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Why I think OS X Mountain Lion is worth an upgrade

People often talk about the timeless design of Porsche’s cars: on paper they might not have deviated too much from the original idea, but in reality they have added more oomph, more features, and newer technologies into the car. I suppose one could say the same about Apple’s OS X(s AAPL) operating system. I first started using OS X on the first Titanium machine released in September 2000. Sometimes the subsequent upgrades would leave my laptops wheezing, and other times they would make them zesty. But for nearly a decade, Apple has made OS X better and better.

The most recent version, Mountain Lion, went on sale today for $20 a copy and it is a welcome relief for those of us who have been stuck using OS X Lion. Mountain Lion’s predecessor was caught between the past (desktop) and the future (mobile) and as result it was cluttered and had a dazzling array of confounding choices. It was a cacophony of ideas and design. Those choices were in stark contrast to the simplicity of iOS and the subtle improvements Apple made on its mobile devices.

Today, I can safely say that the new OS is perfectly matched with not just the hardware, but also with a new kind of Internet-centric usage behavior. It is the marriage of form and function.

Early this year, I postulated that we were seeing the slow rise of the SoMoClo OS:

But the new Mountain Lion OS X is a step in the right direction for what the operating system (OS) for the Internet Age should be. Up until a few years ago, the Internet was a feature on our desktops, accessed through the browser and used for finding information. Along came broadband, and we all suddenly realized the Internet could be used for a lot more than just looking up facts and figures.

Mountain Lion acknowledges that and also tips its hat to the importance of touch and mobile into our post-iPhone computing life.  After Lion, what I really wanted from the new OS upgrade was stability, nimbleness, better integration with the cloud and, most importantly, the ability to use iOS-inspired gestures and ideas that are now deeply ingrained into my psyche. I wanted less confusion and a more streamlined experience. I wanted an OS that was less in the past and more leaning to the future. What I didn’t want: an OS that is struggling to come up with an identity. I wanted an OS that made touch work for me  — on a desktop.

Why? Well thanks to iPhone and the iPad, touch has become the primary way I interact with information. Facebook(s FB) and Twitter have made me want a constant stream of updates — much like notifications on the iPad. It is the only way I can deal with the inflow of data into my hyper-connected life. I want to be able to share from anywhere just like I do on an iPad and the iPhone. And on all those fronts, Apple has delivered with Mountain Lion.

Cool like the iPhone

There are notifications. A full notification bar can be opened up and accessed by simply clicking on the notification icon that is at the top right corner of the screen. There is Twitter integration, and Facebook integration will follow soon. Tweet a photo or upload it to Facebook, without having to leave the application you are using. Bring up the notification bar and send out a tweet. Share links and documents from pretty much anywhere in the OS: browser, folders, iPhoto. Safari tabs will sync across Mountain Lion and iOS 6-based devices and you can swipe between tabs using the Tab View.

Just like the iPad, you can now use the dictation feature and start turning voice-to-text on in any application, including those belonging to Microsoft’s Office(s MSFT) suite. Like Google’s Chrome(s GOOG), there is a Smart Search field, which is used for entering web addresses and finding information on Google.

Game Center on the desktop now shows results and updates from all your mobile devices. There is AirPlay, which allows you to project the desktop to the big screen connected to your Apple TV.  I like that I can take notes on an app that is like the Notes app on the iPad, and there is almost instant syncing.

My favorite features

Two of my favorite new features: Messages and PowerNap. Messages is a replacement for iChat, and it allows you to send and receive messages from anyone who has one of the iDevices or a Mac. I don’t quite like the way it looks — but I suppose utility trumps looks here. You can drop photos and share them as long as they are not bigger than 100MB in size.  It is dead simple to create group chats much like you send email to multiple recipients. You can send messages to email addresses associated with a friend’s iCloud ID or to their phone number.

And there is PowerNap, a feature that updates your Mac — software updates, emails and calendar invites — silently. You don’t need to turn on the fan or the lights of your machine for it to work. It works primarily on the more recent Macbook Air and the Retina display version of MacBook Pro.

Powered by iCloud

One of the key aspects of this release is iCloud, Apple’s version of Google Drive. Except there isn’t a single iCloud folder that you can open and go searching for files. Instead, it is in everything. If you compose a document using TextEdit and it is saved directly in iCloud and is available on any of your devices. Apple’s iWork apps take particular advantage of the iCloud: I have created documents and presentations on my desktop and continued working on them on my iPad and vice versa.

The syncing is near instantaneous, though it just might be my broadband connection. You can drag and drop a file onto another and create a folder — much like one creates app folders on the iPhone. It would be cool to see more app developers using iCloud API and make it part of their app experience. Information Architects’ Writer is a near-perfect, cross-device app that uses iCloud (and Dropbox) to its advantage.

In case you have not figured it out, I am clearly in favor of this upgrade. It costs $20 and is well worth it. Most importantly if you have more than one Mac tied to your iCloud identity, well you can upgrade any number of Macs. It hides all the blemishes of Lion and instead it offers up an experience that is contemporary. Mountain Lion is the desktop OS of the moment.

PS: If you get a chance, share your experience with me and rest of us.

Related Mountain Lion OS X stories on GigaOM:


38 Responses to “Why I think OS X Mountain Lion is worth an upgrade”

  1. Hello Om,

    I am glad I came across your article to make a sensible decision. I have a 2008 aluminum macbook 13 inches and after I installed Lion it, it got very slow and I used to see the horrible pinwheel of doom most of the times. After reading most of the comments, I feel that Mountain Lion seems to be much better performance wise. When I got this macbook, I had Leopard and after that I installed all the OS that came along. I have heard that if your computer gets old, your HDD gets cluttered with a lot of useless stuff so do you think I should do a clean install to get a better performace (which is very inconvenient I know but I can manage for the sake of a better performance in the long run) or would you suggest that an upgrade would do fine?

    I’d really appreciate your help here.

    Thank you.

    Jawad (Pakistan)

  2. stupidusATmailDOTcom

    I’m basically just a writer who uses browser for research and textedit and scrivener for writing purposes – so you could say I’m a light user indeed.

    ( I do have MBP 13″ early 2011 2.3Ghz Intel Core i5 with SSD and 8GB mem, so with my workload I’m always expecting everything to happen pretty much instantly – however this is not always the case… )

    So far after reluctantly migrating from Snow Leopard to Lion:

    * Turning off computer (still) takes a little lifetime (previously it was instant). Turning computer on (still) takes longer.

    Yes, I still switch off my laptop, Airport Express plus broadband modem… every day, at least once. I’m a firm believer in electronics lasting longer this way plus it’s a tiny bit better for the planet as well when it comes to drawing unnecessary power.

    * Waking up from sleep isn’t instant (it was before).

    * Hated auto-save, auto-resume, iOS-type “quick launcher” and either opted out or just never use them.

    * Turned off all eye candy to preserve more battery life as it is the single most important factor for having and owning a laptop to begin with.

    Mountain Lion:

    * Will want to opt-out from using notification bar, twitter & facebook integration, gatekeeper, power naps… as I absolutely hate clutter and never use twitter or facebook, and I do not want OS to do jack shit without first asking me to.

    My question to you folks is then will Mountain Lion start and switch off faster, and will it consume less battery (upgrading is free for me)?

    Just about the only potentially useful new feature might possible be the improved iCloud – might I finally bid farewell to Dropbox?

    Also, people insist the new Safari is faster than Chrome. Has it something to do with Google and Apple not wanting to sleep with one another anymore – or what gives?

    What I would really want to know is will Safari suck less resources and kick on the fan less than using Chrome?

    I switched to Chrome because at the time it supported full-screen browsing natively (rarely use though.. so that’s probably a moot point by now to be honest) and used a single search box. I know Safari can now do this too.

    Also turning off ads and killing flash as a default was super easy with Chrome. And I like the fact that you can look up word definitions just by double clicking on them.

    Is reading web pages offline really as easy and straight-forward as “tagging” a page in Safari and then looking it up from some reading list? I hate using third party extensions for multiple reasons and I really only want to bookmark sites that I actually will want to use more than once.

    Should I switch back to Safari and why?

  3. I did not finish my comment -sighs-
    Anyway, I am all about integration these days as my phone is my calendar. Now that I do not have an iPhone, however, syncing certain Mac-only apps with my phone is awkward. MobileMe would probably do the trick but it seems not to exist anymore, of course.

    My whole issue is that while Mountain Lion looks worthy, I do not want to upgrade my old hunk of junk when I am probably just going to get a new computer.
    And the less Apple products I own, the less I feel like I need them. While I’ve been with them for so long, I concur that it is best to buy the more coast-efficient products.

    Is it worth it to update from a Snow Leopard to Mountain Lion on a computer that is not in the best of shape (my harddrive has given out a few times and luckily restored a few times as well)? Would it increase performance and possibly smooth out some of these errors or is my computer truly doomed (I am prepared for the worst)?

  4. I have a 5-year-old MacBook Pro that is slowly but surely dying (it currently needs a new screen and keyboard so I am propping it up and using a wireless keyboard). It costs as much for a new PC laptop than it will to fix my screen so that is what I have been considering, in all honesty.

    I shirked away from Lion after hearing about all its incompatibilities with Windows stuff and although the automatic saving sounds like a godsend, I just wasn’t bought. Now that Moutain Lion is here, it seems incredibly appealing.

    My main interest and what brought me here is of course iCloud.

  5. jackleman

    Great, one step in the wrong direction. I want a computer not a tweeter.

    The whole world isn’t addicted to tweeting and facebooking, and even less are interested in reading all the nonsense that comes out of all the tweeters and facebookers. I reckon those who are addicted to social media are also those whom are addicted to soap operas and reality tv – anything to stir that drama brain into being consumed by the content society feeds you.

    No thanks apple, i dont need your twittering facebook update.

  6. Mountain Lion is the first upgrade I’m doing (on one of my Macs) to solve a problem rather than for new features.

    My company bought a new dev system back in December, a top-of-the-line iMac with maxed-out CPU and enough RAM and HD space that I can run half a dozen VMWare Fusion VMs at the same time. As an upgrade from my (still solidly working) Early 2008 iMac, it’s been a joy — except for one thing.

    This Mid-2011 iMac loses the Wi-Fi connection regularly, when neither the 2008 iMac, a Mid-2009 MacBook Pro nor a Mid-2011 Mac mini Server have the problem. I’m running developer prerelease builds of 10.8 on the 2008 iMac and the MBP; the mini is still on Lion until I get the new iMac moved over.

    I hope that Mountain Lion fixes the Wi-Fi problems; this is a constantly-used work system, and the seemingly random interruptions are both highly uncharacteristic of my experience with Macs and extremely disruptive.

    But I’ll still take a flaky Mac over apparently flawless Linux or Windows systems… too many years of banging my head trying to get work done on those.

  7. JustDl Betty

    Please don’t flame me for not caring about messages, sharing, and the new mobile features, I just don’t care about them. Eye one and Tivo to Mac along with Apple TV did what Air Play does for me, I had no problem downloading and installing it. I’m would like to turn off the notifications, don’t care about Facebook, Messages etc, I am just happy with the OS performance improvements if that makes any sense. The dictation feature goes through Apple servers, so I am not sure I like that either. The upgrade was worth the performance improvements 200% definitely. I don’t like the new Safari and they said I’d have to put the former version back in from a backup. I’m not willing to do that just now. Firefox is fine.

  8. Derrick Oien

    I am struggling with Messages. I was a big iChat user and used it to interface with Facebook chat and Google Talk among others. I am guessing I will get use to it and it may be primarily a layout issue but right now it seems real wonky to me.

  9. ravedog

    I noticed that the top image shows Facebook in the share menu. Did I miss something because I cannot find where to add my Facebook account to the list of share services…

  10. iamRod

    Running it on 4 different dated computers. So far, Mountain Lion is solid and faster on all of them. Especially an older Aluminum MBP. Much less beach ball time. Certainly worth the 20.00

  11. hepucoa

    I’m still impressed by the fact that you have free dictation software built into an operating system.

    Even now, Dragon Dictate for Mac costs $200. Yes DDfM is more fully featured, but its worth noting that you get essentially 80% of the capability for $20 (or less if you’re doing the upgrade for other reasons).

  12. Shock Me

    I’m having a GREAT experience with Mountain Lion. The spinning pinwheel of doom has disappeared for all my applications except for the Mac App Store. Documents in the cloud has made it dead simple to work on whatever device is closest.

  13. This is all mostly fluff. How does the OS perform in general compared to Lion and Snow Leopard for everyday things? Show some performance benchmarks. I downgraded back to Snow Leopard for performance reasons on my mid 2009 Macbook Pro. Lion was just too sluggish in comparison. Has that been remedied in ML? I don’t want to waste $20 (granted, cheap compared to Windows upgrades) and end up going through the grief of downgrading again if it is too slow on my hardware.

  14. I’m disappointed. My late 2007 Mac hardware qualifies for Mountain Lion. But it doesn’t qualify for Airplay mirroring? What’s up with that? Airplay mirroring was the reason I wanted Mountain Lion. NOT buying it now.

  15. Om, if you talk to Apple PR can you ask whether they’re going to distribute Mountain Lion on a USB Thumb Drive as they did (rather obscurely) with Lion? It was way easier for those of us with multiple Macs.

  16. Tim Acheson

    WARNING: Apple’s new “Mountain Lion” OS is infected with a serious virus.

    – Allows others to access the computer
    – Drops more malware
    – Downloads code from the internet
    – Reduces system security
    – Dropped by malware
    – Leaves files on computer
    – Enables remote access

    More info:

    Apple is institutionally complacent about security. They famously never even attend the regular Black Hat security conference which everyone else in the industry supports. Apple customers are therefore advised to exercise special caution to ensure that Apple’s negligence doesn’t leave them with a serious problem.

  17. Karl Klept

    Funny how all these people who insisted mobile is a vastly different experience from desktop to justify developing unique, new mobile experiences now for some reason think that it’s great that desktop should more closely emulate mobile.

    • Shock Me

      The problem with your thesis is that these aren’t “mobile” behaviors. For example, the increasing numbers of multi-touch trackpad gestures leverage the iOS experience in a way that doesn’t involve touching the screen.

      In many ways, this is just the user breaking out of the browser mindset to discover that all of his or her apps are, to a greater or lesser extent, hyper-specialized browsers.

      I fully expect the trackpad surface to grow in size to accommodate ten fingers worth of multi-touch interaction.

      • I respectfully disagree! I didn’t have all these behavior until recently when I actually started using iPad for most of my on the go computing. Today, notifications seem like a better way to interact with inflow of information and I was trained by iPhone and iPad. I think it is hard to go specific but I would argue that mobile devices have redefined our interaction expectation with machines.