Mac OS X Mountain Lion

Apple have today launched a ‘sneak peek’ of OS X 10.8, named Mountain Lion, which promises to deliver new iOS functionality to the company’s traditional desktop and laptop systems.

Interestingly, Apple didn’t host a big event to announce this upgrade. It simply gave a few developers advance access to the developer preview, and added only a small link to a microsite in the corner of the company’s homepage. The announcement comes only seven months after the release of OS X Lion, which has been given mixed reviews, with some commentators comparing it with Microsoft’s Windows Vista. Perhaps Apple are keen to quietly move on from Lion, without making it appear as though it is a hasty move.

Traditionally, applications which were originally developed for desktop and laptop systems, for example, calculators, calendars, and more recently, email and web browsers, have been simplified and ported onto mobile handsets. In the last couple of years, however, there have been some developments such as excellent notification systems, new chat clients, and some smaller apps such as reminder and notemaking tools which have first been developed on mobile devices and haven’t yet made the leap back to traditional systems. Rebalancing this divide is the purpose of Mountain Lion.

One of the most obvious developments in the mobile world has been the concept of push notifications. In iOS 5, Apple introduced a comprehensive Notification Center, and in Mountain Lion there will be a very similar tool, which even has the same grey satin background as the mobile version.

It’s even possible to specify whether an application notification causes a banner, an alert or simply nothing to appear, just as within iOS.

A new messaging application, Messages, is designed to replace iChat while adding iMessage support. It’s now available to download for Mac OS X Lion as a beta version. Although being able to message mobile devices from the desktop is useful, as yet Messages doesn’t allow you to add your mobile number to outgoing messages, which means messages will appear in more than one conversation. I’d like to see a single, unified message stream across all devices, despite which email address or phone number or device I may be using to communicate. We should be abstracted from needing to remember message destinations, just as we no longer need to know whether our message is being carried via Wifi or the cellular data network. There should simply be one conversation for every name.

Gatekeeper is a new security solution in Mountain Lion. Users now have three options: they can download and run applications from anywhere, run apps from the Mac App Store and apps with a Developer ID, or run apps from the Mac App Store only. It’s an interesting introduction, only feasible as a result of Apple’s tight control of its ecosystem, and one which only time and user testing in the real world can reveal its worth.

While not typically a strong point for Macintosh computers, gaming has proved very popular on mobile Apple devices, and so it seems logical that Game Center has been ported to Mac OS X in order to build on the success in the portable space. It’s not clear whether some games will be designed in a way they can be played on both Macs and iPhones, for example, or perhaps if some games will be Mac only, but it’s an interesting development.

Reminders and Notes have made the leap over to Mountain Lion, as well as the ability to tweet from many applications. Another iOS feature, AirPlay Mirroring, will allow Mac desktops to be shown on TVs and projectors connected to an Apple TV. Finally, iCloud is now deeply integrated into Mac OS X, which seems a logical step, allowing users to keep everything in sync on every Apple device they own.

The addition of tangible new features, together with the mixed feelings many users have for Mac OS X Lion, indicate that Mountain Lion is likely to be a commercial success.

Mac OS X Lion

Mac OS X Lion is touted as having over 250 new features compared with its predecessor, Snow Leopard.

Of course, most of those will be mere refinements, but there are several big ticket items:

  • Mission Control
    • Brings Dashboard, Exposé, and Spaces together in one new feature
  • Multi-touch gestures
    • View ‘Mission Control’, zoom in and scroll
  • Full screen apps
    • Apps such as iPhoto and Mail look very similar to native iPad applications
  • Launchpad
    • Displays apps in a similar grid to iPhone/iPad layout
  • Resume
    • Allows apps to resume in the same state in which they were closed

Lion will be available through the Mac App Store as a download.