iCloud keeps everything in sync with iOS devices; Easy sharing via Facebook and Twitter; Useful Notes and Reminders apps; Powerful and versatile Notification Center; Safari has awesome Tab View and faster performance;
Contacts doesn't integrate with LinkedIn; Power Nap updates only once per hour;
OS X Mountain Lion marries some of the best aspects of the iPad with lots of innovative new features to make owning a Mac even more satisfying.
Blurring the line between laptops and tablets while also holding that line. That's the tricky balancing act Apple is trying to pull off with OS X Mountain Lion. On the one hand, the new operating system for Macs is very iPad-like, from the iCloud-powered Notes and Reminders apps to Game Center and Notification Center. And yet it's clear that Apple very much wants to keep the desktop and mobile environments distinct. With more than 200 new features, Mountain Lion ($19.99) doesn't try to reimagine the PC as Microsoft's Windows 8 does. Instead, Apple cherry-picked some of iOS' most compelling features to make iPhone and iPad owners feel more at home. Does Mountain Lion succeed?
Another example of Apple making iCloud more tangible is the Open Panel, which you'll see when you launch document-based apps such as TextEdit or Pages. This window prevents all of your most recent documents using thumbnails in chronological order, though you can switch to list view. Plus, you can easily drag and drop files on top of each other to create folders.
We really appreciate the ability to share docs right from the Open Panel with the press of a button. However, while you can choose Email, Message or AirDrop, third-party alternatives (such as Outlook or Dropbox) are currently off-limits. In addition, for now, you need to use Apple's own iWork apps, though Documents in the Cloud is available as an API for developers. Cross-device syncing is a similarly closed system. Changes you make to docs will automatically show up on your iPad and iPhone, but not Android and Windows-powered gadgets.
[SEE ALSO: Windows 8 vs. Mac OS X Mountain Lion Face-Off]
Just because Macs have bigger screens than iPads that doesn't mean alerts can't get annoying. That's why Notification Center will be a breath of fresh air. Just swipe with two fingers from the right side of the trackpad to see incoming emails, upcoming appointments, Twitter notifications, and more. You can even post Twitter and (soon) Facebook updates right from this area using Share Sheets.
We can't wait for third-party developers to sink their teeth into the Notifications API. (Cough, TweetDeck.)
Reminders and Notes
The Reminders app for Mountain Lion borrows one of our favorite features for iOS 5, which is the ability to add a location to a task. That way, you can create a reminder on your Mac and then your iPhone can remind you when you're arriving or leaving a place you designate (e.g., home or work). In our testing, this feature worked smoothly.
Messages is yet another Mountain Lion app with iCloud as the backbone. It enables you to send iMessages to any iOS device, as well as instant messages to iChat, Google Talk, AIM, Yahoo and Jabber users. Too bad Facebook isn't on board.
Other perks include delivery and read receipts, as well as switching to FaceTime calls with a click. Our only nitpick is that Mountain Lion didn't recognize one of our contacts as having an Apple ID, even though she owns an iPhone, which made messaging that individual impossible.
Facebook and Twitter
When posting to Facebook, you'll see a Share Sheet that gives you multiple options, including which people you share with and the ability to add your location. If it's a photo you're sharing, you can post it directly to your wall or to a specific album.
Facebook in Mountain Lion also integrates with Contacts, populating your address book with all of your social networking buddies. You can even add Facebook photos of contacts with whom you're not Facebook friends. In addition, Mountain Lion will auto-populate your calendar with your friends' birthdays and provide reminder alerts.
The build of Mountain Lion we tested didn't yet feature notification options for Facebook, but Apple says you'll be able to choose which ones appear or none at all.
While Mountain Lion is a lot more social than previous Mac operating systems, Apple could still go further. For example, it would be nice to see your friends' latest updates and posted photos from within the contacts app, similar to the People app for Windows 8.
Anyone who has a nasty habit of having too many tabs open will love Safari's new Tab View. Pinch to zoom out and you'll see all of your tabs laid out horizontally; swipe with two fingers to move from one to the next, and click on the one you want to open or click on the X to close it. We'd like to see Apple add a two-finger swipe up to close tabs in this view.
Where Safari pulls ahead is with its much smoother pinch-to-zoom performance and also slightly more fluid two-finger scrolling, which is now graphics-accelerated in Mountain Lion. Safari will get even better when iOS 6 rolls out, which will enable open tab syncing via iCloud. You'll be able to pick up right where you left off on your iPhone or iPad.
Apple says you should be able to enable all caps just speaking those two words, but it didn't work in our testing. However, we successfully added punctuation like commas and periods, and Mountain Lion successfully started a new line when we said so.
Similar to Intel's Smart Connect feature for Ultrabooks, Apple's Power Nap feature in Mountain Lion wakes up your notebook periodically to update all sorts of data. Compatible with the MacBook Pro with Retina Display and the MacBook Airs (mid-2011 to present), Power Nap keeps a long list of apps refreshed so you'll be ready to go when you lift the lid. Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, Notes, Documents in the Cloud, Photo Stream -- Power Nap does it all. This service should even update your Mac Store Apps in the background and let you find your Mac while it's sleeping.
Gatekeeper and Security
Surprisingly, with the default setting engaged, Mountain Lion blocked us from downloading Dropbox from the Web, which means the company hasn't yet obtained a Developer ID. However, Chrome downloaded just fine. If you want to relax the settings until developers get up to speed, you can always change the preference to "Allow applications downloaded from anywhere."
Another nice enhancement is the new search bar in the Launchpad view. This makes it easy to find the app you're looking for, especially if you've been downloading a bunch from the Mac App Store. Speaking of which, the Mac App Store makes it easy for you to share recommendations via Facebook and Twitter while you shop around. Plus, the Store can automatically download updates, including OS X updates.
Windows 8 won't debut until October, but it's clear that Microsoft goes further with social networking integration in its People and Photos apps. And while Windows 8's interface requires more of a learning curve, it's more personal and dynamic. Mountain Lion feels more like a traditional computing environment with tablet amenities baked in, which we suspect a lot of folks would prefer. Apple is much further ahead with its App Store at this stage of the game.
Ultimately, though, Mountain Lion isn't a response to the competition. It represents the polishing and maturing of an ecosystem that brings iOS and OS X much closer together while respecting what users want to do differently with laptops and tablets. While you'll need an iPad and/or iPhone to maximize this OS, Mountain Lion is a very well-designed and extremely satisfying piece of software.
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