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Mountain Lion Makes Your Mac a Bit More Like an iPad

- 2012.08.08 - Tip Jar

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A few years back, Apple dropped the word Computer from its corporate name, a reflection of the growth of mobile devices. In the company's 2012 third fiscal quarter, Apple sold 43 million iPhones and iPads versus 4 million Macs.

Annual Apple device sales, 2001 through 2011
Mac sales have been climbing steadily, but newer products have eclipsed those numbers.

Mac sales, however, are continuing to grow at a time when sales of PCs overall are flat. Now Apple has fast-tracked development of the OS X operating system for its Macintosh computers, releasing the latest version, OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, on July 25, just a year after the previous version, OS X 10.7 Lion.

Lion added features to make desktop and notebook Macs look and feel more like iOS-powered iPads and dropped compatibility with older Mac applications written for PowerPC processors. Quite a few Mac-users resisted its charms, choosing to stick with 2009's OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion
OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion continues the iOSification of Mac OS X.

Mountain Lion continues the iOSification trend. Some of it is simple renaming: what used to be Address Book, iCal, and iChat are now Contacts, Calendar, and Messaging - just like on the iPad and iPhone. New on the Mac are Reminders and Notes copied from iOS. iPad-like AirPlay Mirroring lets users wirelessly display presentations, videos, and more on an HDTV screen (making use of the $99 Apple TV), but this only works on 2011 and 2012 Macs.

Save a note on your Mac, and it appears on your iPad via the iCloud service, one of the ways Mountain Lion ties Macs and iOS devices together. Contacts, calendar entries, and Safari bookmarks are similarly synced. Apple applications now offer to save documents to iCloud's Document Library.

Sharing button in OS X Mountain LionAlso new to the Mac but familiar to iOS device owners: a Sharing button in application toolbars. Click on this icon to share current content - to an email message, a social media site, or other options. Apple has integrated Twitter support throughout Mountain Lion, and Facebook support is promised. Both the Sharing button and iCloud saving should appear in third-party apps soon.

Among what Apple claims as 200 new features is systemwide dictation, giving users the option to speak instead of typing into any application. Important caveat - this only works when the computer has an online connection.

GatekeeperSecurity feature Gatekeeper limits software installations to those applications sold by Apple and its registered developers.

Like Lion, Mountain Lion does not support Mac applications developed for older PowerPC processors. If you rely on these, you should either avoid Mountain Lion or look for replacements for those applications.

I had some applications that ran fine under Lion - including Parallels virtualization software and the utility to connect to Dropbox's online storage - that failed after I installed Mountain Lion. Downloading newer versions corrected these incompatibilities. (RoaringApps.com is collecting compatibility reports and may be worth a visit before you migrate to Mountain Lion.)

You won't find boxed versions of Mountain Lion for sale at retail outlets; it's only available as a 4 GB $20 download from Apple's Mac App Store or preinstalled on a new Mac. A purchase for personal use can be installed on as many Macs as you own. Upgrading is smooth and takes an hour or two.

Mountain Lion is a relatively modest evolution of Lion. In my tests, it seems faster and more stable. For those reasons - and the low price - I recommend it for any Mac owner running Lion. If you're still running OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, you can upgrade directly to Mountain Lion. But if you chose to avoid Lion, you may choose to avoid Mountain Lion as well. LEM

First published in Business in Vancouver's High Tech Office column on August 9, 2012.

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Alan Zisman is Mac-using teacher and technology writer based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Many of his articles are available on his website, www.zisman.ca. If you find Alan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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