We covered some of the cool new features in Mountain Lion when it was first released to developers at the beta level back in February. And now after less than twenty-four hours of getting my hands on it, I’ve had a chance to go beyond a first look of the new OS and discover some of the most welcomed productivity features. For me, computers are about getting things done faster and more efficiently, and while Mountain Lion may not roar, it is a great sign of things to come.
As usual, Apple says there are 200+ new features in OS X 10.8, and perhaps if you look hard enough you might find them all. But what you get in terms of productivity for a $20.00 download are Notification Center, text dictation, Notes and Reminders, expanded iCloud features for managing documents, and Mail VIPs.
I’m going to start with my personal most favorite feature: text dictation. Though writing dictation software, namely Dragon Dictate for the Mac, has been around for a while, it is now built-in to the Mac operating system. You can actually dictate words in a text field of an application, and what you say will be typed for you. If you have an iPhone 4S, you most likely are already using this feature.
The text dictation feature is not as fully featured as Dragon Dictate, but it is an awesome and mostly accurate tool for dictating short e-mail messages, tweets, Google searches, and webpage comments. To initiate a dictation, double-click the fn button on your keyboard, and when prompted to do so, dictate a sentence or two. Speak clearly and not too fast. When you’re done press the fn key again (or the Return key) to see what you said get typed ten times faster than you could manually.
In System Preferences > Dictation & Speech, you can change the keyboard shortcut, language, and which mic the Dictation feature uses. Now how is that for a cool little time saver?
Notification Center, also an iOS 5 features, enables you to preview your e-mail messages, calendar alerts, Twitter notifications, and more, by simply clicking a button in the upper right side of your desktop.
Notification Center also delivers Growl-like notifications as they arrive. You may or may not find this obtrusive, but it saves users the trouble of opening applications just to view mail messages and Twitter updates, for example.
By the way, you can turn Notifications on and off by scrolling up to the top of Notification Center and clicking the button. The top of Notification Center is also where you can write and post a Twitter updates—again saving you the trouble of opening your Twitter client.
Though checking email is always a dreaded task, the new VIPs feature in Mail may help you manage important emails a lot better. You can select and mark any contact as a VIP, and the emails from that contact will be put into a special smart mailbox. All your VIPs can be accessed in the side panel of Mail.
You can also open Mail Preferences > General and select to have your VIPs email notices show up in new message notifications on your desktop—because hey, they are really that special.
To mark a contact as a VIP, place your cursor on the immediate left side of the sender’s name in an email message, and click on the star, which is barely visible. This is a one-click process that saves you the trouble of setting up a smart mailbox.
Let’s face it, not too many of us want to spend our time managing documents on our computer. Though I perform the task pretty well, it’s now going to be easier to save some documents to iCloud, which means those documents can be retrieved from any supported Mac or iOS device.
So in Mountain Lion you now have the choice to save your documents (created in TextEdit, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) in your iCloud account or in your Finder. As you type, your text gets automatically saved and when you switch say from writing in Pages on your Mac to writing in pages on your iPad, your documents should be automatically updated between devices.
When you first open your updated apps on your supporting iCloud devices, they will link and update to whatever documents you already have in your iCloud account. The updates between say a Pages document on the iPad to a Pages document on the Mac can occur while both documents are still open; however, it might take several seconds to see the update appear.
When you open a document, you will get a choice to open the updated version, or make a copy of the original version before the update.
Clicking on the title in the tool bar of a document also now enables you to rename that document, move it to another location, duplicate or lock it, or browse and open previous versions.
Oh, and one more thing: Save As has been brought back to text applications in Mountain Lion. You won’t find it in File > Menu where it was originally; instead, you have to evoke it with the keyboard shortcut, Command+Option+S.
For Apple users with more than one device, this fuller integration with iCloud is another time saver.
Notes and Reminders
The last major productivity tool, for me anyway, are the iCloud-intergrated Notes and Reminders applications now in OS X, as well as iOS devices. Like text documents, these applications update your entered reminders and notes between all devices. It happens nearly in real time.
Note also in that in both apps you get the choice to write and save documents locally to your device, or in iCloud account. And I hadn’t noticed it before, but you also can create folders for your notes (File > New Folder on the Mac, and tap the Accounts button on the iOS app to view and add folders.)
The biggest missing feature of both these applications is that you can’t access them from the menu bar of your Mac. You have to bring the applications to the front in order to add or view data.
The above are a handful of my personal productivity applications and features. Let us know about your most useful finds in Mountain Lion. What did I overlook?