Learning to Live with Lion

How to make Lion more like Snow Leopard

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So you’ve downloaded Lion from the Mac App Store, and updated your Mac. You’re delighted by many of the new features, but there are some that rub you the wrong way. You may wish you could revert some of them to the behavior they had in Snow Leopard. Maybe you just can’t get used to the changes, or perhaps you simply don’t find them appealing. Here’s a look at some of the many new features that you can revert to the Old Way. While it may be a good idea to get used to the way Lion does certain things, it’s certainly understandable that you might want to change some of them back—I know I did.

(Note that when I mention preferences that can be changed, unless I name a specific application, all these preferences are found in the System Preferences application, which you can access from the Apple menu.)

General behavior

Scroll direction: The first thing you probably saw when launching Lion was a video informing you that the default scroll direction has changed. In the past—since the advent of scrolling mice and trackpads—when you scrolled up, the content of your window went down, and vice versa. Now, scroll up with either a scroll wheel or a mouse, or with two finders on a trackpad, and the window content follows your movement.

You can change this if you want, but I’d suggest that you first try and get used to it. It only took me a few hours to adapt to the new setting, and it does make sense if you have an iOS device which works the same way. But if you want to change it, go to the Trackpad -> Scroll & Zoom preferences, if you have a trackpad, or the Mouse preferences, if you use a mouse. In the former, uncheck Scroll direction: natural. For a mouse, uncheck Move content in the direction of finger movement when scrolling or navigating. If you're using a non-Apple pointing device, it might not work. If so, give Scroll Reverser a try—it does the same magic on Lion that it does on Snow Leopard.

Scroll bar display: By default, Lion only displays scroll bars when you start scrolling. (Though some applications display them all the time, regardless of your settings. My guess is that something in the application overrides Lion’s settings.) But having them visible all the time can be useful, notably on a web page, where the length of the scroll button, and its position, can give you clues as to how long a page is.

To have scroll bars display all the time, go to the General preferences, and, in the Show scroll bars section, check Always. The default setting, Automatically based on input device, uses the now-you-see-’em-now-you-don’t scrollbars if there’s a touch-capable device connected to your Mac—a built-in trackpad, Magic Trackpad or Magic Mouse. If you have just a standard Apple mouse, then you’ll see the scrollbars all the time. I haven’t tested this with third-party mice.

The General preferences let you set scroll bar settings, and choose whether windows are re-opened when you relaunch applications.

Inertia scrolling: As long as we’re on the subject of scrolling, there’s one effect that may be a bit disturbing, at least if you have a trackpad (this doesn’t happen if you have a mouse). If you have an iPhone or iPad you’ve already seen it; when you scroll something, and stop scrolling, the content continues moving for a second, with inertia. You may like the old way better, where content just stops when you stop scrolling. (I find that inertia makes me dizzy, as my body knows I’ve stopped scrolling, but my eyes have to keep moving.) To change this, go to the Universal Access preferences, click on Mouse & Trackpad, then Trackpad Options. In the Scrolling menu, choose Without Inertia.

Gestures: If you have a trackpad, you are aware that there are a number of gestures you can use to switch windows, zoom in or out, or access certain features. Some of these act differently from the same movements under Snow Leopard. You can change some of these in the Trackpad preferences, on the More Gestures tab. Some Exposé gestures may be different from what you are used to, notably because of the addition of Mission Control and full-screen apps. Have a look at these settings and see if there are any you want to change or even deactivate to be more comfortable.

This dialog lets you choose, when shutting down or restarting your Mac, or when logging out, whether windows should be re-opened the next time you log in.
Relaunch applications and windows at startup: Lion has features that help you get back to work more quickly. This includes relaunching applications you had open when you last shut down your Mac, and re-opening windows you had open when you last quit applications. This can be disturbing, though; if you’re used to quitting a program to both terminate it and close its file, you’ll need to think of closing the file first, then quitting the program, so that file doesn’t reopen at launch. And, if you were looking at something you weren’t supposed to, and your boss came by, if you suddenly quit an application, the next time you launch it, that previous window will open again. (This includes web pages in a browser.) But you can change some of these settings.

First, when you shut down or restart your Mac, or log out of your account, a window displays asking if you want to reopen windows when logging back in. If you uncheck the option in this dialog, your applications and windows will not be re-opened when you restart your Mac or log into your account again. If you just want to prevent windows from opening when you relaunch applications, you can do this in the General preferences by unchecking Restore windows when quitting and re-opening apps.

If you want to do this on an ad hoc basis—say you have ten windows open in Word, and don’t want them to open next time you launch the program—hold down the Option key and you’ll find that the Quit command in the application’s menu becomes Quit and Discard Windows. If you’ve turned off the Restore windows option, holding down Option while in that menu will modify Quit to be Quit and Keep Windows, allowing you to save any windows you have open after a restart or login. If you forget to do this when you quit, just hold down the shift key when opening the app the next time, and it’ll open with no windows open.

Finder features

An number of changes have been made to the Lion Finder, some of which may alter the way you work. Here’s how you can change some of them back to the way they were before.

All My Files: The Finder sidebar, by default, has a new item, All My Files. If you click on this, you’ll see, as the name suggests, all your files: word processing files, spreadsheets, PDFs, presentations and more. Alas, if you have more than a handful of files, this can be very confusing, and, frankly, not very useful. So, if there are too many files, just hold down the Command key and drag this item from the sidebar. If you want to put it back, choose Finder -> Preferences, click on Sidebar and check it.

AirDrop: AirDrop is a useful new way to transfer files from Mac to Mac. However, if you only have one Mac, and don’t exchange files with it, or if your Macs don’t support AirDrop, you can just remove it from the sidebar. Hold down the Command key and drag it off the sidebar to make it go poof!

Here's a Finder window with both the Status Bar and Path Bar visible.
Finder status bar: You may be used to a status bar displaying below Finder windows: this bar shows you how many items are in a window, how many are selected (if any), and how much free space is on your disk. You can display this status bar by choosing View -> Show Status Bar, and it will then display for all Finder windows in the future. While you’re at it, you might want to display the path bar as well (View -> Show Path Bar), which gives you a graphical representation of where you are in your file hierarchy.

Change Finder toolbar icon size and display: In Snow Leopard and earlier versions of Mac OS X, you could change the size of icons in the Finder toolbar (as well as the toolbars of other applications which offered icons in their toolbar) by holding down the Command key and clicking on the lozenge in the upper-right corner of the window. You can still do this, but only from the bottom of the window that displays when you choose View > Customize Toolbar.

The missing Library folder: Apple has decided to hide the Library folder that is inside your home folder. In most cases, you won’t need to access this folder, but you may want to get to it from time to time, for example, if you want to install AppleScripts for iTunes, or remove specific files when troubleshooting. As we covered previously, there are 19 different ways to display the Library folder in Lion.

“Search For” smart folders: Snow Leopard had a Search For section in the Finder sidebar, which contained a number of default searches stored as smart folders. If you created your own smart folders, you may have added them to that list. But in Lion, this Search For section is gone.

To get smart folders you saved back into the sidebar, you need to go into the Library folder in your home folder. (See above.) Find the Saved Searches folder; this is the default location for saving smart folders (though you may have saved some elsewhere). You can add this entire folder to the Finder sidebar by selecting it and pressing Command-T, or you can open the folder, and add selected smart folders to the sidebar in the same manner. They’ll display in the sidebar with gear icons, so you can tell them apart from regular folders.

For the other default smart folders that were in Snow Leopard, and that have disappeared, such as Today, Yesterday, All Movies, etc., you’ll need to recreate them. This Macworld article will help you recover the smart folders you used to use.

LaunchPad and Mission Control

LaunchPad and Mission Control Dock icons: By default, there are two new icons in the Dock: one for LaunchPad, and one for Mission Control. You may or may not choose to use these two features, and if you don’t use them, they may clutter your Dock. You can drag one or both of these icons from the Dock if you wish. You’ll still have access via keyboard shortcuts or hot corners.

Mission Control replaces Exposé. While you can’t go back, you’ll find that the same shortcuts and hot corners you used with Exposé will work with Mission Control. You may need to adjust some settings; if so, just go to the Mission Control preference pane.

Dashboard: Previously, Dashboard displayed over your current windows, but in the new Mission Control, it is considered a “space” of its own. So if you invoke a Dashboard keyboard shortcut, or use a hot corner to activate it, your windows will slide as Dashboard comes into view, over what looks to be a Lego-board background. You can have Dashboard act as it did before, overlaying windows instead: just uncheck Show Dashboard as space in the Mission Control preferences.

Adding spaces: With Snow Leopard’s Spaces feature, you would use the Spaces preferences to choose the number of spaces you wanted. If you wanted to add or remove spaces, you would go back to those preferences and make a change. In Lion, adding spaces, or, more correctly, desktops, requires activating Mission Control (either by clicking its icon, or using a keyboard shortcut or hot corner), then pressing and holding the Option key. You’ll see a plus symbol (+) at the top-right of your screen. Click on the plus to create a new desktop, then move any windows you want to that desktop. Or just start dragging a window up toward the other desktops, and you’ll see the plus symbol appear automatically.

Assigning applications to specific desktops: Under Snow Leopard, you could assign certain applications to specific spaces from the Spaces preferences. You can no longer do this. Instead, you need to use the Dock.

Move to a desktop that contains a specific application that you want to pin to that desktop. Click and hold that program’s Dock icon, choose Options, choose Assign To, then choose This Desktop. In the future, when you launch the application, it will be pinned to that desktop. If you use a lot of applications, and multiple desktops, you’ll want to do this for all your applications right away so they launch in the correct desktop.


Mail’s three-column layout: One thing I loathe in Lion is the new three-column layout in Mail. I’m used to reading emails in a list, and not getting confused by a column of mailboxes, a list of emails, then another column for the contents of my emails. Fortunately, you can go back to the old way: In Mail’s preferences, click on Viewing, then check Use classic layout.

Most of the above tips cover general Mac OS X features. I haven’t looked at smaller features in specific Apple applications. If you have any features that you like, and that you found ways to revert, feel free to tell us about them in the comments.

[Senior contributor Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just Macs on his blog Kirkville. Twitter: @mcelhearn Kirk is the author of Take Control of Scrivener 2.]

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At a Glance
  • At $30 for all of your Macs, the only reason not to upgrade to Lion is because you rely on old PowerPC-based apps that won’t run on it. Otherwise, it’s a great price for a major upgrade.

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