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Digging deeper: Smaller changes in OS X Mountain Lion

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The major new features in OS X Mountain Lion are what everyone is talking about, but with every release of OS X, Apple(s AAPL) makes some smaller changes that escape the notice of most. We’re going to take a look at some of those changes, starting with more general ones dealing with look and feel, up to some new features in apps like Mail and Safari.


  • When you move a large file in the Finder, the file icon reflects the progress, just like when you install an app on iOS. The default progress dialog also opens, but I imagine it’ll be gone in later builds of Mountain Lion.
  • The iOS-like scrollbars in Lion are pretty thin, and they stay thin when you hover over them, making them harder to target with the cursor. In Mountain Lion, scrollbars are noticeably wider, so they’re easier to hit.
  • In Lion, grid-view Stacks still used the scrollbars from Snow Leopard, which is odd given that every other scrollbar has been iOS-ified. Not any more — in Mountain Lion they’ve been replaced by darker iOS-like scrollbars.
  • Last, there are some changes to System Preferences. There are new slide-show-style screen savers in the Desktop & Screen Saver pane, similar to the ones for Apple TV. The Universal Access preference pane has a cleaner interface, and it’s been renamed “Accessibility” and moved from the Personal section to the System section.


  • When you begin editing a document that’s just been saved, the “Edited” status in the toolbar will flash blue three times, to make sure you know.
  • When duplicating a document, it lets you change the name right in the title bar, instead of just creating a new document with “copy” at the end of the name. You can also just hit Cmd-Shift-S to duplicate, so you don’t need to map that shortcut in System Preferences.
  • In the Versions drop-down menu, there’s a new “Move To” option, so you can move the current file around on your Mac, or to iCloud.

Launchpad & Dashboard

  • Launchpad has a new search bar at the top, which lets you filter through applications just by typing. You can key through them and press enter to launch them.
  • Dashboard has a new interface for adding widgets, and it works exactly like Launchpad. It even has folders, for those hyper-organized Dashboard users (if they exist).


  • Safari has a bunch of small refinements that make it easier to use. First, there’s a unified search bar and address bar, à la Chrome’s Omnibox. URLs are grayed out after the domain name, and the “http://” is stripped out as well.
  • Tabs scale proportionally now, so if you have two tabs open, they’ll each take up half of the tab bar instead of a fixed width like before. This actually isn’t entirely new, as the Safari 4 beta did the same thing, though Apple axed the behavior before final release.


  • You can now designate contacts as VIPs, so their emails will show up in a separate mailbox in the sidebar. Inline find is another new edition to Mail, and it works much the same as it does in Safari, with the addition of find and replace when composing a new email.
  • The new Mail lacks RSS support, which has also been taken from Safari. It seems Apple doesn’t see the point in keeping that feature around.


  • Preview has a simplified toolbar, with View, Zoom and Share on the left, and Crop, Rotate and Edit on the right. The Edit button opens a toolbar where all of Preview’s other tools reside, similar to the Edit button in the iOS Photos app.

Calendar and Contacts

  • There are some pretty minor changes to Calendar and Contacts. In Calendar, the calendar’s drop-down menu is gone, replaced by a slide-out sidebar instead. Also, the faux-stitching has been removed from the toolbar. Also, the search box now supports search tokens, like in Mail.
  • In Contacts, the red bookmark used to access groups is gone. Instead, there are three different views.

It’s clear that Mountain Lion is all about simplifying OS X: getting rid of things that don’t work, and refining things that do.

What else do you think Apple should change before Mountain Lion is released this summer?

Header image via Flicker user sigsegv.

39 Responses to “Digging deeper: Smaller changes in OS X Mountain Lion”

  1. Bring back the GUI colours. The Lion GUI looks like it escaped from East Berlin. Bring back the nice rounded buttons. If I wanted Windows-like buttons I could use Windows.

  2. AFAIK… WPA2 was broken a few months ago… sure it’s better than the WEP ad-hoc security but it doesn’t seem a long term solution.

    Horizontal scrollbars don’t play well with the views… for instance when you have to select the last files in a folder

    download progress bars in icons are cute… but full progress bars that you can eventually resize and that give actual infos about the size of the file and/or an estimate of download times aren’t cute but just better

    proportionally scaled tabs… and not more than a fixed number of them… I guess nobody has found the perfect visualization for them… Tab groups in firefox where a nice (raskin) direction… if only there was some siri-like AI to navigate them in semantically related groups… (with the option of creating your groups as well, obviously…)

  3. Does Mission Control also displays minimized windows in ML? In Lion, minimized windows aren’t displayed in Mission Control at all.
    Does clicking on an open app dock’s icon bring up the minimized window in the current Space or does it switch to the Space that has an open window for that app?
    Are there changes to Spaces?

  4. RSS didn’t really fit well in Mail and Safari.
    More than a handful of feeds really slowed down the App, sometimes to the point of being unusable.
    Following news feeds isn’t a very mainstream thing to do. A dedicated Feed Reader makes much more sense. One that integrates with Notifications and has cross-platform sync with Dropbox or iCloud (avoiding Google reader) would be ideal. Maybe this could be an opening for an enterprising developer to create, showcasing the new features of Mtn Lion.

  5. coffeeguy251

    I’m heartbroken that the RSS feature will be gone from Safari. I never used RSS in Mail, but Safari’s RSS implementation has been, in my opinion, the single best way to read RSS feeds on any platform (Pulse News on iOS notwithstanding). That’s how I read all my news every single day. I threw all the RSS feeds of every site I care about into a bookmark folder, clicked on that folder and chose show all feeds, then bookmarked that. Instant custom news feed.

    I guess I can always hope that Pulse gets ported to OS X.

    • Kalle Kilponen

      It depends how you define better. The thing I love about RSS in Safari is simplicity.
      I have it set up so that every time I open a new window I get the latest news headlines, so I “accidentally” know if something interesting is happening.
      I don’t like the idea of having to specifically go read the news headlines, if I want to do that I’ll just go to a news site, the brilliance of RSS in Safari is the fact it doesn’t have anything extra.

  6. Freddy Kruger

    I hope that contacts allows for all the fields that are available on the iPhone as well such as nick name, phonetic spelling etc but clicking the edit, not searching for “find field” way up in the menu bar.
    I hope they get rid of the cheesy desktop calendar look and the same goes for contacts…

    • You are still able to do that. Just open up System Preferences >General an click on “Always” on “Show scroll bars”.

      As for your second comment, services like Dropbox and Box has to let the developers implement it that way, so tell those guys. All in all, it’s up to the developer of that app to do it.

    • Hello,
      you are right: iCloud sucks.
      I installed OwnClowd on my Linux box and it syncs contacts and calendars with standard CardDav/CalDav to iOS, Android, OSX, Linux and (I suppose since I do not use it) Windows