I sup­pose it’s a test­a­ment to my geek­i­ness that in a whirl­wind of work, I looked for­ward to “tak­ing a break” by installing a new operating sys­tem on my laptop.

Or per­haps it’s a test­a­ment to the past suc­cesses of Apple, who have con­sist­ently offered me the pleas­ure of a seam­less upgrad­ing exper­i­ence, des­pite some of the snags encountered by others.

It was only two or so months ago that I trus­ted Snow Leo­pard enough to put it on my stu­dio machine, and I sus­pect the same will be the case for Lion, espe­cially since many of the music pro­grams I work with are not yet com­pat­ible. But my laptop is my writ­ing machine, my learn­ing machine, and my fun machine, and so it made sense to jump on the Lion band­wagon early with it. I’m very glad that I did, but I wanted to share my thoughts in some more detail.

I won’t review the OS from top to bot­tom, because if you’re after some­thing like that there are many other sources that have done so. Instead, I’ll high­light what I noticed, what I liked, what I didn’t, and why.

Without a doubt, Lion rep­res­ents the abso­lute fast­est OS upgrade I have ever per­formed. Includ­ing the down­load of the >3GB installation file, it took me less than an hour to get up and run­ning. This is not only remark­able on its own, but also in light of Lion’s price point, which is so low as to be almost humorous.

It made some kind of sense when Apple priced its “main­ten­ance” OS, Snow Leo­pard, at $29, but when it takes the next leap for­ward in its grand vis­ion of com­put­ing and keeps the price the same, it’s just plain awe­some. Of course, we won’t be naive and pre­tend that it’s not just a mar­ket­ing push to get as many people updated as quickly as pos­sible; after all, if Apple’s demon­strated any­thing lately, it’s that they’re mer­ci­less when it comes to impos­ing for­ward motion on their cus­tom­ers. Remem­ber Flash?

But I don’t mind that.

Frankly, whether or not I agree with all the spe­cif­ics of their vis­ion for the future of per­sonal com­put­ing, I whole­heartedly sup­port their pacing. Tech­no­logy, more than any­thing else, evolves quickly, and Apple trusts their cus­tom­ers to keep up or get left behind in whatever com­fort zone they wish to inhabit. To me, tech­no­logy experts have always been uni­fied by their adapt­ab­il­ity, because that’s the one trait that defines the industry as a whole, regard­less of what sec­tor you’re in. Leave the hand-holding of archaic paradigms to the dino­saurs. Like RIM.

Cor­por­ate philo­sophy aside, the install­a­tion was not only quick but also very smooth. The installer sets aside about a half giga­byte of space for a secur­ity par­ti­tion in case some­thing goes ter­ribly wrong (you don’t get that back, by the way, so be sure you’ve got enough space left over) and then gets to work updat­ing the sys­tem files. After get­ting through the single install­a­tion screen, the com­puter rebooted into Lion. No con­fig­ur­ing, no errors, no hangs, nothing.

Before you can actu­ally do any­thing, a win­dow pops up explain­ing the reverse scrolling concept that comes stand­ard with OSX 10.7. In order to clear it, you have to suc­cess­fully scroll to the bot­tom, which is a nice bit of gami­fic­a­tion for you. If you haven’t yet heard, there’s been much gnash­ing of teeth from the pea­nut gal­lery about this scrolling thing, and I partly under­stand it.

Bey­ond the obvi­ous prob­lem of being the reverse of what everyone’s been used to as their scroll beha­viour since the begin­ning of scrolling on a com­puter, the sys­tem is actu­ally pretty intu­it­ive. If you own an iPhone or iPad or any­thing like that then you’ll obvi­ously find it famil­iar, so my impres­sion is that the major com­plain­ers are those who do not have exper­i­ence with those devices, or those who are on a desktop machine using a mouse.

I say this because, using a mouse, the scrolling is mad­den­ing. It just feels weird and back­ward, even with the Magic Mouse. But if, like me, you’re on a laptop…then sud­denly it’s just like inter­act­ing with an iPad and some­how, sub­con­sciously, it’s much easier to get used to.

That being said, I was still scrolling like an idiot for the first few minutes…but I didn’t have the desire to switch back to “nor­mal” scrolling (which is dead simple to do, by the way, so don’t worry). I still don’t. For whatever reason, I find this scrolling makes sense to me now that I’ve given it an hon­est try, and it’s respons­ive enough that it feels quite nat­ural. Your mileage may vary.

One of the things that early upgraders warned about was the fact that Lion, by default, switches your ini­tial Finder view to a new “All My Files” view and that it makes all Lib­rary folders invis­ible to prevent any acci­dental sys­tem dam­age. Neither of those two things occurred with my install­a­tion, and I’m grate­ful for that, because, besides ven­tur­ing fairly fre­quently into the Lib­rary folders, it is my humble opin­ion that the “All My Files” view is retarded.

Remem­ber the con­veni­ent smart folders in the pre-Lion Finder that helped you loc­ate doc­u­ments from today, yes­ter­day, past week, all images, etc? Yeah, those are gone now. In their place is the perplexingly stu­pid “All My Files”, which offers what it says on the tin, organized by file type. Not date. You can scroll through them and set them to be organ­ized by date if you like, but why would I want that over the much faster, single click solu­tion from before? Still work­ing on an answer for that.

Lucky for me, Lion decided it wasn’t going to force that view on me after all, so my Finder still opens by default to my user folder. And I’m adding my smart date views back to the side­bar manually.

The exper­i­ence of using Lion is worth men­tion­ing briefly, espe­cially given Apple’s obses­sion with user exper­i­ence over tech­nic­al­it­ies. Like it or not, their atten­tion to detail has paid off in a big way. I simply haven’t encountered a more respons­ive, quick, and well designed user inter­face before. Everything has been care­fully refined. Gone are the bub­bly inter­face ele­ments, replaced by sleek roun­ded square but­tons, deli­cious icons, and unob­trus­ively communic­at­ive anim­a­tions. If you like col­ours and bubbles, you’re going to be sad. If you like clean mod­ern design prin­ciples, you can join me over the moon.

Regard­ing the new fea­tures, Launch­Pad and the smarter Spot­light are cool to play with, but in prac­tice I still just use Alfred for most of my file-finding and applic­a­tion launch­ing. It’s simply unmatched for speed and versatility.

Mis­sion Con­trol, on the other hand, is mag­ni­fi­cent. If you’re any­thing like me and often find your­self whip­ping between mul­tiple win­dows in mul­tiple pro­grams, the new Mis­sion Con­trol view is a glor­i­ous exten­sion to good old Exposé. The dif­fer­ence, for those still confused about it, is that Exposé shows you all win­dows from the app you have act­ive, allow­ing you to quickly pull another one to the forefront, whereas Mis­sion Con­trol shows you all win­dows from all applic­a­tions as well as your Desktop and Dash­board in a much more organ­ized man­ner, and lets you zoom to any of them instantly. On my laptop, swip­ing up with 4 fin­gers shows me Mis­sion Con­trol, and swip­ing down shows me Exposé. It’s intu­it­ive, quick, and will save me some use­less Alt+Tab-ing.

The ges­ture integ­ra­tion over­all is quite impress­ive. I don’t use hot corners or any­thing like them, so for me the basic multi-finger swipe ges­tures make more sense. Pinch­ing brings up Launch­Pad for now, and push­ing three fin­gers apart scat­ters everything out of the way to reveal the desktop.

An unex­pec­ted con­sequence of the upgrade was that I seem to have ditched my favour­ite email cli­ent, Spar­row, in favour of the built-in Apple Mail. I was basic­ally dis­gus­ted with the pre­vi­ous iter­a­tions of Mail, but the new ver­sion 5 that ships with Lion is truly incred­ible, and, while it admit­tedly bor­rows many things from other apps that came before it, it pulls them together and pol­ishes them into a greater whole. The threaded con­ver­sa­tion hand­ling is unmatched, and the abil­ity to keep track of flagged (starred) emails, drafts, and even notes across all accounts either together or sep­ar­ately is terrific.

To make it the ideal app for my pur­poses, I would love a deeper integ­ra­tion with Google’s sys­tem of assign­ing “import­ant” emails and sort­ing the inbox to show them first. I don’t actu­ally get enough email to jus­tify need­ing that, but it would be a nice fea­ture to have. It also took it a while to syn­chron­ize all my email con­tent once I’d gotten my accounts added (inter­est­ingly, it pulled emails from the server in batches of 5,000 or so) but then that’s not a sur­prise given the amount of data I have, spread across sev­eral dif­fer­ent accounts.

To leave off, I’ll men­tion two other issues I encountered that seem less com­mon and that I hadn’t pre­vi­ously heard of. For starters, the Face­Time app (which I did not have installed before) now comes built into Lion and…doesn’t work. No mat­ter what I’ve tried, I can’t get it to con­nect, which is unfor­tu­nate since I would have liked to test it. A quick glance at Apple’s sup­port site reveals that it’s a very wide-spread issue though, so I’m expect­ing an update in the near future. Which brings me to my other issue: the Mac App Store.

Besides hav­ing a slightly lighter-coloured icon in Lion vs. Snow Leopard, the Mac App Store has also been mis­be­hav­ing for me. For instance, even though I’m logged into my account and it recog­nizes what apps I have installed when I’m brows­ing through them, I can­not con­sist­ently access my Pur­chases area. It either does not load, or tells me I have not pur­chased any­thing (ha-haaa!), or it crashes. So far I’ve man­aged to get it work­ing just long enough to grab the Xcode 4.1 update, but some­thing is clearly broken.

And that, ladies and gen­tle­men, is my birds-eye view of Lion. My first impres­sions. As I con­tinue to play with it, I may have more thoughts to share, but hope­fully my ini­tial exper­i­ences will help you decide whether or not you have any interest in upgrad­ing at this point.