The OS X Lion Survival Guide

Okay, so OS X Lion isn't perfect. But chances are that probably isn't going to stop you from picking it up. With that in mind, here's our guide to help you make the most of Apple's new OS.

Tips, Tricks and Workarounds

Remap Gestures That Don't Make Sense
One of our biggest gripes about Lion is that it offers next to no options for remapping gestures. It wouldn't be that big of a deal, except that some of the most commonly used functions have super-uncomfortable gestures, like the four-fingered-but-not-the-pinky hand explosion to clear to the desktop. Come on.

The OS X Lion Survival Guide

Luckily, there are programs like the free BetterTouchTool that let you remap the goofy gestures to better suit your tastes. (You can see mine in the screenshot.) BTT doesn't support Lion functions like Mission Control natively just yet, but you can map gestures to their respective keybinds.

The OS X Lion Survival Guide

Take a Peek Next Door
Swiping between Spaces—one of Lion's key new features—is one of the prettier animations, and it allows what's probably my favorite productivity hack. Instead of swiping all the way through to the next Space over, you can slowly glide into the Space and take a peek at the edges of whatever apps (or widgets, if you leave Dashboard as a Space) are to the right or left of your current Space.

I use this to check my Mail inbox on the right and peek at my Turntable.fm queue in a browser window on the left, but if you're a heavy multitasker, it adds real estate without having to navigate away from your workspace.

The OS X Lion Survival Guide

Reclaim Three-Fingered Back and Forward Navigation
Right now, gesture-based Back and Forward is broken if you use Lion's default two-finger gesture to page back and forth. To get it working, you have to switch the "Swipe between pages" gesture to either three fingers or two/three fingers. You'll find that option under More Gestures in the Trackpad section of System Preferences.

This should be (we hope) a transient issue while browsers and other apps catch up to the new gestures in Lion, but for now you can get around by hanging onto the swipes you're used to. Win-Win.

The OS X Lion Survival Guide

Erase iCal and Address Book's Terrible Makeovers
The "physical metaphor" of iCal and Address book is kind of a train wreck. It looks more like the the garish faux-wood paneling in your parents basement than an appropriate skin for two still very functional apps.

Thankfully, MacNix has a free option to erase the gimmicky new skins and replace them with something that resembles the rest of your apps. Just download the skins and follow the installation guide. Personally, I skipped the step where it suggests backing up the apps, because I never want to set eyes on the defaults again.

The OS X Lion Survival Guide

Work From the Right Side of Spaces
Full Screen apps are gorgeous, but they come with caveats. First and foremost: a Full Screen app gets dumped at the back end of your Spaces queue by default, meaning there's no way to navigate to it without having to flip through every other open Space.

The easy way around this is to put your default desktop in the rightmost Space. This lets you toggle between your Full Screen apps and your active spaces without having to page through everything you have open. You can't rearrange the order of your virtual desktops with this setup, so you'll want to leave yourself a few extra desktops on the left if you think you might need them.

The OS X Lion Survival Guide

Make Sure Your Apps Are Compatible with Lion
Not all apps are kosher with Lion just yet. Some, like those based on PowerPC, are going to need a complete rewrite if you want to use them with 10.7, but others just have a few bugs to squash. RoaringApps has a super useful table to sort out which of your apps are going to be giving you headaches and which are good to go.

The OS X Lion Survival Guide

Just Turn It Off
Some of Lion's more frustrating features can simply be turned off. Inverse scrolling takes some getting used to, but at this point I more or less have the hang of it. Others, like Glorious Leader Joe Brown, have absolutely no use for it and immediately ditched it. To join him, disable inverse scrolling with the Scroll & Zoom option in your Trackpad settings. Dashboard as a Space makes sense conceptually, but the time it takes to animate into focus seems longer and laggier than its old form. Disable that one under Mission Control in System Preferences. Disappearing scrollbars make browsing just a bit prettier, but they can also become disorienting if you're constantly bouncing around a document. Those can be disabled by setting "Show scroll bars" to Always in General Settings.

Not every issue's going to have an easy (or any) fix, so take advantage of the ones that you can just switch off.

Pains in the Butt You Can't Workaround

The OS X Lion Survival Guide

Full Screen View Is the Beautiful Crazy Girl You Can Never Marry
We already mentioned that Full Screen looks good, but just so we're clear, it looks really good. So it's kind of heartbreaking that, for the most part, it's completely unusable in any practical way.

The problem with Full Screen is that it doesn't just graphically take up your display; it creates a whole new virtual desktop for itself and bogarts the whole damn thing. That means if you enjoy, say, running a movie full screen in the background while working on something else, you're out of luck. Same goes for popping out a single email from Full Screen Mail to multitask in another workspace, or keeping a text doc with reference information behind a Full Screen application. You can get around all of this by just not using the feature, but wasn't the point of adding so much Full Screen support to get you to actually use it?

The OS X Lion Survival Guide

Spaces Is Completely Neutered by Mission Control
Full disclosure: I was a heavy Spaces user in OS X Leopard and Snow Leopard. But I was also hugely excited for Mission Control, because I always had too many windows open for Exposé to be much help to me. And while the Mission Control has been great for picking through apps on a cluttered workspace, it has completely neutered the way Spaces works.

One of the best parts of the old Spaces was being able to jump into the overview screen and completely rearrange the workspaces for each of your virtual desktops. That's totally gone now. As it stands, you can't move apps from one workspace to another if they're not on your active desktop. You also can't move an app from one monitor's active Space to a Space on another monitor.

The OS X Lion Survival Guide

Spaces Navigation Isn't Quite Right, Either
The big thrust for Spaces navigation in Lion is the introduction of gesture-based navigation between desktops. And that's wonderful! It's so great, in fact, that vertical Spaces alignment is gone, in service of other gestures and the horizontal layout of Mission Control. But why oh why can you not loop from the back of the row to the front, and vice versa? If you're going to put everything in one long line, what sense does it make to have the two ends completely separate?

The OS X Lion Survival Guide

Death Sentence for Your Power PC Apps
We knew it was coming, but it still bears mentioning: Apple dropping support for old PowerPC apps means some of your stuff is going to stop working, and there's nothing you can do about it short of running a Snow Leopard partition. Granted, the only app that I used regularly that's affected by the change is Diablo II, but that's a big loss!

Don't know Mission Control from missionary? Check out our full guide to Lion OS X's top new features here.


You can keep up with Kyle Wagner, the author of this post, on Twitter.