First impressions of OS X Lion for mobile workers

Summary:The latest version of OS X is available in the Mac App Store today, if you can invest in the long download times due to demand. I installed Lion this morning and can share what you can expect with the upgrade.

The latest version of OS X is available in the Mac App Store today, if you can invest in the long download times due to demand. Lion borrows from Apple's mobile platform powering the iPhone and iPad to blur the division between mobile devices and desktops. Mobile workers using OS X will probably like the changes that Lion installs on the notebook, but as with all OS upgrades there are questions about how the new OS will impact the ability to get work done. I installed Lion this morning and have been beating on it to share what you can expect with the upgrade.

Will it run on my hardware?

I have installed Lion on my old unibody MacBook running the Intel Core 2 Duo processor. This is the oldest processor that Lion supports, so my concern was how well (or not) it would run on the MacBook. I can put your worries to rest as I find Lion is running at least as well, and often better, than the previous version of OS X. It is apparent that Apple developers spent time optimizing Lion for older hardware, as things happen fast. Some common tasks seem to happen even faster than before, a testament to the good job done with Lion.

On the subject of hardware, one of the first things greeting you after you upgrade to Lion is the notice that scrolling with the trackpad and mouse has been changed. It has been reversed, so where before you scrolled down a page by swiping down, you now swipe up. This takes a little getting used to, even though Apple has termed this "natural scrolling".

You can disable natural scrolling, thus putting it like it was before by accessing the Mouse Preferences. Simply uncheck natural scrolling and things will be back as usual. I have been warned by several folks who've been running the developer's version of Lion for some time that some functions in Lion don't respect the old way of scrolling. I was told that it is better to make the change and make the effort to get used to the new scrolling. I am using the new natural scrolling for this reason, and it is pretty natural feeling. I am concerned that this will give me fits when I switch back to a Windows system; I'll have to see how this change goes.

Will it run my software?

This is a big concern for mobile workers who depend on certain programs to get the daily work done. I haven't had time with Lion to test everything, but I have tried all of the major programs I use to see what works and what doesn't.

A lot of people are asking me if Parallels Desktop works OK under Lion, so I tested it first. I run Windows 7 in a virtual machine in Parallels, so I fired it up after the upgrade to Lion. So far Parallels and my virtual machine have performed just fine. I can use Windows under Lion just as before, and haven't encountered a single problem doing so.

I would recommend that as soon as you upgrade to Lion that you run a Software Update found under the Apple menu. When I had it check for updates it indicated that updates for Remote Desktop, iTunes and most importantly iWorks were available. Since a lot of mobile workers use iWorks, this update is important as it specifically brings these apps in line with Lion. These updates don't take long to install, so don't overlook them.

So far the Chrome browser is working fine for me, although some have reported it doesn't handle the new full screen mode in Lion. I have been running it in a windows as usual and have encountered no issues. Tweetdeck runs as expected, too, with no problems.

What's new for mobile workers?

There are already detailed reviews of Lion on the web so I won't cover everything. There are a couple of major new features in Lion that are particularly useful for those on a laptop. Mission Control is the utility that instantly shows you all running apps in a preview mode, so that a simple tap on an app brings it to the front. This makes is simple to get to anything running, no matter how buried it might be.

The new Launchpad makes it easy to get to any application installed on the system without going through the tiered menu on the dock. The Launchpad fills the entire screen with as many app icons as will fit, and moving between screens of apps is as easy as swiping left and right. This is a really useful way to find any app on the system, without losing your place on the desktop. Simply tap any icon to run that app, or tap the background anywhere to exit Launchpad.

The new full screen mode in Lion is designed for smaller laptop screens, as it allows dedicating the entire display to the active program. Switching between apps is as simple as swiping left and right, a nice visual way to get from here to there.

Should I upgrade right away?

This overview only scratches the surface of what's new with OS X Lion. Many folks get nervous at the thought of upgrading the OS as soon as possible in case there are any problems. If you have that concern there is no compelling reason to upgrade immediately; just wait until you're comfortable with the changes.

So far I have encountered no issues with the Lion upgrade, so I have no problem recommending it to others. As a mobile worker, I find the new features to be quite compelling, and at $29 it is not a big investment.

Topics: CXO, Apple, IT Employment, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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