If you’ve recently bought a new Mac, you’ll be booted straight into Mountain Lion, the latest (v10.8) version of Mac OS X. And while newcomers may not appreciate its differences compared with previous versions, there are some significant changes and features that can make the switch from Windows even more productive than you might have expected.
One of those is voice dictation, which works in any Mac OS X application that has an input field. Start dictation by double-tapping the fn (Function) key, or by selecting Edit > Start Dictation from the application menu.
System Preferences > Dictation & Speech lets you change the shortcut key or control which microphone the system uses to listen to you (consider a headset or other dedicated mic to reduce background noise and improve recognition accuracy).
NB: Dictation uses cloud processing to function, which means it sends your voice to Apple’s speech-processing systems via the internet. It also sends information such as your contacts, which are needed for the most effective recognition. If this presents a privacy issue for you, don’t use the function.
Another new feature in Mountain Lion is Notifications, which borrows from an iOS feature by grouping new application alerts, appointments, and other notifications into a sidebar for easy processing whenever you’re ready.
To open the sidebar, click the icon with three lines on the upper-right corner of the screen; the desktop will slide to the left and show new messages grouped by application; double-click on an item to open it in the relevant application.
System Preferences > Notifications lets you configure preferences for each app, including whether notifications fade away or stay until clicked.
Mountain Lion also represents a coming-of-age for Facebook, which joins Twitter in being integrated within the operating system. Well, technically, it’s not yet integrated – Apple has promised the addition of Facebook sharing, notifications and more in an update before the end of the year – but in the meantime you can share pictures, videos and more on YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr and Twitter by clicking the sharing icon that appears in upper right-hand corner of item previews (which you get to by tapping the spacebar when a file is highlighted) or applications like Preview and QuickTime Player.
Another new addition is Game Center, which comes straight from the iPhone/iPod touch/iPad to the desktop and facilitates the finding and playing of games with other online players. Game Center is an app within Mountain Lion and interfaces with the Mac App Store, which is Apple’s centralised software-distribution tool, to help you find and join new online games.
Also interfaced with the Mac App Store – the easiest, but not the only, way to get new applications for your new Mac – is Gatekeeper, Apple’s new security infrastructure.
Putting rest to the belief that Macs don’t get hit by malware, Gatekeeper can prevent your system from running any apps but those that have come straight from the Mac App Store. Gatekeeper’s controls live in the System Preferences > Security & Privacy control screen, in the General tab; you’ll need to click the lock in the bottom-left corner and enter your administrator password to change its settings.
The other major addition to Mountain Lion is better support for iCloud. Whereas iCloud was bolted onto the previous ‘Lion’ v10.7, it’s native to Mountain Lion and offers better integration, seamless document syncing to iCloud, and better access to documents stored within iCloud.
Long-time Mac users have been generally happy with the improvements of Mountain Lion, and there are loads of other tweaks and features that make it run faster and more smoothly than before. Suffice it to say that if you’re just starting out with Macs, the experience is easier and more powerful than ever. Enjoy!