I tend to be one of those brave souls that are labeled ‘early adopters’- if there’s something new and shiny out there I gravitate towards it. Couple that with the aforementioned shiny thing being extremely affordable (such as OSX Mountain Lion‘s $19.99 price tag) and I’ll be one of the first in the queue.
Now that the not-so-long wait for the latest version of Apple’s operating system is out, what are the early verdicts? Yahoo News references several pundits in it’s review, and the buzz so far has been overwhelmingly positive. Many reference the iOS influences and iCloud integration as primary factors making OSX 10.8 a must-have for Mac users. The negative comments have been limited to halfhearted praise, with a smattering of complaints that 10.8 is merely an evolutionary step or a refinement of the prior version of OSX where Microsoft is introducing a radically different interface on Windows 8 in a bolder attempt to unify mobile and PC experiences.
I for one think Apple has a better strategy. As I’ve argued before, the user experience on mobile devices like tablets and smartphones is markedly different from laptops or desktops. While even Apple is moving to integrate the platforms and offer a smoother user experience, they still recognize that there are enough differences to warrant separate operating systems (for now, at least). Touch interface isn’t optimal for upright screens on laptops and desktops, and tablets lose their value if tethered to both a keyboard and mousepad (as Microsoft’s Surface tablet keyboards have sported)- you may as well have a full laptop. True hybrids like Asus’ Transformer models might show the future of mobile computing, but to date they haven’t caught on in any meaningful way.
So how has life been in the few days I’ve used it? Overall it’s been a very welcome update, offering a more noticeable improvement than my transition from Snow Leopard to Lion (I bought my first Mac just after the release of Snow Leopard and was given a free upgrade, so never used Leopard). New features aside, the biggest changes I’ve noticed have been speed and clarity.
I don’t have any empirical data to prove it, but Mountain Lion is noticeably snappier than it’s predecessor. I had already done what I could to optimize my iMac with extra RAM and was more than happy with it’s performance, but 10.8 feels quicker. Safari rivals Chrome at it’s best now, and other non-Apple apps like Steam boot much quicker.
The second impression has been the clarity of the screen. Nothing changed with my iMac hardware-wise, but icons look sharper, colors are brighter, and the new look Dock is visually pleasing. One admission- I did tweak the color settings from the default iMac settings, so your mileage may vary. The color change was a subtle one, but the screen does seem more vivid.
Sadly, not all of 10.8′s functionality is with us yet. I love the new Sharing icon in Safari (I had been using plug ins in both Safari and Firefox for sharing websites or images via social networks or email), but the advertised Facebook integration isn’t active yet- only email, Twitter, and Messages. iCloud sync allowing Safari to show all open browser tabs on your mobile device at your Mac hasn’t worked for me yet either; I’m assuming the upcoming iOS 6 release will be required.
A majority of the new features have gone unnoticed or unused. I haven’t needed to use iCloud documents yet, but I am thankful to have it. Notes and Reminders have been ported from iOS, but again in the past couple of days I’ve had 10.8 I haven’t had an instance to use them.
iChat‘s replacement Messages is another matter. I had installed the beta of Messages shortly after it was offered by Apple and had really enjoyed the extra flexibility it afforded. I use Google Talk extensively, and being able to send iMessage texts to iOS devices was very handy. The final version in Mountain Lion is more polished but essentially the same.
Migrating all updates to the App Store was a common-sense move. While you can still manually check for updates via clicking the Apple icon in the upper right corner of your screen and selecting ‘Software Updates’, instead of launching an independent update routine it launches the App Store. I still plan on perusing non-Apple sources for software, but I do appreciate the additional security and stability that the App Store’s gatekeepers afford. For those that aren’t so adventurous or demanding the App Store will likely have just about any software you would need for daily computing.
The ultimate question is should you upgrade? The easy answer- provided your Mac is Mountain Lion compatible- is absolutely. This is the least expensive upgrade to OSX Apple has provided to date, and the additional features and performance improvement makes upgrading a no-brainer. Even my 2009-era Mac Mini runs 10.8 like a champ. The only negative I have noticed in daily operation has been my iMac being very slow to wake from sleep. Once running it tears through anything I ask of it, but I’d love to see an early bug fix for this minor issue.
If you’ve been nervous about adopting a “.0″ version of an operating system, fear not. Mountain Lion may not be a paradigm shift from Lion, but my experience has been very positive to date.
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