Photo: Harlequeen via Flickr
Apple surprised us the other day with its announcement that it’ll release a new version of OS X for Macs called Mountain Lion this summer.Mountain Lion’s beta version is only available to registered Mac developers right now, but we’ve been lucky enough to play around with it since its introduction.
For a beta release, Mountain Lion feels incredibly stable. That makes sense, since most of the features are just new iCloud-powered apps that make it easier to keep your Mac in sync with your iPhone or iPad.
So based on that, will it be worth the upgrade this summer? If you’re already using Lion, the current full version of OS X, probably not. The changes are very subtle compared to the jump OS X made last year when Lion launched.
The big question right now is whether or not Apple will charge Mac users to make the upgrade. We hope not. Keep reading to find out why.
Apple's new Messages app is probably the one feature in Mountain Lion we're the most excited about. Ever since Apple introduced iMessage for iPhone and iPad, we've been dying to have it on our Mac too.
Well, here it is.
Anyone running OS X Lion can test the beta of Messages today. We've been using it for more than a week now. In general, it works very well. But if you have iMessage activated on your iPhone and iPad, it can get really annoying.
When you're logged in, each iMessage you receive will buzz on your Mac, iPhone, and iPad. That can get pretty distracting, especially if you're like most people and keep your iPhone around at all times. Messages doesn't always sync up when an iMessage is read, so it's not uncommon to return to one of your devices and see several messages you've already replied to waiting for you.
Of all the 10 major improvements Apple touted with its Mountain Lion intro, almost every single is already on the Mac right now. Notifications? Growl has been doing that for years. Reminders and Notes? Forget the Milk, Evernote, and Wunderlist have you covered. You can even achieve AirPlay mirroring with a handy app called AirParrot.
Some people may not want to deal with separate cloud services and apps for everything. If you're already reliant on iCloud, then Mountain Lion will make it even more useful. Just log in to iCloud on your Mac and all your notes, reminders, etc. will sync up.
Just be careful: You only get 5 GB of free storage with iCloud, and your iPhone and iPad backups will take up most of that space.
Apple has its best browser yet with the new version of Safari. Just like you'll find in Chrome, there's no separate bar for searches. Instead, you type whatever you need in the 'omnibar.' As you type, search suggestions, URLs, and recent pages in your web history will pop up automatically. It's very handy.
Between Twitter for Mac, TweetDeck, and the web-based version of Twitter, we don't see the point of directly integrating Twitter with Mountain Lion. Yes, developers can add Twitter to their Mac apps now, but it's much easier for us to tweet from the apps or browser window we already have.
If you use Apple's suite of iWork apps for documents, you're going to love how they work on Mountain Lion. All your changes are saved to iCloud so you can access the latest version of your documents on any computer, iOS device, or the web. There's no longer a need to carry a thumb drive everywhere you go.
If you don't feel like shelling out the $10 for AirParrot, built-in AirPlay integration in Mountain Lion will likely be one of the OS' killer features. (Assuming you have an Apple TV, of course.)
The benefits are pretty apparent. At home, you'll be able to display what's on your Mac on your big screen TV. That means saved video files, Hulu, YouTube videos, etc. on your Mac are easier than ever to show off in your living room.
For years, one of the biggest advantages to owning a Mac was that they almost never got viruses, spyware, or malware. That's because most nefarious programs are written for PCs, where they can do the most damage. Yes, it's theoretically possible to get a virus on the Mac, but since Macs represent such a small portion of personal computers, it's not worth the effort for hackers to write viruses for them.
So it's a bit odd that Apple added Gatekeeper, a setting in Mountain lion that lets you block apps that don't come from developers Apple trusts. But there's plenty of protection on Macs right now. Whenever you download an app outside the App Store, you're always prompted with a warning before you open it. That should do it.
You could argue that Apple created Gatekeeper because it's thinking about making the Mac a completely closed system like iOS, but let's not go there quite yet.
At the end of the day, Mountain Lion is just a minor upgrade from Lion. It doesn't feel like a new OS. Instead, it's more like Apple added a suite of Apps and gave OS X a new name and default desktop background. Yes, there are probably a bunch of other performance and bug fixes going on behind the scenes, but that's not what Apple is bragging about with Mountain Lion.
Apple's argument for upgrading to Mountain Lion is that everything will be more in sync with your iOS devices thanks to more iCloud features and a few other apps. That's fine, but based on our experience with Mountain Lion over the last week, the improvements aren't revolutionary enough to make us want to shell out cold, hard cash for the upgrade.
Hopefully, Apple realises that too and makes Mountain Lion a free upgrade, just like it does with each version of iOS.