Everyone is going to have their own opinion of Apple’s new operating system, Lion (10.7 for those of you keeping count). I upgraded both my personal MacBook Pro and the work iMac yesterday during lunch, and before I went home I had three full pages of hand-written notes–both good and bad–detailing my initial impression with the new OS. At this point I’ve only used Lion for a day-and-a-half; in all probability I’ll find other depressing quirks and unexpected niceties that could be added to these notes.

In typing up my list I realized it would work better as a multi-part series instead of one long description of everything I noted. This first part will deal with Mission Control. (Parts II, III, and IV follow this.)

Mission Control (née Spaces)

Spaces is gone, and in its place is the new “Mission Control”. Apple has this to say about it:

Mission Control brings together Exposé, Dashboard, Spaces, and full-screen apps to give you one place to see and navigate everything running on your Mac.

Sure, whatever. I like this guy’s description better:

Mission Control suggests to me that Spaces and Exposé had a child and found out that they were cousins when it was already too late to terminate the poor, unfortunate bastard.

I’m going to assume you’ve worked with Spaces before and have at least read about Mission Control’s new features, and as such and not going to reproduce them here. With that said, let’s jump in.

The Negative

  • There is no way to tell which desktop you’re on. With Spaces, I could always look on the menu bar at the Spaces icon and see the number of the Space I was currently on. This is turning out to be less of an issue than I originally thought, though, since I have very specific app pinnings (more on that in a bit). It’d still be nice to know at a glance where I was in the desktop list–and no, opening Mission Control is not “at a glance”.
  • Spaces used to have an overview that showed all of the Spaces and what was on them. Yes, you can view all your desktops in Mission Control, but they’re tiny compared to the Spaces preview. I didn’t use this feature often, but I think it was more useful when I needed it than Mission Control is going to be. At least you can still drag applications between desktops in Mission Control, as well as use the “left-click window, Cmd-NumKey” dance to move windows between desktops without invoking Mission Control. (Geez, could they have thought of a longer name? I’m already tired of typing it out.)
  • Desktops move around in the desktop list by default.  I don’t know the full ramifications of this since I disabled it almost immediately after realizing what it was doing, but instead of keeping all desktops in a line by desktop number, the desktops seem to behave more like the application MRU list (alt-tab). I assume that using number keys will still take you directly to a specific desktop, but it seems like this “feature” would play havoc if you’re used to using arrow keys to cycle through desktops. I really don’t want to have to guess at where my desktops will be in the desktop list at any given time, thankyouverymuch. Disabled. Speaking of arrow keys…
  • Using the arrow keys to navigate between desktops is sloooow.  Apple CoreAnimate’d the tar out of the desktop-to-desktop transition, and while it is nice and pretty, it probably takes a full second or more between the time that you switch from the first desktop until you can do anything on the second desktop. (Oddly, using the number keys to move between desktops is still very quick.) I know what you’re thinking: “a full second? My, however will you cope?!?” Yeah, well, when you flip back-and-forth between desktops as often as I do, it gets very annoying to have to wait. Of course, maybe it doesn’t matter anymore because…
  • You can no longer organize desktops into rows and columns.  With Mission Control, you get one long row of desktops, which I guess looks nice up there at the top of the Mission Control window, but if that was the only reason for getting rid of the ability to organize desktops into a grid, those Apple devs should have thought a bit longer. Here’s the scenario: with Snow Leopard I had six Spaces organized in two rows of three Spaces each. The top row–spaces one through three–consisted of (1) Safari; (2) Mail/Outlook, iCal, Address Book; and (3) VMware with Windows 7 desktop. The bottom row–spaces four through six–were (4) IM/Twitter; and Spaces 5 and 6 were “scratch” spaces, typically used for Terminal windows and Word documents and other applications I didn’t care about pinning to a specific desktop. A nice thing about upgrading instead of reinstalling from scratch was that the number of desktops and all my app “pinnings” were preserved, so Adium is still on desktop 4, for instance. However, now I either have to arrow left and right (and endure the delay) to move through all six desktops or use the number keys to bounce directly to a desktop. Unfortunately, since desktop four is no longer logically “under” desktop one, to get there from desktop one it’s either three arrow-lefts or involves taking my eyes off the screen to hunt down the “4” key. With Spaces, that would have been an “arrow-down”–much easier! Adium was “below” Safari, VMware was to the right of Mail and “above” a scratch space, etc. It made sense.
  • Lastly, desktop movement is not circular.  You cannot arrow-left on the first desktop to get to the last desktop or vice-versa. I have no idea why that got removed.

The Positive

  • At least you can still have multiple desktops.  Snarky, yes, but sadly it’s almost all I could come up with.
  • Performing an upgrade from Snow Leopard preserved my desktops and application desktop assignments.  At least I didn’t have to go through and reset assignments for all of my frequently used applications. For what it’s worth, the way to assign an application to a specific desktop is to right-click the application’s icon in the Dock, then choose Options–>Assign To.


Mission Control is nice, I guess, but in creating this new hybrid Spaces/Exposé thing they removed functionality that I’ve come to rely on (and indeed, has probably been in UNIX-like windows managers for 15 years or more). In short, I want Spaces back.