OS X Mountain Lion: What you need to know

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What's this I hear about the Mac App Store and Software Update being merged?

You heard correctly. The Mac App Store will now be the sole place for Apple software updates. When new software is available, you'll receive a notification in Notification Center; you can download it by opening the App Store app and selecting the Updates tab. Notifications also carry over to any Mac App Store apps, as well, meaning that you no longer need to perennially leave the App Store open to check for new updates to your programs.

What's new with iCal and Address Book, besides their name changes?

We've spent a little time with both Contacts and Calendar; both sport interface changes, including a three column view in Contacts and a left sidebar for calendars in Calendar. Apple's scheduling app also sees the removal of to-dos (which head to the Reminders app) and integration with the same advanced search tokens used in Lion's Finder and Mail.

Does Dashboard get any love? How about Launchpad?

Surprisingly, yes. Dashboard receives a new widget browser reminiscent of Launchpad (or the iOS home screen), along with a search bar along the top; it's to be determined whether this means Apple may be interested in porting over more iOS-like widgets, but color us intrigued.

Launchpad gets a small tweak--a search bar, present at the top of each Launchpad screen.

What does Game Center on the Mac mean for games on the Mac?

We'll have to wait and see until Mountain Lion actually comes out, as Game Center isn't very useful without apps that utilize it. That said, your iOS Game Center accounts will carry over, and you should be able to do many of the same things you use Game Center on iOS to do--invite others to games, keep track of achievements, and find new things to play.

Has Apple done anything about the behemoth that is iTunes?

No--at least, not yet. The version of iTunes on the beta of Mountain Lion we have is 10.5.3, the same one that's currently shipping. This may change before Mountain Lion launches, but we don't know for sure.

What cool features are in store for Mail in Mountain Lion?

Mail has three new features: VIPs, inline find, and selective notifications. VIPs are special contacts, chosen by you, whose messages are treated differently from other contacts. For example, you can set Mail to use Notification Center to alert you only when Mail from VIPs arrives. You can also use Mail Rules to filter items from VIPs in a different way. Inline find works much like it does in Safari or TextEdit--hit Command-F, and you'll be able to search the body text of a message. Selective notifications allow you to choose what messages show up in Notification Center--useful if you don't want to have your screen flash every time you get a spam message.

So iChat is becoming Messages. Does that mean I'll be able to send messages to people with an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad from my Mac? How will that work?

Yes, you can use Messages to chat with people between Macs and iOS devices--iMessages are Internet-based, and thus can be sent between two devices running the Messages app. If you have contacts you iMessage but don't IM, you'll need to type in their phone numbers or email addresses manually, or add them to a buddy list anyway--just as you would in iChat. If you use Messages to send iMessages and your iPhone and/or iPad are nearby, you'll receive your replies on all your devices, along with your Mac.

Can I still screen share, host video conferences, and use iChat Theater?

You can, though that functionality requires an AIM account, rather than an iMessage one. Video chatting can be done on AIM traditionally, or you can launch the FaceTime app through an embedded button in the chat window.

What happens to FaceTime?

FaceTime is still there. FaceTime sessions take place within the FaceTime app on the Mac. Though Messages offers integration with FaceTime--you can kick off a FaceTime session from within the Messages window--it doesn't actually do the FaceTime part itself. That's still a separate app. (Other video chats and screen sharing still occur within Messages, as they did before when it was called iChat.)

Does Messages for Mac have a background listener for messages? Or must I have it open in order to receive messages?

You won't currently see notifications pop up in Notification Center when Messages is closed --for all we know, that could change before release. But if you have Messages as part of your Dock, the app's icon will display a red badge alert with the number of messages you've missed.

Are there any notable differences between Notes on iOS and on Mountain Lion?

Notes translates pretty closely between the two operating systems: You can display and edit single notes, view a list of all your notes, or, if you have multiple accounts, you can choose to view just a selection of notes based on the account that created them.

Unlike Notes on iOS, you can use any font found on your Mac. Mountain Lion's version of the app also supports rich text and text alignment.

What's up with Photo Booth and QuickTime?

Both get new Share options.

So Preview gets a new toolbar? Did it lose any features?

Preview gets a slight interface redesign, and gains two features: form input and iBooks-style annotations.

How similar is the Reminders app in Mountain Lion to its iOS counterpart? Do reminders work the same?

Reminders in Mountain Lion retains the same look and feel as the iOS app, though you won't be able to create location-based reminders, or see any created by an iOS device. Additionally, you can't create shared lists within either app--you'll have to visit icloud.com to do so.

Anything new with Safari?

Yes. Safari has a redesigned toolbar in Mountain Lion. The dedicated search box is gone. Instead, if you want to search, you just type your search query in the URL bar. Safari will be smart enough to know you're trying to search instead of entering a Web address. You can search in-page, for your search engine's top result, and through your bookmarks and history. The toolbar's URL display has been simplified, too, cutting off the "http://" part and highlighting the domain name in heavier text than the rest of the URL.

The Safari Reader toolbar button is also much larger, as active RSS support has been officially retired. (If you try and view an RSS feed, it will attempt to bump you out to an external reader.) Theoretically, iCloud will sync browser tabs, so you can move from one Mac to another and your open tabs will go with you.

Safari also scores a new Passwords pane in the Preferences window. It behaves a bit like a miniature Keychain Access, limited to your logins for websites.

Can I set my search engine to anything I want?

No, you're limited to Google, Yahoo, Bing, and (if you're using a Mac in China) Baidu.

Please tell me TextEdit still exists in 10.8? Or was it replaced by Notes? What about Stickies?

TextEdit is still around. So is Stickies. Both appear largely unchanged. It's possible that Apple might kill them at some point, but it seems unlikely. They both serve their purposes, and are decidedly different from Notes.

Is System Preferences now called Settings?

If you're on a Mac, the app is still called System Preferences--but you're right, given that they're called Settings on iOS, it seems like only a matter of time before the utility's name changes as part of Apple's apparent embrace of universal naming.

I'm disappointed. I hoped Mountain Lion would introduce Find My Friends or iBooks apps just as they brought over Reminders and Notes from iOS.

It would sure be nice to have those apps, but don't get misled by their lack of existence in the Mountain Lion announcement. On iOS, both Find My Friends and iBooks are apps released via the App Store, not bundled with the operating system. Presumably the same would be true for the Mac versions. If Apple does create iBooks for the Mac, the company would presumably release it on the Mac App Store, and not as part of Mountain Lion proper.

This story, "OS X Mountain Lion: What you need to know" was originally published by Macworld.

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