This past Wednesday I was prompted by some coworkers in regards to some news that had leaked out of Apple regarding their new Mac OSX Operating System codenamed “Mountain Lion”. This new operating system was supposedly going to take more of the riff against iOS that OSX Lion took, including a new version of iChat called Messages which integrates the iMessage framework into the desktop experience on a desktop computer.
It’s very clear to me the path that Apple is taking. They have a very good mobile operating system in the guise of iOS 5.0.1 and they are trying to establish themselves as a end-to-end digital experience purveyor. I don’t wish them ill for that, it’s a very valuable pursuit and frankly as I see it is the way the entire industry is starting to bend. There was a time back in the late 80’s when the rage was thin terminals, then when the 90’s came the pendulum swung the other way and computers got fat again. Now that the network is the centerpiece, we’re seeing that pendulum swing back to thin terminals once again. Computers are just appliances that you use to manipulate resources on the network, nothing more, nothing less.
Now we have Mac OSX Lion. I started this on Thursday, purchasing a copy from the Mac App Store for $29.99. I’ve never been one for “in-place upgrading” and I find great value in the “blow away and reinstall” method of installing a new operating system. To me the complete zeroing out of a hard drive means that you start form a position of known cleanliness. There isn’t a gremlin hiding in some deep dark directory folder waiting to spring out and catch you when you need your computer the most and then ruining your day. So I downloaded the 4GB file and followed instructions on the net for opening up what Apple provides to get at what you need to copy the data onto a external FireWire hard drive for speedy installation. This copying of the OS to a FireWire hard drive is something that I witnessed once when I was at a Genius Bar at an Apple Store, so I knew for a fact that it was an accepted Apple canon procedure. Once I had what I was after, and dear reader, please note a very distinct new flavor is entering into the Apple experience, that of “sidestepping the mothership” in order to get what you want accomplished done. Apple is no longer thinking ahead of the end user, making provisions for easy this-or-that, but rather making a popular installation method as annoying as possible. There is a darkness here that I will breach later on in this story, so keep your eyes peeled for it, you’ll know when you reach it.
So once I had Mac OSX Lion on a FireWire hard drive, specifically the affectionately termed “piece of shit” Iomega FireWire drive, named so because unless the drive is using FireWire 400 or FireWire 800, it’s a giant flaming hunk of shit – I’m looking at you retarded USB. Yes, if you plug this drive in using a USB cable it is a sorry piece of shit. FireWire, ahh, but I digress. So plugged into a test machine I was able to get Lion installed relatively quickly. I ran into my first small nugget of dismay. Unlike the previous big cat (Apple OS’s are named after big cats, so the previous one to Lion is Snow Leopard) there was no delightful animated movie with a catchy song that had a great hook. I was half hoping for the renowned Apple spit-and-polish and I was let down. No big bombastic “Welcome Message”, nothing like the Discovery channels boom-de-yada or anything like that. The nebula featured in the Snow Leopard installer was thematically replaced by the Milky Way Galaxy. Apple could have done something adorable perhaps even a powers-of-ten “Welcome” presentation at the outset but they chimped out. Missing this made me sad, but I was willing to soldier on.
The installation worked well, more polished than Snow Leopard in that it presents you with Disk Utility instead of making you go fish for it yourself. Lion started well enough and dumped me into a fully functioning Mac computer, right at the desktop, a picture of the Milky Way making me grin like a fool. I started in on some of the big features first, like Mission Control and Launchpad. Here are some big changes that Apple has made, and Mission Control is the most elaborate change you can see right off the cuff. Older big cats had Expose and Spaces. Lion merged these metaphors together into what is called Mission Control. A central vignette featuring an expose view of all the apps on that screen and then a parade of Spaces-based extra Desktops along the top of the screen. Apple engineered this interface quite well, especially with randomized wallpaper pictures on desktops and multiple monitors. Launchpad is the first patch of dull tin that you run into with Lion. Everything Apple makes is shiny. It’s white, it’s chrome, it’s polished and thought out and developed until it screams and moans with exhaustion. The interface has always been like this, when you expect to catch Apple with their pants down you find out that to your glad chagrin that they did develop even out into the edge-use-case that you find yourself accidentally exploring. This is why Apple succeeds and wows the cranky like myself, because they spend the time to flesh out all the possibilities and in so doing leave the user breathless. I’ve grown used to this particular feeling around Apple technology and have grown to assume that it will always be present. Launchpad is the first place where this feeling of polish and shiny appears to have gone out for a protracted lunch and left a “Back in 5 minutes” sign behind. I know why Launchpad exists, it’s a crib off of the menu launcher for iOS devices set as an optional interface on the desktop metaphor. It’s extra, it’s meaningless, it’s ignorable. The venerable Dock DOES THIS ALREADY and so Launchpad is for all real arguments a kind of iOS-inspired afterbirth. Nobody likes it, it sickens most people and the only people who appreciate it are the pedants who have hope that it may turn into something compelling down the pike. It’s jarring in that it’s express function is so extraneous. Who cares? I certainly don’t! I couldn’t imagine myself ever actually using Launchpad, so right off we’ve got a feeling of meaningless feature-creep that is reminiscent of… well, we won’t go there just yet. Bear with me for a while longer, please.
After these two big features were plumbed and found moderately compelling and extraneous in turn, I started to explore some really important and in-depth system requirements. My use of Lion is to support the use of a specific set of applications, one of which is Aqua Data Studio to fulfill my professional needs as a DBA for a SQL Server 2008 database at work. ADS requires Java, so when I first started it Lion informed me that no Java was installed with it’s basic install but it would help me get a version to install from the network. Lion then promptly gave me a terse error stating that Java was unavailable to get at that time. So I opened up Safari and did a Google search and found the Java installer for Lion and downloaded it and installed it. ADS worked well from that point forward. But that indicates another glaring problem with Lion. Why is a Java Runtime Environment not shipped by default with the operating system itself? Why is it a secondary download? To keep the OS slim and tight? Come on, that is no excuse. It is stupid and softheaded and it’s something that you’d expect … ahh… getting closer to it, but still not yet. Bear with me a fair bit more, please.
The next big thing I need is to bind workstations to an Open Directory domain hosted from our Mac OSX Leopard server. Yes I know it’s an old server, but I cannot accept the risk of trying to upgrade it and losing user data. In a way this server is a basket with all the eggs in it. If you keep all your eggs in one basket, as Mark Twain said, you keep your eyes on that basket! So I have an Open Directory domain and I want to make an authenticated bind to it from a workstation. This act is required so that it correctly registers the computer in the OD domain so I can then assign it parameters in the domain to manage it easily. Anyone who manages domains, OD or AD knows that this management makes the world far easier to manage when it comes to client computers. On Snow Leopard this is a non-issue, it takes about 2 minutes to do and is very straightforward. On Lion I progressed the same way as I would on a Snow Leopard installation except this time, and to my now-aching chagrin it turns out that Lion refuses to establish an authenticated bind on an Open Directory if it’s run under Leopard. Even still, at this point I was willing to imagine ways to compensate for this shortcoming and still move forward with Lion. Life could go on without binding to OD in the way that I wanted. This feeling of coping and compensating is something I’m very familiar with when it comes to… ahh… again, wait for it, please.
I continued forward with Lion and discovered to my chagrin that the previous installation of Server Administration Tools for Leopard are grossly incompatible with Lion. So my remote Server Admin toolkit that I use almost daily is a dead duck. I can cope, as I can use ARD to control the server itself and use the tool kit there. It’s not as graceful as it was on Snow Leopard, but. I. can. compensate. At this point in the game I have switched over to my own iMac from the test one and I’m trying to make Lion work for me. Even saying that stings if you are used to Apple products as of late, but I digress. Once I got Lion up and running and past all these little problems I installed the Messages beta and tried to get it to work. I logged into my user account which still had the Library from Snow Leopard. Lion accepted this as gracefully as a panicking albatross accepts having hot tar thrown at it. Nothing worked. Messages was a Force Quit bonanza, along with iCal, Mail, Addressbook. Every app caught a whiff of my Snow Leopard Library and flipped it’s insides with it’s outsides. So, in the spirit of filthy wretched attrition I compensated by ditching my Snow Leopard Library and creating a new blank one. Lion was very happy to fill the new empty Library with everything that it needed and so I had the unenviable position of having to re-authenticate to everything I use on the network, all over again. I did get everything to work finally and Messages did start and work well up until I started to fill the iCloud settings panel with all the accounts that I use on a daily basis. Five email accounts, six calendar resources, and four chat clients including iMessage. Lion handled iCloud services like a champ and the rest were acceptably easy enough to set up except for IMAP resources which disgracefully belly-flopped the user back into Mail.app to polish off the setup there each time you wanted to set up an IMAP account. I was on the road to getting Lion up and running and then I tried to set up Evernote, at first my Snow Leopard copy of Evernote was a flaming mess, and then I dumped the Evernote bits from the Library and downloaded Evernote from the App Store and tried again. Evernote struggled for HOURS and never really was a success on my Lion installation. Another application that I use a lot is Dropbox, and this too also suffered for Lion and was an agony through struggle-town. Dropbox never got off the ground either. The only application that worked very well was iCal. The experience was devolving faster and faster and was pounding headlong towards resembling… yeah… not yet.
As I was struggling along with Lion I noticed some other rather nasty developments that Apple brought to this big cat. I was puttering around my home folder and suddenly felt very strange as I couldn’t locate my ~/Library folder. It’s in Library that many settings and caches are kept and it’s the first place that a IT guy goes to look to resolve application problems. I couldn’t find it however when I used Terminal and issued the command ls -lah I could see it just fine. Something was hiding it from the GUI. It turns out that Lion aggressively issues this command every time it starts: “chflags hidden ~/Library”. This application, chflags adds an extended attribute to whatever file it works on, turning on or off various fine-print features. In this case, the “hidden” attribute hides a file or folder from the GUI but not from the filesystem. So what Apple has done is actively hidden the Library to keep people out by not letting them see it plainly. This is what an asshole does to piss off IT guys. Yes it’s fine to pull this shit on end users but what if you know more than Ma and Pa Kettle? Go fish! This was the first time that I felt Lion resembling… no… not yet. Don’t worry, it’s coming.
Along with this little Library gem I found what Apple did to the Finder to be abominable. They took a system that worked well and hammered out it’s ankles so it just hobbles around. This intentional hobbling of the file management subsystem is exactly what… grimace. No. It’s not time yet. What else is there? Ah yes, the vaunted gestural operating system! In Lion various gestures done with a Magic Trackpad or a brand new Apple Mouse do a host of new things. I happen to have a Magic Trackpad and I like it quite a bit. The gestures? They hurt my fingers. Okay, what else? Scrolling. Lion flips the sense of scrolling so that you scroll the same way that you would on an iOS device, with the direction of scroll instead of against it. This is supposed to be more natural but in practice causes confusion and upset, as users have been scrolling in a certain way for so long that the brain just can’t correct for this new 90 degree flipflop. It’s supposed to feel natural, it feels horrible – like someone is forcing me to wear my left shoe on my right foot and my right shoe on my left foot! What else is broken in Lion? How about Trash removal? I tried in vain to remove Trash, even Securely, to get rid of 17 items. I let it chug away for two hours and no good. I eventually had to “sudo rm -rf ~/.Trash” and that only temporarily solved the issue, once I put more things in the Trash removing them became a waste of effort. I let the system try to remove 50 items OVERNIGHT and it could not accomplish it. I tried to set up network attached printers. Apparently all the CUPS drivers for all the various printers, HP and Savin that we use at work all went out the window! Nothing like a good firm cavemanesque regression to really catch someones attention! So it’s either generic PostScript or generic PCL. Whatever.
Then we get to the why of Lion. Why bother with this wretched pile of insipid monkey spit? Apple would have you believe that iCloud is reason enough. iCloud is supposed to tie all their devices and experiences together so that your iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone and Lion-based computer all have the exact same information on them at all times. That your contacts and your email and your calendars all will jive from system to system to system. This is the holy grail of cloud computing, which is to say making user data available everywhere and on everything they use. It’s what iCloud was designed to provide. Is it compelling enough to switch to this big cat? Absolutely NOT. I am angry. I am angry at Apple. They released iCloud and then in a fit of pique they actively sandbagged all their customers who were using Snow Leopard making using iCloud on the desktop experience something you can only get with Lion. The argument is, you can surely afford $29 to get Lion, so why not upgrade? Meanwhile Apple hands Windows 7 customers an application to add iCloud to their OS for free. What if you are an Apple fan using Snow Leopard? Tough shit, Sherlock! You’re fucked six ways to Sunday! This is the modus operandi of… ahh… now we can get to it.
Apple, through their expression to people like me of their newest operating system called Mac OS X Lion is turning into Microsoft. They are turning OSX into Windows Vista. This is what Microsoft does. This is how Microsoft let explosive diarrhea and ignorance of the smell lead to a squishy and repellent end-user experience. This is the first time I’ve been savaged by an Operating System and felt as frustrated as I did when I fruitlessly scrabbled at the abomination that was Microsoft Vista! This Operating System, this Lion, this is crap and is NO GOOD, APPLE. If I had such struggles, and I know what I am doing! Then what the hell will the end users do? All the fancy chrome parts that you spent all your time shining left all the other parts you forgot about to lie in the dark, festering. What you did to Finder was HORRIBLE, what you did to scrolling is an abomination in the eyes of God! The fact that the system reaches an idle state at all after installation is a miracle!
And so we get right to the heart of it. Apple has peaked. Much like Microsoft did with Windows 2000, a product I wish they would have grabbed, and really refined and made that their flagship product instead of the insane clown paint and bullshit that became Windows XP and later on Windows Vista and Windows 7; Apple should have refined what was in Snow Leopard and not followed Microsoft’s well worn path of throwing insane clown paint on what is an excellent Operating System! I wish Apple would take Lion back. Give everyone their money back and offer to help them downgrade (nee upgrade) back to Snow Leopard and express to everyone how sorry they are and how they are going to go back to the drawing board and refine Snow Leopard into the proper next-big-cat we should be getting instead of this flea-ridden abomination known as Lion.
This experience fucking breaks my heart! I had such hopes for the next big cat! I was hoping for a kinder more gentle Apple now that Steve Jobs is in the ground, but it’s apparently not in the cards. Apple is turning into Microsoft and that my friends is a very nasty slope covered with axle grease and human shit. It may be that Apple’s greatness was just how a later-in-life Steve Jobs shined through it. Now that he’s gone, we see this awfulness start to bubble up from beneath us all. Apple should be ashamed of Lion. The way they have treated their Snow Leopard customers should be a shame in and of itself. Turning your backs on half of your installed service base as Lion wasn’t as hot-to-trot as you hoped it would be will come back to bite you Apple, and more than the little chunk missing from your logo!
I cannot recommend Macintosh OSX Lion for use in enterprise settings where there are domains, a pre-existing user base, or any other situation where an upgrade path is indicated. There is no compelling reason to switch to Lion, the technologies included do little for the end user that basic training and responsible computing shouldn’t already be able to address.