A Look at Apple’s OS X Mountain Lion

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Last year, when Apple released OS X 10.7 Lion, it received very mixed reviews. It was not exactly what most Mac users had hoped for when Apple announced that they’d be (finally) taking time off of their iOS over-focus and looking at the long-neglected desktop they built their business upon. Lion is a good step forward for Apple, but is an obvious interim and it has its share of problems.

The primary focus of developers in building that new version of OS X was to strip away all of the old, archaic, less-than-useful hangers on that populated the Mac OS. For the most part, they succeeded, stripping out much of the dead weight and getting the OS X platform closer to the iOS’ sleek and simple interface. Microsoft obviously took note, since Windows 8 (releasing in October) is doing the same.

One problem, however, is that Lion became buggy. For the first time in a very long time, Mac users were faced with recurrent issues due to their choice of desktop. Many reverted back to older operating systems while others hung on every small update, hoping for a cure. It took months to address some of the issues being reported, like WiFi connectivity problems and browser stability.

Now Apple is hoping to repair the problems caused by Lion and bring the OS forward in its next-generation, Mountain Lion (aka OS X 10.8). Gone is the “Mac” title from marketing and in comes the idea of “new, improved, powerful” and all of the other things operating systems are supposed to be associated with in consumer’s minds.

Mountain Lion continues the march of the Mac OS towards a more mobile, iOS feel, but with more functionality befitting a desktop. Here’s what you’ll see when you get Mountain Lion in front of you.

The Interface

The greatest and most obvious changes right away will be in the interface. The comprehensive overhaul given in Lion are continued in Mountain Lion, but in a more subtle fashion. The glossy 1990s Leopard look is gone and has been replaced by a more up-to-date semi-gloss, quasi-3D look that’s much easier on the eyes. The indicator lights to denote running apps (versus dormant ones) have been de-highlighted and are much less obvious, though still there by default. They look like little rectangular LEDs on the front of the 3D dock.

One welcome addition is the use of progress bars to show how things are progressing. When downloading or moving files/folders/etc., a progress bar appears just below the icon for the incoming folder (the receiving end) to show how well it’s going. This is a simple, intuitive visual cue that people who make large downloads or move huge amounts of data around will enjoy.

Scrolling is still a little awkward for those unfamiliar with the inteface Lion introduced, but has been improved in several ways, not the least of which is the accelerated scrolling (ala iOS) being added in Mountain Lion. The first three swipes of the scroll move the window normally, but the fourth will accelerate this as a shortcut to “jump ahead” in a document. This works on the trackpad scroll and can be accomplished with a smart mouse in similar fashion if held right on the scroll bars when swiping.

Notification from apps are also now highlighted and take upper-right corner stage (the “center” stage of the Mac interface). Click or swipe this little bullet-list icon and everything on-screen shifts left to accommodate a gray linen strip containing a list of notifications from your apps. This is a smooth way to do things and is very nicely done.

Auto Save Now Default, Always

One huge improvement in Mountain Lion over its predecessor is in document saving. Docs are now always saved by default, eliminating the accidental closures without saving inherent in Lion. Further, instead of saving over the top of the earlier doc, auto-saves are controlled by the apps themselves, through APIs allowing developers to decide how their app will handle saving, revision management, etc. of items.

While using this, once you’re out of the habit of expecting a popup asking what to do with an unsaved doc when you exit an app, it becomes intuitive. In most built-in apps with Mountain Lion, the default is to save progressively, so time-date-stamped docs are saved one after the other and automatically. So when you close and then re-open, you can open a doc and get the latest revision or request an earlier one.

It seems like a loss of control at first, but quickly becomes an obvious time and effort saver and makes things like shutdowns so you can rush in to catch the train or get out of the office in time to make the 5:15 easier. No more multiple clicks to shut down your desktop.

Overall — 2 Thumbs Up!

All in all, the changes made to Mountain Lion are a step forward towards a better Apple OS. Not perfect, but not bad either.

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