen mode is the biggest feature keeping me on Lion right now. With my built-in trackpad or my Magic Trackpad (when using my Air docked with a Cinema Display), I’m a huge fan of gestures, and I’m not eager to walk away from that.
But here’s the problem: say I’m working in Coda on Space 2, and I Command-Tab to switch to Safari, running on Space 1. Very often, the screen will move to Space 1, but instead of showing Safari, the window will appear beneath that of another running app. Safari is the active application, and I sometimes will whack Command-R to refresh the window. But I can’t see the view because TextMate is sitting on top of it.
A Command-~ will bring the window forward, but it’s a clear and nasty bug. Again, Apple’s had two point releases to fix something like this.
Address Book and iCal
I’m not going to go into depth on these two. As Apple’s interfaces have tended towards open skeuomorphism, I’ve been less offended than most. But they seem to belong better to iOS devices; on the Mac they seem tawdry and inappropriate. Address Book, formerly a much-loved and -used application on my Mac, is now a destination I try to avoid. iCal, thank Christ, has been 100 percent replaced by Fantastical. Both of these apps are abominations that look worse than their predecessors and provide poorer access to their features.
Like I said at the outset, I’m not going away. Despite my complaints, the Mac is still light years ahead of Windows 7 in terms of usability, and my brain is too old and wired to fit the way things work here.
But I think something has become clear. While Apple hasn’t abandoned the Mac, I fear they haven’t put their best people on it, either. The kinds of bugs that I’m seeing here are wide-ranging in their impact, consistent in their appearance, and persistent given how long Lion has been with us. I’d love to see these issues fixed, and I remain hopeful that they will.
But there’s nothing like a little bitching to make me feel better about it.