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OS X Mountain Lion: A Full Review

After getting my computer back on Saturday, I immediately upgraded to OS X Mountain LionOne of the first changes many Mac fans have noticed is that “Mac” has been dropped from the title. This has led many to speculate that there will be more to the marriage between iOS and OS X, but more about this later.

Since I have lived with Mountain Lion for about a week, I thought I would share my thoughts on the OS.

INSTALLATION

This is the second OS X release Apple has distributed through the Mac App Store. With Lion, a number of people complained about how the update slowed their system and there have been similar complaints about Mountain Lion.

Installation is actually really easy if you want the OS to install around your files. Backup your machine, download OS X from the Mac App Store (approx. 4.5 GB), and follow the instructions on the screen. After approximately 45 minutes, you will be Mountain Lion. Like many, I wish Apple made it easy to do a fresh install of the OS, but I opted for the simple install.

With my machine, an early 2011 15” MacBook Pro, I did not experience a decrease in speed. In fact, my system feels quicker. But, as I posted Monday, I had my hard drive wiped in May and just had a new logic board installed. That could certainly account for my seamless transition.

MINOR UPDATES

While there are some new features that are important to highlight, one thing I wanted to discuss first was how stable and polished Mountain Lion feels. Mac users who transitioned from Leopard to Snow Leopard a few years ago understand what I mean. The whole OS has been optimized for the Retina MacBook Pro and the detail does make a difference on lower resolution displays. Details of the icons and OS are crisper.

As for minor updates, all the multi-touch gestures are smoother, inertial scrolling is now a part of Stacks, and the dock has an aluminum surface. In addition, LauchPad and Dashboard have received minor updates, and all OS X updates are now handled by the Mac App Store.

There are a number of improvements to existing apps as well. Mail has some minor updates. Preview now has access to iCloud and more detailed editing tools. There are updates to the Image Capture app that make scanning and printing even easier. Other minor changes include a change in app names. iCal is now called Calendar and Address Book is now Contacts, much like their iOS counterpart, but this is only the beginning of Apple’s marriage of iOS and OS X.

NEW FEATURES

Apple says that there are over 200 new features in Mountain Lion. Most of them are not immediately noticeable, but there are several that are substantial and are very usable. As with Lion, the marriage of iOS and OS X continues. There are a number of apps added to OS X to match their counterparts in iOS. These apps then sync wirelessly using iCloud.

New to OS X: Reminders and Notes 

Two news apps from iOS includes Notes app and Reminders. Both apps are virtually identical to the iOS equivalent, and they both work very well. There isn’t much else to say! As Steve Jobs said about iCloud in 2011, it just works. iCloud syncs your Notes and Reminders automatically so you can accesses them on all your devices.

Notification Center

Another useful addition from iOS is Notification Center. Similar to Growl, Notification Center is one place for all your apps’ reminders, Calendar events, Reminders, Mail, and Twitter updates. With a two-finger swipe from right to left on the Trackpad, Notification center comes up on the right side of the screen. Notification Center is completely customizable in System Preferences and will certainly become more and more usable as developers continue to integrate it into their apps.

iMessage works on iOS and OS X

The most popular new app on Mountain Lion is iMessage. Like Facetime in Lion, iMessage in Mountain Lion allows for seamless communication between Macs and iOS devices. With iOS 6, however, Apple is will integrate users’ Apple ID and phone number. This will enable text messaging via the Mac! iMessage supports texts, photos, and videos. iMessage replaces iChat and works with other online messaging systems.

Game Center

Game Center is yet another iOS app added to Mountain Lion. Game Center allows Mac users to play games against other Macs, iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches. This cross platform play is unique to Apple and will certainly be interesting as more iOS games are brought to the Mac.

Safari received a number of updates including Tab View

One of OS X’s apps to receive a major update is Safari. Users will notice the unified address bar, but there is also a new Tab Viewer that makes seeig all open tabs even easier. Apple has also integrated Share Sheets which has been added throughout the OS. It allows users to share websites, photos, videos and a variety of media via email, Twitter, Vimeo, Flickr, and Facebook (coming this fall). One interesting development with Safari is that it appears to be exclusive to the Mac. Safari 6.0 has yet to be created for Windows, and with the wholesale changes in Windows 8, an update is doubtful.

Apple has also taken significant steps in addressing user privacy. Mountain Lion features a new security feature called Gatekeeper, which allows users to choose the types of apps that are installed to their machine. Users can choose to only allow apps from the App Store, allow apps from the App Store and trusted developers, or allow all applications. The goal of Gatekeeper is to protect the computer from Malware and Spyware. Other privacy features include a clearer option panel for users to control the apps that can access their Calendar, Contacts, Key Chain, and location data.

Airplay Mirroring connects your Mac and TV via Apple TV

One of my favorite additions to Mountain Lion is Air Play Mirroring. Many Mac users already use Air Play for their files and music, but Air Play Mirroring allows users to wirelessly view their computer screen on their TV using Apple TV. This feature is certainly a welcome addition in many homes and classrooms. However, this feature only works on machines released in 2011 and 2012.

An interesting addition to Mountain Lion is Siri-like dictation. Dictation can be accessed using the user’s choice of hot keys. While it is useful, it can be problematic because only the MacBook Pro with Retina Display has a dual microphone system built in. This is a feature that will certainly improve over time, but if you have an external microphone, it can be really handy. As of right now, most third-party apps do not support this feature, but it is one of many great accessibility features added to OS X.

CONCLUSIONS 

Mountain Lion is certainly an improvement to OS X. While it may not be a major shift like Microsoft is planning for Windows 8, Apple is focused on the marriage of OS X and iOS via iCloud. The merging of Apple’s operating systems is working well for Apple and will take another leap forward when Apple releases iOS 6 this fall.

For only $20 in the Mac App Store, Mountain Lion is a must have for all Mac users. If you are using Snow Leopard, now is really the time to upgrade. Lion users should consider upgrading to access this polished OS. While there are sure to be bugs in this release, I have yet to experience any. In addition, I have yet to find a third-party app that is incompatible. My transition has been seamless, and I encourage all Mac user with eligible hardware to download Mountain Lion and enjoy the latest and greatest Apple has to offer.

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Book Review: Steve Jobs

Walter Isaacson.  Steve Jobs.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.  630 pp. Hardcover $35.00 ISBN 978-1451648539.

There have been several books written about Steve Jobs over the years, but only Isaacson’s can claim the title “Authorized Biography.”  As Isaacson explains in the introduction, the book came about due to Steve’s persistence and was created following over forty interviews with Steve.  In addition, Isaacson interviewed about one hundred other people including family, friends, foes, and rivals.  This combination provides for one of the most complete biographies of Steve Jobs, an extremely private man, ever produced.

Everyone is familiar with the story of Apple’s creation, but what Isaacson is able to provide is some insight into Steve’s thinking.  From the book we learn that Steve was rebellious from childhood, experimented with a wide variety of drugs, and was a devout Buddhist.  There are other concerning aspects of Steve’s life including his bizarre diets and cruelty to those he deemed inferior.

One aspect of Steve’s personality that Isaacson focuses on his Steve’s “reality distortion field.”  Steve applied this distortion field rather liberally throughout his life.  Whether he was convincing others to meet impossible deadlines or denying that he was the father of his oldest daughter, his reality distortion field could be easy for others to buy into.  At times it did prove correct, however, and those around him were able to pull off the impossible.  However, the reality distortion field did fail him on several occasions, most notably his decision not to receive an operation to remove a tumor from his pancreas in 2003.

Isaacson’s book provides great tales from Steve’s experiences at Apple, NeXT, and Pixar.  The book feels taught and complete.  Perhaps the most difficult chapters to read are those that describe Steve’s cancer and how much he suffered the last year of his life.  Amazingly, despite is suffering; he was able to appear on stage twice in 2011, although, as the book describes, Steve had to prepare himself for these appearances.  The cancer was extremely aggressive and created a cycle that destroyed his appetite and caused him great pain and depression.  He never stopped working with Apple engineers, however, and was even designing a yacht for himself and his family when he died.

Steve has been compared to many other giants of industry and design, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Frank Lloyd Wright.  Steve was not perfect, and neither were any of these men.  Often their work took precedence over everything else, including their families.  Steve was no different.  His children, three of them were interviewed for the book, understood that their father was doing great work and did not blame him for his, at times, neglect.  Neither did his wife, Laurene Powell.

Isaacson’s book reads quickly and is high recommended for anyone interested in Apple, technology, or learning about a giant of our time.  There are occasions when stories are repeated, and the reader questions whether or not Isaacson himself falls under the spell of Steve’s reality distortion field, but this is likely due to the speed at which this book was released.  Nevertheless, Steve Jobs is a masterpiece about a guy who, could be an asshole at times, but vastly changed the way we use technology….and was taken from the world far too soon.

Isaacson’s book reveals one glimmer of hope, however.  Steve’s oldest son, Reed, developed an interest in cancer research and is currently studying at Stanford University, the same institution that treated his father.  The type of cancer that claimed Steve has been studied intensely thanks to Steve and his willingness to allow Stanford to study him and his tumor.  There are drugs today to slow the growth of the cancer to allow those suffering from it to enjoy a long and healthy life.  Steve hoped that he would be one of the last to die from his cancer, and he very well could be.

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