Apple OS X Mountain Lion – introduction

It’s not so much that OS X Mountain Lion is such a different beast to its predecessors, it’s that the circumstances have changed so much. At once, the prime focus of our digital lives has migrated to mobile devices (tablets and smartphones) while an old adversary – Microsoft – is firing the final rivets into Windows 8, an OS that aims to exploit exactly that pivotal shift in our computational affections.

Apple OS X Mountain Lion – download

Getting in on the ground floor with an Apple OS X release has historically been the preserve of early adopters who didn’t mind the myriad quirks that came with such progressive action. Meanwhile iOS users have been happily snatching the latest software for their devices (mostly) trouble-free at the time of release.

Happily then, Mountain Lion (which, like Lion, is only available as a download) is a proper cinch to install, though you might want to leave it downloading overnight if you’re on a slow connection). It’s not without the odd bug (we had a patch sent through within 24 hours), but there’s no sign of the fairly serious breakages we’ve experienced in the past (we’re looking at you Snow Leopard).

Apple OS X Mountain Lion – what’s new?

Let’s start with the obvious stuff, which you’ll see when you first arrive. Firstly, breath a sigh of relief: it doesn’t look like iOS. It looks like OS X. But there are two new icons in the dock that’ll be familiar to iOS 5 users – Notes and Reminders.

These perform exactly as their iOS counterparts do (tuned to your laptop or desktop’s more physical controls) and, yes, they sync, but only if you want them to. Even if you’re using Android elsewhere – or simply don’t want your desktop and mobile apps talking behind your back – they’re both useful tools that are easy to stow out of sight if you don’t warm to them.

Apple OS X Mountain Lion – Notifications

Notes and Reminders are just the tip of the iOS-shaped iceberg for which OS X has set its course. On first sight, you may not see much to suggest big things are afoot in the top right-hand corner of your screen. But here, next to Spotlight’s magnifying glass icon, is the thing that is likely to single-handedly change your day-to-day computing life: Notifications.

If you’ve already been using Growl, you’ll be used to handy notifications unobtrusively appearing on your desktop as you work. You’ll also have had to deal with Growl’s third-party status, and the implications that has for consistency. Plus, of course, Growl’s stopped being free. Given that Apple’s stepping on to its turf with a fully-supported, fully-integrated notification system of its own, Growl may now just stop.

Apple Notifications aren’t perfect. But they’re good, and more than that, they ooze promise. Think to a time (soon) when more devs start building sympathetic code into their apps and it’s enough to make you tingle a bit. There are even some nice touches – fly two fingers off the wrist rest of your MacBook on to the right-hand side of the trackpad and Notifications panel appears. Do it from the left and it’ll hide itself again. Yes, it’s quite addictive, and bound to become more moreish once Facebook notifications are baked in (Twitter’s already quite deeply integrated; you can post from within the panel).

Apple OS X Mountain Lion – Messages

There’s yet more iOS-devolved fun to be had in Messages, a port of the iPhone’s once-pioneering SMS layout merged with the more useful vestiges of iChat. Messages aims to put all your IM, VoIP and iMessage needs together in one place. Oh, and there’s FaceTime thrown in, too. It all works tidily enough, though there are creases to iron out – Google Talk and Jabber produce duplicate contacts. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s annoying.

Apple OS X Mountain Lion – AirPlay Mirroring

One of the most anticipated features of Mountain Lion is its ability to mirror your Mac’s screen output on an HDTV via Apple TV. It’s a neat trick and one that should appeal to those who want to flick their slideshows and presentations to a nearby TV without the usual cable hunt. Better still, it’s by far the easiest way to get broad codec support media players (that’s you, VLC and XBMC) to your HDTV without buying yet another go-between box. It’s also a boon for iPlayer fans who find the BBC’s online player easier to manage from its desktop interface.

The truth is more prosaic. For a start, AirPlay Mirroring won’t work (at all) if your MacBook predates the mid-2011 releases. For those packing modern Apple kit, it’s a breeze to set up and you can toggle between aspect ratios for the local (Mac) screen and TV from the menu bar drop-down – there’s no need to fiddle around in Settings. There’s a slight (and expected) lag between the two screens, which isn’t an issue, but video is. Streams start well enough, but it’s a matter of when, not if, the signal falters in translation. At any rate, AirPlay Mirroring is not reliable enough to watch an entire HD movie without the occasional huff. Yet.

Apple OS X Mountain Lion – annoyances

It’s difficult to level any major complaints at Mountain Lion. Yes, it has all the classic hallmarks of an Apple release, further tightening its grip on consumer choice. If you choose to use a non-iOS tablet and/or smartphone, you will not get as much benefit from Mountain Lion as those that do. The same applies if you opt out of Apple’s software in favour of third-party alternatives. Although this will add fuel to the anti-Apple fire, there’s little actual evidence that Apple’s just watching its own back. Competitive software isn’t shut out; it just can’t – and can’t be expected to – integrate with the enviable ease with which Apple’s own apps can.

And Mountain Lion isn’t without bugs. Soon after installation (on a 2011 MacBook Air), we had a crash on start-up. Some apps became stickier to use, particularly when several were open at once. If the power of the Air meant we’d virtually forgotten what Apple’s rainbow beachballs looked like, we were soon reminded.

Apple OS X Mountain Lion – verdict

The few niggles are more likely the result of third-party developers needing to play catch-up than Apple being sluggish. Mountain Lion is its slickest OS to date and a smoother transition than any we can remember. If you’re going all-in for Apple with iOS, iCloud and full immersion in Apple’s software, it’s a borderline essential upgrade. But even if you’re not, it’s £14 well spent on keeping up to date. Whether it’ll look as fresh when Windows 8 is released only time will tell.

Stuff says... 

Apple OS X Mountain Lion review

Mountain Lion is Apple’s slickest desktop OS to date, and a near essential upgrade for iOS and iCloud users

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