Lion for normal people

Marco recently defined "geek" as someone who cares about a subject more than what society deems reasonable. I like that definition. It deemphasizes the dork factor and places zeal as the primary characteristic. With that said, I guess I can be classified as an Apple geek. Shoot, I found a way to make a living off my geekdom, which is exactly what I'd like to talk about today. Lion just came out, and I've had the pleasure of introducing it to a handful of normal people who I affectionately call non-nerds. Now, these folks are brilliant in their own fields, but just don't have the time to "play around" with a new operating system. They have real lives with real worries and real hobbies. (Geeks are real people too, but our passions are mere bits.) These normal folks hear about a couple features that sound interesting and think $29 is worth spending to satisfy their intrigue.

My Lion training appointment is pretty straight forward. Clients buy it from the Mac App Store, but pause the download and instead install it from my bootable drive. While it's installing on their Mac, I open up my MacBook Pro, log into a special user account just for training, and go over Lion's tentpole features which were demoed during the WWCD keynote. I believe it's the same order listed on Apple's actual Lion webpage. There are numerous reviews of Lion already on the web. What I'd like to do here is describe the non-nerd's reaction to Lion's headline features.

When I heard gestures were a headline feature to Lion, I yawned. How is this a new thing? I thought. There was a little freebie app for Snow Leopard that allowed one to make the same kind of configurations. Of course, normal people don't install preference pane apps. Lion's current take is way more natural, accessible, and smooth. And even though two-finger scrolling existed since the PowerBook days, many people never grew accustomed to it. My guess is that the tyrannical scroll bar had them under a spell. Why use an invisible method that I can likely mess up when there are real live, dependable bars I can click and drag? Well, now that scroll bars are literally fading before our eyes, gestures seem like a trustworthy way to move content. And from what I've noticed, people love using their trackpads to scroll. Oh, and since many people were never accustomed to scrolling with the trackpad, Lion's scroll inversion is a non-issue. Almost everyone I've helped has reached for a pad of paper and to jot down their favorite flicks.

Now, my favorite feature of Lion is full screen apps. I'm writing this post in Byword full screen, and it's gorgeous. Do I have any new email? What's hopping in Twitter world right now? Don't know, don't care. Honestly, I can't tell if normal people are as thrilled about it as I am. To me, it makes an app beautiful. Every pixel is directed to the task at hand. But for people who only use their Mac for an hour a day, it's not a big deal. I'm eager to see the general consensus after a few months.

The feature which I've seen get the most fanfare is Launchpad. Non-nerds love it. I've literally heard, "THIS is where all my apps are!" many times. Despite having an icon in the dock, most folks prefer the gesture. Go figure. Most clients also have an iPhone or iPad, so Launchpad makes perfect sense. They have already been exploring the Mac App Store, and it's not rare for me to come and see Evernote, Angry Birds, and some solitaire game chillin' in their dock. For them, Launchpad completes the picture. Not everything belongs in the dock, but Launchpad is its natural home. I'm still not sure why normal people rarely used the Applications folder when it was added as a stack in Snow Leopard. Perhaps it was the folder logo. "Who knows where that is?" might have been a common thought. Regardless, Launchpad is less intimidating, more accessible, and even kind of fun to use.

Resume, Auto-save, and Versions aren't getting much of a reaction from normal folks. Usually during this time in the appointment, people will ask, "So, how much longer does my Mac have?" or, they'll glance over at their notes on gestures and try their favorite again. Thankfully, we geeks know better. These doctors, grandmas, businessmen, and soccer moms need Auto-save and Versions more than anyone, right? After explaining the awesomeness of never encountering a Save dialogue again, the reaction I get is usually, "Oh. That's nice, I guess." John Siracusa in his mammoth Lion review said better technology should reduce the number of things we care about. Resume, Auto-save, and Versions finally free us from caring about constantly saving our work. And that's a very good thing.

Last and certainly not least, there's Mail. Everyone loves the new Mail. Want to know the best feature? New messages are automatically displayed at the top. Why it's taken this long to become the default, I'll never know. At this point in my training, if someone hasn't fallen in love with full-screen apps, they get it when they see Mail. Having no distractions enables you to plow through messages, striving closer to an empty inbox. Conversation view and the dedicated "Show related messages" button are insanely helpful, rendering the Sort vs. Search argument irrelevant. Geeks and normal people alike agree that Lion's $29 price tag is well worth the Mail revamp.

All in all, I believe that Steve Job was right when he said, "We think there's something in here for everyone." The masses have downloaded Lion, and from the small amount of non-nerds I've been able to help, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Apple has merged cuteness with functionality that even a casual Mac user can enjoy.

Rick Stawarz

Minneapolis, MN

I am an Apple Certified Support Professional with over a decade of experience supporting families, schools, and businesses. Tech has always captured my imagination, but it's not my only passion. I'm an ordained Anglican minister;  Aeropress is a daily ritual of mine; I've driven across Mongolia; and I'm the father of three girls. I hope to provide for you a balanced and realistic perspective into the practicality of technology.