In the course of Apple’s super-release last Wednesday, most of the air got sucked out of the room by the new iPhone 4S and iOS 5. But those weren’t the only components of the release. For developers, there was Xcode 4.2 for both Snow Leopard and Lion. And for Lion users, there was Mac OS X 10.7.2, which appeared in the usual four forms, including delta and combo updaters for both Lion and Lion Server. As always, it’s easiest to let Software Update handle the delta updates; the combo updaters are useful if you have to reinstall for some reason.
Considering how long it has been since Lion was originally released (see “,” 20 July 2011), and considering the minimal nature of the early bug-fix release 10.7.1 (see “ ,” 16 August 2011), 10.7.2 may come as something of a disappointment. If you were seriously expecting that Apple would provide an official option for turning off major new features such as Auto Save, those hopes are dashed; modifying (or even moderating) its strategy is not a typical part of the Apple ethos. Even minor tweaks are fairly few and far between.
The delay in releasing 10.7.2 was not, it appears, so that Apple could make extensive changes, but so that iCloud could appear on your Mac and your iOS devices simultaneously; in other words, iCloud is 10.7.2’s big new feature. Now, iCloud is a major subject, and we’ll doubtless be featuring considerably more news and information about it shortly. (Suffice it to say for now that initial efforts to move to iCloud have been fraught with problems for many people, so if you’re not desperate to try the new features, you might want to wait for a bit.) So let’s leave iCloud to one side for a moment and focus on the rest of 10.7.2. It turns out that a couple of the behaviors mentioned in our article “Subtle Irritations in Lion” (17 August 2011) are in fact emended, and there are a few additional if subtle usability improvements. Here’s a rundown of some of the more noticeable changes in 10.7.2 (and if you find others, please do mention them in the comments).
Auto Termination -- The Auto Termination behavior that I discussed in “” (5 August 2011) appears to be moderated somewhat. In my experiments, applications such as TextEdit and Preview no longer vanish from the Command-Tab switcher the moment they were backgrounded and without windows. But they did eventually vanish from the Command-Tab switcher (and the Dock, if they weren’t permanently resident there). So while the timing may have been changed, the basic behavior has not; and the basic behavior still seems to me to be just plain wrong. Auto Termination should be completely transparent, meaning that the user should not be able to tell that anything has happened; removing an application from the Command-Tab switcher, when the user knows darned well that it was there a while ago, is disruptive and confusing.
Smart Folders -- Smart Folders, at long last, are working correctly in Lion. For some of us, this is a major bug fix (though its tardiness is unforgivable, seeing as Apple knew about the problem well before Lion was originally released). Briefly, you can now save a Spotlight search as a Smart Folder and then later correctly view (and possibly modify) that Smart Folder’s search criteria. This makes Smart Folders useful once again, restoring their behavior to match that of earlier versions of Mac OS X. For more information about using Smart Folders, see Sharon Zardetto’s “Take Control of Spotlight for Finding Anything on Your Mac.”
Desktop Order -- In Mission Control’s All Windows mode, desktop spaces and full-screen applications beyond the Dashboard and the first desktop can now be rearranged by dragging. (This change is actually called out in Apple’s own release notes.) This should make manual management of desktops far easier; if you uncheck “Automatically rearrange spaces based on most recent use” in the Mission Control preference pane, in particular, the order of spaces and full-screen applications should be completely predictable and under your control. Previously, you were stuck with the order in which desktop spaces and full-screen applications were created, or the order in which the automatic rearrangement algorithm chose to re-sort them for you.
Moreover, desktop spaces now survive a restart: if you allow open windows to be restored as you log out, restart, or shut down, then when you log back in, those windows will resume their places in the spaces where you left them.
Versions on Unsupported Volumes -- In “” (8 September 2011), Adam Engst outlined a situation where you could end up working on a document on a server or non-HFS+ volume (which Versions can’t handle) without realizing that Versions wasn’t protecting you. In 10.7.2, Apple has addressed this bug in the simplest possible fashion, by putting up a warning when you try to close a document stored on an unsupported volume. The only problem is, as reader , is that if someone opens a document on a server, modifies it, has the changes saved by Auto Save but ignored by Versions, and then tries to close, the only options provided are Cancel and Close. Thus, the only way to close the document without the auto-saved changes is to click Cancel and then use Undo repeatedly to revert to the initial state of the document, which is clumsy and error-prone.
Anything Else? -- Launchpad icons are considerably larger. And a tiny but definite change that I particularly appreciate (as a user of multiple systems) is that when pressing the Restart button after changing your setting in the Startup Disk preference pane, it is once again possible (as in previous versions of the system) to hold Option to skip the confirmation dialog. Apart from these, very few visible changes seem to be manifest; but the release notes list numerous small technical fixes that will probably improve the overall quality of life for Lion users. For example, Safari 5.1.1 is said to fix issues with hangs and memory usage that were all too obvious. On the other hand, MacBook Pro users who have been seeing Lion crash (kernel panic?) to a will, apparently, continue experiencing this issue until Apple issues a firmware update, expected soon.