A Preview Of Features In The Next OSX, Mountain Lion [Mac]

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mac os x mountain lionLast week, Apple announced preliminary details of the next major release of OSX, named Mountain Lion. Some are calling it non-news – an incremental upgrade with no real new features or changes. I’ll let you be the judge of that. Inspired by the iPad is the theme of this upgrade – though iOS-ification of the desktop might be more accurate.

That iOS and OSX are merging has been known for a while now – first with ‘natural’ scrolling and LaunchPad for apps; and of course the Mac App Store. The features announced for Mountain Lion so far are essentially extending that inevitable merger, bringing unification of core iOS apps to the desktop – your apps, everywhere. I’ll be discussing whether or not this is a good thing in a separate opinion article, but for now let’s just see what we know has made the transition.

Reminders & Messages

As expected, Messages is a replacement for iChat which unifies the chat experience across devices. You can download a beta version of Messages now, and send free text and multimedia messages to all your contacts with an iOS device.

mac os x mountain lion

Also making an appearance is Reminders – the glorified to-do list that was introduced in iOS5 with heavy Siri integration, natural language processing, and location signals. Like all the apps, it’ll be syncing across all your devices through iCloud, also a core component of Mountain Lion.

Notification Center

A move likely to anger Growl fans, Notification Center was also announced. I’m not a big fan of notifications in general though, so I’ll have to wait and see on this one. Expect a new one-swipe gesture to default opening this.

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mountain lion mac

AirPlay Mirroring

Pretty much any Apple device you own can now be mirrored onto the Apple TV. I’m sure this will be big news for some, another reason to buy an Apple TV for others. I don’t find plugging a cable in to be all that difficult, but it makes sense to have that feature on the desktop too. A better question might be – why can’t we output to the desktop with AirPlay yet, instead of just to an Apple TV?


Now this is literally a game changer! GameCenter on the desktop will allow for cross-platform gaming – which as an iPad board game fan I’d be particularly interested in. Given the similarities in programming for the desktop and iOS, I suspect the process of migrating a game to the desktop to be fairly simple – so expect big things in this department.

mountain lion mac


Though Macs are still the safest and virus-free computing experience, GateKeeper is Apple’s answers to keeping out the malware – software with malicious intent but often installed accidentally by the users themselves. GateKeeper implements 3 levels of protection:

  • Anything Can Be Installed: This is the power user level, disabling all security and code signing checks.
  • Apps From Registered Developers Only: This is the default setting, and makes use of new code signing for desktop apps. The user will only be able to install software that has been code signed by a verified developer (that is, anyone enrolled on the developer program). In addition, if software is later found to have sneaked by with something malicious hidden, the privileges can be revoked, and upon next launch the app will be deleted by GateKeeper.
  • Only From The App Store: Finally, and it’s important to note that this is not the default option – GateKeeper can be set up to only enable apps from the app store to be run. This is the ultimate level of protection, and direct equivalent to the iPhone/iOS environment.

A number of key developers have come out in support of GateKeeper. Personally, I don’t see a problem with the system as long as the option to run any code is left in future versions and not simply being phased out slowly. In terms of a feature to be enabled by default, GateKeeper will ensure that the Mac experience remains virus and malware free, even with rising market share and popularity – traditionally the strongest reasons why Macs were left untargeted.

And The Rest…

iCal and Address Book will be renamed Calendar and Contacts for the sake of consistency with their iOS counterparts. If you want to read further into that, it could be an attempt to convert some of Apple’s huge iPhone market base to full Mac owners.

Notes also gains a separate app, until now having been rather oddly included in Mail on the desktop side.

mac os x mountain lion

What’s Missing

The biggest omission so far is Siri – the technical capability is certainly there, so why wouldn’t Apple bring Siri to the desktop? Well, perhaps they’re saving that as one last thing – or perhaps they feel it needs to stay as a mobile-only assistant until they can really tie it into the core desktop OSX in a useful way, if at all. It does seem only natural to put Siri in the desktop – Macs have had mediocre speech recognition baked into the OS since time began and it really needs an upgrade, and it certainly wouldn’t cannibalize the iPhone 4S sales in the same way adding Siri to the iPhone 4 might.

Some were also surprised to see the lack of touch screen support announced – but that was never on the cards, really. Steve Jobs was explicit in stating touch screens don’t work on the desktop side; Tim Cook has echoed that while staying quiet about MacBooks for now. I don’t think we’re going to see it in this generation, at least.

So, it looks like the iOS-ification of OSX in now in full swing. I’ll save the speculation and opinions for another time – but it’s obvious that Apple are looking to create a truly enclosed ecosystem for their products. For those willing to buy into the entire ecosystem, a tightly integrated range of consumer products awaits – while those with just one device will be left out in the cold, wondering what all the fuss is about.

We haven’t heard all the details of Mountain Lion yet though, so stay tuned to see what surprises are left in store. And if your Mac has sadly been left out of the supported list, then we still have an awesome guide for all those Lion features you’ve yet to discover.

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