OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

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

Notification Center

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.

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.

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.

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