OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

OS X Mountain Lion is here, and it’s even sleeker than Lion.

It’s hard to believe that it was just a little more than a year ago that Apple released OS X Lion. Only twelve months later, and we’re now staring right down the maw of Apple’s ninth major release of Mac OS X: Mountain Lion.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion signifies a new approach on Apple’s part towards OS X updates: instead of going years between major releases, Cupertino is trying to take the rapid release approach that has worked so well for them with iOS and apply it to the Mac.

Mountain Lion, then, feels in many ways less like OS X 10.8 than OS X 10.7.5: a smaller, more tightly focused update continuing what OS X Lion started, taking iOS’s best ideas and bringing them to Mac.

Thanks to major breakthrough features like iCloud syncing, Notification Center, Sharing, AirPlay Mirroring and more, there’s less of a distinction in Mountain Lion between the Mac and iOS than ever. But is that a good thing, and how will it change the way you use your Mac?

Table Of Contents

Page 1: Introduction & Table Of Contents
Page 2: Messages & iMessage
Page 3: iCloud & Documents In The Cloud
Page 4: AirPlay Mirroring
Page 5: Notification Center
Page 6: Reminders & Notes
Page 7: Dictation
Page 8: Safari
Page 9: Sharing, Twitter & Facebook
Page 10: GateKeeper
Page 11: Power Nap
Page 12: Conclusion

Next Page: Messages & iMessage

Messages & iMessage

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Scott Forstall announces iMessage for iOS back in 2011.

In the short year since it was first unveiled by Scott Forstall at WWDC 2011, iMessage has become one of iOS’s quietest, most indispensable and most disruptive features.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Goodbye, iChat, the most Aqua-ey of apps.

Quiet because, to end users, what iMessage does is invisible: it allows you to send free messages to other iDevices over WiFi and 3G instead of charging to send it as an SMS  text. Indispensable because, once you are using iMessage, you can stop worrying about extortionate SMS carrier fees except when your friends don’t have an iPhone or iPad. And disruptive because, in less than a year, iMessage has signaled a sea change in the U.S. telecommunications industry, who have realized the jig is up on 1000% profit margins on the text message racket, and switched over to unlimited voice and text plans.

With Mountain Lion, iMessage comes to OS X with Messages, a new app replacing the old-in-the-tooth iChat instant messaging client that has shipped with every version of OS X since Jaguar. It’s a big win for Mac and iOS users both, but it takes some getting used to.

Apple’s goal with Messages in Mountain Lion is to blur the distinction between all of the different messaging platforms we use to keep in contact with each other.

Apple’s goal with Messages in Mountain Lion isn’t just to allow Mac and iOS users to chat easily amongst themselves, but to blur the distinction between all of the different messaging platforms we use to keep in contact with each other. On the surface, this makes a lot of sense: ostensibly, when we message someone, we want to talk to them, not worry about the medium we’re using to contact them.

The problem is that, in practice, the medium we use to contact a person defines the context in which we want to talk to them. If you message someone on AIM, you probably want to have a longer, more involved chat than if you’re messaging them on their iPhone. Messages’s attempts to blur these lines, then, can end up resulting in something of a learning curve, as you have to force yourself to rethink about the very medium of communication Apple is trying to obscure.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Messages in action. You’ll be using that drop down a lot.

Messages works like this. When you load up the app, you’re shown a tray of conversations you’ve had with various contacts across iMessage, GChat (Jabber), AIM and Bonjour. These conversations are all grouped together, so if you’ve chatted with your girlfriend through both GChat and iMessage, your chat history across all services will be merged by time under her name, as if you contacted her the same way every time.

The problem with Messages is that while it’s a great tool for contacting someone no matter where they might be, Apple’s attempts to keep the service you’re using less visible than the person you’re contacting inevitably leads to confusion.

By default, if you start chatting with someone through Messages, it’ll reach out to them the same way you contacted them last. In other words, if you messaged a friend on their iPhone to quickly tell them you’re running ten minutes late, then decide a few days later to try to have a long, involved conversation about a blind date you just had, that conversation will be sent as an iMessage to their iPhone unless you specifically switch the default to a more appropriate medium: GChat or AIM, say.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

You can’t actually be reached at your iMessage phone number using Messages for Mac.

If all your friends have iPhones, iPads and Mountain Lion Macs, this isn’t a big deal. But if you have friends spread across a spectrum of services, you need to pay attention. And even sending an iMessage to a friend who you know has both Mountain Lion and an iPhone can be confusing, as you need to remember that an iMessage sent to their phone number will only reach them through Message on their iPhone, and not on their Mac or iPad, which can only receive iMessages at email addresses (although send them to phone numbers).  It’s confusing!

Once you get over this learning curve, though, Messages is a revelation. While iChat was always a bare-bone (and, to my tastes, irritatingly cutesy) IM client, Messages is a lot more robust and inoffensive, capable of consigning serious third-party IM clients like Adium to the Recycling Bin for most users. Moreover, the ability to send iMessages directly to a friend’s iPhone or iPad, or to reach out from your iPhone or iPad to someone using their Mac, is a powerful killer feature that is worth Mountain Lion’s $19.99 asking price in its own right.

Messages is a powerful killer feature worth $19.99 in its own right.

Next Page: iCloud & Documents In The Cloud

iCloud & Documents In The Cloud

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

You probably won’t see this preferences pane much, but pretty much everything in Mountain Lion ties into the iCloud.

If the goal of Lion was to bring iOS’s best features to OS X, the goal of Mountain Lion is to let your iPhone, iPad and iPod touch talk with each other seamlessly, without manual syncing or file management.

iCloud is now injected into the very DNA of OS X. It just works.

Apple has tried this before in the past, most notably with their recently shuttered, subscription-only MobileMe service. While mimicking much of the same functionality as MobileMe, though, iCloud is now injected into the very DNA of OS X. iCloud just works, and everyone with an Apple ID has one, no subscription required (although you can pay for more space).

Using iCloud, all of your photos, your contacts, your calendar items, your reminders, your emails, your notes, your browser history and your (iCloud-only) documents and data are automatically synced with Apple’s servers. It’s that simple.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

If you take a lot of pictures across multiple devices, Photo Stream is one of the best features of iCloud.

There are privacy concerns with allowing a company to have access to all of your data, but for most customers, the benefits of iCloud will far outweigh the drawbacks. Even on a single Mac, having your data synced means that if your machine goes belly up without a recent back-up, you can restore most of your most important data to a new machine without a fuss. As long as you have iCloud turned on, those photos of your newborn son, or your business calendar for the next year, or your address book are safe.

There are privacy concerns with allowing Apple to have access to all of your dfata, but for most customers, iCloud’s benefits will outweigh the drawbacks.

It’s when you have multiple Macs or iOS devices, though, that the iCloud really shines. Under Mountain Lion, the iCloud will remember if you’ve, say, read an email on your iPhone, or added a new contact on your iPad, and automatically sync your devices accordingly. Likewise, if you load photos from your SLR on your Mac, they’ll be available through Photo Stream on your iPad for some Snapseed or PhotoShop Touch action. And you can set yourself Reminders on your Mac to, say, buy milk when you arrive at your local grocery store, and have your iPhone automatically alert you when you do the shopping.

From a practical perspective, it all works without a hitch, although it can sometimes be frustrating having to wait for your system to sync with the latest iCloud data: for example, if it’s been a while since your Mac has synced your Photo Stream.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Documents stored in the Cloud, as viewed using the excellent text editing app, iA Writer.

For most users, the most confusing aspect of iCloud is probably going to be Documents in the Cloud, which only works in apps that have been specifically updated to support it, like Apple’s iWork suite or third-party apps like iA Writer. Unfortunately, once you save a document to the iCloud, there’s no easy way to browse through your files outside of the app you saved it in, nor is there an easy way to, say, drag documents you’d like to keep synced into the iCloud from your desktop into a Dropbox or iDisk-style “syncing” folder.

It’s easy to see why Apple is doing it this way — Apple has been trying to get rid of the traditional desktop file system for years now, and Documents in the Cloud is the way they eventually plan to do it — but right now, Documents in the Cloud feels a little ephemeral. Even in Apple’s core apps, not enough software supports Documents in the Cloud, and for most users, it’s going to feel a lot more limited than signing up for a free Dropbox account, even across multiple Macs and iOS devices.

iCloud is what MobileMe should have been from the beginning, and it’s an integral part of Mountain Lion weaving seamlessly through the vast majority of apps. Documents in the Cloud isn’t quite there yet, and we could wish that Apple’s interpretation was more friendly to Dropbox-style power users, but we imagine this part of the service will become more useful over time as apps (including Apple’s own) update themselves to support the feature.

iCloud is what Mobile Me should have been from the beginning, and it’s an integral part of Mountain Lion weaving seamlessly through the vast majority of apps.

Next Page: AirPlay Mirroring

AirPlay Mirroring

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Look, Ma, no wires.

For a small (but ever growing) number of users, AirPlay Mirroring to the Apple TV will prove to be one of Mountain Lion’s greatest features. For everyone else, though? A maddening empty promise.

First introduced with iOS 4.2, AirPlay Mirroring has long allowed iDevice owners to stream the video and audio coming out of their iPhone or iPad to a second or third-generation Apple TV at  30 frames per second. With Mountain Lion, AirPlay Mirroring comes to the Mac and the good news is it’s great… if your Mac supports it. Which it probably doesn’t.

More on that in a second. First of all, let’s talk about how it works.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

AirPlay in the Mountain Lion menu bar.

If you are on a compatible Mac that is connected to the same WiFi network as a second or third-generation Apple TV, a small AirPlay icon will appear in the OS X menu bar. Clicking on this icon will give you the option of mirroring what’s your Mac’s audio and video to a connected Apple TV.

AirPlay Mirroring was a great feature on the iPhone or iPad, but it really shines on the Mac. It’s not perfect — sometimes you need to turn it on, off, and on again to get sound mirroring working — but using AirPlay Mirroring under Mountain Lion, you can stream a 1080p video you downloaded off of Bittorrent, or show your friends your demon-gelatination skills in Diablo III, or rehearse a Keynote presentation, or show your parents some vacation videos, even just slap a DVD into your Mac and watch it on a big-screen from across the room. If you’ve got an extensive collection of videos saved on your Mac, the convenience of AirPlay Mirroring is going to just kill for you.

There are other advantages too. Because of the weird ways in which Hollywood licenses media depending on which “kind” of screen that media is going to be viewed upon, many television shows and movies available for streaming online can only be streamed to a Mac or PC, not a TV. AirPlay Mirroring on a Mac means that you can actually pump certain kinds of streaming video up to your HDTV that would otherwise be forbidden by prohibitive licensing agreements.

Then there’s enterprise. AirPlay Mirroring will help Macs to make an even bigger dent in business environments than they currently have: instead of an expensive projector, all a board meeting needs is a TV, a Mac and a $99 box.

AirPlay Mirroring is a hugely important feature when it comes to Cupertino’s long-term plans to infiltrate the living room.

Apple hasn’t really spent a lot of time talking about AirPlay Mirroring as a showcase feature in Mountain Lion, but make no mistake: this is a hugely important feature, not just as far as user convenience is concerned, but when it comes to Cupertino’s long-term plans to infiltrate the living room. There was a time when Apple viewed the Mac as the nexus through which all of a user’s other devices connected — your iPod, iPhone, iPad, even the original Apple TV — but thanks to AirPlay and the much rumored Apple HDTV, there’s every reason to believe that the biggest screen and most central screen in our homes will soon become that nexus instead.

So AirPlay is awesome and it’s the future. Why isn’t Apple making a big deal of AirPlay Mirroring in Mountain Lion, then?

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

By default, AirPlay will mirror your default desktop size, but if your HDTV can push more pixels than your Mac can, you can change the setting.

Simple: it doesn’t work on the vast majority of Macs that can run Mountain Lion. In fact, unless you have a MacBook Pro from early 2011, or any other Mac from mid-2011, you won’t be able to use the feature at all.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Third-party apps like AirParrot will let you mirror older Macs over AirPlay, but not without some performance compromises.

Although there have been plenty of conspiracy theories as to why Apple’s excluding older Mac, the real reason Apple has limited AirPlay Mirroring to 2011 Macs and above is because they all have on-GPU H.264 encoding, the same requirement Apple lists for AirPlay Mirroring on iOS. While third-party apps like AirParrot can manage AirPlay Mirroring even on older machines, it takes up a non-trivial amount of CPU power, causing Macs to run faster, hotter and louder than Apple likes. In our experience, it’s also a laggier experience.

That’s not to say AirPlay Mirroring even on Macs that support it under Mountain Lion is always a buttery experience. The speed and congestion of your network is a huge factor in how well AirPlay Mirroring works, and things can get janky quick if you have, say, a torrent running in the background, or if you’re trying to use AirPlay Mirroring while simultaneously streaming a 1080p HD video file. If you have a Mac and a network that can handle it, though, AirPlay Mirroring offers a built-in convenience that simply no other operating system can match, and which quickly becomes utterly indispensable.

For some, AirPlay Mirroring will be one of Mountain Lion’s best features. For the rest, though, it’ll be a maddening empty promise.

Next Page: Notification Center

Notification Center

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

So many Notifications, but do you really need a Center for them?

A lot of people are looking forward to Notification Center in Mountain Lion, and the good news is that it works just fine, exactly like it does in iOS. That’s probably why it feels superfluous to us. To discuss why this is, let’s pull back for a second and talk about what Notifications set out to accomplish in iOS.

The thing about iOS is that it’s not a true multitasking operating system like the Mac. Instead of allowing a number of apps to run side-by-side in real time, every app takes over the entire device when it launches,  pushing the operating system and all other apps into the background. The result? Any app that is not currently running has no way to communicate what’s happening with it except through a Notification.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Messages in their bottles.

Essentially, each app is an island to itself in iOS, and Notifications are like messages in a bottle drifting over from other islands, telling you what’s going on from that side of the shore. Notification Center on iOS, then, is a big inbox of such bottled messages; the role it serves is to give you an overview of what is happening right now throughout the archipelago as a whole, even as you remain confined to your specific app island.

Having a Notification Center works really well in iOS for just this reason. The problem is that we don’t use OS X this way, because it’s a true multitasking operating system.

Most of the time when we’re working on a Mac, we’re constantly switching between apps, or setting them up to run side-by-side. We already know what’s happening in most of the apps we use, because we’re constantly checking them, and because OS X never becomes part of the background like iOS does.

OS X apps that are running have any number of ways to get in contact with us, from menu bar indicators to dock badges, and because there’s no limit to the number of apps we can have running at one time, we tend to simply not care what’s happening with the apps we choose not to run.

Under Mountain Lion, then, Notification Center never feels like it is telling us something that we don’t already know. Rather, it feels like yet another inbox we have to manage.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Apps in OS X have all sorts of ways of notifying us already.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the way it works, just it’s relative usefulness. In Mountain Lion, there is a small Notification Center icon at the top right of every menu bar. Clicking this icon will expand a drawer from the right side of the screen that will alert us to our most recent emails, Twitter replies, App Store updates, Messages and more. You can clear your current Notifications on a per app basis by clicking the “X” button to the side of each app’s section; in addition, you can turn Notifications temporarily off and send Tweets directly from Notification Center.

It is well integrated, but over the course of the last few months, Notification Center has been something we just don’t check very much. At best, Notification Center can sometimes alert us to happenings in apps we don’t use very often, like updates popping up in the Mac App Store. Otherwise, though, it usually feels like a summary of what we already know is going on, rather than the news that is currently breaking.

Notification Center’s fine, but we doubt that most users will find it nearly as useful as it is under iOS.

Under Mountain Lion, then, Notification Center never feels like it is telling us something that we don’t already know. Rather, it feels like yet another inbox that we have to manage.

Next Page: Reminders & Notes

Reminders & Notes

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Mountain Lion’s two new productivity apps, Reminders & Notes, running side-by-side.

With Mountain Lion, Apple is introducing two small new apps to the core OS X experience: Reminders & Notes.

For the most part, if you’re familiar with their analogues under iOS, you already know what to expect, but that’s the point: with Mountain Lion, Apple wants to make sure that OS X has a matching app syncing through iCloud for all of iOS’s core functionality.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Hope you like skeuomorphism.

Users have long been able to store notes on their Mac either by strewing them across their OS X Dashboard or saving them in Mail, but in Mountain Lion, Notes have been broken out into their own dedicated app. It’s a much more intuitive place for them.

In another nod to the rampant skeuomorphism that has defined recent versions of OS X, the physical design of Notes resembles a lined legal pad. Mountain Lion does allow you to specify your own fonts and colors in Notes if you so choose, as well as share notes via email or Twitter. Double clicking a note “rips it out” of your notebook so it’s in its own window. And that’s pretty much it.

iCloud syncing makes Notes a universal scratch pad that you can access on any iOS device.

There are certainly better, more attractive and more comprehensive note-taking apps on the Mac, but as a built-in solution, Notes works as well as you’d expect, and iCloud support makes Notes a lot more useful than any of its past OS X incarnations: you now have a universal scratch pad for passwords, stray thoughts, shopping lists and so on that you can access on any iOS device, and that’s a welcome addition.

Notes’ sister app, Reminders, borrows many of the same design cues. Instead of a yellow legal pad, Reminders is designed like a lined memo pad, each page of which can be filled out with a different list of to-dos which can be ticked off as they are completed. The design is still skeuomorphic, but to our eyes, Reminders looks as if it was designed with a more modern eye than the one which designed Notes.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Reminders is a great productivity tool, and the geofencing works great.

If you’ve used Reminders under iOS, you know what to expect. Each item in a Reminders list can be entered using natural language, so that typing, “Call your mother every Friday at 11am” will automatically set itself up as a recurring timed reminder. Existing reminders can be adjusted later and moved to other dates and times, while ticking off a reminder will move it into the “Completed” folder. When a reminder goes off, it shows up as a Notification in Mountain Lion, and can be either marked as done or set to snooze.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Geofencing a reminder is a lot easier in Mountain Lion than it is in iOS.

Probably the most interesting feature of Reminders is support for geofencing, which allows you to trigger a reminder when you arrive or leave a specific location. This might not seem very useful on a Mac, since you’re not likely to arrive or leave an address with your MacBook open, but the true brilliance of this feature quickly becomes apparent when you’re using Mountain Lion Reminders in connection with your iPhone.

One of the more annoying ticks concerning how Reminders works in iOS is that a Reminder created on an iPhone or iPad must use an address in your Address Book in order to take advantage of geofencing. In other words, if you want to remind yourself to buy milk when you arrive at the grocery store, you have to set up a Contacts  entry for “Grocery Store” with the address of your local Stop ‘N’ Shop first.

It’s a pain. Thankfully, in Mountain Lion, you can set up a geofence around any address even if it’s not present in your Contacts, and because all of your Reminders sync through the iCloud, this feature ironically makes setting up geofenced Reminders for your iPhone or iPad a lot easier to do through your Mac than it is under iOS 5.

Both Reminders and Notes are understated but solid additions to OS X’s core stable of apps. Even if you don’t find these apps helping your productivity on the Mac, you might be surprised by how much they help you tame your iPhone or iPad.

Even if you don’t find Reminders and Notes helping your productivity on the Mac, you might be surprised by how much they help you tame your productivity on your iPhone or iPad.

Next Page: Dictation

Dictation

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

As you can see, Dictation in Mountain Lion isn’t exactly flawless.

There are understandably a lot of people who are disappointed that Siri — Apple’s iconic virtual helper for iOS — hasn’t taken Mountain Lion as an opportunity to make her debutante debut on the Mac. Instead, like the iPad, we have to settle for Dictation.

By default in Mountain Lion, Dictation works in any text entry field and can be triggered by hitting the Function key twice. This shortcut can be changed under the “Speech and Dictation” panel in System Preferences to one of four preset shortcuts; curiously, it defaults to pressing the Function key twice even if your Mac keyboard doesn’t have a Function key, which can be confusing at first. You can also trigger Dictation by selecting it under the “Edit” dropdown in a document’s menu bar.

However you go about it, once Dictation starts,  a bubble containing an oscillating purple microphone will appear on screen, cueing you to speak. After you’re done dictating, you can hit the Function key again or click “Done” to shoot the waveform of your voice off to Apple’s servers for processing. In the matter of a second — usually instantaneously — Cupertino will crunch the recording of your voice and transcribe it into text.

In our testing, Dictation works about as well as it does on the iPhone or iPad in ideal conditions.

In our testing, Dictation works about as well as it does on the iPhone or iPad in ideal conditions. Using our 2012 MacBook Air in a quiet room, we got about the same success rate on sample phrases as we did on our iPhone or iPad.

So it works, which is no surprise: Dictation’s probably the most solid aspect of Siri right now, which is why Apple is comfortable shipping it even on devices it doesn’t think are “ready” for Siri proper. Unfortunately, under less-than-ideal conditions, Dictation seems to work more poorly than it does on iOS devices.

The problem seems to be one of distance and background noise. As we said, we got great Dictation results on a 2012 MacBook Air… but that machine is one that we were using from less than two feet away and is virtually silent thanks to its solid-state drive. The same test phrase parsed by a 2009 iMac about three feet away with spinning fans and physical hard drive gave us poorer results. Likewise, because you hold a Mac further away from your mouth than an iPhone or even an iPad, Dictation on the Mac seems more prone to errors based upon background noise than it does under iOS. That’s understandable, but it’s still a practicality to consider.

Ultimately, Dictation seems more dispensable on a Mac than it is on an iPhone or iPad. Every Mac has a a physical keyboard, and for most people, that’s going to trump dictation for speed, accuracy and convenience. On an iPhone or iPad, though, Dictation’s usually a speedier way to get your thoughts across than using the on-screen keyboard. If you’re comfortable typing, Dictation is likely a feature you’ll try a few times and then forget about until you accidentally hit the shortcut twice.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Dictation’s control panel in System Preferences allows you to change the shortcut.

We’re still glad to have it though. Quibbles aside, Dictation’s a lovely addition to Mountain Lion, and it’s well integrated into the core of the system. Even if you don’t use it, Dictation really is a killer accessibility feature. The physically and visually impaired will love Mountain Lion Dictation, as will those who never quite got comfortable with typing. Starting with OS X 10.7, Apple has been making a concerted effort to make the Mac more accessible to the kinds of customers who embraced the iPad even if they had never really liked using a computer before; Dictation is another lovely refinement that is helping make OS X the most user friendly PC operating system around.

Dictation really is a killer accessibility feature, and another lovely refinement that is helping make OS X the most user friendly PC operating system around.

Next Page: Safari

Safari

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

In Mountain Lion, Safari’s finally stealing Google’s best browser idea and comining the search and location bars.

Way back in 2008, when Google first unveiled the Chrome browser, the search giant made what at the time seemed like a curious decision: they merged the location bar and the search bar into a single intelligent omnibar. Four and a half years later, Apple’s finally following suit with Safari in both Moutain Lion and the forthcoming iOS 6 update. It’s about time.

Safari’s new combined search and location bar is going to be a controversial move for some die-hards, but there are a lot of good reasons for it. Google had the right idea when they combined these two separate fields in Chrome. The fact of the matter is that when you look at the way most people use web browsers, they tend not to understand the distinction between searching for a site and typing in the URL to that site directly. Why make an arbitrary distinction between a URL and a search term if you can treat the location bar as both, directing users to where they need to be accordingly?

Safari’s new combined search and location bar is going to be a controversial change for some die-hards.

In iOS 6, Safari’s new unified location field will be a welcome change, specifically because it will free up some valuable screen real estate, particularly on the iPhone. On Mountain Lion, though, it results in a cleaner user-interface and a more user-friendly experience. Type a URL in the location bar and you will go directly to a website; type a search term in the location bar will send you off to Google instead, dynamically suggesting popular related search terms (or results from your bookmarks and history) as you type.

It all works well. Sadly, it’s a bare bones interpretation compared to Chrome’s, which allows you to set up all manner of site- and engine-specific search keywords in the omnibar, so that you can easily search, say, YouTube’s video results by just typing a keyword before your search term. Still, in regards to freeing Safari of one of its vestigial and unnecessary appendages, the new unified location bar is much appreciated, and we can only marvel at the fact that it took Apple this long to borrow one of Chrome’s best features.

Since Lion, Reading List has been improved to function less like a to-read list of bookmarks and more like a viable alternative to services like Instapaper and Readability. In Mountain Lion, web site URLs cannot only be saved to Reading List, but all of the page’s assets are cached and stored in the iCloud, allowing them to be loaded up instantly even without a web connection. In combination with the fantastic Reader functionality, Safari 6.0 does a better job than ever of making web content — particularly long-form journalism — pleasant to read, both on the Mac and on the iPhone and iPad.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

iCloud Tabs is pretty great.

iCloud Tabs is another cool new feature of Safari 6.0 (although regrettably one limited to devices running the iOS 6 beta, at least for now). Using iCloud Tabs, you can easily access any tabs that are open on your iPhone, iPad or Mac from any other device, simply by clicking the Cloud icon to the left of the location bar. Started reading a great article on your iPhone on the subway, and want to continue it on your MacBook Air at home? You used to have to email it to yourself: now, the link is just a couple clicks away.

Also new is an improved Tab view. Using a multitouch mouse or trackpad, you can pinch out in Safari to see all of your open tabs and swipe between them. It works fine, but it feels like another of the small but ultimately fairly pointless flourishes Apple has been adding to OS X since Lion to make the operating system “feel” more like iOS, not a feature that actually improves usability.

Otherwise, Safari under Mountain Lion isn’t looking to rock the boat too much. Over the last few years, Apple has mostly focused Safari development on refining what is still the cleanest, fastest and easiest-to-use default system browser shipping with any desktop or mobile operating system, and Safari 6 continues this tradition. There aren’t a lot of new features, but in conjuction with iCloud synchronization and Mountain Lion’s new sharing features, Safari feels more polished than ever.

Apple continues to focus on refining what is the cleanest, fastest and easiest-to-use default system browser shopping on OS, and in Mountain Lion, Safari feels more polished than ever.

Next Page: Sharing, Twitter & Facebook

Sharing, Twitter & Facebook

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Mountain Lion Sharing in action from within Finder.

One thing Apple’s trying to do with Mountain Lion is knock down boundaries. The boundaries between documents on your Mac and files on your iPhone. The boundaries between messaging someone on your Mac and sending them an iMessage on their iPad. The boundaries between what is displaying on your screen and what you can watch on your TV. The boundaries between searching for a site and visiting it directly.

Once you see it, you can’t unsee it: Mountain Lion is all about ripping down arbitrary distinctions between types of data and getting every device you own sharing. And that’s why “Sharing” isn’t just a button in many of Mountain Lion’s menu bars that makes it a little bit easier to fire off an email or a Tweet: it’s an extension of Mountain Lion’s core philosophy.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]In Mountain Lion, you’ll see a new Share button in many of the core apps, and what it does depends on the app you’re using and the type of file you’re trying to share. Click on a JPG in Finder, for example, and you can easily share it using Twitter, AirDrop, Flickr or Messages; click the Share button in Safari, and you’re given the option to email the page, share it on Twitter or Message it to someone else. It’s all contextual: share a video and you can upload it quickly to Vimeo; share a PDF, and your only options are AirDrop and Messages.

There’s nothing revolutionary to the Share button, but it eases a surprising amount of friction, and makes OS X feel a lot more like iOS: you’re not saving documents in one program and then loading them into another, but telling apps to work together, to talk to one another.

Sharing eases a surprising amount of friction, and makes OS X feel a lot more like iOS by telling apps to talk with one another.

Thanks to built-in integration in Mountain Lion, popular microblogging service Twitter is just another way in which you can share what you’re doing with other people in your extended network. Mountain Lion’s Twitter functionality isn’t going to put the likes of Tweetbot out of business, but it is smooth, beautifully animated and tied into Notification Center, making sending out a quick Tweet, pushing an image up to your followers or replying to a direct message as simple as clicking a button, all without ever downloading an official client. Twitter saw a huge uptick in users when iOS 5 came with Twitter support built-in, and we imagine Mountain Lion will help that user base expand even further.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Facebook sharing is coming to Mountain Lion this autumn.

Finally, there’s Facebook sharing, which doesn’t currently work in Mountain Lion. We can’t review the exact functionality, but Apple promises that when Facebook integration launches this autumn, it’ll allow you to post links, photos and comments on Facebook as easily as you already can with Twitter. We’ll update this section of the review then.

Once you’re actually using all of Mountain Lion’s Sharing features, 10.8 feels like the most integrated operating system out there: one in which apps seamlessly talk to one another, not just across your system, but across all your systems. Mountain Lion is a truly social operating system in every sense of the word, and Apple’s sharing philosophy is the driving force behind that.

Mountain Lion is a truly social operating system in every sense of the word, and Apple’s sharing philosophy is the driving force behind that.

Next Page: GateKeeper

GateKeeper

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

GateKeeper at work keeping out Trojans.

Over the last year, the pervasive belief that Macs are invulnerable to malware hasn’t just been tested… it’s been completely shattered.

In April of this year, Russian antivirus vendor Dr. Web published evidence that over 500,000 Macs were infected by a variant of the Flashback trojan that installed itself using a Javascript vulnerability. According to some estimates, that may mean that Flashback, at the height of the epidemic, was installed on as many as 1% of all Macs out there.

Previously, most Mac users believed either that they were invulnerable to malware, or that malware developers wouldn’t target the Mac platform because it was obscure compared to Windows. Flashback changed all that, and Apple has consequently started taking security a lot more seriously, both publicly and privately.

GateKeeper is Apple’s biggest new security feature in Mountain Lion. It’s probably not going to make Macs any more invulnerable to malware, but GateKeeper is still certainly a step in the right direction in regards to keeping Mac users more aware of the origins of the software they are installing.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

OS X has long blocked known malware, but GateKeeper takes this layer of security to the next level.

Ever since OS X Tiger, the Mac has had a feature called File Quarantine, which was essentially a download validation system: if you downloaded a potentially unsafe file or app, the system would warn you before you opened it. Starting in OS X 10.6, File Quarantine would compare the files you downloaded against a known list of malware, and warn you to trash the file if it turned up as a match with Apple’s own system.

GateKeeper is essentially File Quarantine taken to the next level. Instead of just warning you when an app has been downloaded from the internet or warning you if it’s known malware, GateKeeper will prevent you opening any app that comes from an untrusted source.

What is an untrusted source? That’s up to you. By default, GateKeeper only allows you to open apps that are downloaded from the Mac App Store and other identified developers who have registered with Apple and received a personalized digital certificate. If you feel like this is overkill, you can tell GateKeeper to allow any app that hasn’t been registered as malware, which essentially makes GateKeeper work exactly like File Quarantine; likewise, if you want to make absolutely sure your apps aren’t trojans, you can tell GateKeeper to only allow Mac App Store apps, which have all been individually vetted by Apple.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

GateKeeper’s designed to keep these out of your Mac.

The big question about GateKeeper that many users have, though, has little to do with security, and everything to do with whether or not it’s a sign of things to come. In iOS, Apple has made a considerable amount of money — thirty cents off every dollar — thanks to the fact that iOS is a completely locked down operating system that simply can’t run apps that Apple hasn’t signed and approved. Since the launch of the Mac App Store in OS X 10.6.8, Apple has seemed interested in generating the same revenue source on the Mac, but have been hampered by the Mac’s more open architecture. It would be ironic if GateKeeper was Apple’s own Trojan Horse, designed to get Mac users used to running on locked-down systems.

We think this perspective is a little bit paranoid. In practice, we found that about 90% of the apps we downloaded with the default GateKeeper setting kept on installed without a problem, even if they didn’t come from the Mac App Store. The 10% of apps that didn’t install under GateKeeper’s default settings were obscure apps by small, sometimes one-man teams.

It would be ironic if GateKeeper was Apple’s own Trojan Horse, designed to get Mac users used to running on locked-down systems.

For most users, the default GateKeeper setting is probably going to be fine even when Mountain Lion launches, and we hope that this will inspire even smaller teams to register with Apple as trusted developers.

The bottom line is that GateKeeper isn’t encouraging developers to exclusively release their software through the Mac App Store — it’s encouraging them to register with Apple and basically promise not to release malware on the Mac. If you make that promise, Apple gives you a GateKeeper certificate; if you don’t, Apple’s going to require that users make an explicit choice to install your app; if you break that promise, Apple will revoke your certificate, classify you as malware, and ban you from all Macs. GateKeeper isn’t the sound of a boot stomping on a human face forever… it’s the sound of sensible, lenient security that aims more for awareness than lockdowns.

No need to be paranoid, GateKeeper is sensible, lenient security that aims to make users more aware, not lock down your Mac.

Next Page: Power Nap

Power Nap

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Apple announcing Power Nap for Mountain Lion.

As of the writing of this review, Power Nap — Mountain Lion’s new connected standby feature — isn’t yet available to reviewers, as Apple has not yet released a system update for compatible Macs that enables the feature. We will update this section once Power Nap is available, but in the meantime, a few words of background.

The idea behind Power Nap is very elegant. There are a lot of tasks that your Mac has to do to stay healthy, but unfortunately, they all require you to keep your Mac awake. For example, if you want to back your MacBook up using Time Machine, you need to remember not to close it at night; if you want to keep your apps updated, you need to make sure you’ve closed them all down first.

What Power Nap does is allow your Mac to do some of these system tasks even when your Mac is otherwise asleep. As long as you are on a trusted, previously-accessed WiFi network, your Mac will sync its data with iCloud, check email, download your latest photos from PhotoStream and more, guaranteeing that when you open your computer, you’re ready to go. And that’s just on battery power: if you have your computer plugged in, Power Nap will also update your apps and backup using Time Machine, all with your computer asleep.

There’s a rub, though. Power Nap requires a Mac that ships by default with solid state drive. Right now, that means a second-generation MacBook Air or a Retina MacBook Pro. The reasons for this are obvious and have everything to do with the reduced power requirements and noise/heat tolerances of an SSD drive compared to a spinning hard drive, but it still means most current Mac users won’t be able to take advantage of the feature.

We’ll have more on Power Nap when Apple releases the SMC updates enabling the feature.

Next Page: Conclusion

Conclusion

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

A sleeker, faster cat.

Apple always picks its cat names well. When Apple released OS X 10.6 back in 2009, they called it Snow Leopard because it was a cleaner and faster version of Leopard.

Likewise, Mountain Lion is the perfect name for OS X 10.8: it’s just as fast, powerful and beautiful, but Mountain Lion is still a sleeker cat than the one that came before it.

OS X Mountain Lion isn’t a major departure from how OS X Lion did things, but it’s a better, more cohesive experience in every way. Whether or not you approve of Apple’s continuing push to blur the lines between iOS and OS X, you can’t deny that Mountain Lion does so even better than OS X 10.7, introducing new features like iCloud, AirPlay Mirroring and Messages that even Snow Leopard die-hards are sure to be tempted by.

Apple’s not being secretive about the future of Mac OS X: in the future, it will continue to regularly evolve so that it seamlessly blurs into Apple’s mobile experience. What Mountain Lion does better than Lion ever did is prove that’s a good thing, and we shouldn’t be thinking about the distinction between desktops, laptops and mobiles anymore: they should all work as just another screen in your life.

OS X Mountain Lion is available now on the Mac App Store for just $19.99. If you’re on OS X Lion, there isn’t a reason in the world not to upgrade: Mountain Lion is a better experience in every way possible. And if you’re still on Snow Leopard? Maybe it’s time for you to finally jump on a faster cat.

  • Clem_E

    We can’t read it later!!!!! :p
    Any link for the full article in one page?

  • brownlee

    We can’t read it later!!!!! :p
    Any link for the full article in one page?

    We have this functionality, but it isn’t working for some reason. We’ve got our tech team coming. Soon!

  • FatSquirrel

    None of the pages seem to be working at all.

  • joewaylo

    I can see GateKeeper being the most annoying feature introduced to Mountain Lion. This reminds me of Windows Vista. “Permission to run blahblahblah” of a third party program. Vista kept freezing my computer every time I ran a non-microsoft product.

  • Kalvin Chan Loc

    Multiple monitor support still sucks. Fullscreen mode support wasn’t what I expected, as the other monitor still turns into a useless grey screen when going into fullscreen mode on the other.

  • John Owen

    WHY would Apple take our RSS reader support our of Safari????? I try to load the Cult of Mac feed and it takes me to Mail…I HATE that!!!!!

  • Edwin Torres

    Glad to see that the dictionary has been updated… :)

  • Edwin Torres

    Since safari got an update, has the lag that has been reported for the retina MBP while scrolling been fixed?

  • ddevito

    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

  • MC Pearl

    Good thing I’m sticking with Lion for a while. waiting until all the short-term bugs are fixed with 10.8.1

  • RadTech5000

    I can’t wait to upgrade my new Retina MacBook Pro tonight, super excited! :)

  • extra_medium

    I’d much rather be able to use my TV as a wireless second display than to duplicate my desktop. Using two of my screens to show the same thing simultaneously seems like a waste of a screen to me. It would be nice to be able to get some work done (play games) on the thunderbolt display while content streams on the TV, unrelated to what I’m doing.

    Also, if all it does is mirror your desktop why does the article mention that it only works for “certain types of streaming” content. What doesn’t work? What does work?

  • trexuphigh

    As a customer I love it. As a support tech, I’m scared. This was the easiest OS upgrades I’ve ever done. I started the download, went for coffee, after coffee started the installer, went out, returned in the evening, logged in. Done. Wow. The USB installer is much easier to make than a Windows PE environment, works better, and his more feature rich. So far so good. One disappointment is waiting for facebook integration, why wait for iOS6? Oh Apple, you so eccentric.

  • Soundcloud Forwardslash GenthenaZero

    Gatekeeper is DRM under the guise of an antivirus. It will soon be impossible to release an App without it being Apple signed. Mark my words.

    It’s a great feature until it is though :)

  • Ed_Kel

    Good thing I’m sticking with Lion for a while. waiting until all the short-term bugs are fixed with 10.8.1

    Could you elaborate on the “bugs” you’re waiting to be cleaned up? This is the smoothest upgrade I’ve ever done on my Mac – Period. I would highly suggest upgrading; it’s everything that Lion wasn’t…

  • Ed_Kel

    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

    *yawn*

    Quit looking like an idiot and get back to your Chromebook.

  • Greg

    Good stuff John, it must have taken a while to put this article together. Thanks!

  • Tallest_Skil

    Gatekeeper is DRM under the guise of an antivirus. It will soon be impossible to release an App without it being Apple signed. Mark my words.

    Consider them completely ignored.

  • ddevito
    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

    *yawn*

    Quit looking like an idiot and get back to your Chromebook.

    On the contrary, I own an iMac running Lion (although Lion was a waste of money, Snow leopard was my all time desktop OS fav).

  • ddevito
    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

    Fuck off and die you stupid fat asshole troll.

    I own more Apple products than you.

  • johnboyhanna

    Why is it a 3rd party app like Air Parrot can get Airplay to work on pre 2011 Macs but Apple won’t? One feature I was really looking forward to with this OS

  • johnboyhanna

    Also really missing the battery time option on the top bar, only % is an option to toggle on and off, not as useful as time, hope this gets fixed in an update.

  • Tallest_Skil

    I own more Apple products than you.

    So zero, then.

  • Ossiann

    Safari in iOS 6 doesn’t have a unified location field! You got that wrong.

  • site7000

    “Unfortunately, once you save a document to the iCloud, there’s no easy way to browse through your files outside of the app you saved it in, nor is there an easy way to, say, drag documents you’d like to keep synced into the iCloud from your desktop into a Dropbox or iDisk-style “syncing” folder.”

    This is bizarre. Isn’t the goal of a user interface design to make content more easily accessible and applications invisible? I don’t get this.

  • Alfred2612

    From the article: “AirPlay Mirroring will help Macs to make an even bigger dent in business environments than they currently have: instead of an expensive projector, all a board meeting needs is a TV, a Mac and a $99 box.”

    Cool feature, but I’ve been doing this for years giving presentations in boardrooms. All I need is a VGA/HDMI out cable and a TV with a VGA/HDMI in socket (which is most TVs nowadays). No $99 box needed. Done it many many times. :)

    And OSX looks GORGEOUS on a big screen TV!

  • Soundcloud Forwardslash GenthenaZero
    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

    *yawn*

    Quit looking like an idiot and get back to your Chromebook.

    Quit trolling and realise he’s right. Everything introduced to OS X in the last two instalments was stolen from existing tech on iOS. Its downright lazy.

    Furthermore, I’m irritated by Apple’s decision to start rolling out OS upgrades yearly. If the cheangelog is going to look like this then they are really just charging you more for the same amount of changes but in smaller chunks. I like it when I’m excited by new OSX releases, but I feel like one every year is going to make the change log much less exciting.

    If I hadn’t worked so hard to get Lion working on my iMac right now, I might update…. but I did, and I can’t afford to have Airport, Safe Mode and Finder crashing problems again… I’d probably rip my hair out.

  • Stoffe_C

    Another nice Airplay feature incase youve missed it (should work on every mac model).
    If you press the “alt” key and leftklick the volume control icon you can choose to output the sound to Airplay enabled devices. No need for airfoil anymore :)

  • Tallest_Skil

    Quit trolling and realise he’s right. Everything introduced to OS X in the last two instalments was stolen from existing tech on iOS. Its downright lazy.

    And you’re downright stupid. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

  • RadTech5000

    I’ve had a chance to play around with Mountain Lion for about a week now on my new Retina MacBook Pro and find I’m loving it! Power Nap is awesome and I feel so sorry for those of you who don’t have it. I use Messages a lot and I find the new Notifications to be a very nice as well. I think many of the small things they added of fixed really make you fell like this is a very polished OS and I couldn’t be happier. Way to go Apple you should be very proud. =)

  • coolman1081

    No mention of Game Center?

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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