In so many ways, I feel that Apple’s latest version of Mac OS X was built and designed for us geeks. Not only that, I feel that Mountain Lion was designed to transform those who think they’re ‘familiar’ with computers to people that will embrace the Mac deep into their life. What Apple has done successfully with iPads, iPhones and iPods and iOS itself, is what Apple will do the same for the Mac.
Imagnine the ‘average’ consumer for example. He could be the regular family father, or even the on-the-go, workaholic single mother. Take it simply, imagine them not being as geeky as we are. Now imagine the way they use their iPhone or iPad. They keep it wherever they go, and they always have it with them, wherever, and whenever they need it. That device has become a significant part of their life. And they use these devices, very much like we do.
Apple’s standard of design for iOS (including the devices themselves) was to make sure there were no obstructions between what you use the devices for, and what the devices actually are. iOS is fast, and fluid. Nothing a regular PC user would troubleshoot daily, nor will they worry about spending, trying to speed the device up or trying to make it work as it is. Apple’s standard of design has made the devices less of something to worry about, and there are no distractions between you and the content you need. If our tools become transparent while we’re working, we have less to flail about with, and more to play around with.
Now imagine that speed, that seamless, fluid interaction between you and your content, 1:1, on the Mac. As a matter of fact, you don’t even have to imagine that. That fantasy’s already begun, and its beginning already took place, gradually from the introduction of the first OS X, right until the end of WWDC 2012.
Mountain Lion is a step up from last year’s Lion. It’s the second phase (assuming that Lion was the first) for Apple’s slow(ish) transition of unifying the operating systems. The Lions signified the return of iOS to (Mac) OS X. Mountain Lion dropped the “Mac” too from the title, in favour of simplicity. Soon, we will and may as well call it iOS in a software review sometime in the future.
To emphasise on that— let me begin with Mountain Lion’s installation.
In contrast with its main competitor, Microsoft’s Windows Operating System, the way Mountain Lion is purchased and installed is incredibly different from the way Windows has it. Contrary to Windows’ $119.99 USD upgrade price point, Mountain Lion starts at $19.99, and that’s a steal if you’re thinking of upgrading your computer’s operating system.
Available through a download (currently as a whopping 4GB) on the Mac App Store, installing Mountain Lion feels like a walk in the park — because literally, the time it takes to get dressed, lock the house, walk to the park, walk in the park, and then everything in reverse — is about as much time as it takes for Mountain Lion to finish the installation (minus the download, which is about the same time it takes for a good night’s sleep). There were no frills during the install either, and the installation just felt like the usual, software update window that shows up every now and again in previous versions of OS X. It feels like that because everything still stays exactly as it were, and no drastic changes have been made to Lion’s Mission Control, Launchpad or the Dashboard.
But this is Mountain Lion of course, and everything looks new.
For the purpose of this review, I installed a clean version of Mountain Lion on an external, 1TB hard disk drive. I wanted to keep my primary files intact on my main machine whilst starting a fresh new slate at the same time, just so that I can try out the first of many of Mountain Lion’s headline features: iCloud setup.
Now, I don’t mean Lion didn’t come with iCloud setup too— it’s just that Apple emphasized iCloud in Mountain Lion’s set up even more, because as you’ll see from the pictures and descriptions below, the process is even more refined.
After the double-restart of the installation, I’m taken into the first screen of Mountain Lion. If Apple’s done this well, they had to do so; because this is where the user will meet the Mac for the first time, face to face. First impressions are always so often, wrong, but in this case, the first thing the user will experience has to be designed right.
If anyone remembers setting up an iOS device following the release of iOS 5, you’ll notice some familiarity in Mountain Lion’s iCloud setup process.
Just like the iPhone, you’re first taken into signing in with your Apple ID. I skipped a few screens if it wasn’t too obvious, though I did have enough of a chance to take some makeshift screen shots during the process. À la iOS 5, I’m asked to set up iCloud, and Find My Mac. The setup process makes my heavy, 27-inch iMac feel like a laptop, since most of the setup’s information relates to the ability of portability. The fact that I’m being asked to use location services and the option to switch on Find My Mac makes me feel like I’m going to lose my iMac on a park bench or something. And yes, for those of you who are saying: “it’d help with a robbery!”— don’t worry. I’ve turned these services on just in case.
Straight after the iCloud setup, I’m taken back into the usual, desktop-esque setup process. I’m asked to create a user account, a password and everything else. I’m later reminded again of portability after I’m willfully forced to select my current time zone. I found this setup window completely unnecessary, and this feels like the sort of thing a power user would need if they have to change their time zone for some reason.
I’m then asked to register my Mac with my Apple ID. Another great reminder of what Apple’s doing with the Mac to tie in with what they’re doing with the iOS devices.
You’re welcome! And I’m done. Also, those ticks look familiar.
Face to Face
I really wish I had those new Retina MacBooks to test it out on! The new dock looks gorgeous. The half-matte, half-reflective dock looks great, mirroring the shiny glass and the matte aluminum that encases the software. Aside from that, the fact that the dock was redesigned and replaced with this new iteration in Mountain Lion signifies the beginning of something new, like a breathe of fresh air from an overuse of generation-Tiger docks. The real reason why, however, we don’t know, but the new dock sure looks really pretty.
More on the dock: in comparison to OS X’s previous versions, the new dock has a new visual reflection scheme. The reflections underneath the icons are now blurred and slighly more realistic, compared to the hasty mirroring of icons from the previous versions. Moreover, the trash icon (and its reflection) has been updated. It feels as though Apple is skewing towards skeuomorphism more and more. The separator is unique, too, because the perspective has now been corrected.
With this new installation of OS X, comes a slew of iOS apps brought back to the Mac. There’s Reminders, Notes, Messages, an updated Contacts app, (formerly ‘Address Book’) and Calendar (which was previously known as ‘iCal’). There are a few more app redesigns within the OS itself, but I’ll just cover the main apps we might use the most.
Works exactly the same as it used to. It’s still as functional and as informational as before, but Mountain Lion’s version of Calendar brings little refinements that improve and better the iCal that shipped with Lion.
From the ‘typical’ user perspective, getting at tasks, events and calendar subscriptions have been made easier with the (re)addition of a sidebar. Once removed and replaced with a quick-access pop-up in Lion, now is a semi-permanent, standing sidebar, which means it doesn’t go away unless you hide it yourself.
From the design perspective, the way information was set up and layed out is still superb, and getting at information is as easy as having a glance. The finer details in the app however, have either been removed or replaced. The stitching decoration in the Calendar app has now been removed, giving it a much cleaner, simpler UI to look at. However, the fact that Apple kept the little bits of torn paper up the top still shows the fact that Apple is trying to keep at skeuomorphism or realism.
From my perspective, I quite like Apple’s changes to the Calendar. I use the app almost all the time, and thanks to out-of-the-box iCloud support (which also came with Lion), all my events, tasks and reminders are synced everywhere.
Did Reminders on Mountain Lion kill the GTD/Task manager industry?
Akin to many of the apps and services that sync tasks from your Mac to your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, Apple’s Reminders app keeps all your to-do items in sync. What I love about this is iCloud and Siri support; and that is when you use Siri on the iPhone to create a task, and have it sync to your Mac or iPad.
Sure, there are apps on the iPhone that take advantage of Siri, too, to have tasks synced from one device to another, but the fact Apple included Reminders (and they should have since, Lion) as a standalone, iCloud-syncing app made the Siri-reminding action feel much more native— whereby no means one has to use work-arounds, hacks or Applescripts to get it to work.
But the Reminders app feels lightweight. It isn’t as power-user friendly as Omnifocus or Things, nor is it as flexible and as fluid as The Hit List. It’s hard to take tasks seriously with the app, and the pseudo-realistic skin on the desktop app is hilarious.
Though, deep down, I find Apple’s Reminders app a much more suitable replacement for the tasks I, myself need to do. I’m not a task-manager power-user, neither am I in the need for another app that does the same thing I need it to do— get myself a reminder for a task needed to be done. Reminders feels lightweight, but it is lightweight and native.
Notes is great. I’ve always wanted the Mac to have a standalone, seperate notes app so I could get at my notes from the iPhone when I needed them on the Mac. It’s like Simplenote, minus the trouble of having to download third-party apps or using a web service to view and edit notes.
However, note-syncing solutions like Simplenote and Notational Velocity, iCloud and Byword/iA Writer or even Mou and Dropbox, feel much more advanced than of Apple’s basic iCloud-syncing Notes — and the image above basically describes that. Although the pretty-looking graphics makes great for show, Apple’s desktop Notes app looks more like a toy rather than a tool I’d use daily.
More to that, Reminders comes with the de facto Noteworthy, Marker Felt and Helvetica default fonts. I have a strong opinion as to how certain fonts should be used, and for myself, I’d prefer to use Noteworthy or Marker Felt as ‘Headline’ fonts, as they aren’t great nor suitable for long-form note-taking. However, on a Retina Display, any font looks great, but for me right now on this @1x screen, Notes still won’t replace Mou or any other great app for long-form note writing and syncing.
Besides that, splitting Notes from Mail is still, however, one of the best features of Mountain Lion. I still use the notes app on my iPhone with Siri, and not having to dig through and search for one note in Mail saves me a lot of time beachballing.
The idea of bringing Messages to the Mac was something that should have been done early on, so that the app would tie in perfectly with the release of Lion. But we had to wait! Though, the wait was (I assume) entirely worth it, as Mountain Lion’s update for Messages gives the app much more stability, speed, and a much cleaner, interface.
The Messages app features better iChat support (where by iChat, I mean all the Jabber chat services available) and less linen (or that it is present, but it’s subtle enough for me to miss). Though, if one remembers the fiasco of an experience having to go through hundreds of notifications of unread messages from all your devices, I wonder myself if that dilemma has already been fixed. Why? Because at times, that same fiasco occurs, and at other times, the Messages app on the Mac ‘knows’ I’m currently reading it, or that I have read it, on another iOS Device.
With that dilemma fixed or not, the addition of the Messages app is crucial to the gist of Mountain Lion’s update— as in summary, once again, it is the OS that brings more of iOS’s features, back to the Mac.
Calendar, Reminders, Notes & Messages — these four main apps signify the main features that differentiate Mountain Lion with its predecessor, Lion. Also, aside from that, it isn’t only the fact that these apps are significant to the update that is Mountain Lion, but they’re the very same apps that will give this operating system a more familiar feel with iOS. Mountain Lion now just feels so much closer to iOS. It was iOS that began with these four seperate apps, and it is now the time for OS X to have them.
So what they did was, they took Safari on the iPad and the iPhone, dropped them into a blender, and then poured the contents over to a glass labeled “Safari 6”. And if that’s what they literally did, they would end up with a browser that’s both deliciously tasty, fresh, and hits you with a slight tang in the aftertaste. Safari is probably, as geeks, one of our most used apps on the Mac. Statistics show that over 60% of computer usage is browser-based, (but then again 230% of statistics are made up) and what consitutes most of our day is staring at rendering HTML documents, prettied-up CSS styling, and probably a few flash videos here and there. But with Safari 6— all this is about to change.
Here’a metaphor for you: Let’s say, that you’ll spend most of your time sleeping. (You should.) So that means, you have to pick the most comfortable bed to sleep in, right? Now, imagine you’re given a choice of four main beds (ignore the countless, open-sourced others), and each are named, respectively; Safari, Chrome, Firefox and Opera. Now let’s say you’re a sleeper who chose Safari.
Well, you made the right choice. Because the other browsers (beds) aren’t as pretty enough. Safari 6 in Mountain Lion is fast, visually great, and it’s a real joy to use. Apple literally took the browsing experience of iOS and took it even further with Mountain Lion’s Safari. So, what’s new in Safari?
Safari 6 comes with a Chrome-esque omnibar. A few have probably prayed for this feature, and those persisten with their prayers probably also installed the Safari Omnibar Plugin by Olivier Poitrey. The omnibar now acts just as Chrome does with its own, with the ability to enter URLs while entering a search term at the same time. The omnibar also searches through your browsing history, and looks for pages that are similar to what you’re entering in. Safari also comes with iCloud tabs, (though, honestly, I haven’t tried it yet at this point) which is similar to Chrome’s tab-syncing feature we saw a few weeks ago. Safari also includes an enjoyable tab-browsing feature, which mainly signifies the emphasis on Apple’s ‘Back to the Mac’.
Is Apple trying to kill small companies? Not really. With the introduction of the Reading List in iOS 5, Instapaper still stood where it was in the read-later-bookmarklet business. But with Safari 6’s Offline-Reading List feature (see image below), will Instapaper or services alike, including Readability still stand where they are? In my opinion, and generally, I think so. Third-party services still triumph over Apple’s solutions of their own, since they’re constantly updated, and the business feels much more closer and tied-in.
The Reading List also features less linen, and more of a texture that looks both fresh and new to the eyes. Perhaps we’ve found the replacement for linen?
If you look at the image above, a clean install of Mountain Lion does not include Adobe Flash. If you’re buying a new machine, and most likely, it will contain Mountain Lion, be warned— most YouTube videos won’t work straight after set up, so don’t expect to share cat videos within the first five minutes of use.
Launchpad, Dashboard, Mission Control & Notification Center
With the introduction of the Launchpad with Apple’s Back to The Mac event in the summer of 2010, Apple knew that from then on, iOS was the operating system to-be. They knew that bringing what they learned most out of iOS’s user experience and design, to the Mac, was a plan they were going to set for the rest of OS X’s releases. The audience wowed at first sight of the Launchpad, and what they saw was the beginning and the end of an era: swiping on the trackpad; an intuitive, gesture-driven interface; a simple, minimal design to access your apps; and huge, big enough icons you could lick them right out of the screen. They wowed the same way they saw iOS with what they saw with the Launchpad. And with the later release of Lion, the experience felt more hands on.
In Mountain Lion however, changes in the Launchpad weren’t too drastic, because the original Launchpad already worked fine. Mountain Lion merely refines the Launchpad, simplifies the design. They even added the spotlight app filter up above.
For those of you who remember, the Back to The Mac event also showed the Dashboard — but as a seperate ‘space’. Dashboard once existed as a service that served as a Heads-Up Display that overlay the desktop on OS X. Circa Tiger and Snow Leopard, I remember those days where customising the Dashboard was the trend at the time, and apparently it was hip to have heaps of widgets. Now, most of us discarded widgets for iPhone apps, or replaced them with ‘minimal/minified’ pseudo-iterations of them. The iCal widget became Fantastical, Stickies became (a text editor app of your choice), and the weather widget now “looks like” the iPhone one. Although most of us still use the Dashboard (I mainly use mine for CSS/JS minifying), we’ve soley, and almost, rejected its playfulness and utility. Heck, we’ve also replaced the Tile Game for Cut the Rope.
But with Mountain Lion, comes some fairly drastic changes to the Dashboard. If you take a look at the image above, the Dashboard looks fairly similar to Lion’s iteration of the Dashboard. Yes, it did come with a slight gradient underlay, and probably a few minor tweaks to the pirelli, but if you take a look at the image below, you’ll see something almost as similar to your iPad.
iOS-ified, the Dashboard has been. Similar to the Launchpad with the Spotlight-filter bar above the icons, the rounded-rectangles that have inspired iOS have now been inspired back with iOS’s minimal layout and simplicity. However, although it may look nice, I still prefer the overlay-HUD that was the Dashboard.
With the release of Lion, Mission Control felt like Exposé strapped to a rocket. It feels much more lively with Mission Control, and the semantic zoom makes the experience intense. In Mountain Lion though, Mission Control, again as with the others, weren’t as drastically modified. Sure, there are a few performance and speed updates, but visually however, the shadow-gradient underlay made me smile.
In this new release of Mountain Lion, comes the release of a brand new feature, too: Notification Center. It looks and feels the same way Notification Center works on iOS, minus the fact that it is now actually ‘under’ the desktop. The notifications are also similar to Growl’s, although Apple’s own notification bubbles can’t be skinned. The Notifications feature in Mountain Lion however, in my opinion, is a feature that won’t drastically affect my workflow, as it isn’t obtrusive, and it can be dismissed into the Notification Center. In all honesty however, I almost never use Notification Center on iOS, so it probably means I won’t use Notification Center as much as I do with iOS.
Changes in the Finder
Apple’s trying to change the way we browse our filesystem. The previous version of OS X, Lion, with it came some significant changes in the Finder: The ‘All My Files’ section, Airdrop, Coverflow-esque file arrangement, and visually; the monochrome sidebar. In Mountain Lion, the features have been tweaked and slightly more refined.
As you can see in the image above, the Finder in Mountain Lion looks very much like Lion’s iteration of Finder. But if you take a closer look at the toolbar, the Finder comes with the as-advertised Share button, where you could easily send a file over via Email, iMessage, Airdrop or share to web services like Twitter or Flickr. Also, there’s a couple of cool, nifty features that tie in with the Finder, and one of them is inline, active, live progress bars of things the Finder is either copying, moving or even downloading.
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed, it’s that Apple is placing more emphasis too, on using iCloud as a file system. Below is a screen shot of saving a file in TextEdit. The save dialog now features the option to save your documents over to iCloud, so you can later access your text files from iCloud’s document library on another Mac. This feels similar to Dropbox, and its over-the-air, ever-updated file syncing service. Though, the main difference between the two is that Dropbox is more automatic than manual, and it’s more cross-platform than iCloud is.
I’m a fan of Game Center, and personally I think Game Center is much more well designed, and visually pleasing than the other social gaming competitors have out there. Mainly because Game Center has the touch of Apple-esque realism in the app’s skin, and the smooth cross-(Apple)-platform social gameplay is entertainingly seamless. Though, as you can see from the image above, I currently only have one game that connects to Game Center, and that’s chess. Wanna verse me, anyone?
There’s a lot of little refinements that make Mountain Lion a whole, and many of these are hidden in the System Preferences app. To start off, there’s the Dictation preferences pane. What Dictation did was that it replaced the Speech Recognition preferences pane with a more minimal toggle on turning dication off or on. I turned it on (it’s off by default) and the double tap of the function key always seem to do the trick when your hands are full.
More on Dictation: the service is pretty handy, it works surprisingly well and it’s ridicoulously fun to show off. Though for myself, I see no point of using it in my workflow. It’s great for accessbility however.
Aside from the Speech/Dictation preferences pane, the Accessibility preferences pane has also been tweaked. Replaced with a much more simpler user interface, and with the addition of the new icons, the Accessibility preferences pane looks much better.
In the accounts preferences pane, Apple includes more support for more third-party web services like Vimeo and Flickr, which you can then later use whilst sharing a file in Finder.
The Privacy Preferences pane has also been tweaked, featuring a slightly cleaner, more minimal privacy settings interface. That ‘Diagnostics & Usage’ icon looks great.
Whoever designed the new screen savers preference pane deserves a clap. It’s well done, and the minimal, clean look is great.
When taking screen shots, the cursors have been updated. Go have a look at those, too.
The Software Update has now moved to the Mac App Store. Clicking on the ‘Show Updates’ button takes you to the Mac App Store.
The Mac App Store update in Mountain Lion takes away the horizontally center-aligned titlebar traffic lights, and includes a full-screen button to browse in Full Screen mode. The Mac App Store feels slightly faster, too.
To Download, or Not to Download? That’s the Conclusion.
There’s huge percentage of us that use the Mac as our primary machine— for working, for playing, for consuming, and for creating. Even if we’re just the regular family father, or the geeky sixteen-year-old working on a hobby, we take advantage of the Mac’s simplicity, intuitive capabilities, sweat-free computing and its visually pleasing design, to work on something great.
Now, dear reader, exhausted and tired as you probably are (either from reading or scroll-skimming) through this review, you still ought to ask yourself whether or not should you get Mountain Lion. If you’re asking yourself, “what have I learned?” or even if you’re just having an inner self-debate on spending $19.99 USD on something that looks really pretty (I’d spend that much just to get the new Dock), then consider this: You’re probably the same person reading this review on Snow Leopard, and you’re probably the same person who turned down Lion for something much more refined and well-executed. Well, the time is right, dear reader. Apple’s countless refinements, the detail they’ve placed into making this OS work just the way your iPhone or iPad works, and even the new additions of the apps should get you convinced enough to get Mountain Lion. If you’re probably nodding to yourself right now, then go and get it now.
But what if you’re still here, dear reader, and you’re wanting more? What if you’re shaking your head, and you think these little updates aren’t enough to get you to download it? The you’re probably the same person who really wanted to get Lion, bought it, and found that it didn’t drastically change the way you work. If you feel that way, then you’re right for feeling that way. Mountain Lion isn’t as major as I thought it would be either. Maybe another time?
To steer clear of metaphors this time, let’s just say I like Mountain Lion mainly for the new apps and the many visual refinements that make it. However, I’m still not as sure whether or not my apps will break.
What are you waiting for? Go take a look at Mountain Lion now, available at the Mac App Store for just under $20.