Hands on with Apple’s new OS X: Mountain Lion

Jason Snell
17 February, 2012
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Apple updates its iOS mobile operating system once a year. But why should the iPhone and iPad have all the fun? On Thursday Apple announced that it will release a new version of OS X—Mountain Lion—this summer, just a year after the release of OS X Lion.

Like Lion, Mountain Lion offers numerous feature additions that will be familiar to iOS users. This OS X release continues Apple’s philosophy of bringing iOS features “back to the Mac,” and includes iMessage, Reminders, Notes, Notification Center, Twitter integration, Game Center, and AirPlay Mirroring.

Mountain Lion offers new features such as (left to right) Notes, Reminders, Messages, and Notification Center.


As the first OS X release post-iCloud, there’s also much more thorough integration with Apple’s data-syncing service. Mountain Lion also brings options to limit which kinds of apps users can install. And although there are no actual mountain lions in China, OS X Mountain Lion does add a raft of features to speak to users in the country that’s Apple’s biggest growth opportunity.

Mountain Lion: Messages replaces iChat, gets public beta

iChat is dead—long live Messages. With Thursday’s announcement of Mac OS X Mountain Lion comes the news that iChat is being upgraded and renamed to Messages, with support for the iMessage chat system introduced with iOS 5.

If you can’t wait until Mountain Lion arrives this summer to finally use iMessage with your Mac, relax—you don’t have to. On Thursday, Apple also released a beta version of Messages for Lion users. (The final version will be available this summer when Mountain Lion ships.)

I’ve spent the past few days using Messages and Mountain Lion. Here’s a first look, keeping in mind that Mountain Lion won’t be released for months, so features are in flux and could change.

It uses iMessage 





Mountain Lion: Hands on with Gatekeeper


Last year saw the arrival of the Apple-curated Mac App Store, a creation very much in the mold of the iOS App Store. And many people wondered: Would a locked-down version of Mac OS X, one incapable of running apps not approved by Apple, be far behind?


The actual wording is in flux, but Mountain Lion will warn you if you try to open an app from an unidentified developer

Apple certainly could have done something like that with Mountain Lion, the company’s planned update to Mac OS X that should arrive this summer. But it hasn’t—instead, the company has created a new way for developers to sign their work and a new set of options in the Security & Privacy preference pane. According to Apple, it’s all an attempt to improve Mac security. Here’s how the new Gatekeeper feature works.


Check before first launch


Since at least the days of version 10.5, OS X has had a feature called File Quarantine, which checks apps before they run for the very first time. You most often encounter this feature when you download an app and run it for the first time—a dialog box appears informing you that it’s a file downloaded from the Internet, and asking for you to confirm that you do indeed want to run it. (This feature only works with files downloading by certain apps, including web browsers and email clients. A file copied from a USB drive or from a network volume doesn’t get checked.)


Mountain Lion: Hands on with Notification Center


For years, many Mac app developers have had to design their own ways to get your attention. The open-source project Growl helped save those developers from reinventing the wheel by creating a more general notification system supported by lots of apps. But with Mountain Lion, a true systemwide notification service will finally arrive when the Mac OS X update ships this summer.

Like its counterpart on iOS, this new service is called Notification Center. With Notification Center, Mac developers now have access to features much like those already found in iOS.

Alerts and notifications appear in the top right corner of the screen in a small bubble that looks an awful lot like a Growl notification. Notification bubbles remain there for five seconds, and then slide off screen to the right. Alerts, on the other hand, remain on-screen until you click on the Show or Close (or in the case of some alerts, Snooze) buttons.

In iOS 5, you see all your recent notifications by pulling down from the top of the screen to reveal Notification Center. In Mountain Lion, the Notification Center list is a narrow band that lives just to off the right side of your screen. You can reveal it either by clicking on the new Notification Center icon at the far right of the menu bar, or by swiping with two fingers starting at the far right edge of the trackpad. Either way, your Mac’s entire screen will slide to the left, revealing a list of what’s been trying to get your attention recently.


Mountain Lion: Hands on with Notes and Reminders


Two of the new iOS-flavored apps to move to the Mac with the release of Mountain Lion this summer are Notes and Reminders. Here’s a sneak peek at how they work.


As in its iOS incarnation, the Notes interface on the Mac is dominated by a yellow text-entry area that resembles a legal pad. There’s even a hint of torn paper at the top of the window, and yes, the app’s title bar offers a leather texture. The top right corner displays the date on which the note was last modified.


At the bottom of the text-entry area, there are just two buttons. A Trash icon deletes your note; the Share icon brings up one of Mountain Lion’s new Share Sheets, offering to attach your note to an email message or an iMessage.


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