Apple OS X Mountain Lion review: iOS-like features help unify your digital world

The new desktop OS benefits from new features adopted from iOS

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So fresh, so clean

Once Mountain Lion is installed and your computer reboots, you just need to set up iCloud and your App Store login information. If you've already been using iCloud and purchasing software from the Mac App Store, getting up and running is simple. After you log in with your iCloud username and password, your email, calendars, FaceTime info, contacts and Safari data, such as bookmarks and Reading List links, are automatically configured. And a visit to the App Store allows you to reinstall software you have already purchased.

If you have software that's not compatible with Mountain Lion, the installer creates a folder on your computer appropriately called "Incompatible Software." Look there to see whether you have any apps that won't run on the new operating system.

After you've logged in, the environment should look familiar, since there aren't any major UI changes. The desktop now sports another galaxy cluster background, and the Dock has a frosted glass appearance. If you look in the menu bar, you'll notice that the Spotlight search icon that was off to the right -- a staple since 2005's release of Mac OS X Tiger -- has been shifted to the left in favor of a new icon. That's for Notifications, one of the iOS features that's included in Mountain Lion.

If you have an AppleTV connected to your Wi-Fi network, you'll see that the menu bar sports the now familiar AirPlay icon found in Apple's iOS devices. This is another iOS feature Apple built into OS X.

The Finder window has gained a few new abilities. First, you can move around the Devices, Favorites and Shared categories in the sidebar by dragging and dropping. File transfers are now tracked with an inline progress bar in the Finder window, in addition to the traditional floating box. Also, you can now triple-tap an icon with three fingers to activate Quick Look, although the space key still works as before.

Share button
Finder windows now get a Share button allowing you to send a file via email, Messages or AirDrop.

You'll also note that the toolbar for Finder windows has a new button, one that should be familiar to anyone who has used an iPhone or an iPad: the Share button. It's a seemingly minor addition that's deceptively powerful.

Sharing and syncing

In Mountain Lion, Sharing has become a contextually aware systemwide service. The Share button is available throughout the Finder and in built-in applications like Safari, QuickTime and Quick Look, and it will no doubt be included in third-party apps once they're updated.

Safari Share button
The seemingly ubiquitous Share button (shown in the Safari toolbar here) allows you to easily share Web content.

Want to save, email or tweet the link you're reading? Click the Share button in Safari. Want to send a document to a colleague? Click the Share button in Finder and send it by way of email, Messages or AirDrop. If you want to share a file with somebody, the Share button makes it easy.

What about sharing information between devices you yourself own? That's where iCloud comes in.

One of the most important advances of Mountain Lion is deeper integration with iCloud. A collection of services that automatically syncs your data across all of your devices, iCloud shifts the responsibility of keeping your data organized from you, the user, to the computer. In other words, living with multiple computing devices -- a Mac at the office, an iPad at home and an iPhone in your pocket -- becomes easier because iCloud makes sure every machine has the same up-to-date information.

iCloud preferences panel
The iCloud preferences panel allows users to select which apps can access iCloud.

Photostream is a good example of iCloud in action: If you take a picture with your iPhone, by the time you pick up your iPad or fire up your Apple laptop, the photo is already there. The same goes for much of your data, such as contacts and bookmarks: A single change on one device means all devices are updated.

In Mountain Lion, Apple engineers have taken this syncing a step further with Documents in the Cloud (for apps like TextEdit that have been updated to access the option). Open/Save dialog boxes now feature an iCloud/On My Mac option.

When On My Mac is selected, the dialog box shows the name of the application you're using, the current folder you're in and the Spotlight search field. View options for the file system are at the bottom of the dialog box along with a row of buttons that includes the following: New Document; the Share button, which allows you to share the document through email, AirDrop or Messages; and to the right, the standard Cancel and Open/Save buttons.

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