Chris Taylor July 26, 2012
Mountain Lion as seen running on a MacBook Pro.
It's that time of year when a Mac owner's fancy turns to thoughts of felines. Yes, those who lusted after Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard and Lion in years gone past can finally get their paws on a brand new kitty: Mountain Lion.
As of the second we published this story, Mountain Lion — more prosaically known as OS X 10.8 — became available in the Mac app store. So long as you already have Snow Leopard or Lion in your cat collection, Mountain Lion is yours for the bargain basement price of $20.99.
Is it worth it? It’s a fair question. Lion seemed like a bargain at $31.99, but many Mac owners found the beast brought more pain than pleasure. Some longstanding features had been oversimplified; others vanished altogether (RIP “Save As”.) It made a half-hearted stab at looking like its mobile sibling, iOS, without really integrating any of its offerings.
Some 60 per cent of Mac owners skipped Lion altogether, your humble reviewer included. So first of all, kudos to Apple for letting us prodigal Snow Leopard lovers return to the fold — without forcing us to buy Lion first.
Mountain Lion is a more mature kind of cat, one that delivers on nearly all of its predecessor’s promise. If you own an iPhone, an iPad or both, you’re going to love how much more connected all your devices are. If you’re a frequent tweeter, this is pretty much Twitter OS.
It doesn’t quite live up to all of Apple’s pre-launch hype, however. The integration of iCloud isn’t as intuitive as we would like. Using Messages, which is iChat combined with iMessages on the iPhone, can be an exercise in frustration; that should be smoothed out once Apple launches iOS 6 in the fall.
Another odd omission: Facebook integration. That is coming as an update in the fall, though we’re not sure why — it was included in the review copy Apple gave us, and seemed to post to the social network just fine.
Mountain Lion is a roughly 4GB upgrade; we found it a half-hour download from the Mac app store. (We hope the Apple servers are up to the challenge of providing it to thousands of users simultaneously). Installation told us it would take 30 minutes; it was done in 10.
The entire OS seems significantly speedier. We were especially impressed that you can now boot it up in less than 5 seconds on a top-of-the-line Macbook Retina, and only a few seconds more on a Macbook Air.
Bouncing icons in the dock are a thing of the past; not that the animation has been retired, but there’s barely time for it to run. Stuff just loads.
The in-app sharing sheets that let you post to Twitter, once Mountain Lion has your account info, work simply, look beautiful and may make you want to use Safari as your default browser. (We’re only shunning it for its lack of pinned tabs.)
More apps could do with Twitter integration; it seems odd that you can put your iPhoto snaps on Flickr, but can’t tweet them. Still, the feature — which we expect every app maker is going to want to integrate — is off to a roaring start.
Ever wanted a To Do List that followed you on every screen you use? That’s Reminders, an app that showed promise on the iPhone and iPad and now appears for the first time on your Mac. Because Siri uses Reminders, you can in theory dictate a day’s worth of doings to your phone while commuting, and have them automatically waiting on your desktop before you arrive.
Siri doesn’t appear in Mountain Lion itself, but Apple has done the next best thing and included its dictation engine. Tap the Function key twice (or tap once and hold) in any app and speak-write your way to success; it will learn the nuance of your voice. It’s like having Dragon Dictate without spending a hundred bucks for it.
Notifications (for all those Reminders, appointments, Messages, and anything else any other app wants to tell you about) are nicely consolidated. They appear for a few seconds in the top right-hand corner, then corral themselves into a whole new area you can tap or swipe in from the side of the screen. You’ll find yourself checking this area often.
We were especially pleased by how well Notifications plays with others — in particular, erstwhile Apple nemesis Google. If Chrome and Messages both want to tell you about the same chat message, for example, Mountain Lion defaults to the Chrome notification.
Nearly all of these neat new features, and many more besides, rely on Apple’s superb syncing service iCloud. But the company has decided that iCloud should be barely visible.
You can sync text between devices in the Notes app, and your PDFs in Preview, yet there’s no such thing as an iCloud app where you see all your cloud-based documents at a glance. It would have been useful, especially considering you only have 5 GB of free storage on the service.
I found myself turning iCloud on a surprising number of times in different apps and System Preferences panes. It required me to create a new @me.com email address, for no reason that was immediately apparent.
The process was hardly intuitive, which is strange since the OS has already asked if you want to use iCloud, during installation.
Messages should be the app that benefits most from iCloud, and in theory the app is genius. You get all of your AIM and Google Talk missives alongside your iMessages (texts from iPhones). You can send a quick message to any iPhone or iPad from your desktop. What’s not to love?
Only this: Apple has not yet integrated your phone number and Apple ID, not until iOS 6 launches in the fall. Send that text to an iPhone from your desktop, and it pops from the email address you use for your Apple ID, rather than from your phone number.
There are several unintended consequences here. Conversations get splintered, irritatingly enough, into multiple threads. You may not want to give the text recipient your Apple ID email address. Even if you do, they may not recognise it. I’ve sent a couple of Messages that got no response simply because my friends had no idea who it was from.
It would also be nice if Apple could load up your iMessage conversation history, which it has easy access to via the iPhone — and if it could keep track of both sides of a conversation no matter where else you had it, such as Google Talk. Your Messages app is going to look oddly empty for a while.
This is a tremendously feature-rich upgrade from Apple, one that breathes new life into a 12-year-old OS — and more than makes up for Lion.
Even though Facebook integration won’t be ready until the fall in the US (September-December), and Messages won’t truly be ready for prime time until then, we see no reason why Mac owners should delay. It’s well worth the price of a few lattes. There’s a whole bunch of stuff it’s downloading for you even when your machine is asleep (a feature Apple calls Power Nap.)
Mac OS and the iOS are now joined at the hip in a dozen meaningful ways (such as Games Centre, which will now lets a Mac owner play an opponent on the iPad, for example.) We can’t wait to see what their marriage produces next.
Have you downloaded Mountain Lion yet? What do you make of it? Let us know in the comments.
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