OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion Review

OS X Mountain Lion

Ever since Apple  previewed OS X Mountain Lion back in February, we have been eagerly awaiting its release, and now six months later, that date has come. Just over year ago, OS X Lion was released, and improved upon the formula that Snow Leopard set up, and Mountain Lion has taken the same approach. Through adding further functionality to the core aspects of the operating system, we now have a more refined version of OS X, that really is a step above the rest.

Messages:

Apple debuted the Messages beta earlier this year, and now that all the persistent bugs are gone, it has revealed itself as a full featured message client. The hallmark feature of messages is that you can now chat with iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches right from your Mac, and it operates exactly as expected. The interface is similar to the iPad iMessage app, with the conversation view on the right, and a list of previous chats on the left side. This aesthetic is clean and works well for the app, but the window is better kept small, as the full screen mode is bewildering. Apple’s previous chat client, iChat has now been completely removed, with Messages its permanent replacement. Support for services such as AIM, Yahoo!, Google Talk and Jabber remain, and when messaging with them, they operate in the same manner as an iMessage. 

Customisation within the app is surprisingly detailed, with many options to choose to customise the messaging experience. Everything from Alert tones to font adjustments are included, and it is nice to see this level of customisation, which further validates it as a full featured chat client. Other features include a small variety of Emoji icons, and the ability to FaceTime someone directly through the app.

Messages has revealed itself as a full featured messaging client

Unfortunately, the whole service is still flawed, due to Apple IDs and phone numbers not being linked as of yet. This results in not knowing which to contact an iPhone user on, and could potentially result in a message not being delivered. Although when iOS6 is released in a couple of months, this issue will be fixed.

The aim is that you can start a conversation on your iPhone, get home and continue on Mac, and then finish it off later on iPad. This is a great concept, but until the framework is set out, it won’t occur as seamlessly. Nevertheless, Messages is definitely a great addition to OS X.

iCloud:

A much talked about feature in Mountain Lion is the further iCloud integration that was, sadly, lacking from OS X Lion. Instead of now fetching documents from iCloud.com, they are instantly available upon starting up a supported app. This really showcases the potential of iCloud, which has previously looked bad when stacked up to other cloud based services. iCloud is now integrated right into the entire operating system, and this is particularly evident when seeing just how many apps now support it.

Apple updated their entire iWork suite to work with iCloud, and this makes file navigation much easier. Notes and Reminders apps (we’ll touch on that later) get their slice of the iCloud pie with syncing for anything done in their apps. Messages practically runs on iCloud,

iCloud is what Apple envisioned MobileMe to be years ago

and uses it to ensure that all devices are up to date. This really does show just how much Apple is putting into the service, and they clearly see it as their way forward in the future. We are now prompted to use the iCloud for many apps, and doing so is an extremely good decision. Data is synced almost instantly, which ensures that all devices are completely up to date.

Take for example, Apple’s word processing app, Pages. Upon opening the newly updated app, you will be presented with all your iCloud files, arranged neatly in the folders that they began in. Everything is there, and saving files in the cloud has now become a viable option. When you’re finished with a document, saving it directly to iCloud is now a possibility. It operates in the same way that saving a document to your local disk does, and is just as effortless.

Right now, iCloud is what Apple envisioned MobileMe to be years ago. The service just works. While the iCloud integration in Lion was lacklustre, and left much to be desired, how it has been implemented in Mountain Lion really makes up for it. This is the way forward, where the traditional file system will go to the Cloud, and all of our data will be on hand at all times.

Notification Center 

Notification Center came to the iPhones and iPads in iOS5 last year, and although Mac users didn’t feel left out, Apple has still put a notifications system in Mountain Lion. It operates in a similar fashion to the iOS version, whereby a single gesture activates a centralised place for anything that you need to know. The activation looks visually stunning, as the desktop is shoved out of the way for a vertical menu that lets you know what you need to know.

Notifications arrive swiftly up the top right corner of the screen, and are swept into the notification center if not clicked in time. As far as settings go, you are offered the same sort of options that are in iOS. Applications can be given preference over other ones, and the style of notification can be altered as well.

The whole concept  is questionable

There is no doubt that a large amount of work has gone into the notification center, but it is now up to developers to ensure the success of the feature. Mainly Apple apps are utilising the service at the current point in time,as well as a handful of developers that are currently on board.

However, the whole concept of the Notification Center is questionable. After all, we do already have icons on the dock with notifications, and the menu bar up the top can hold some as well. It is essential in iOS, where the whole experience is spread out over a number of pages, and things are harder to find, but with a desktop OS, we can already see everything we need to without the it. While it is a big feature of Mountain Lion, and while I’m sure many people will use it, the usefulness of the feature can be debated. Only time will tell just how useful this feature is.

Reminders:

The Reminders app is one of the few brand new applications that have shipped with Mountain Lion. Much like the Messages app, Reminders mimics the style and interface of its iPad equivalent. It is compact, and works as well as any other reminders app out there. Adding locations to your reminders is much easier on the Mac than iOS, obviously due to the bigger screen real estate, physical keyboard and mouse. How much this app means to you really depends on your usage of its counterpart on iOS. With iCloud, these reminders, along with their location settings and the like, are all transported to your iOS device. If you don’t use an iOS device, then Reminders may have little relevance to you, unless you’re looking for an app to set reminders.

They both use iCloud to their advantage

Notes: 

Notes does what the name suggests, it takes notes. The interface is the standard affair, with the menu on the left, and content on the right. As inspired by the iOS version, the colour palate consists of a brown leather on the top, and yellow note paper below. Unfortunately, the app comes with what could be described as the ugliest font on an Apple app. The font is way to thin and compact, and when compared to the standard Helvetica, you can see just how ugly the typeface is. I understand that it is suppost to look like a notepad, but when that idea gets in the way of legibility, then there’s a problem.

Game Center:

There really isn’t much to say about the Game Center app. It seems as if Apple has just ported the iPad app over to the Mac. While the interface isn’t bad, it isn’t great either. Apple usually encourages differing interfaces across devices, but when they go against this philosophy, it isn’t a promising sign. The Game Center network isn’t really thriving, and when there aren’t enough Mac games to fill the spaces on the starting screen, then you know that there is still a while to go. Yes, developers will eventually jump on board the Mac version of Game Center, and then playing online with Macs, iPhones and iPads will be fun, but until, then, there really is no purpose to this app.

Dictation:

As we all expected, Siri was not making its way to the Mac, but we do now have dictation. By pressing the Function button twice, a small interactive icon pops up, much the same as it does on the third generation iPad. You will then say a phrase after the chime, and click done to allow the transcription to begin. The feature works about as well as it does on the iPad, with the noise of your surroundings playing a big part in how accurate the final product is.

The feature works about as well as it does on the iPhone and iPad

The Dictation feature, like Siri, does use Apple’s servers, so if you aren’t connected to the internet, it will simply reject you. But while the feature may be useful on iOS devices, since a physical keyboard is present when using a Mac, the speed of dictation probably can’t match your typing speed.

Safari:

I ditched Safari a while ago for Chrome. Safari was just too slow and clunky, and compared to its opponent, looked and felt out of date. Although after this Mountain Lion update, I can happily say that the browser competition has started again. Safari 6 has brought a great deal of new features that really brings it back up to speed with Chrome.

The unified search field is one of the biggest changes in Safari. There are no longer two separate bars for the URL and Google search, but one that will adapt to your search. This works well for the most part. When trying to Google something through the bar, a variety of suggestions will pop up. Although if you are trying to type a URL, and it notices that you’re not using the spacebar, then your web history will be factored in to complete your search before you do. This is a welcome new feature, but it never feels as complete as Google’s offering, which works more effectively.

The new more visual tab view is another new feature makes Safari just a little more friendly. Upon triggering a certain gesture, or clicking a new button in Safari, the new tab view will pop up, which gives you a better look into open tabs, rather than having you madly click around them trying to find out which you’re looking for. Gestures control this feature, with magic mouse/trackpad swipes a natural and easy way to navigate open tabs.

Safari now feels quick and responsive

The main driving force behind this new Safari has to be the speed. Previously, the browser would lag behind, and I would encounter errors and bugs when having several tabs open. But in the new version, this issue has been addressed, turning a laggy browser into something that feels quick and responsive. If you have just upgraded to Mountain Lion and don’t use Safari, I implore you to give it another shot, the improvements are amazing.

Let’s get social:

Sharing is a big part of Mountain Lion. Nearly every menu or Apple app that you enter will now have a sharing button, with various options available for you to share whatever it is you’re doing/watching/reading/making to the world. Mountain Lion really is a social operating system, and it is so easy to share. You can count on that sharing button to be wherever you are, and that really is a positive.

Twitter integration is now a part of OS X, and this opens up many new opportunities. Tweeting can be done through all sharing menus, and even through a handy button in Notification Center. Upon clicking the Twitter button, a great little Tweet sheet will pop up, that has a surprising amount of options within it. You can specify your location on the tweet with just one click, and even switch between Twitter profiles straight from the sheet.Facebook integration is an anticipated feature in Mountain Lion, but since the whole thing was done last minute, we’ll have to wait until Fall before we can start using it. It will operate in the same way as Twitter, with a big feature being that you can import Facebook contacts to your iCloud contacts list.

In Conclusion:

Mountain Lion is a sleeker cat than Lion. It’s really as simple as that. Just as Apple did with Lion last year, Mountain Lion builds upon the foundations created by its predecessor. The functionality of some new features is questionable, and the update wasn’t revolutionary, but that’s not what Apple was aiming for. They are not trying to make grand changes, but instead, enhance the existing operating system to create something more powerful, more user friendly, more fully featured, better.

For just $20, Mountain Lion is an absolute steal

For $20, Mountain Lion is a steal. Half of these new features is enough to warrant the upgrade. No matter if you’re on Snow Leopard or Lion, the best decision you could make is to go to Mountain Lion. It seems that further integration with iOS and iCloud are on the cards, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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4 responses to “OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion Review

  1. In Messages preferences- couldn’t change it. However on the Apple boards- someone solved the problem- take the background color off automatic- and then you can change the font size for outgoing messages.

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