Review: OSX 10.8 Mountain Lion

This week Apple’s latest OS, Mountain Lion was released. After spending a few days its now time to give you the run down of what works, what doesn’t and...

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This week Apple’s latest OS, Mountain Lion was released. After spending a few days its now time to give you the run down of what works, what doesn’t and let you know if its worth your time and $20 to upgrade.

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Notifications
A unification of notifications systems was long overdue in OSX and considering Apple already had one built for iOS, it made sense the adapt it to the desktop. Positioned as a panel on the right, rather than a top down draw, its a subtle difference that makes sense for this environment.

Calendar items, Reminders, New Email, Game Center and Tweets all end in Notifications. As developers update their apps to support the new notifications in Mountain Lion, this list will grow. You can control these by visiting System Preferences > Notifications. Another feature of the Notifications pane is the ability to tweet directly from it. Given you can reply, retweet, favourite or basically anything else, you’ll still need a dedicated twitter app which removes the whole point. Clicking on a tweet in Notifications, launches the web and forces you to log in every, single, time. Twitter integration in Mountain Lion is completely broken.

Apple should take note of what Google are doing with notifications in Android Jelly Bean, being able to interact with notifications avoid the need to launch an app, This makes the notification functional and productive, rather than an alert to enter into 3 more steps to get something done.

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iMessage

iOS users have enjoyed the benefits of communicating via iMessage for a while now, so naturally it makes sense for Apple to extend this functionality to the desktop. It’s a bit of a hail back to the days gone by where Nokia’s PC Messaging suite allowed for texts to be sent from the desktop. The main difference here is that communication travels via Apple servers and not the carrier, which has one awesome benefit, its free.

While a lot of us are now on unlimited sms plans, not everyone is. This means that while you may be happy to engage in a 78 message conversation via text, your friend on the other end paying 25c per message may not. Of course the other great benefit of having iMessage available in OSX, is that you get access to a full sized keyboard. This means those touch typing communication addicts, can be much more efficient. It is worth mentioning that this same functionality can be obtained by using email. Again this assumes a little on the behalf of your friend at the other end, that they also use email on their smartphone. Email however is the ultimate in cross-platform support, I think it’ll be a cold day in hell before we see iMessage released for other non-Apple platforms.

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Powernap
When your Mac goes to sleep, it still gets things done with Power Nap.3 It periodically updates Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Reminders, Notes, Photo Stream, Find My Mac, and Documents in the Cloud. When your Mac is connected to a power source, it downloads software updates and makes backups with Time Machine. This is honestly one of my favourite features of Mountain Lion is Powernap, a welcome innovation.

It is worth noting that not all Macs will support Powernap, actually your machine not only needs to be recent, but also requires an SSD. This may seem arbitrary, but does have a technical reason. Standard hard drives would need to spin up, which creates heats, which would require fans and all this would consume a lot of battery. It’d be a terrible experience if you put your laptop to sleep and night and woke up with it updated, but flat.

I do get the sense that this feature is also created in a country that doesn’t really understand bandwidth caps the way we do in Australia. Essentially this feature gives your Apple the capacity to download as much data as it needs. Pay attention or this may be enough to pop your cap or even cost you in excess data. If you have a big cap, it’s a great feature that means your machine is always up to date.

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Safari 6
This version finally brings the introduction of the unified address and search bar we’ve seen elsewhere for years. iCloud tabs would be interesting if it hadn’t been done before either. Ultimately there’s a bit of extra speed and a bit of polish, but Apple are just playing catch up here.

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AirPlay
Sending your desktop wirelessly to your TV, the largest screen in your house sounds like a dream come true. Unfortunately you will need to also own an Apple TV to pull this off, also you’ll need to switch HDMI sources, so not as seamless as it sounds. In the future I hope all OS manufacturers have something like this, preferably using a standard format like Wi-Di that TVs will support in the future. Personally I have a Boxee Box that can stream content via iTunes, but that’s really not the same thing.

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Social integration
Documents, Photos and pretty much everything in Mountain Lion can be shared. Supported sharing options include Twitter, Flickr, iMessage, Email and AirDrop. One big omission from the launch is of course Facebook. Despite being included in development versions of OSX 10.8, it seems the issue with Facebook is a business one, rather than a technical issue. Facebook integration is on its way, due in Fall (US time).

While there is one page on Apple’s site that explains the delay, dozens of other references to Facebook being a Mountain Lion feature say nothing about its delay.

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Gatekeeper
Promoted under the security banner, Gatekeeper aims to keep users safe. It does this by restricting users (by default) to only download apps from the Apple curated App Store. At the heart of it, they are correct, having applications checked for malware prior to releasing them on the world is a good thing. What they fail to point out is that they are also taking 30% of every app for sale in there.

Of course you can head to System Preferences > Security & Privacy and change the setting to allow applications from other sources, i.e. the internet. The experience for most users is that they won’t do this. Users attempting to install an app from the web, regardless of its reputation, are told this is unsafe. One such experience is SONOS app, clearly a company know, love and trust, but because their app isn’t in the App Store, its presented as unsafe.

Over 200 new features
With the major features explained, the rest of the changes in Mountain Lion are very minor, many which you’ll never use. When you read through the full list, you’ll quickly realise this list is more marketing than serious selling points.

For those running bootcamp partitions, you can feel safe in moving to OSX 10.8 as they are left untouched by the upgrade.

Overall
At the end of the day most users who can, should upgrade to Mountain Lion. At $20, its not a big stretch to finance and given it can be done as an in-place upgrade, time isn’t really a blocker either. While the process and cost might be easy to get over, the biggest reason to upgrade should be features.

After upgrading and spending a few days with Mountain Lion, I’m left with a feeling of emptiness. Its an improvement, but only a minor one, it still feels very much like Lion so position your expectations accordingly. Apple enthusiasts once again took down Apple servers for hours when it was released, but you seriously don’t need to run to this one, walk, get there eventually, but you’re not missing a revolution.

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This post is authored by techAU staffers. Used rarely and sparingly when the source decided to keep their identity secret, or a guest author who isn’t seeking credit.