Mac OS X Mountain Lion is the latest version of Apple’s desktop and laptop operating system and brings new features, including some from its iPad and iPhone products, to the Mac.
The software is available only as a download from Apple’s Mac App Store priced £13.99.
While Apple’s publicity for Mountain Lion focuses on the new features, it also seems to have fixed some of the performance and stability issues associated with the previous version (Lion).
I installed Mountain Lion on three devices – a Mid 2011 Macbook Air, a Mid 2010 Mac Mini and a Mid 2009 MacBook Pro, all three have previously been running Lion.
While the MacBook Air had run fine, the other two machines had both experienced issues with Lion and the Mini required a RAM upgrade to resolve some of them.
The MacBook Pro had been rendered almost unusable – frequently showing Apple’s little spinning wheel when asked to do even the simplest of tasks and requiring non-responding applications to be quit.
All three machines feel faster and more responsive under Mountain Lion with the MacBook Pro’s performance notably more stable than before but on a couple of instances apps didn’t open on first request and the MacBook Air initially refused to shutdown and I had to try a couple more times to get it to do so.
This hasn’t occurred since the first post-upgrade reboot.
As mentioned above, Apple has brought a number of new features to the Mac with this release, some are relatively minor but here’s a look at some of the headline additions:
Documents in the cloud
When Apple released iPad editions of its iWork suite many people expected to be able to seamlessly take their documents on the move but Apple disappointed – to move a document from a Mac to an Pad required either emailing it to yourself or syncing the two devices via iTunes.
Apple has now addressed this with Documents in the cloud, now when you create a new document you can choose to save it to Apple’s iCloud service and it will be instantly available on your other Mac, iPad or iPhone.
Better still, you can edit a document on another device and the changes will be applied across all your devices.
This is a welcome addition which anyone working across devices or locations will quickly find indispensable.
Originally available as a Beta app on Mac OS X Lion, Messages allows Mac desktop and laptop users to send SMS style messages to iPad and iPhone users registered with the iMessage service from their larger devices.
We looked at Messages in full here, it remains a great service but, because it doesn’t work with rival handsets, by using it you are tying yourself further into Apple’s ecosystem.
You can also easily share links, videos and images via Messages thanks to a new Sharing icon which also includes the options to email and Tweet the content.
Despite taking years to implement a simple, single notifications screen on their portable devices, Apple has now introduced one to Mac OS X.
Whenever you get a new email, iMessage or a diary appointment is close you’ll be prompted from a notification pop-up in the top right hand corner of the screen. You can also view a full length list by clicking an icon at the top of the screen.
Some users will find this annoying so thankfully Apple has included the ability to decide how alerts are displayed and which applications to include in it but there appears to be no way of actually turning the system off.
However if you want to see who your latest email is from without leaving your current application, the pop-ups can be useful.
Of all the new features this is the one I have the most mixed feelings about.
In theory Dictation allows you to swap your keyboard for your voice, chatting away while machine converts your words to text. In practice the quality of translation variable, though this might be mic related.
On my MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, which have built-in mics, the results were better than on the Mini which I was using with an external webcam. However in all cases some manual correction of the text was required.
Better results where achieved when using my Apple headphones which include a mic, suggesting the microphone’s proximity is a key factor in accuracy.
Other new features
Other new features on the Mac include iPad/iPhone favourites Game Centre which now lets you compete against friends regardless of the device their using, and AirPlay which lets you stream content to a TV provided you have an Apple TV box connected to it.
Mac OS X Mountain Lion is a better user experience than its predecessor which I initially found buggy and slow until Apple released some updates.
The new features increase the usability of existing machines for a sum so small it’s hard to see how Apple makes any money on the upgrade. It’s also good to see Apple supporting machines which are up to five years old rather than using the update as an opportunity to force new hardware purchases.
At less than £14 the update is great value for money, especially as Mac App Store purchases can be installed on up to 5 machines provided you own and use them – i.e. no letting your mate install a copy.
Users on slow broadband connections may not appreciate having to download the software but Apple does say its retail stores will be happy to help anyone without suitable web access.
Overall Mountain Lion is a worthwhile upgrade which draws Apple’s mobile devices and traditional computer products closer together and enhances their interoperability.