Apple today released their latest Mac operating system, OS X 10.8 “Mountain Lion”. So what have Apple added to Mac OS X since last year’s OS X 10.7 “Lion”? Well actually, much like Lion, this update brings with it a bunch of features originally seen in OS X’s mobile counterpart, iOS.
The key new features are:
- Messages. A new app that finally brings iMessage to the Mac. Using Messages, Mac users can send text and picture messages to iPhone and iPad users, as well as other Mac users. For those who have both a Mac and an iOS device this is great news, as messages are delivered across all devices, so if an iMessage is sent to your iPhone you can reply to that message from your Mac – if you wish.
- Notification Center. Just like in iOS, Notification Center groups together alerts and messages from your apps. Upcoming Calendar appointments are shown, along with unread emails from Mail, mentions from Twitter, etc. You can also quickly post updates to Facebook or Twitter from here. Notification Center can be accessed by clicking a new icon in the top-right of the OS X menu bar. On Apple’s MacBook/Air/Pro range you can access Notification Center even quicker with a new gesture – slide two fingers onto your trackpad from the right side, Notification Center will gently slide in from the right of the screen. Very smooth!
- iCloud. Initial iCloud support was added in Lion, but Moutain Lion takes it further, by integrating iCloud with many of the apps included with the OS. Launching Preview or TextEdit for example, you will be given the option to directly load files stored on iCloud, as well as locally on your Mac’s hard drive.
- AirPlay mirroring. Apple TV users rejoice, you can now stream your Mac’s display to your TV wirelessly. This is a great feature, but sadly not compatible with some older Macs. If your Mac was made before 2011 chances are you won’t be able to use AirPlay mirroring.
- Dictation. The not-quite-Siri feature that Apple included with the 3rd generation iPad makes it’s way to Mac. Okay, so you can’t ask your Mac whether or not it’s raining outside, or what the time is in Tokyo, but you can dictate to your Mac with surprisingly good accuracy. And what’s more, this is a system-wide feature, so will work with all of your existing apps – anywhere that you can type, you can now dictate. There’s a new Dictation preference pane in System Preferences where you can set a keyboard shortcut for quick access to dictation.
- Gatekeeper. A new security feature that allows you to restrict software installs on your Mac to only apps from the Mac App Store, or from developers approved by Apple. Unlike in iOS, Apple have made this feature optional. You can choose to install apps from elsewhere if you like, but if you want added peace of mind that no malicious software could possibly install itself on your Mac then you can enable Gatekeeper.
- Game Center. Just like in iOS, use Game Center to challenge friends or find new players to compete with.
There are other changes too, such as new apps for Reminders and Notes. These aren’t really new features – as notes existed in Lion as part of the Mail app, and reminders have always been a part of OS X’s Calendar app. But these are now separate apps, bringing OS X a little more in line with iOS. One upgrade in Mountain Lion that I personally love, is the new Safari browser, gone are the separate address bar and search bar, they’re now unified into a single bar – As someone who regularly jumps between using IE9 on Windows, and Safari on Mac this saves me the annoyance of having to re-type my search because I’ve accidentally entered my search into the address bar – causing Safari to freak out.
So, after taking a look at the new features, and some improved existing features, is Mountain Lion with the upgrade? Before any OS upgrade you should check that any software which you rely on is compatible. Thankfully there aren’t many core changes to the OS that are likely to cause incompatibility with apps designed for Lion. I found that of the many apps I use frequently, all worked fine, with one exception – SkyDrive, which Microsoft are currently fixing to make it compatible.
The other factor to consider with an OS upgrade would usually be system requirements, will your Mac run Mountain Lion? Thankfully, this isn’t something you need to spend time worrying about, as a clever new system on the Mac App Store means that if your Mac can’t run Mountain Lion then you’ll be told when you try to purchase.
The final factor that might influence your decision on upgrading is price. This time, Apple have made this so easy, as they’ve set the price at £13.99 / $19.99, an improvement even on Lion, which was priced at £21.99 / $29.99. If you’re still running OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and have yet to upgrade to Lion, you can actually just right ahead to Mountain Lion, skipping Lion altogether. considering the low price, and great compatibility with Lion apps, there’s really no reason not to upgrade.