Dear Lifehacker, Now that Lion is officially available on the Mac App Store, I want to know if you think it’s worth the upgrade. I’m pretty happy with Snow Leopard, but Lion looks like it has some cool features too. Help me decide! Thanks, Undecided Big Cat ChooserDear Undecided,
We hear you. There are lots of considerations to take into account before deciding to upgrade your desktop operating system, and while Lion has several tempting new features for a very affordable upgrade price, whether or not you absolutely need to upgrade now is a matter of perspective and priorities. Here are a few reasons why we think you may – or may not – want to upgrade right now.
Reasons to Upgrade
In our screenshot tour of Lion when it became available to developers, we outlined the major features of the new OS. These features and our experience with them present some usage cases where you may definitely want to head on over to the Mac App Store now:
You have an SSD drive: Lion has built-in support for TRIM, a command lacking in Snow Leopard which helps maximise the life of solid state drives. This alone may be worth the $32 upgrade price for Lion for you.
You’re a laptop user with sensitive data on your hard drive: A similarly unique need that Lion fulfils is for laptop users who need whole disk encryption and want it supported in the OS rather than going through another solution like TrueCrypt. Because FileVault 2 on Lion now can encrypt the entire drive on your Mac, it makes using your MacBook or MacBook Air on the go much more secure. Features like on-the-fly encryption and decryption and instant wipe to remove the encryption key from your Mac instantly are very useful improvements.
You rely on iCal and Mail a lot: A couple of Apple’s built-in apps have been enhanced for a better user experience. We like iCal’s new views, like its “heat map” to tell you when you’re free during the week and the ability to quickly add new events in natural language (e.g. “dinner Tuesday with Bob”), as well as Mail’s more user-friendly conversation views. These are small improvements, but if they make a big difference in your workflow, they’re a good reason to upgrade.
250+ other small reasons: There are lots of little features that Apple has added in Lion that aren’t show-stopping on their own but may make a difference in usability to you if you add them all up. AirDrop, for sending files to other Mac users near you by dragging and dropping, is a convenient feature, for example, but also pretty narrow in application (it seems to create a peer-to-peer Wi-Fi network with other Macs but not Windows or Linux machines). Finder’s new sorting button and file grouping into folders are also really useful, but these features on their own aren’t a reason to upgrade.
Lion feels more organised and the interface is pleasant. Since upgrading is easy and painless, it’s easy to justify spending the $32 just to get used to the new OS. Most of the Lifehacker editors admit to planning to upgrade to Lion… at some point. (Though not Lifehacker Australia’s editor, as he doesn’t use a Mac in the first place.)
Reasons to Wait Before Upgrading
That said, except for the usage scenarios above, there are very few reasons you might need to upgrade to Lion right this second. Our speed tests comparing Lion and Snow Leopard have shown no real speed advantages or disadvantages for Lion.
Also, while many applications are fully compatible with Lion, there are a number that are not compatible or have issues running on the new OS. You’ll definitely want to check if your apps are compatible with Lion.
You’ll also notice we didn’t mention in the section above a few of the most talked about features of Lion: Auto-Save/Version Control and Resume. These major features, in our experience, aren’t really working yet as expected, or basically come with annoyances that you’ll have to deal with.
For example, with Version Control, which saves versions of files for you so you can revert to older saves if needed, Lion will lock files for your safety. If you go to save a file, you have to click to unlock it before the OS will save it. Every time.
Similarly, with the resume feature, which saves your session before you shut down your Mac, you’ll still be asked each time if you want to save your items before your computer shuts down or restarts (not really saving you much time).
Trying to use full screen in some apps can slow your Mac’s performance down a lot, we found.
In the end, Lion will eventually win out against all us Mac users (it is the king after all). In general we don’t see any compelling reason you need to install Lion right now – 10.7.1 should come soon enough – but there are nice enhancements to appreciate too if you just can’t wait.
P.S. Have you chosen to upgrade or not? Let’s discuss in the comments why or why not.