Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Meet Mountain Lion: The Latest Mac OS

Apple today took the wraps off a preview version of the next version of its Mac operating system software. Its name is Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, and it will be available this summer.

Among the headline features are deep integration with Apple’s iCloud service, and with Twitter. And several features from iOS devices, like Messages and Reminder, are making their debut on the Mac, and will create a more unified experience among Macs, iPads and iPhones.

The release, which is coming only a year after Lion debuted last summer, might just indicate a speeding up of the cadence at which Apple does Mac software upgrades. Usually there’s an interval of 18 months to 24 months between major OS upgrades. That makes this announcement a bit of a surprise. Does that mean we can expect another one about 18 months from now? We’ll see.

Here’s a quick rundown of the 10 new features:

iCloud built in: Mountain Lion will be the first version of OS X built with iCloud fully integrated. Documents in the Cloud is a new feature that will allow documents you create and edit on the Mac to sync up and readily be available on iPhones and iPads. Changes you make in the document on one device will automatically appear on the other. You’ll be able to use iCloud from the moment you start up your Mac and sign in with an Apple ID.

Messages: It’s crazy to think about it, but iMessage users on the iPhone and iPad have sent something like 26 billion messages in only the few months it has been available. Messages is the new instant messaging application that will replace iChat. It will unify the experience between the Mac and iOS devices, and will still be compatible with services like Google Talk, AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and Jabber, but will also bring iMessages into the Mac. Conversations stay up to date across all devices. It supports photos and videos. Also? There’s a FaceTime button.

Twitter: Twitter is also deeply integrated into Mountain Lion. You’ll be able to tweet directly from within several applications, sharing Web site addresses, photos and videos. Central to this is something Apple calls the Tweet Sheet, which you call up from the Share menu. It grabs what you want to share on Twitter and you write your tweet from directly within the Mac OS. And as cool as this is, it’s notable also for what it’s not: Facebook integration. Expect lots of speculation around that.

Share Sheets: Sharing is kind of a big deal these days, so it makes sense that the ability to do it — whether on Twitter or via email or any one of the cloud services out there — would be available on the Mac. There’s a new Share button in Safari and in other applications that makes it easy to send a photo to a friend via email or to Flickr, or a video to Vimeo or to another computer via AirDrop.

Notification Center: The dashboard of notices saying what’s going on in iOS is coming to the Mac. Similar to how you reach it on the iPhone — a swipe down along the length of the screen — it will appear on the Mac with a two-finger swipe from the right edge of the trackpad, and the list will appear on the right side of the screen. When you get a notification from an application — say, an email has arrived, or a download is finished, or a calendar reminder is going off — you can see them all in one place. Also, short messages with notifications appear in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, and then fade away after a few seconds. It reminds me a great deal of a third-party application enhancer I use, called Growl.

Reminders: Another popular iOS app is being added to the Mac. Your to-do list remains synced across the Mac, iPhone and iPad, and you can add reminders that pop up throughout the day, so you don’t forget.

Notes: The all-purpose “take this down for later” application gets the Mac treatment. Soon you’ll be able to drag URLs into a note. And thanks to iCloud, they’ll be synced across Mac, iPhone and iPad. You’ll also be able to “pin” a note to your desktop, meaning it will stay open even if you close the main Notes application. Notes also has a Share button.

Game Center: Long a weakness on the Mac, gaming is getting stronger all the time. Games, it turns out, are the most popular software titles on the Mac App store. So it makes sense to bring the Game Center experience from iOS to the Mac. I saw a quick demo, where two people played a racing game against each other — can’t remember which game exactly — one was on the iPad, the other on the Mac. You’ll be able to challenge friends, keep track of your standings on a leaderboard and see what games your friends like. There’s also support for in-game voice chat, so you can talk trash.

Gatekeeper: Expect this feature to be controversial among Mac software developers. Basically, it’s an attempt by Apple to deal with the fact that the one serious security threat it faces is software that looks good at first but turns out to behave badly only after you’ve downloaded and installed it. The new scheme basically sets up a three-tier system, where the user can decide from where they will be allowed to download and install new software. In the most restrictive — or some will argue safest — case, you can set your Mac to allow only software from the Mac App store. As it does with the App Store on iOS devices, Apple vets the software sold there for safety. In the second case — this one not as restrictive — you can install software from sources other than the App Store, but only from developers who have signed up as a known developer. Here, Apple will not have checked the app for safety, but will at least vouch that the developer is known. Developers will have the option of signing up for a Developer ID. This is the part that I think they’ll find a little controversial. Anyway, in the third case, there are no restrictions. You can install software from any developer and any source, much as you can do today.

AirPlay Mirroring: If you have an Apple TV handy, you’ll be able to use your TV as a screen for your Mac — it’s super easy. If they’re on the same wireless network, the Mac will have a simple pulldown menu that makes your TV mirror what’s on the Mac.

Finally, Apple added a lot of new features for the Chinese market. Text input has been improved, and several popular Web services — like Baidu for search, integration with Sina Weibo for Twitter-like sharing and video-sharing with Youku and Tudou — have been built in, in order to make the Mac OS experience a lot more China-friendly than it has been before. Given the Apple madness that has struck that country in recent months, it will certainly find a happy audience.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik