Fixing some usability issues with Mac OS X Lion

Okay, now that I had a chance to play around with Mac OS X Lion for a few days I also ran into some issues and thought I’d write up how to fix some of them.

Safari remembering the last open tab

I’m a web developer, and as such it’s normal to have 10-15 tabs open in each of the 3 major browsers of each platform (Safari/Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox). I don’t close these tabs, I just exit the application (Cmd+Q on a Mac) and expect to be greeted with a fresh and empty window when I restart the browser.

However, Safari remembers the last tabs depite me setting up as to open new windows with an empty page. Turns out that there is a system-wide settings that makes applications remember their last state. It’s in System Preferences > General: "Restore windows when quitting and re-opening apps".

For me, this option is nonsense. If I want to retain the state of an App, I don’t close it. I can easily put my Mac into Hibernate mode if I want to turn it off without shutting it down.

Edit: Thanks to Matt Isenhower for showing a way to disable it per app:

defaults write com.apple.Preview NSQuitAlwaysKeepsWindows -int 0

Disable Auto-correct

One feature I love in iOS is the autocorrect feature, since typing on a touchscreen keyboard is tedious and error prone. However, on a Desktop machine with a real keyboard it’s infuriating as auto-correct tries to correct some words that simply aren’t wrong. On a Desktop, I expect spell checking to draw squiggly lines, not to auto-correct.

In Safari (and possibly other apps), go to Edit > Spelling and Grammar and untick "Correct Spelling Automatically".

For some strange reason, that option was greyed out (and ticked) on my MacBook Pro. As a Plan B, disable it system wide in System Preferences > Language & Text > Text.

No article about auto-correct without a link to Damn you, Auto Correct!

Proper Color Scheme for the Terminal

Let’s face it, the Mac OS X Terminal colors are ugly. As a developer, I spend a lot of time in the Terminal and use many apps/scripts that make use of ANSI Colors. Also, I use vim a lot. The default scheme:

Up until Lion, we needed a hack to change the font colors (SIMBL + TerminalColours). In Lion, Apple finally allows us to customize them. So grab the IR_Black theme for Lion for a really nice color scheme.

Bonus Tip: The theme is also available for TextMate.

Make Home, End and Del work in the terminal

I use a normal Keyboard on my Mac, specifically the Microsoft 4000. However, pressing HOME or END in the Terminal doesn’t do anything, but I expect those keys to go to the beginning/end of a line.

In the Terminal preferences, open the Keyboard tab, select HOME and for the string to send, press CTRL+A. It should show up as \005. For END, press CTRL+E which shows up as \005.

For Del to work, press CTRL+ALT+D which shows up as \004.

Mac OS X Lion First Impressions

So the long awaited and long debated Mac OS X 10.7 Lion came out today. Naturally, I immediately installed in on both machines. I own a Mid 2010 MacBook Pro (13″, Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz, 8 GB RAM) and a Mid 2010 Mac Pro (1 CPU, 2.8 GHz, 12 GB RAM). For the MacBook, I updated from Snow Leopard version, while I did do a fresh installation from DVD on my Mac Pro.
Installation took about 40 Minutes on my Mac Pro (from DVD) and about 70 Minutes on my MBP (from Hard Drive), not including the 3.5 GB Download from the App Store.
Scrolling in Lion
One of the hot topics was the fact that Apple reversed how scrolling works – moving the wheel down now moves the screen up. This is consistent with how iOS works and works well on a (Magic) Touchpad or a Magic Mouse, but is downright weird on a Wheel Mouse.
You can disable it in the system settings by unchecking the “Scroll direction: natural” box.
Screen Shot 2011 07 20 at 11 38 10 PM
In the Mouse settings you will also find a huge improvement: The tracking speed was increased. With 2 monitors and 4096 pixels vertical resolution, I want fast tracking. Snow Leopard was still way too slow even on the maximum setting, while Lion finally remedies this.
Usability Improvements
I have the somewhat controversial opinion that Mac OS X has major usability issues. On one side, it’s UNIX underneath so I get a terminal that gives me everything I really need. On the other side, it has a GUI that looks gorgeous and well designed, but has some horrible Usability issues.
Lion solves a few of them: For example, most windows can now be resized on any edge, not just the bottom right corner. Also, dialog boxes finally react to pressing ENTER (to press the highlighted/default button) and ESCAPE. I don’t know if Snow Leopard already added that, but I definitely remember a time where you needed to enable accessibility to use keyboard commands on dialogs.
There are some not so great things as well: Finder hides your System hard drive by default and tries to coax you into only browsing the predefined folders like “Desktop”. Luckily, this is only a (stupid) default and can be changed in the Finder Preferences to something sane again:
Finder Settings
Sadly, maximizing windows is still broken. There is now a new Full Screen mode for most apps, but the green button on the title bar still resizes the window to some arbitrary size. Also, still no simple “MS Paint”-type program.
File Vault
Apple finally made the leap into the 21st century with File Vault offering full disk encryption. Previously, you could only encrypt your home directory and it was creating a container file on the disk (actually a whole bunch of them). I haven’t had a look at how the new File Vault works under the hood though, but it’s good to see that they are moving forward on this. HFS+ is still the default file system, any hopes to get a modern file system seem to be just dreams, especially since Apple backed out of adopting ZFS.
File Vault
By the way, Time Machine still cannot backup onto network shares.
About this Mac
The About this Mac window got a nice little overhaul, now displaying the “colloquial” name (“Mid 2010”) of the Mac and a nice graphical overview of Displays, Storage and RAM (in some hawkish looking tabs?). You can of course still click on “System Report” for the full, dry overview.
About this Mac
Displays
RAM
Storage
Terminal
Opening the Terminal on my MBP, I was greeted with an incompatibility notice. I’m using SIMBL and TerminalColours to get sane colors.
Screen Shot 2011 07 20 at 11 25 52 PM

Well, turns out that the Lion terminal finally allows to change ANSI colors!
Terminal
AirDrop
As I have two machines, I regularly want to exchange files between them. Simple home networking is something that no OS has gotten right yet, which means I usually use SpiderOak or a USB Drive to transfer data. In Lion, Apple got sharing between machines right!
If you have two machines on WiFi near each other, you can open AirDrop in Finder and just drag files to other machines. The machines do NOT need to be on the same network. In fact, you don’t need any network configuration. As long as you have WiFi enabled, it just works through automatic configuration!
Some caveats: It only works on WiFi – my Mac Pro uses wired connection normally, so I have to enable WiFi. That also means no Gigabit speed. Also, the machines need to be near each other – even if they are on the same (wireless) network.
According to Golem.de, this works because Apple turns the machines into (secured) Access Points. This is ingenious, and it just works. Lion is the first operating system I’ve ever used where sharing files between PCs just works out of the box, with zero configuration.
AirDrop
AirDrop2
HDAPM
I have changed the hard drive in my MBP to a 750 GB Western Digital Scorpio Blue. As owners of non-Apple drives may know, the default power savings settings are shortening the life time of the drive and causing annoying noises. The good news is that hdapm works flawlessly with Lion. Just make sure you get the 10.6.8+ compatible version posted on June 30, 2011 (or later).
hdapm
Rosetta
Apple dropped Rosetta from Lion, which means: No more PowerPC Apps, period.
Rosetta
Signatures
Haven’t tried it out, but open Preview, and go into Settings > Signatures. If this works, it’s awesome.
Signatures
Conclusion
Full Disk Encryption, changeable ANSI Colors, resize Windows on every edge, fast mouse tracking speed, AirDrop – For me, Lion is absolutely worth the upgrade. It’s really polishing away some of the rough edges that Snow Leopard had. Not all of them of course, but they hit just the right pain points for me.
Some of the more controversial defaults can be changed back, and the fear that Lion would be upgrade-only (thus always requiring to install Snow Leopard first) turned out to be untrue. I cannot say anything about stability yet, and I’ve seen some app vendors warn about compatibility issues. I’m sure 10.7.1 will be out within a week or two, but the advice stands: Upgrade to Lion.
I couldn’t measure any noticeable speed difference, even on the somewhat slow MBP. Everything is just as fast (or slow) as it was under Snow Leopard.
Mac OS X Server
Server is no longer a standalone product, it’s an extension download from the App Store. Pricing is $50, which continues the trend Apple started with iMovie ProFinal Cut Pro X – I just hope the quality didn’t suffer. I will install it onto my Mac Pro and blog about it.

Dropbox – enough is enough

image

I used to love Dropbox. I own multiple machines and dual boot them, so a convenient way to share files was a big win, and Dropbox delivered on it. They have a seamless Windows and Mac OS X client.

Recently, they had a few security issues – that sucks, but it seems to have been a genuine mistake rather than gross incompetence (like storing cleartext passwords like other did), so I gave them another chance.

But then they crossed the line that no company may ever cross: Taking ownership of your data. TwitPic tried to do that. Adobe tried to do that. And now Dropbox does as well, by adding this to their terms of use:

By submitting your stuff to the Services, you grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent we think it necessary for the Service.

In all three cases, the TOU have been revised, or “clarified” as the vendors put it. But even though I do know about Hanlon’s razor, I’m unwilling to believe that it’s always just a mistake or unclear language, but rather an attempt of free services that are in financial struggle because no one buys their premium services and they simply have to make money.

As I’m a free user, I contribute to these struggles because I cost them money without bringing any in, so I’ve just decided to do Dropbox a favor by logging in and clicking the “Delete my account” link at the bottom of the account settings.

As a User, always remember that in the moment you give your data to any website – be it a hosted blog, a social network, a sharing site, “the cloud” – you have lost a great deal of control over it and have to be vigilant about TOU changes and companies taking advantage of your data for monetary or other reasons.

Choose wisely, and remember that there is always an alternative company that didn’t try to pull a trick like that (yet).