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The new operating system is named after the North America's "big cat", the cougar, which is sometimes referred to as a "Mountain Lion".  (Source: HD Wallpapers)
Apple's latest PC OS gets even more iOS-like

Today Apple, Inc. (AAPL) is the only real challenger to Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) (perhaps) natural monopoly in the personal operating system space.  Apple has its work cut out for it challenging Microsoft's slick Windows 8, which launches later this year [1][2][3][4][5][6].  In many ways Windows 8 "out-Apple's" Apple, adopting a eye-catching new rich multimedia user interface, the Metro UI.  And the new OS isn't just eye candy -- it's brimming with hard base-level technical innovation as well.

I. Mountain Lion Prepares to Roam the Neighborhood

Apple isn't scared, though.  It's continuing to march to the beat of its own drummer and is preparing for the launch of OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, the successor to OS X 10.7 Lion.

A small note -- this will be the first Apple OS X OS to drop the "Mac" from its name.  In other words, OS X 10.7 was "Mac OS X 10.7", formally, while OS X 10.8 is simply "OS X 10.8".

While Apple is much maligned by critics who say its operating systems are glorified system updates, in reality Microsoft and Apple's approaches aren’t that far apart.  Microsoft, with Windows 8, has moved to a 3-to-4-year development cycle.

This narrowly mirrors Apple's development cycle.  Apple follows a four-year model in which the first year sees a major release, the second year is skipped, the third year sees a minor release, and the fourth year is skipped, devoted to the next major release.

For example, OS X 10.5 "Leopard" -- a major release -- aired in Oct. 2007.  OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard" -- a minor release -- aired in Aug. 2009.  And OS X 10.7 "Lion" -- the next major release -- dropped in July 2011.

II. I'm Bringing Apps Back (Yea!)

"Mountain Lion" falls into the role of the minor release (and to boot, Lion wasn't as much of a "major release" as most had hoped), but nonetheless offers some interesting improvements.  Namely, it continues Apple's push to make OS X more iOS-like, largely on application level.

Much like Google Inc. (GOOG), Apple is pushing synced web-connected apps, which offers a redundant, contiguous flow of work, helping to prevent against computer crashes, power outages, and other evils.  The approach also allows you to take your work on the go more easily, by accessing your current PC stream from your tablet or smartphone.

Apple is retiring its iChat messaging hub, in favor for the OS X implementation of iOS's iMessage, dubbed simply "Messages".  The new hub will sync with your mobile hubs and allow you to carry out a cross-platform conversation with your friends.

OS X Mountain Lion Messages

Google Chat and AIM screennames/friends lists are both supported in the new hub, allowing you to easily import your contacts list.  The client is capable of sending a variety of multimedia, including documents, photos, and HD movies, with a maximum file size of 100 MB.  Apple promises full encryption on the messages and has baked into the software receipt notification, to let you know when your friend received that "Like a Boss" video.

The revamped Messages app takes advantage of the extra screen real estate by adding user avatars (pictures) next to the traditional "speech bubble" message graphical style (see: iPhone).  These messages fall in the right pane.  The left pane offers an overview of your currently running message threads.  Threads with unread messages are indicated by a blue dot placed next to your buddy's picture.  Multi-person chats are supported.  And you can fully search your whole chat history, via the search bar on the top of the left pane.

You can try out Messages right now via a Snow Leopard beta.

Aside from Messages, Apple also is bringing GameCenter to OS X.  The new platform will allow you to play multi-player games against users on iPhones and iPads.  This is similar to the tract Microsoft is pursuing with Xbox Live's multi-platform gaming with Windows and Windows Phone gamers.

Of course, like its rival Microsoft, Apple's approach is predicated on developers porting their apps to OS X, most importantly revamping the controls to support a keyboard-and-mouse-equipped device.

Other iOS imports including Notes (think a slightly gimped version of Microsoft OneNote) and Reminders (a to-do-list app).  You can pin reminders or notes to your desktop for easy access.  

III. Security and Notifications

In perhaps its most overt acknowledgement of growing security concerns, yet, Apple is incorporating a web app vetting security guard called "GateKeeper".  Web devs can apply for security certifications for their web apps, similar to submitting an app to the App Store.  Untrusted apps will not be permitted to run without special user overrides and any developers found to be doing mischief will be promptly banned from the party.

While Apple's traditional approach to security problems on the Mac is to pretend they don't exist, the company finally appears to be waking up to the danger of third party platforms.  After all, for all that it's maligned, true Windows-specific security flaws are in their minority.  Some flaws are also sourced to Microsoft core apps (such as Internet Explorer), but the lion's share of them come from third party platforms like Adobe Systems Inc.'s (ADBE) PDFs/Flash or Oracle Corp.'s (ORCL) Java runtime.  

Likewise, Apple's base OS has had relatively few serious security holes, traditionally, but its apps such as Safari have been the source of some vulnerabilities.  And third party platforms -- as with Windows -- representing the biggest risk to user security in OS X.

Apple is also dropping iOS-like Notifications into the box.  Notifications came to Apple in iOS 5, basically a copy of Google's Android notifications, with some improvements.  To access them, you can either two finger downward swipe on the right side of your keypad (a multi-touch gesture) or click on the upper right-hand corner, as the element takes the current place of searchlight.


Users can customize how they want to receive notifications, including turning them off.  Notifications will be tied to Game Center, Calendar, Reminders, App Store, Safari, Messages, Mail, and other core apps.  Additionally, there's an an API to allow third party developers to make their own custom notifications, such as application update reminders.

IV. Share Sheets, Chinese, AirPlay Mirroring

Rounding out the list of what's new, Mountain Lion will feature improved support for Chinese.  Chinese speakers will enjoy improved word and phrase suggestions, enhanced handwriting recognition, better autocorrect, and the ability to type in English without any extra keyboard configuration.  Apple made the politically correct mood of making, Inc. (BINC) the search homepage for Chinese Macs.  It also includes Share Sheets support for Chinese websites such as Sina Weibo (analogous to Facebook/Twitter), Youku (video hosting), and Tudou (video hosting).

What are Share Sheets?  They're a new GUI element built into the APIs of Mountain Lion.  It's an ever-so-slightly non-intuitive name, in that the "sheet" only appears after you click on the special Share Sheet button.  So the Share Sheet is more of a share button.

OS X Share Sheet
The new "Share Sheet" [Image Source: Engadget]

It reappears in multiple apps, with actions changing slightly.  But its general intent is to allow you to seamlessly share content -- say an article or an image you're working on -- without having to journey over to a web browser.  Expect the standard fare -- Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. to be supported here.

The possibilities are thus far stifled by the fact that Apple appears to be trying to avoid using the sites and services of Microsoft and its legal rival Google -- especially the latter party. Thus it's unsure whether you'll be able to share with one-click from iMovie to YouTube via a Share Sheet button.

One final capability of Mountain Lion that was demoed was AirPlay Mirroring.  Almost identical to the current implementation on the iPad, the feature will allow you to stream 720p video from your computer to your Apple TV, which in turn displays the results on your digital television.

Of course AirPlay Mirroring relies on you having AppleTV, and AppleTVs have not sold well.  Thus its utility may be somewhat limited, but it will be appreciated by the small, but loyal AppleTV crowd.
AirPlay Mirroring

Content will be able to stream directly from iTunes, reportedly, but it will black out your laptop screen.  The odd move appears to be a concession by Apple to big media, who are unwilling to grant licenses to have two active screens playing the content at the same time.

V. Why OS X Still Matters

OS X 10.8 doesn't reinvent the wheel, but like Windows 8 it represents the transformation of the PC OS into a richer, more mobile-like experience.  At its core is improved multi-platform syncing, and better notifications/reminders.

Apple's operating systems aren't for everybody, particularly due to the fact that it persists in forcing a first-party-only hardware model for its operating system, zealously killing any would-be Mac clones.  But Apple is pushing the envelope somewhat in terms of OS usability and design, and in doing so is acting as catalyst and motivator to Microsoft.  This motivation in turn has pushed Microsoft to make better products such as Windows 7 and Windows 8.  

Apple also plays an important role as a middleman for some of these innovations, which start at the Linux level, but suffer in obscurity until Apple gives them a higher profile.  In that regard, it is somewhat like Google, in giving Unix-like operating systems a loud voice in a market long dominated by Windows.

In that regard Apple may only have around 5 percent of the market [source], at last count, but it's a pivotal force.

Looking ahead Apple has an interesting decision to make with its next major release from a branding perspective.  OS X 10.9 will be a major release, likely launching in 2013-2014.  It will likely bear the name "Bobcat" as this is the only "big cat" name not to have graced an Apple product, yet.  However Apple may opt to turn OS X 10.9 into OS X 11 -- as otherwise it will be stuck with the oddball OS X 10.10 minor release in 2016-2017.

(Note: Mountain Lion is another name for cougar... a name which has taken on some different connontations over the years.)

We shall see which road Apple takes.

Sources: Engadget, Loop Insight, The Verge, Apple [Messages beta]

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

Oh goody...
By LordSojar on 2/16/2012 2:00:37 PM , Rating: 0
A more iOS environment on a DESKTOP. Yes... because, people are so thrilled about Metro UI on Windows 8 being required for desktops and laptops sans-touch screens... oh right, they hate it.

This is the first step in the wrong direction. iOS is already an aging OS in terms of usability. App systems for modern OSes are fine and dandy, but not when it takes over the entire thing, and especially not with Apple's walled garden approach.

Oh? You made a torrent app? Yeah... that can be used for piracy, so NONE OF THOSE ALLOWED. This, despite the many MANY legitimate and legal purposes you can use a torrent application for.

Sorry, Apple is going down a path that will restrict users more and more... and the idiot masses will eat it up like candy because it's pretty. Then, one day, they will be sitting there, and a really neat new program will be released with a feature that potentially has a feature within a feature within a feature that could violate Apple's asinine policies, and BANG... NO APP FOR YOU.

Yep, that's the world we should all live in! OSX is already shady enough and limited in scope, closing it off even more = stupid. Thanks, but no thanks.

RE: Oh goody...
By messele on 2/16/12, Rating: -1
RE: Oh goody...
By Iaiken on 2/16/2012 6:48:00 PM , Rating: 1
Silly messele...

Apple knows that you can't start a power play by invading Poland, you have to build up to it. One step at a time.

RE: Oh goody...
By TEAMSWITCHER on 2/16/2012 2:17:58 PM , Rating: 1
It's still no where near as bad as Windows 8. Mac developers will follow Apple's lead and create Mac OS versions of mobile apps that can run in a movable/resizable window -or- full screen if the user prefers. Metro apps can only run in full screen. or in the small docked view mode, with a maximum of only two Apps visible at any one time.

RE: Oh goody...
By messele on 2/16/2012 2:29:15 PM , Rating: 2
Plus, Apple already previewed full screen switching for OS X apps long before Win 8. Nothing wrong with being inspired by a great idea but let's not forget who's playing 'follow the leader' here.

RE: Oh goody...
By Just Tom on 2/16/2012 4:21:34 PM , Rating: 3
Heck, Amiga had full screen switching almost 30 years ago.

RE: Oh goody...
By messele on 2/17/2012 2:10:26 AM , Rating: 2
Indeed, though it was a bit horrid to use they got their first. It's one of those things that was just begging for a touch pad as opposed to being invoked by a (triple?) key combo.

Still very innovative for its day and it was a proper API.

RE: Oh goody...
By Just Tom on 2/17/2012 7:16:14 AM , Rating: 2
I think it was right amiga key and M but it has been 20 years since I fired up my Amiga. I wonder if it still works.

RE: Oh goody...
By kattanna on 2/16/2012 2:43:03 PM , Rating: 2
A more iOS environment on a DESKTOP.

apple has for some time now been moving towards iOS as the platform for everything from their phones to soon their laptops/desktops.

in a 2-3 years they will be launching their new laptops using their own ARM CPU running not OSX, but iOS.

RE: Oh goody...
By hexxthalion on 2/17/2012 1:59:09 PM , Rating: 2
nope, it's the other way around, brining iOS features to Mac. All iOS 'features' in Mountain Lion are:

- notification centre - was needed
- reminders - was part of calendar and standalone app makes more sense
- notes as standalone app - is part of email app currently)
- messages - updated iChat client with support for iMessage
- share facility - nice to have this, makes sharing simpler
- twitter integration and flickr and vimeo for that matter, APIs will be available for 3rd party support
- did I forget something?

I really don't see this as OS X is becoming iOS. it's more giving iOS users more familiar interface on Mac and also ability to work/use basic set of apps on both platforms and are synced via iCloud.

RE: Oh goody...
By hexxthalion on 2/17/2012 2:03:00 PM , Rating: 2
forgot Airplay

what's still missing is iBooks and I don't know why

RE: Oh goody...
By TakinYourPoints on 2/17/2012 1:59:25 AM , Rating: 2
Except that they aren't enforcing a walled garden. As usual, people, most of whom don't even use Macs, are overreacting and spreading FUD.

Regarding Gatekeeper's default settings, any applications that are from the App Store or signed with a developer certificate (the free one you get for registering with Apple) can be launched without any warning. If you want to launch an app that hasn't been signed then you either get a UAC style warning, or you can just turn Gatekeeper off globally.


The entire point is that Apple wants to be able to blacklist developers who write malware. Mountain Lion does a check of that blacklist once a day. Without this security method, Apple can only blacklist app identifiers, which take 5 seconds to change, and even the malware can adapt to work around that (simply hijack safe identifiers). But there is no easy way for malware to hijack other developer's certificates because they are encrypted like any other security certificate is.

In one fell swoop Apple gains control of easily blocking malware, all while making it brain-dead simple for developers since they can be whitelisted without even needing to release their software through the App Store. If a developer chooses not to get on the whitelist, they can still release their software and users (the same ones technically savvy enough to turn off Gatekeeper or manually dismiss it per application) can install it.

It is a great approach, and I think it would be fantastic if Apple adopted it for iOS.

RE: Oh goody...
By TakinYourPoints on 2/17/2012 2:39:27 AM , Rating: 2
To be clear, app signing to protect users from malware is 100% the way to go to solve that problem. Some Linux distributions have been doing this for years already, and it is a good next step to push it to the developer level.

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer

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