Why I think OS X Mountain Lion is worth an upgrade

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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 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 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 suite. Like Google’s Chrome, 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:

 
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