Writing about technology for a living, you tend to develop a penchant for vaunting the Next Best Thing. It's sort of in the job description, not verbatim, but holistically: Writing about technology is all about writing about new technology. And talking about how cool it is.
Which is why my first impulse with the latest version of OS X has been to applaud it. Surely by updating OSX Apple has made it better? Were this Snow Leopard, I'd say yes, but with Lion the answer may depend on how long you've been using OS X.
For Apple, Lion is apparently all about creating a convergence between OS X and iOS, making the former seem more and more like the latter. Ostensibly, this is done so that the novice user can approach OS X with the same neophytic finesse that they do with the iPad and iPhone. I have no qualms with this approach - at least on a basic level. But the more I look at Lion, the more it seems as if Apple and I have hit a philosophical impasse.
Consider, for example, Lion's use of "natural" scrolling, wherein scrolling up on the touchpad makes pages move upwards (and vice versa). If that sounds familiar, it's because thats exactly how scrolling works on the iPad and iPhone. Of course, Apple has graciously allowed users to change all of these settings back, a move that should - but somehow doesn't - soothe the disquiet of Lion's early detractors.
It's not that the change isn't jarring (it is), but rather that it flies in the face of the way people have interacted with their computers for years. I don't get the sense that people are averse the change simply because it was made. Rather, I think OS X users have cottoned onto to the clear reality that the notebook and the tablet are not the same thing. The way we interact with the two devices is very different, a fact that natural scrolling doesn't reflect.
And how about those new touch pad gestures? Three fingers. A thumbed pinch. Apple wants things to be simple and intuitive, but sometimes learning how to be simple is a complex task in its own right. This probably explains much of the outcry over some of the larger changes. It's not only that people are naturally resistant to change. They also resent it when those changes require behavioristic tweaks.
All of that, I think, is understandable. Why ruin a good thing? If one's computer set up is tailored perfectly to one's workflow, optimized so that the OS does its job and stays out of the way, what's the point in upgrading? This, after all, is why Windows XP still remains so popular, even after the release of Vista and Windows 7. People go with what works.
None of that, of course, is in itself justification of any sort of knee-jerk luddite reaction to change. It's about caution, about taking a look at a new technology (or feature) and determining to what degree a novel development actually improves one's life or workflow. For me, Lion doesn't do that - at least not yet.
Launchpad is a good example of why that's the case. Lion's fancy application launcher meant to simplify the process of finding and accessing installed apps. Considering that I already use Quicksilver to launch any and all applications I would need to launch, Launchpad is essentially worthless to me. Not that it's a bad feature. It's just not the greatest boon to my productivity. I understand this.
How about all the changes Lion makes to document saving? Meant to save users from document loss-induced heartache, Lion's document handing is evidence that what the world really needs is system-level autosave. It's a nice gesture, and certainly a helpful one. But do you know how many times I've lost progress on some article I was working on? Essentially none, thanks to ?S.
And then there is the inevitable issue over whether my most-used programs are compatible with Lion. This is probably the most important factor for anyone upgrading so soon after Lion's release, and the one that should give potential upgraders the most pause. Why rush to upgrade if your favorite applications aren't ready to join you?
Here's what I know: I am perfectly fine and productive in my current Snow Leopard environment. The upgrade to Lion, while cheap and tempting, is non-compulsory, and so far, not even remotely essential. While it is likely that I'll get around to upgrading at some point, that point isn't now.