What Lion Left Behind

Apple may be adding 250+ new features to Mac OS X Lion, but just like Snow Leopard before it some features are scheduled to be taken away.

Early Intel Macs

Lion’s aggressive system requirements excludes early Intel Macs without a 64-bit compatible processor. This includes the first few versions of Intel powered iMacs, MacBook Pros, Mac minis, and MacBooks equipped with “Yonah” processors. (All versions of the Mac Pro contain 64-bit Xenon processors capable of running Lion.) Even the first 64-bit Core 2 compatible Macs that make the cut will require additional memory to run Lion. The base system requirement is 2GBs, and that is enough to max out those early 64-bit machines. It has been more than five years since the first Intel powered Macs were introduced and it comes at no surprise that they will not be supported by Lion. Snow Leopard made the logical cut of dropping support for PowerPC powered Macs, and Lion is making a similar break from the 32-bit machines of the past.

PowerPC Software

Snow Leopard dropped support for PowerPC powered Macs, but continues to run software written for PowerPC processors by way of Rosetta a lightweight dynamic binary translator distributed by Apple. Lion will drop support for Rosetta and with it support for all PowerPC applications.

Lion’s refusal to run PowerPC applications may be a political move or it may be technically unfeasible, since Lion is adopting a strict 64-bit only architecture. Whatever the reason Lion can not run PowerPC applications, and installing the Rossetta binary included with Snow Leopard makes no difference. PowerPC compatibility has been removed from all of Lion’s Mac OS X Frameworks.

Users with legacy devices and applications that require PowerPC compatibility will feel the sharpest sting from Lion’s move away from Rosetta. But even the latest Intel compatible applications that include PowerPC compiled components will experience reduced functionality while running under Lion. Microsoft Office 2011’s MSQuery tool, and Adobe CS5’s pre-compiled droplets and scripts are just two examples of major Intel compiled applications with PowerPC components incompatible with Mac OS X Lion.

Adobe Flash Support

Thanks to the iOS’s inability to play Flash video Apple’s reluctance to include Flash support in its products is world renowned. But up until Lion, Mac OS X has always included the Flash plugin by default, and at one time Flash playback was even part of QuickTime. Say what you will, Apple hates Flash, Apple is moving towards HTML5, Apple wants to control the experience, or Apple is concerned about Flash based security vulnerabilities. No matter the reason Flash Support will not be included in the default installation of Lion, but will continue to be available as a third-party plug-in from Adobe.

Java Runtime Environment

In 2001 Java was an important development option for porting existing applications over to Mac OS X, but as time went by Apple’s Java runtime became less important to the future of Mac OS X development. By 2005 Java bindings for the Cocoa frameworks proved to be unpopular by developers and were depreciated before the release of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. In 2010 Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard saw the depreciation of the entire Apple produced Java runtime and the introduction of the Mac App Store where Java apps would not be permitted. The writing is on the wall, the Java Runtime Environment will be removed from the default installation of Mac OS X Lion and replaced with an on-demand download. Security concerns and the continued cost of development are most likely the reasons behind this dropped feature. Look for an Oracle maintained version of Java for future versions of Mac OS X starting with Java SE 7.


Apple began integrating [the open source software] Samba into its operating systems in 2002 with the release of Mac OS X v10.2 “Jaguar.” With Samba, Mac OS X’s ability to interact with Windows has grown over the last several years, evolving from everyday file sharing between co-workers into Mac servers capable of hosting account profiles and entire home directories for Windows users to access from their networked PCs.

As Mac OS X adopted more of Samba’s tools, the team behind Samba gradually transformed the open source licensing for its software. The latest version of Samba is offered only with General Public License Version 3 (GPLv3) licensing, which includes restrictions that essentially prevent Apple from incorporating it into commercially packaged software like Mac OS X.

Samba’s disappearance from Lion will not herald the end of Windows networking technologies in Mac OS X. Instead Apple is hard at work building a new suite of built-in tools that will allow Mac OS X Lion to continue communicating with Windows networks.

Front Row

Front Row, the TV-oriented media center playback system for Mac OS X, was first added to Macs in 2005. It provided a simple 10-foot user interface suitable for displaying photos, music, and videos in a living room settings. Apple stopped bundling Front Row compatible IR remotes with its computers in the end of 2007, and the last update to Front Row was made in 2008. Since then the Apple TV and AirPlay have taken over the role of a Mac compatible media extender for the living room. The only customers sad to see Front Row go are Mac mini enthusiasts who continue to use their pint-sized Macs as an entertainment center.

56k Modem

The last Mac to have a built-in 56k modem was the legendary PowerBook G4 John Gruber documented in his review Full Metal Jacket. Since then Macintosh users who rely on dial-up internet or telephone faxing have had to purchase an optional USB Modem from Apple.

The decision to drop the built-in dial-up modem is reminiscent of Apple’s decision to drop built-in floppy drives. With the rise of broadband Internet and the general availability of wireless networking, it is likely that Apple felt that it was of more use for people to have default wireless instead of default dial-up.

With the release of Lion Apple is dropping support for 56k modems entirely. The previous USB modem driver emulated the design of Motorola SM56 and will not be rewritten for 64 bit. Alternatives such as the USRobotics 56K USB Faxmodem, and Zoom Model 3095 V.92 USB Mini External Modem do exist, and are reported to work under Lion.

The seven major features left out of Lion will be missed most by the people who used them, but a forward thinking operating system like Mac OS X can only keep evolving when legacy runtimes are left behind.

Egg Freckles @eggfreckles