In addition to the major changes noted above, there are a slew of minor tweaks throughout OS X designed to improve usability in a variety of ways. They include the following:
- In Dashboard, you'll find it easier to add and delete widgets, and find new ones you might like. Hitting the small plus sign in the lower left-hand corner of the Dashboard window brings up a new widget view based on Launch Pad, and clicking More Widgets whisks you away to Apple's Dashboard Widgets site.
- The new Game Center consolidates game ranking and leader board stats, achievements, social components such as in-game voice chat, and game recommendations in a single location. It also links to your Apple ID, allowing you to challenge players to games, even if they're on a Mac and you're on an iOS device, like an iPod Touch or an iPad. Game Center also supports Parental Controls and Notifications.
- Accidentally pulling items out of the Dock is much harder in Mountain Lion, because you have to click and drag the app icon -- and keep it out of the Dock longer -- before it's deleted.
- You can rename documents using the title bar. Hovering your mouse over a document title brings up a small triangle, which can be clicked to reveal a drop-down menu with several options, including rename. You can also add documents to iCloud by clicking on the document name and selecting "Move to."
- Launchpad can be searched using the magnifying glass at the top of the screen.
- The App Store has built-in support for Notification Center, and alerts you when an app, or Mountain Lion itself, needs to be updated.
- When using the built-in high-definition export settings, QuickTime X encoding is now hardware-accelerated.
- OS X's built-in screen-sharing feature now supports drag-and-drop file copying.
- Finally, if you own a recent MacBook Air or a Retina display MacBook Pro, you get a new feature known as Power Nap. It allows your Mac to receive emails, notifications and updates even when it's sleeping. Power Nap even does Time Machine backups and software downloads while retaining battery life.
The Dashboard gains flexibility, allowing users to more easily manage the widgets they have -- and to find new ones.
In the time I've spent with Mountain Lion, I only experienced one crash where it did not wake from sleep, although Parallels had problems in Coherence mode. That's a reminder that, despite being built on a decade of experience, Mountain Lion is a v1.0 product and some software will need to be updated to work correctly.
For users with production-critical machines, it may make sense to delay upgrades for a bit. For most users, however, there's no real reason not to take the plunge. Certainly, pricing shouldn't be an issue; this is the cheapest OS X update ever.
Other than those couple of glitches, everything worked as expected. Mountain Lion was as speedy as its predecessor. Battery life remains consistent with earlier versions of OS X. An annoying bug that caused problems reconnecting to Wi-Fi after waking from sleep seems to be fixed. The new additions are well implemented, and the ability to access data and files across all your devices makes this upgrade a no-brainer.
Mountain Lion continues the trend of cross-pollination between iOS and OS X, as Apple cherry-picks features that can logically enhance the functionality of whichever hardware you use, be it desktop or mobile. In contrast to Microsoft's one-OS-fits-all plan for Windows 8, OS X remains distinct from iOS.
As I noted when Mountain Lion first appeared back in February: What Apple is doing with this new operating system is creating a consistent ecosystem to unify your digital world, from media creation to distribution to viewing and sharing. It's designed to make sure your data and files are with you on whatever device or computer you're using, wherever you are. That's what makes this release so important: It takes OS X where computing really needs to go: toward a world of unified data and interface consistency.
Michael deAgonia, a frequent contributor to Computerworld, is a writer, computer consultant and technology geek who has been working on computers since 1993. You can find him on Twitter ( @mdeagonia).
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