Apple's Mountain Lion operating system has been freed from its cage, and early reviewers agree that the new OS X is worth the upgrade. For just $20, Mac users can get a new operating system that is less a reimagination of the platform than a solid enhancement of OS X Lion, Apple's previous desktop OS.
Among Mountain Lion's new features -- in addition to general speed enhancements -- are Dictation, which allows you to input text using your voice anywhere on the system (imagine the little microphone on your iPhone's keyboard); Messages, a revamped chat client that lets iPhone owners send and receive iMessages from the desktop; and a Notification Center, which slides out from the right of the screen and organizes all of your app notifications in one column, mimicking the notification bar on iOS.
After using OS X Mountain Lion for 24 hours, however, I noticed something curious: In a day of use, I hadn't used a single one of the 200 new features that Apple touts on its Mountain Lion webpage.
I have not dictated an email or document, nor received a single notification, nor have I yet had occasion to open the Messages client, relying as I do on Adium and my browser's Gchat. I do not have an Apple TV to which I can mirror, nor can I imagine switching over to Apple's Documents in the Cloud given the mountain of files I've piled up through years of using Google Docs. With TweetDeck open all day, I can't see a reason to send a tweet straight from the desktop; Lord knows that I will never use the desktop edition of iOS' Game Center. Share buttons might be time-savers on smartphones, where multitasking is a chore, but on a desktop, how much time are you really saving? And wouldn't you want the full view of the service (email, Facebook, Twitter) you're sharing to, if it is convenient to have it?
I want to know which features other early adopters of Mountain Lion are enjoying or ignoring. Are the new features a tad underwhelming, or am I a tech-backward yokel whose inability to adopt these new features into my workflow an implication of my own computing habits rather than the overall quality of the operating system?
A good question! Below, I've laid out nine of what seem the most important and celebrated features in Apple's cheap new OS. I don't regret my purchase of Mountain Lion in the least: Though it could be a placebo effect, my MacBook Pro feels like it's running much better, and without any of the old hiccups I'd grown accustomed to. I just wonder: How useful are you finding these new features? Which features are game-changers, and which are duds? Vote below and tell me what I'm missing out on.
With Dictation, you can "talk anywhere you can type," <a href="http://www.apple.com/osx/whats-new/" target="_hplink">as Apple puts it</a>. That's apt: Wherever you see a cursor, you can double-tap the "fn" button and the familiar Siri Microphone animation pops up. Dictation works quickly -- words pop up on your screen soon after you finish speaking them -- and the software even understands commands like "ALL CAPS" and requests for punctuation marks like "comma," "period," and "question mark" (which is great until you have to write a term paper about grammar). As a reporter, I'm keen to try Dictation to automatically transcribe interviews I've recorded. Otherwise, I can't see myself talking to my computer, either at work or at home. I use Dictation on my iPhone constantly, especially when I'm texting on the move. I'm never working on my MacBook Pro while walking or driving, however, so it seems a tad less useful, in practice, to me.
Owners of <a href="http://www.cultofmac.com/178460/the-real-reason-why-macs-before-2011-cant-use-airplay-mirroring-in-mountain-lion-feature/" target="_hplink">newer Macs with the correct hardware</a> can wirelessly mirror their monitors to a television screen through an Apple TV box, meaning that all those movies and shows you've been watching on your computer can now be sent straight to your big screen, in up to 1080p high-definition. I don't own an Apple TV so I'm afraid I'm out of the loop on this one -- for Apple TV owners, however, AirPlay Mirroring could justify the $20 upgrade alone.
One of many design elements lifted from iOS, the Notification Center can be accessed by swiping two fingers to the left on your touchpad. The vertical bar houses notifications from all of your apps, including by default Calendar, FaceTime, Game Center, Mail, Messages, Reminders, Safari. You can customize your Notification Center from the System Preferences menu, and if you sign in to Twitter, you can even send a Tweet straight from the Notification Center itself. I don't really use Calendar, FaceTime, Game Center, Mail, Messages, Reminders, or Safari, so I'm still awaiting my first notification. Hope it's a memorable one!
The Messages app has replaced iChat as the pre-installed chat client for Mac. Its hallmark feature allows you to send and receive iMessages, those free, blue-colored messages that you get on your iPhone when talking to other friends with iPhones. With that feature, you no longer have to pick up your phone in order to text iPhone-wielding friends; that can be accomplished straight from the desktop, and you can access all of your iPhone's old iMessages on your Mac, too. I'm still using Adium, a third-party chat client, as well as in-browser Gchat, for my messaging purposes. Is iMessaging from the desktop reason enough to switch? I'm not convinced yet -- I'm generally never far from my iPhone -- but could be swayed: The idea of accessing past iMessages and conversations anywhere is tempting.
Documents In The Cloud
With an iCloud account on Mountain Lion, you can now sync your documents in the cloud so that whenever you make changes to files on Documents, Numbers, or Keynote, those changes show up automatically on other computers and devices. If this sounds like what Google Docs has been doing for about five years -- well, it is just about what Google Docs has been doing, through a web browser, for about five years; with the introduction of Google Drive and offline document editing, it's another tough sell to get me to switch. I already have so many documents and files saved with Google Docs, from years and years of usage, that transferring everything over to Apple's system seems like a hassle. I'd also rather my documents be operating system-agnostic, so that I can easily access them from a Windows machine or Android phone if I need to.
The Share Button appears on several of Apple's desktop apps, including Mail, Messages, and Safari, and lets you share a webpage, photo, or video to Twitter or Facebook with a couple clicks. As I said in the intro, while sharing buttons on the iPhone (and Android) are huge time-savers, I find that they have less utility on a desktop, where multi-tasking and switching between apps and tabs and windows is so, so much easier and faster on the larger screen. The advantages of actually seeing what you're sharing to a social network -- rather than blindly sending it off from a drop-down menu -- make me wonder what the Share Button on the desktop is good for in most cases.
Offline Reading List
One neat feature on the new Safari (which, full disclosure, I don't use and don't plan on switching over to) is the Offline Reading List, which allows surfers to save the text of webpages for later reading, even without an Internet connection. It's a neat trick, albeit one that Apple "borrowed" from popular apps like Instapaper and Pocket (formerly Read It Later). I've had the "Add To Read It Later" button bookmarked on my Chrome browser for a couple years now, and it's a great service. Those who browse with Safari and aren't already using Instapaper, Pocket or a similar app might enjoy getting started with Apple's excellently convenient (though not totally original) Offline Reading List.
Never used it and never will, though I suppose if you're an iOS gamer and/or a fan of fake felt this could be big news.
Twitter And Facebook Integration
You can now log into your Twitter account within Mountain Lion (just as you can in iOS 5 on the iPhone or iPad); soon, you'll be able to do the same with Facebook. That will supposedly make it easier to share things to your profile or tweet about whatever it is you're looking at on your desktop; again, however, given how much easier it is to multitask on a desktop or laptop than on a smartphone or iPad, this function seems superfluous to me. If you had the option of being able to see exactly what you were posting, and that option took perhaps two seconds more time than using a Share button, wouldn't you give up your two seconds and just visit Twitter or Facebook to get the full experience?