Top 25 Features of OS X Mountain Lion

By Galen Gruman Jul 30th 2012
Apple's latest OS X version amps up the iOS integration, but offers much more for business and personal use.
  • The $20 OS upgrade for Intel-based Macs goes a long way to bringing iOS applications and capabilities into the Mac OS, and it adds a variety of new capabilities aimed specifically at computer users. Here are my picks for the top 25 new or improved features to look for.

  • Using a keyboard shortcut or menu option, you can speak text in any text field or text window and have Apple's servers translate your dictation into text that is then placed in your field or document. Supported languages are English, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish.

  • Apple loves people to think that malware is a Windows problem, but it's been forced to add antimalware capabilities to OS X Lion and enhance them in OS X Mountain Lion with the new Gatekeeper facility.

  • Another iOS inspiration, developers can iCloud-enable their apps to store and retrieve documents directly from Apple's iCloud service for access on both Macs and iOS devices. There is a gotcha: Only apps sold via the Mac App Store may use the iCloud Documents APIs.

  • Yet another iOS derivation, the Notification Center provides a single tray that lists all recent alerts for the apps you specify, as well as for notification-enabled websites and Apple services such as Software Update. There's also an option to temporarily disable all notificatlons.

  • Here's a feature that debuted in OS X before iOS: In Mountain Lion, a new iCloud Tabs popover in Safari 6.0 lets you access recently and currently open browser tabs in any Mac that has the same Apple ID, so you can pick up where you left off as you move from machine to machine.

  • Apple introduced the Reading List capability more than a year ago to Safari, letting you save Web pages to be read later. In OS X Mountain Lion, Safari now saves the HTML files so that you can read your saved Web pages when not connected to the Internet, such as on a plane or train.

  • OS X Mountain Lion now provides a standard facility to share content in applications such as Safari and QuickTime Pro via Twitter, other social sites, email, iMessage (the new chat service), and AirDrop (the zero-configuration peer-to-peer Wi-Fi transfer protocol introduced in OS X Lion).

  • WebOS, PlayBook OS, and Android 4 all do a form of it, so it makes sense OS X does, too. "It" is providing visual navigation of open browser tabs. There's a new icon button in the Safari tabs bar that opens a scrolling list of browser tab previews that you can use to move among them.

  • Apple has long provided a guest account in OS X. OS X Mountain Lion provides a second guest option: You can have OS X Mountain Lion boot into a Safari-only mode, in which only Safari runs -- an isolated copy that stores nothing when it is quit. You can't have both guest options active.

  • Apps that implement OS X Mountain Lion's revised document APIs can have their documents be renamed in situ. No longer must you close the document to rename it in the Finder. Just click the document name in the title bar and enter the new name. That's it!

  • iOS on the iPad does it, and now so does OS X Mountain Lion: You can mirror your screen to a TV or projector via an Apple TV. The Displays system preference lets you control the resolution transmitted. You can also set OS X Mountain Lion to autodetect an Apple TV on the network.

  • OS X Mountain Lion automatically syncs your Mail rules and other account settings across all Macs using the same iCloud ID (and running Mountain Lion). There's nothing to configure -- it just works. iOS 6 will support account syncing with both iOS devices and Macs as well.

  • Apple gathers plenty of information about us in its stores, but in both iOS and OS X it provides strong controls to let us protect how our personal information is used by applications and Web services. The Security & Privacy system preference in OS X Mountain Lion adds to the location privacy settings in OS X Lion.

  • iOS's Notes app comes to OS X Mountain Lion -- notes are no longer handled in Mail. But notes remain server-based, so you can take notes and have them synced via iCloud, IMAP, and/or Exchange to iOS devices and Macs, as well as to other sever-based clients (such as Outlook) that support notes.

  • Likewise, iOS's Reminders has come to OS X Mountain Lion. iCal (now called Calendar) used to manage to-do items, but no longer. Now it's Reminders' job. Reminders works like Notes in that it syncs its tasks via compatible servers to compatible apps on any platform.

  • OS X Mountain Lion's version of iCal -- renamed Calendar -- adds a calendar widget to make it easier to pick dates for your appointments, and its repeating-event capabilities now include options like the third Wednesday of the month. Parity at last!

  • In OS X Mountain Lion, the rechristened Contacts is less embarrassing. The interface is simplified, with a pane that you open up to work on groups rather than go through that weird modal switch used in previous versions. Contacts is also better integrated with other services.

  • In OS X Mountain Lion, there's one subtle but nice enhancement to Mission Control: In its system preference, you can have the Mission Control view show document windows for each app grouped with their app or have them presented independently of each other.

  • If you own an Apple TV, you've seen the really nice screen savers using images from Ken Burns, National Geographic, and others in a selection of moving displays. OS X Mountain Lion brings these screen savers to the Mac. OS X's traditional screen savers remain available, of course.

  • Game Center app lets you track your scores and compare them to friends' performance using leaderboards and other "gamification" scoring mechanisms. It comes to OS X Mountain Lion, so you can keep up on the competition when you've put your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch down.

  • Here's one of those subtle changes Apple is famous for: When you copy or download a file, its icon has a progress bar so that you know how it's going. If the Copy panel is obscured, you see the progress bar in your Finder window (and vice versa).

  • Finding the relevant message in a mail is just the first step: Where is the text in the message itself? OS X Mountain Lion lets you search the open message using the keyboard shortcut Command-F - separately from using Mail's standard Search box to search your mailboxes.

  • OS X Mountain Lion centralizes all updates in the Mac App Store's Updates pane. When you do a Software Update from the Apple menu, the App Store opens and does the search -- not a separate app as before. That way, all your updates are in one place.

  • Apple's AirPrint technology to let iOS devices print wirelessly with no configuration hasn't taken off as you might have expected -- maybe people have discovered they need to print rarely when mobile. The Mac OS X is now AirPrint-aware.

  • A long-standing Apple commitment has been to assistive technology for the disabled. OS X Mountain Lion refines the assistive features in what had been called the Universal Access system preference and is now called the Accessibility system preference.

After five months of anticipation, OS X Mountain Lion is now available. The $20 OS upgrade for Intel-based Macs goes a long way to bringing iOS applications and capabilities into the Mac OS, and it adds a variety of new capabilities aimed specifically at computer users. Many changes are under the hood, such as enhanced security capabilities to protect the kernel during startup, and several add up to a better experience, such as scroll bars that widen automatically as you use them.

I've spent five months poring over the beta for my forthcoming book, "OS X Mountain Lion Bible." Here are my picks for the top 25 new or improved features to look for.

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