Thursday, September 8, 2011

Apple's Big Lion that Won't

I decided to spend some time this morning following up on different sources of discontent with OS X Lion.  It has been almost a month since I used this space to vent a primal scream about what I took to be a major Apple move towards user-hostile systems, almost as if they wanted to demonstrate that they could do this sort of thing at the same level that Microsoft can.  The best source I found was a site called The Mac Observer, which includes a feature called Ted Landau’s User Friendly View.

By way of background, I have to say that I first cultivated an appreciation for user-friendly interfaces back when I was one of those early adopters of LISP machines.  Over the course of two jobs, I built up a strong base of user experience with both the Interlisp environment for the Xerox models and the MIT Lisp Machine environment.  As a result of my experiences, I concluded that the Xerox folks had developed a first-rate environment for both people who wanted to develop new software and people who would then want to use it.  The MIT environment, on the other hand, seemed to have been designed for users with passionate nostalgia for the old Colossal Cave Adventure game.  My general assessment of Lion is that it represented a design philosophy shift in Apple from the Xerox legacy to the MIT legacy.

However, Landau has another opinion.  I think it is viable enough to reproduce:

As I said, I’ve covered the overarching story here in prior columns. With Lion, Apple is pushing the Mac in a new direction, one that I have called iOS-ification. Some, mostly new and less-skilled Mac users (perhaps especially ones weaned on the iPad), may be content with Apple’s approach regarding Lion. The attitudes of the rest typically range from reluctant acceptance to minor irritation to utter frustration.

This is at the beginning of the “Bottom Line” section of a post entitled “Discontent with Lion’s ‘My Way or the Highway Approach.’  The point seems to be that, since Apple is making so much money off of iOS users, they have decided that their habits should take precedence over those of us who work better at a deck and do not obsess about our work when we are “mobile.”  Put another way, those of us in that latter category are such an old-fashioned sector of Apple’s customer base that they can take a public-be-damned stance toward us.

In terms of my own usage, I would say that I have migrated from utter frustration to the space between minor irritation and reluctant acceptance.  At least Landau has given me some ideas about the major source of that minor irritation.  I see a lot more of the spinning rainbow that I used to before upgrading to Lion.  Furthermore, every time I see it, I wonder if whatever my active work area happens to be, it is about to crash.  Firefox seems to be the most vulnerable.

After reading Landau’s post, I can now conjecture that the spinning rainbow is probably an indicator of Auto Save at work.  Furthermore, it would appear that Auto Save is trying to work on more than documents.  It apparently wants to save my entire Firefox state;  and, since I make generous use of Tabs, that can burn a lot of cycles.  One source of this conjecture is the Activity Monitor, which I now keep open on my desktop to consult whenever I smell a rat in the Lion machinery.  There is definitely a correlation between the spinning rainbow and Firefox activity.  Sometimes this may be related to something I am trying to do with Firefox, like initiate a print, but not always.  I also have observed “(not responding)” suffixes in the Activity Monitor for both Firefox and Word.  Word, of course, has its own Auto Save;  so I wonder whether there is some kind of “software collision” involved Word’s Auto Save and Lion trying to do Auto Save on both Firefox and Word.

I realize that all of this probably sounds very screwy, but I think Apple has now forfeited the right to sanity that I used to attribute to them!

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