Apple just released a new version of their Mac operating system, as you are probably aware. So, what’s it all about?
How to upgrade
OS X 10.8, a.k.a. Mountain Lion, is a $20 upgrade to either Snow Leopard (10.6) or Lion (10.7), purchasable via download from the Mac App Store directly on your computer. It runs on several (but not all) Mac models from the last five years. If your computer supports it, but isn’t already on at least Snow Leopard, you’ll need to either figure out a way to get it there first (copies on Amazon and eBay command high prices, and Apple no longer sells a “USB stick” installer for either Lion or Mountain Lion), or consider whether it’s time to get a new Mac.
If you’re already using Lion, the most visible change in Mountain Lion is the further addition of iPhone and iPad-like features. For example, there is a slide-out notification center which appears for calendar, reminders, incoming messages, and software alerts. Access to FaceBook, Twitter, Flickr, and Vimeo have been built into system applications so you can upload photos and videos and share your latest 140-character insight with greater ease.
There are also other features to help you communicate with others who are using iPhones and iPads. There is the iMessage system for sending brief instant messages (like text messages, but only for people using iPhones, iPads, iPod touch, and now Macs). You can play games over the internet simultaneously with other iPhone and iPad users. The Notes application has been revamped and synchronizes better with your iOS devices. And so on.
AirPlay and Power Nap
Some of the niftier features are only available for recent Macs released in the last year or two. One of these is AirPlay Mirroring, which, if you have have an Apple TV hooked up to your HDTV, will allow you to wirelessly display whatever’s on your Mac screen on your TV. Another is called Power Nap, which continues to synchronize iCloud even when your Mac is sleeping, so when you wake it up, your Contacts, Calendar, mail, and more are already up to date.
Security has been enhanced, supposedly, through Gatekeeper, which introduces the idea of “trusted” software (anything on the Mac App Store; those who distribute their apps by other means have to go through a process to have them become “recognized”). By default, GateKeeper will warn you and not run software from developers it doesn’t know about.
While there have not been reports of major issues with Mountain Lion, we feel you should wait until at least the first or second update from Apple, which will allow time for the various bugs to be fixed. However, if you’re itching to install the latest and greatest, then go for it—after you make sure you have a current, full Time Machine or Carbon Copy Cloner backup.
If you buy a new Mac, it is likely to come with Lion, and, you have 30 days to download the Mountain Lion update for free, though you do not need to actually install it after it downloads (just quit the installer rather than going through it). At some point soon, new Macs will simply come with Mountain Lion installed, and you shouldn’t let that hold up your purchase if you’re in the market.
And a final note
A note about the name—this is the first version of the Mac operating system which doesn’t have the word “Mac” in it. The official name is now “OS X.” When you choose “About This Mac” from the Apple Menu, and it just says “OS X,” it looks super weird, like something is missing. This is one of Apple’s little hints of what they have in mind for the future. Just as Snow Leopard (10.6) made compatibility with older applications an “optional” installation, only to remove that compatibility entirely in Lion (10.7), in the near future we might look forward to a company called Apple that doesn’t make computers called Macs.
As we learn more about Mountain Lion, we’ll share it with you, and, of course, if you have any questions, please ask!