Apple OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion review
OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion
Apple's latest cat is let out of the bag today as Mountain Lion, the new version of the OS X operating system, goes on sale.
For €15.99, users of Apple's Mac laptop and desktop computers will be able to upgrade to a system that is more like the iPhone and iPad operating system, iOS, than ever before. That resemblance begins with the purchase process: as with iOS apps, Mountain Lion is available only online from Apple's official store, in this case the Mac App Store.
Apps such as Reminders, Notes and Messages will be familiar to iOS users and will sync with those devices. Other iOS features that Apple is bringing back to the Mac include the Notification Centre, a simple hub for the varied alerts, reminders and banners that are constantly being triggered on any busy computer. Banners pop up in the right-hand corner of the screen before slowly fading, while alerts require a response from the user.
Everything can be called up at anytime with a two-finger swipe to reveal the whole Notification Centre. It's well-implemented and using it quickly becomes second nature, particularly to anyone who is an iOS user.
Game Centre has come to the Mac, making it possible to challenge friends and track achievements and scores across devices. Cross-platform gaming is supported too so if you want to play on your Mac against a friend with, say, an iPod touch, then Game Centre will oblige.
The most disappointing thing about those apps is that they come with the twee, ornamental design features that plague Apple's iOS apps. Notes has fake torn pages at the top of the app, while Game Centre is decked-out in fake wood and baize.
Mountain Lion's iCloud integration speeds up the set-up process for a new computer by automatically importing your settings. Even new Mac users will benefit if they already use an iOS device because iCloud will use content from there too. The iCloud document library makes files available acrosses devices and pushes changes between them with satisfying speed. Make a change to a presentation on your Mac and it will be pushed to your iPad in seconds. It's one of those delightful, Apple 'it just works' features.
With both Game Centre and iCloud - and indeed with other aspects of Mountain Lion - Apple is providing APIs to allow developers to plug their own apps into these services.
Possibly the most familiar, and the most important, feature that OS X has borrowed from iOS is the idea of annual updates. Between 2003 and 2011, Apple operated on a schedule of roughly 18 months to two years for OS X updates. Mountain Lion comes almost exactly a year after Lion and it wouldn't be a surprise if the next version were to come in July next year.
These regular updates and the low prices at which Apple has been delivering them help to get more people buying into the wider ecosystem and perhaps to buy more devices. Want to use Mountain Lion's AirPlay support to mirror your laptop's screen on a television? Then you'll need an Apple TV.
While the seamless integration with mobile puts Apple ahead of rival desktop operating systems, other upgrades are playing catch-up. Safari now has a unified search and navigation bar, allowing you to type into the box and letting the computer work out what you're trying to do. That's a feature that made its debut in Firefox, as the 'Awesome Bar', back in 2008.
Meanwhile, Mail now gets VIPs, a way of tagging key people in your address book to ensure that their emails are highlighted. It is similar to Google's automated sorting of important messages in Gmail and, depending on your view, is either more precise because it's manual or more effort because it isn't automated.
Safari, though, is very fast and once iOS 6 is released in the autumn you will be able to use tabs in the cloud to push your browsing between devices - a very handy feature.
The highlight feature of Mountain Lion is one that is available only to Macs with built-in flash storage. Power Nap means your computer will continue to get updates, notifications and to back itself up all while it is in sleep mode. It's worth the £13.99 by itself, assuming you're not already convinced to spend such a small amount on such a significant upgrade.
Those who deride the iOS-ification of the Mac, with what some see as a dumbing-down of the computer for mainstream users, will find much to make them shudder here. They are a minority, however. For everyone else, Mountain Lion represents an upgrade that makes it much easier to work seamlessly between Apple devices and simplifies more of the tedious tasks of computer maintenance.