Review: Is it worth upgrading your older Mac to OS X 10.7 Lion?

One of the great things about owning a Mac is that for most tasks, you don’t suffer the same slow down that can be suffered by many Windows users. A Mac bought four years ago can still happily run many of today’s productivity and design applications.

Also, buying a Mac can be a relatively large investment, particularly for students – so you don’t want to junk it every time Apple release an upgrade. Of course, it’s not just the processor and RAM – what if you don’t have a newer glass trackpad with multi-touch, or an SSD?

So what does today’s launch of Mac OS X Lion mean for users of older Mac hardware?

Mac OS X Lion screen

Firstly, the minimum system requirements are very similar to OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. The most important change is that you’ll need at least an Intel Core 2 Duo to run Lion. This means users with the very first generation of Mac and Intel hardware (Core Solo/Core Duo) are excluded from the upgrade. Also, while you can get away with running Lion on 2 GB RAM, experience from Snow Leopard suggests 4 GB is a comfortable minimum for multi-tasking.

You’ll also have to be running Mac OS X Snow Leopard, version 10.6.8 to install Lion. Even if you want to do a clean install, you must download Lion via the App Store first and then follow the various guides.

About this Mac with Lion showing Core2Duo

This morning, I took the plunge and installed Mac OS X Lion on my late-2007 MacBook Pro (2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo, 4 GB RAM). It wasn’t a clean upgrade – in fact, I’ve upgraded it from Tiger to Leopard (on launch day) and then to Snow Leopard. The upgrade process was pretty smooth and didn’t require any input from me. A little over half an hour later, I was presented with the smooth iOS-style login screen.

Mac OS X Lion login screen

Login was characteristically a slow experience – this is one thing that could be quicker, but I do have a number of apps that I set to launch on login, like Twitter for Mac, Chrome and the usual like Dropbox etc. Experience suggests a reboot and login is a pretty rare occurrence, so I’ve never been bothered by this.

However, this is where the problems seemed to start: Chrome was slow, sluggish. Twitter was updating slowly and I could hear my hard drive clunking away. Opening Activity Monitor, my processor usage wasn’t particularly high, but my hard drive was being ragged fairly hard.

Activity monitor screenshot

In retrospect, this wasn’t too surprising – I had just installed a near 4 GB update to my operating system. A bit of advice from Twitter and this article rightly identified that it was simply Spotlight re-indexing my hard drive; given that it’s not particularly large, this only took about 15 minutes before things seemed to return to normal.

Beyond that, there don’t appear to be any major performance issues, despite the fact that my Mac will be at least initially transparently rebuilding its caches and defragmenting key operating system files. So far, I can’t use any new gestures as I don’t have a multi-touch trackpad. I’ve also turned off the iOS “scroll wheel” style scrolling through System Preferences (it’s labelled “Content moves in the direction of finger movement on touch-pad or mouse”). I guess if I ever start using my Magic Mouse again, I might change this, but for now, this isn’t something new I want to learn. Users desperate for gestures may benefit from a Magic Trackpad.

As for other new features, Mission Control works smoothly and as expected, unifying my ill-used Spaces and application windows. I also like the fact that Dashboard widgets appear in their own space (you can turn this off).

Screenshot of Mission Control

I haven’t seen much evidence of iOS-style ‘instant’ switching to apps, though Word for Mac 2011 and Photoshop CS3 did both bring up the last few documents and images that I worked on when I quit and restarted the apps. The Launchpad also works smoothly, but for me, this feature is far less useful than using a launcher like QuickSilver as a launcher/Spotlight replacement. Launchpad is marginally quicker than using the Finder to launch apps, but QuickSilver’s “double-tap and type” is much quicker and targeted than Launchpad’s full-screen browsing of all my forgotten apps.

Launchpad - meh

But what about the other bundled apps with Lion – like the new Mail, iCal and all the other small upgrades? As a user of Sparrow, I don’t foresee using the Mail app, which shares many similarities with Sparrow already, but isn’t quite as slick when it comes to supporting Gmail specific features. iCal’s full-screen view is a dream for at-a-glance viewing though.

Unfortunately, if as a user of an older Mac, you continue to rely on apps written for PowerPC, you’ll find that Lion is the end of the road: Rosetta is finally dropped, the software layer that lets you run PowerPC apps on Intel hardware, along with Front Row. Users may also have to install their own Java and Flash

Ultimately, what OS X Lion offers for your Mac is a number of enhanced and improved features including, Auto Save and Versions which will be a boon for anyone struggling with crashy apps or editing large documents. The updated user interface is also pleasing to the eye, offering a crisper interface that continues to make Aqua one of the most pleasant UIs of any operating system.

And for just $29.99 or £20.99, Mac OS X Lion is comparatively good value for money as an upgrade for your older Mac. Download it from the App Store now.

Social Media Cafe and the Cutting Room Experiment

BBC Manchester, Oxford Road

BBC Manchester, Oxford Road

This month’s social media cafe was another triumph for the community and came with the extra special glow of being held at the BBC in Manchester, complete with Tardis in the foyer. Thanks Ian!

I’ll refer you to Tim’s roundup of the sessions at the cafe (they were good) as he had the opportunity to flit around. I settled in to watch the chaps from Cahoona and events management agency Ear to the Ground discuss the Cutting Room Experiment, a project described in classic hyperbole as the ‘biggest user generated event in the world’.

My thoughts on the Cutting Room Experiment

I have to admit, when I first saw the press release from Manchester City Council, my heart sank. The press release, regrettably, reads a bit like the classic ‘public sector tries to do social media, misses the point’ with a smattering of buzz words: ‘flash mobs’; ‘user generated’; ‘unique event’, complete with manufactured quote from a director. It’s unfortunate that this was the first piece of publicity I saw.

What I saw next, thankfully, was a pretty darn nice website, complete with integrated social media PR campaign that picked up some great coverage online. This was followed up by a ‘blog launch‘ at the Bay Horse, suitably bribing people with the offer of a free pint in exchange for a short (and painless) presentation from the team.

I think this quickly shattered my misconceptions. Though not my misgivings.

In the end, Cutting Room Experiment turned out to be just that, a bold experiment, blessed by the usually control-hungry public bodies that sponsored it and one that achieved its key successes – 400 people there, extensive media coverage, and awareness raised of the location (though these GPS co-ords are not the square).

However, while I’ve already alluded to degree of hyperbole that did surround some of the marketing (‘biggest’ user generated event? ‘world first’?) the presentation was refreshingly honest when it reflected some of the highs and lows of the exercise. In particular, David (Ear to the Ground) pointed out that “It’s hard to turn a devoted online audience into a vibrant offline one”.

And this is a key problem for any online social marketeer. It’s easy to make people sign-up to an event and click through, but will they actually turn up? I ‘counted myself in’ to a couple of events, even posted my own (slightly tongue-in-cheek) event – but I didn’t go. My main aim was to see the alka seltzer rockets, provided by the Manchester Science Festival team but unfortunately I missed the slot.

From my own personal experience, I imagine that a risk of this sort of ‘user generated’ process is that some people just won’t go unless they’ve got one killer event and that might be the event that they themselves organised, or for which they had some personal buy-in (e.g. employee/volunteer). Perhaps the truth is that an online community where ‘buy-in’ is limited to ‘agreeing to the possibility that you might attend’ is a difficult one to convert.

Cutting Room Experiment though, had the benefit of a local community and they did tap in to this with flyers; the killer piece of info that was perhaps missing from the presentation was being able to know how the attendees (who weren’t staff or volunteers) had heard of the event – online, or offline. I suspect it was the former, whereas arguably you needed more of the latter, particularly those who lived locally.

To conclude, it’s hard to criticise something into which a whole lot of people put a lot of hard work, and which produced some stunning results. However, I have to wonder whether this experiment, conducted largely online, needs to have much more of an offline aspect in order to make sure that the numbers for the ‘real world’ event does materialise.

The venue – keeping it social

Finally, the BBC was a great one-off venue and I, like many young (ish) meeja whores, am naturally excited by anything taking place there because of the weight that the BBC as a brand can lend to it. However, the Social Media Cafe, despite being less than a year old, has definitely established itself as a key hub of digital networking and knowledge sharing. Stopping in at the Beeb every so often would be great, but I think the social aspect of the cafe would be better served by sticking with a venue where turning up late without being signed-up (for example) won’t cause any organisational stress for those who’ve worked hard to secure those spaces.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment or vote in this non-scientific poll:

A crumby First Class experience on Virgin trains

There are two types of people who usually enjoy train travel. Train geeks like me and those in First class. For all the sexy advertising of leisure fares on Virgin trains, you can’t get away from that fact that unless you book in advance, get a railcard discount and reserve your seat sensibly, you’ll probably end up paying over £66 (London-Manchester, off peak) to be squeezed into a space next to someone who will invariably be an unpleasant travelling companion.

(‘Booty train’ ad. Makes standard look deceptively nice…)

Yes, the delights of cattle class also include a complete ignorance of the meaning of the word ‘quiet’ in Quiet Coach and usually a shaky walk to the shop (due to the tilting) to browse the excessive selection of alcohol, celebrity magazines and fat-laden meaty sandwiches. Oh, and throw in a smattering of racist football fans for good measure.

And, if you’re unlucky, the ever pervasive stench of sewage + chemical toilet that seems to emanate from the Pendolino toilets (if they’re operating that is).

But wait! This blog entry is supposed to focus on the exciting experience of First class on Virgin trains – more specifically, the trial offer of the Great British Breakfast, being served on selected weekend services this month and, I’m informed reliably, into next month now too.

As I am lucky enough to still qualify for a 16-25 Railcard, I was able to nab a First Class Advance ticket yesterday for today’s 1035 Virgin Trains service from Manchester to London for a little over £30. I’m actually travelling all over the south east over the next few days, which is why I was happy to pay a little extra for a single ticket in First, and try out something new.

I’ve travelled First a few times before, mostly at weekends when I’ve occasionally been tempted by a Weekend First upgrade for just £15. To be honest, by far and away, the main benefit was getting a seat – as anyone who has walked along the train at the weekend knows, there are masses and masses of empty seats in the First class carriages, which for those squeezed into the vestibules, must look like an oasis that they can’t afford.

The only other benefit of Weekend First is that, occasionally, someone will come and offer you a cup of tea, coffee or a pack of dry-looking biscuits. More often than not, staff shortages/broken coffee machine/failed train sets mean that you have to walk to the on-board shop to get your freebies, at the same time, earning the ire of those queuing passengers who realise you’re not paying for your beverage.

Update Sept 2013: I found this draft and truncated this blog post, which was going to be a rant about not getting breakfast during the week. In the end, I’ve travelled a few times and it’s been okay by-and-large. Just a shame the price keeps going up!