There is a new Mac OS in town. And in best Apple tradition, it is named after a big cat, Mountain Lion, in this case. It also adheres to another Apple tradition — making your computer a whole lot more fun and easier to use.
In fact, the toughest part about Mountain Lion is actually getting the software. It is not available on disk and has to be purchased for Rs 1,100 (approximately) and downloaded from the Apple App Store. No, it is not the price that pinches but the 4.34GB download, given the Internet speeds we have in India. It took us a solid seven hours to download it on a 2 Mbps Airtel Broadband connection. Installation itself, fortunately, is smooth enough — it took about 40 minutes on our 2010 MacBook Air running Mac OS X Lion.
Don’t get fooled by the Lion-ish look
We must confess that our first feeling when we saw our device reboot into the new OS was one of disappointment. For it looks exactly like its predecessor, OS X Lion. A few minutes of using it, however, taught us the wisdom of never judging a book by its cover. Lurking beneath that familiar interface are a number of changes and tweaks. Perhaps the most significant of these is the integration of iCloud with the OS, letting you keep your contacts, documents, calendars and pictures on Apple’s cloud service and integrated and synced across all your iOS devices. In simpler terms, you can now have the same contacts, pictures and documents on your iPad, iPhone, iPod touch and Mac computer. Pretty neat, especially on the alert front, as you can set reminders on your iPhone and get them even while working on your computer on when you reach a particular location (especially when you have got the phone on silent). We also love the fact that now we can share videos and pictures seamlessly across all our iOS devices (bandwidth permitting, of course). We would however advise using iCloud with discretion — you only get 5GB online space free, anything more and you will be paying an annual subscription.
There is one change in interface — right next to the Spotlight search button on the right-hand corner of your Mac’s screen, you will now seen a new icon which looks like a column of lines. It is the new Notification Center, which notifies you when you have new mails, reminders, appointments, Twitter and Facebook updates and so on. You can decide the kind of alerts you want — a bit like the Notification Center on your iPhone/iPad. An iOS touch can also be seen in the inclusion of iMessages, letting you swap messages with those using iPads, iPhones or iPod touches free of cost from your computer itself — think of it as BBM which works on computers. And most spectacular of all, you can now dictate text to just about every app on your computer, thanks to Dictation and Speech, which translates your words into text. No, it is not Siri — you cannot ask it what the weather is — but in terms of sheer utility, it is awesome, as you can dictate notes and even documents using it, provided you stick to general terms (it will struggle with Indian terms).
Another leaf taken out of the mobile book is the introduction of the ability to share pictures, videos and web links from different applications. So you could share a link to Facebook from within Safari or post a picture to Flickr from iPhoto. Speaking of Safari, the browser has been given a thorough makeover with a smarter search which recommends options even as you type in your query, better tabs (which are integrated with iCloud), the option to save entire Web pages to read later using Reading List, and a speed boost. Round that off with the Gatekeeper feature which can be set to ensure that you download apps only from trusted sources, and Power Nap, which fetches mail, contacts, calendar and other updates even when the computer is in sleep mode and you realise just how much lies beneath Mountain Lion’s Lion-like look.
It adds a whole lot to your existing Mac OS. It brings features you loved on your iPad and iPhone to your Mac. And it all works without a hiccup. Our MacBook Air has so far shown no signs of slowing down or of reduced battery life. We don’t quite know what Windows 8 will bring to the table in October, but Mountain Lion has once again shown us why the Mac is considered to be the most user-friendly of all computers. Worth a download? Definitely, if you have a Mac. And the bandwidth.