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Apple has been hard at work pulling together the latest version of its new desktop operating system, OS X 10.8, a.k.a. Mountain Lion. With Mountain Lion, Apple is combiining the features of its two most successful platforms: OS X, which powers all of its desktops and laptops. and iOS, which powers all of its mobile devices including the iPad. Apple is trying to build synergy between the two platforms so that users can easily use both without experiencing any jarring transitions.
The effort is commendable. There are a great many Apple customers who own not only an iPod Touch or iPhone, but an iPad and desktop or laptop Mac as well. Bringing the two together was something that Steve Jobs wanted to do. In this review we'll cover Mountain Lion's main features, and look at where it converges with iOS and what value that provides, if any.
First, here's what you'll need in order to upgrade. Mountain Lion won't run on every Mac out there. You'll need to be using one of the following to upgrade to the new OS, which should be here by mid to late July:
Upgraders also must be running the Snow Leopard OS, version 10.6.8 OS at a minimum. If you don't already have Snow Leopard, you'll have to buy and install it before upgrading to Mountain Lion. If you have a MobileMe account, you might qualify for a free Snow Leopard upgrade and be able to save yourself its $29.99 retail cost.
With Mountain Lion, Apple is doing away with Software Update and relying on the Mac App Store to notify users of OS updates. Apple recently tested this new update mechanism by offering a number of updated OS and iLife components through the Mac App Store. Happily, as in Software Update, you can choose which components to install and which ones to ignore--it's not an all-or-nothing deal. The components also come with release information and More links for displaying the notes for that update.
If you've been using Messages Beta on Lion, then you already have an idea of what it brings to the desktop. When Mountain Lion officially becomes available in the App Store, Messages Beta will stop working in Lion, and you'll have to upgrade to Mountain Lion to keep using it.
Applications such as Growl have been providing system notifications in OS X for quite some time. Apple finally has brought Growl's functionality to Mountain Lion by integrating system-wide notifications into the operating system. The actual implementation takes its queues directly from iOS. They share a similar tray background, look and feel.
When system or app events occur on your Mac, those notifications will appear in the upper right corner of your screen, first as a self-dismissing notification, like in Growl. Notifications then go into a self-hiding event tray that slides out on the right side--as opposed to coming down from the center of the screen as it does on your iDevice. System event notifications disappear after a few moments. You'll have to manually dismiss other types of notifications.
How this will work--or conflict--with notification apps such as Growl is not yet known. Growl has been around for years, but it is possible that it might be out of a job.
Combining Reminders with Siri on the iPhone 4S is pretty awesome. Simply ask Siri to, "Remind me to do 'X' at 'Y'," with X being the thing you need to do, and Y being when you want the reminder to go off. In Mountain Lion, Apple brings the Reminders app to the desktop, minus Siri. You get everything you've got on the iPhone, plus a couple of cool additions.
On the desktop, Reminders lets you create a task or to-do list, set the date and time you want the reminders to go off, and push them to all of your iDevices. Having Reminders on your Mac also means you have the ability to search through your reminders and view them on your calendar.
The one iOS 6 feature that Reminders doesn't do on your Mac is "Remind me to do 'X' when I get to 'Z'," with Z being the location where you want to do your task. Geofencing, as it's called, makes little sense on desktop and notebook computers, which generally don't have GPS or real location services.
Mountain Lion is the first edition of OS X that includes built-in iCloud integration. (Yes, Lion has it, but it was introduced in an update.) With Mountain Lion, Apple gives you access to cloud-based sync services for Notes, Reminders, and Messages between your Mac and your iDevice. Documents and their changes also will sync back and forth between your Mac and iDevice.
iCloud in Mountain Lion also includes a new feature called Document Library. Aside from giving you access to the latest revision of any document created with an iCloud-supported app, Document Library lets you create folders by dragging one document on top of another, as you do with shortcuts on an iDevice home page. Document Library also supports file sharing through Mail, Messages, and AirDrop.
Also, iCloud's Preference Pane now displays when you first start up the OS, allowing you to sign in with your Apple ID so that iCloud services are configured and available as soon as you start using Mountain Lion.
If you have a second- or third-generation Apple TV device, you can use your Mac to push content to an HDTV via AirPlay. Many people with iPads have been doing this for a while, and in Mountain Lion, Apple now lets you push 720p content from your Mac to your TV through Apple TV.
You can now view any Web-based, streaming video service that you have on your PC on your TV as well. As you can see from the screenshots below, it's easy to configure and set up. It's also easy to become addicted. This is one feature I missed when I switched back to my production box, which runs 10.7.4 Lion.
Notes on the iPhone very much resembles Notes in Windows Mobile--the predecessor of Windows Phone--back in the day. A text-only app, it's a place to stash ideas or thoughts, but not much else. In Mountain Lion, you get a bit more than that. Notes on the desktop allows rich text, and bulleted or numbered lists, and lets you add photos. You also get full search capabilities via Spotlight. A pinning feature lets you put stickies right on your desktop. Sharing Notes is easy via the desktop app. Notes also lets you sync your notes with the iOS device of your choice.
I was never a huge fan of the Notes app, and I don't care for Post-Its, either. They lead to clutter and can get lost or misplaced. However, many people need help organizing tidbits of information, and Notes might work for them.
Twitter just keeps getting more popular, especially among the hyper-connected younger cellphone set. Adding Twitter to Mountain Lion might not be a huge development, but it further demonstrates Apple's desire to bring the desktop and mobile devices closer together. Now you can keep all your followers up-to-date more easily from the desktop.
Like its mobile counterpart, Twitter in Mountain Lion lets you tweet directly from integrated apps, provided your credentials are stored. However, unlike iOS 6, which integrates Facebook at the OS level, Mountain Lion currently does not bake in Twitter. Expect an update for that later. In my opinion, though a nice start, the desktop feature is incomplete. Yes, I tweet, but I also use Google+ and LinkedIn, among other networking services. This part of Mountain Lion isn't going to be finished until I can consistently update all of them at the same time.
Apple is banking on people using their iOS devices for gaming. That's why it's integrating Game Center into its desktop OS. Unfortunately, Game Center on the desktop is still unfinished in many ways. When Mountain Lion is released, you should be able to synch your entire gaming experience--the games themselves, along with your gaming network and accomplishments--to your Mac. You should be able to play games across your Apple hardware, including enjoying in-game audio chats and receiving notifications.
Apple also is putting the final touches on its gaming API, Game Kit, which will allow developers to create multi-player games that can be played across all Apple computing devices.
Apple further embraces social networking in Mountain Lion by adding an easy way to share photos, videos, and URLs using a new feature called Share Sheets. This feature makes it simple to share with friends through Mail, iMessage, AirDrop, or a supported website such as Facebook or Twitter.
Sharing options are content, context, and destination sensitive. If you're looking at a Web page in Safari, for example, you'll have options to share via e-mail, message, or Twitter. Share Sheets aren't a new concept. Eventually, however, you can expect them to support drag and drop. Apple has created a Share Sheet API and it's obvious that third-party developers will be coming up with new ways for people to share content.
With malware uppermost in the minds of many users these days, Apple is instituting new safeguards that currently are being referred to as Gate Keeper. For one, Apple is requiring that all developers "sandbox" their applications, thereby limiting access to memory, file handles, and other parts of a system. Apple also is giving users the ability to identify where their apps are coming from. Your choices are the Mac App Store or any Internet source, though the latter has the potential to open your system up to malware. User apps also are required to ask specifically for your permission to access personal information such as your contacts or calendar.
If this sounds too restrictive--but you don't want every app in the world running on your system, either--there's a third option: you can allow apps from the App Store and also those signed with a third-party Developer ID. The tracking system for the latter isn't finished yet but details should arrive with the final release of Mountain Lion.
Apple hopes it just works
Microsoft's Windows Vista, the follow-on to Windows XP, created a huge panic in the enterprise when it was introduced back in 2007. Users couldn't understand the logic or reasoning behind the design changes. By contrast, people switching from Lion to Mountain Lion will suffer no such trauma.
Mountain Lion is not revolutionary. As with its iOS mobile operating system, Apple is content to introduce carefully engineered and designed evolutionary changes. Upgrading to Mountain Lion will be similar to upgrading from Leopard to Snow Leopard.
Though it might not sound exciting, Apple's approach to desktop upgrades does guarantee a smooth experience for users. And users' perception that "it just works" is more important than ever as Apple makes a push for the enterprise.