The new system from Apple, formally OS X 10.8 and dubbed Mountain Lion, is on sale now as a $19.99 download from Apple’s App Store. It builds on the previous system, Lion, which came in July, 2011.
Mountain Lion is made for a world where your computer is just one of your computing devices, along with your iPhone and your iPad. Apple wants to make it easier to switch from one to the other, several times a day.
It’s already easy to switch between iPhone and iPad. For instance, songs and apps you buy on an iPad will automatically pop up on your iPhone through Apple’s iCloud online-storage service. Lion has some iCloud features, but Mountain Lion really brings the Mac into the iPhone-iPad family.
The Mac already had such mobile-like features as the ability to zoom in or out on a MacBook by pinching your fingers on its touchpad. Mountain Lion goes a lot further:
(1) A notification center slides out from the right of the screen to offer calendar reminders and the latest mail items. It mimics, down to the background color, layout and font, the way you get Facebook updates, news alerts and other notices on your iPhone.
(2) The Mac’s iChat app has been scrapped in favor of Messages, which is made phone friendly by incorporating the iMessage service for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users to exchange texts, photos and video. Now you can send messages from your Mountain Lion computer to your mobile friends, or reach another Mountain Lion user from your phone. The way conversations are presented feels more like texting than instant messaging.
(3) Mountain Lion borrows a “Share” button from iPhone and iPad apps. The iPhoto image organizer on Lion had that, but it’s now built into other apps such as the Safari Web browser and the Preview document reader. The options change depending on the app. In Safari, for instance, you can send a Web page by email or post a link on Twitter. In Preview, you can share a photo on Flickr or add it to iPhoto.
(4) Facebook integration is coming this fall. You’ll be able to limit who sees your post and add your current location through that share button. Mountain Lion will also sync contact information on Facebook friends with your Mac’s address book. You need to sign on to Facebook only once, and Mountain Lion takes care of the rest.
That “single sign-on” feature is available right away for other services, including Twitter and Flickr. Once you’re signed in, you don’t need to enter your username and password again when accessing that service from another app.
(5) Personal computers so far let you install anything without question. But with Apple’s mobile devices, you are limited to pre-approved software from the company’s App Store as Apple wants to protect you from bad experiences.
(6) For the iCloud, all you need is an Internet connection and an Apple ID – the same one you create for free to buy songs and apps on iTunes. That Apple ID links your experience across the various devices. The iCloud service comes with five gigabytes of free storage; you can pay for more.
Consider Pages, Numbers and Keynote (Apple’s versions of Microsoft’s popular Office programs for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations) Documents are automatically stored online through iCloud, unless you change the location to a folder on your computer.
Thus your documents follow you wherever you go. Type a sentence in a document on your MacBook and see the changes on the iPad a half-minute or so later. You can access your files even if you don’t have an Internet connection. Copies are stored on your computer, and changes will be replicated to the iCloud folder once you’re back online.
(7) The search and address bars are now combined on Safari, just as they are on Google’s Chrome browser.
(8) Safari’s Reading List now works offline. If you are reading a Web page and need to go somewhere, just click the small “glasses” icon for the browser to store a copy. You can continue reading in the car or on a train, even if you don’t have an Internet connection.
(9) Gamers will appreciate Game Center, which started out as a way for mobile users to find opponents and keep track of high scores. Mountain Lion users can now join in the fun.