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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 5 Issue 9September 2011
In This Issue
Don't Let Apple's "Lion" Bite You! [Mac OS X 10.7]
The new Macintosh OS X version 10.7 ("Lion") has two important changes that may seriously disrupt your ability to be productive on your Mac. Here's my advice on how to handle them.
Don't Let Apple's "Lion" Bite You! [Mac OS X 10.7]

Please note: This newsletter focuses on Macintosh problems caused by a recently-announced software upgrade. If you're a Microsoft Windows user and aren't interested in Macintosh, you can skip this. I will be writing about problems with Windows upgrades soon.

In July 2011, Apple released a new version of the Macintosh operating system, Mac OS X 10.7, also known as "Lion." While Apple and most of the technology press are enthusiastically praising its new (and not-so-new) features, when I looked into it I noticed two very serious problems. Both of these will negatively affect me when 10.6 is no longer viable and I'm forced to upgrade, and it's likely that one or both of them will ultimately affect you as well.

The good news is that you probably won't have to worry about 10.7 for a while. It's currently only available as an optional upgrade to Mac OS X 10.6 ("Snow Leopard"), which you can purchase either as a download from Apple's "Mac App Store" or on the "OS X Lion USB Thumb Drive." In other words, at this point new Macintoshes will still ship with 10.6 pre-installed until Apple eventually switches its production line to 10.7 or its successor.

In my opinion you should ignore the publicity and not upgrade to Lion right now. Read about the problems below and, as with any computer upgrade, plan carefully before you take on such a major change.

Problem #1: Some of the programs you depend upon every day may not work under Lion

To understand this problem there are two things you need to know:

1. There are four kinds of Macintosh applications (programs):
  • "Classic": Applications written for older Macintoshes that ran Mac OS 9 or earlier, the last one was manufactured in 2006. If you use Mac OS X 10.4 or earlier, you might still be using some of these applications within the "Classic" environment that emulates Mac OS 9 in OS X. However, if you use 10.5 or later the Classic environment is gone, so you've already stopped using these applications.
  • "PowerPC": Applications written for older Macintoshes with PowerPC CPU chips, manufactured from 1996 to 2005.
  • "Intel": Applications written for Macintoshes with Intel CPU chips, manufactured starting in 2006.
  • "Universal": Applications that run on both PowerPC and Intel CPUs.
How can you find out the type of a given application? In the Finder, select the application, do File->Get Info, and look at its "Kind" for one of the adjectives above. If it only says "Kind: Application" then you'll need to use the System Profiler as I describe below.

2. Normally, if you took an older (PowerPC) application and tried to run it on a newer (Intel) machine, it simply wouldn't work. In order to help with the transition to Intel machines, Apple provided an amazing behind-the-scenes piece of software called "Rosetta" that enabled most older applications to work on newer Macintoshes by pretending that the Intel Mac was a PowerPC. Rosetta was introduced in 2005 under Mac OS X 10.4.4, and is also part of 10.5 and 10.6 today. Some companies have made newer Intel versions of their programs, but many haven't.

If you ever used older OS 9 programs within the Classic environment on OS X, you were probably very aware of it, but Rosetta is the reason you've probably never noticed whether the applications you're using now are PowerPC or Intel.

So, here's the first part of the problem: Lion (Mac OS X 10.7) only runs on Intel Macs and does not include or support Rosetta, so if you upgrade to 10.7 all of your PowerPC applications will stop working.

And here's the second part of the problem: Many companies that have made newer Intel versions of their applications that work on Mac OS X 10.5 and 10.6 are discovering that they don't work on Lion (10.7). The more responsible companies are scrambling to fix them, but right now it's a bit of a mess.

Here are some popular Macintosh programs that will not work on Lion because they are PowerPC applications:
  • Microsoft Office 2004 and all earlier versions, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage [Office 2008 and Office 2011 work on Lion, but they have some problems]
  • Quicken 2007 for Mac and all earlier versions [the newer "Quicken Essentials for Mac" does work on Lion, but in my opinion it's a vastly inferior product]
  • QuickBooks 2010 and all earlier versions [QuickBooks 2011 and later do work on Lion]
  • All versions of AppleWorks for Mac including the final (end of life) version 6.2.9
  • All versions of Palm Desktop for Mac including the final (end of life) version 4.2.1 as well as HotSync Manager; the Palm support page suggests "The Missing Sync" from http://www.markspace.com 
  • All versions of Eudora for Mac including the final (end of life) version 6.2.4 [email program]; see http://www.eudora.com for a link to a new Eudora project
  • AOL Desktop for Mac: Some users report that it doesn't work on Lion
  • All versions of SilverKeeper including the final (end of life) version 2.0.2 [free backup software]
If you want a thorough list of your applications and each one's type, do this:
  • Open the System Profiler by pulling down the Apple menu, clicking "About This Mac," and then clicking the "More Info..." button.
  • In the list on the left, towards the bottom under "Software," click "Applications" (you may have to scroll down to see it).
  • After scanning your computer (which will take a minute), an alphabetical list of all the applications on your Mac will appear on the right.
  • Make the window wider to reveal the "Kind" column.
  • Scroll through the list, look for the applications you use and note each one's Kind; ignore any applications you don't recognize. Or, you can click on "Kind" at the top, which will group applications with the same Kind together.
End of life: In the past few days I've read about many applications and their "Lion readiness." Some have been updated and work fine and others have problems that will hopefully be fixed soon. However, a few companies whose applications don't work on Lion have decided not to update them, meaning that their software has now reached the end of its usable life. If such a program is important to you, you should plan on trying to find a replacement before upgrading to Lion.

So, while you can be sure that all of your PowerPC applications will not work on Lion, some of your Intel applications may not work, either. You should carefully research all applications that you use before upgrading.

Problem #2: Under Lion, scroll bars have become more difficult to use, and they may vanish when not in active use

On Mac OS X 10.6 and all previous versions, scroll bars pack a lot of information and control into a relative small area. (Look at the scroll bar to the right of this article as you read this section.) When a window contains more information than can fit on the screen (for example, if you've opened a 30-page Word document or a long email message or web site), the vertical scroll bar at the right edge tells you a number of things at a glance. If you think of it as resembling an elevator shaft:
  • The blue "cab" in the shaft is called the "thumb." As you scroll up or down, its position in the shaft moves up or down to correspond to your relative position in the document. If the thumb is at the top, you're at the beginning of the document. If the thumb is 90% of the way down, you've got 10% of the document left to read.
  • The height of the thumb (in proportion to the height of the shaft) corresponds to the height of the information you can see (in proportion to the height of all of the information). If an entire page of a 3-page document can fit in the window, the thumb will take up 1/3 of the shaft. If that document has 100 pages, the thumb will be very thin.
  • If all of the information fits in the window there's no need to scroll, so in most programs the thumb disappears and the scroll bar becomes "inactive." (Excel is one exception to this.)
  • If you click-and-drag the thumb up or down, you can quickly scroll through the document.
  • Scroll bars also have little up- and down-arrows you can click on, which scroll the document by small increments (usually by a line or so per click).
  • Scroll bars are always visible, so you can always tell at a glance whether you can scroll, your position in the document, and how much of the document you can see at one time.
So, here's the problem: Lion (Mac OS X 10.7) changes two important things about scroll bars:
  • Depending on your settings in System Preferences, the new scroll bars may vanish if you're not actively scrolling, only to reappear when you start to scroll again. This means that you may look at a window and read its interesting content, but completely miss its additional content (perhaps because the visible portion just happened to end neatly at the end of a paragraph), because the scroll bar (that would have told you there was more information below) is hidden. Or, now that you know this, you may waste time trying to scroll areas that don't have additional content because you can't distinguish them from areas that do.
  • The new scroll bars no longer have the little up- and down-arrows, making it more difficult to scroll by small amounts. This means that if you have a trackpad (or scroll-wheel mouse or a newer "multi-touch" mouse) and know the appropriate 1- or 2-finger "gesture" to scroll, you can scroll by small increments without much effort, but if you have a classic one-button Macintosh mouse, you can only scroll by dragging the thumb (which requires you to continuously hold the mouse button down while simultaneously moving the mouse in small increments) or using the keyboard (which takes a few steps to set up and depends on what type of window you're in). This especially concerns me for older or disabled users who may have issues with fine motor control or a reduced sense of touch in their fingertips.
These changes can be especially confusing if there are multiple scrollable areas in a given window (multiple lists, articles, choices on a form, etc.). The desire to reduce "clutter" and to make the Macintosh interface look and act more like an iPad or iPhone seem to be the reasons for these changes, but I just find them ill-conceived and irritating.

While there is currently no built-in option to bring back the little up- and down-arrows, the good news is that you can tell Lion to prevent your scroll bars from vanishing. If you've already upgraded to Lion, go to System Preferences, click the General icon, and then under "Show scroll bars" click the "Always" radio button.

Also, the thumb color has changed from blue to grey.

  • It is more important than ever to do careful research before upgrading your computer.
  • "Lion" (Mac OS X 10.7) is so new and has so many compatibility problems, even if you've already completely switched from PowerPC to Intel applications, I strongly advise that you postpone upgrading for as long as you reasonably can.
  • Scroll bars give you useful information and navigational control. It's a shame when Apple unnecessarily changes something that works.
Where to go from here
If you're confused or frustrated by something on your computer, I like to say, "You can do it!" You might just need a little encouragement, or information, or change of perspective, and that's where I come in.
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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Copyright (C) 2011 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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