Max OS X LionI waited (impatiently) for Mac OS X Lion to show up in the Mac App Store ten days ago. When it finally appeared, I immediately purchased it and began the huge 3.7 gigabyte download. Fortunately my speedy Verizon FiOS broadband connection finished the download in a painless 35 minutes.

My upgrade from Snow Leopard was mostly painless. Here are my top 10 installation tips and first impressions:

1. Backup First. I highly recommend you do a complete backup of your Mac’s hard drive before starting the upgrade to Lion. (You’re doing that every day anyway, right?)  I did my normal daily “smart update” the evening before so I was ready to go first thing in the morning. (My daily backup routine)

2. Make a Reinstall USB Drive. I purchased a new USB drive (SanDisk Cruzer 16GB) to keep the huge OS X Lion installer file on hand so that I wouldn’t have to download repeatedly for each Mac I own. This is an optional step but it’s big time saver if you need to upgrade more than one computer. DIY: How to make a Mac OS X Lion bootable USB Key.

3. Be Patient. After downloading was complete, my actual Lion upgrade took about 45 minutes. But to really take advantage of all the new features, I had to wait a bit more. You see, Spotlight needs to recreate its entire index. That took over four hours on my machine.

While Spotlight was doing its reindexing, I opened up the new version of Apple Mail. Guess what. I waiting again — this time for Mail to reindex all my thousands of email messages.

So my first advice to people upgrading to Lion: try to wait until all indexing is finished, otherwise your thrashing hard drive will probably degrade affect your Mac’s performance. Try to be patient!

4. Window Scrolling. After 25 years of moving vertical scroll bars using a mouse — Apple has changed to bizzaro (they call it “natural”) scrolling. Why? To be consistent with iPhone/iPad scrolling. On my iPhone I touch the “page” and scroll by sliding my fingertip up or down, simulating pushing the page up and down. Apple (apparently) thinks a mouse should work the same way.

I did try to retrain myself to Apple’s new way, but that only lasted about two hours. I couldn’t take it any more! I guess if I only used a single Mac (mine), and never shared anyone else’s Mac or Windows machine, I might make the effort to change my scrolling ways. But that’s not my world, and probably not yours either. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to revert back in the System Preferences > Trackpad and Mouse settings:

Track pad natural scrolling

Mouse scrolling

One more thing about Lion’s scrolling: window scroll bars only appear when you’re actually scrolling, not all the time. They’re also thinner and more subtle in appearance. I think this a positive user interface (UI) change.

5. Java Runtime. Lion does not come with Java Runtime preinstalled. I installed it right away, since it’s needed for many of my Adobe CS applications. Here’s where to download it from Apple’s support site: Java for OS X Lion.

6. Window Resizing. Being able to resize a window by grabbing any window edge is a nice feature. Of course it’s been in Microsoft Windows forever. But here are two handy tips: Hold down the Shift key while resizing and the window will maintain its current aspect ratio; hold down the Option key while dragging a side and the opposite size will change simultaneously.

7. Finder. There are some subtle changes to the Finder, including de-emphasizing the left-hand sidebar icons and names. But Apple also made these sidebar items bigger — too big, I thought. It took some digging, but I finally found where to change the sidebar icon size: System Preferences > General.

Sidebar icon size

Also, they’ve finally added the ability to move (not just copy) a file in the Finder using something similar to Cut and Paste. Just select one or more Finder items, Cmd-C, navigate to your destination, press Cmd-Opt-V. You’ve just moved a file.

8. Apple Mail. In the past I’ve used Apple Mail, Postbox and Outlook 2011 as email clients, alternating as their respective features improved. They all worked well, but the Lion version of Apple Mail is now my favorite. It has a great way of showing conversations — the best one I’ve seen anywhere. I also like the option to view people’s faces (pulled from Address Book). Very nice.

Apple Mail Lion

9. Address Book. Apple changed its appearance to resemble a real (paper?) address book. This is okay, too.

Address Book

10. iCal. I had high hopes for Apple’s calendar application. But I was sorely disappointed! They’ve tried to make it look like some kind of a real desktop calendar. Instead, it looks like fake leather (pleather?) along the top, with slightly torn paper. I don’t see the logic in imitating a desktop calendar. Do people still use these? At least they added a year view. My bottom line: I’ll stick with BusyCal for now!

Lion iCal


My Bottom Line: I’m very satisfied with Mac OS X Lion. It’s a solid upgrade and certainly well worth $30. My recommendation is to go ahead and upgrade.