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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

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RE: Newsflash
By TakinYourPoints on 2/17/2012 7:13:19 PM , Rating: 2
You braindead idiots that buy Macs don't actually really need to do anything on a computer...or else you'd actually buy a computer, not a toy.

Actually, I do use my Mac for work, OS X and Linux are standard in the film industry. NONE of my friends at Google use Windows, they all work in OS X. All of my web developer friends develop on OS X (nearly all of their tools like Apache/PHP/Rails/etc are built into the OS already), and they run Windows in a VM when they need to test on other browsers. One of my best friends is an ex-IBMer who is now a lead engineer at a big security firm. Again, OS X development platform.

There is a massive advantage to having a UNIX based operating system that has centralized support. A lot of real work is done on it, believe it or not.

My DIY Windows machine is a hobby and a "toy", basically a launcher for Steam and my games. It is cool though, I love both, it's just that I use one platform for work and and one for play.

If by "real jobs" though you mean data entry 101 and Visual Basic, then yes, you'll be on Windows. You'll also be crying yourself to sleep every night.

RE: Newsflash
By Motoman on 2/18/2012 9:59:28 AM , Rating: 1
Oh right - because you and your idiot friends managed to struggle by on Macs for work, that means the other 99.99% of business computers don't matter. Because they're all Windows.

Self-righteous douchebags like you love to trot out the "content creation is better on a Mac" line of BS. Which is, well, BS. There is nothing that can be done on a Mac that can't be done better, and cheaper, on a PC. This is an irrefutable fact.

...which, like all facts, is unimportant to you. You are invalid.

RE: Newsflash
By TakinYourPoints on 2/18/2012 11:28:39 PM , Rating: 2
Ah yes, my "idiot friends" who work at Google, who do back end web dev work, who do security work for major corporations, all this before we even get to content creation.

Yup, what a bunch of morons.

You are hilarious. Keep pushing second rate products to your second rate customers at whatever backwater shop you work at.

RE: Newsflash
By maven81 on 2/18/2012 11:49:55 PM , Rating: 2
Anecdotal evidence works both ways. I've worked for large production companies and none of the developers used a mac. This should be a no brainer considering that while a lot of the tools are available, most of the testing still needs to be done on PCs. Virtual machines? Have you actually tried testing things that way?! Granted as a designer I'm forced to work on a mac, but all the software I use is also available on PCs and in fact some works better and appears sooner (photoshop 64bit came out for PC before it came out for Mac).

I may not not know people at Google, but I do know people at ILM and Digital Domain and while they use linux, they don't use OSX that much. But why stop there, PIXAR itself is not a mac shop. What does that say?! Jobs was in charge of Pixar for crying out loud.

But regardless, look at the stuff you're talking about, websites, games, animations? I'll be impressed when banks rely on macs for their transactions. When scientists use macs for their research, or when engineers at mission control use them to launch rockets. When macs run things like traffic lights, power plants, air traffic control... Some of these are linux, some are unix, some are mainframes! And far more then any apple troll like you will admit are PCs. Those are the systems that make the world go round. And your attempt to claim that OSX is unix based therefore it's the same as any other unix variant is ridiculous.

RE: Newsflash
By TakinYourPoints on 2/20/2012 4:45:08 AM , Rating: 2
As I said before, the film industry runs on Linux as well as OS X. I work in live production but have worked with Digital Domain many times, and I'm completely aware that they are a Linux shop. It makes sense given that Unix legacy in VFX goes all the way back to IRIX over 20 years ago on SGI hardware.

It also makes sense that Macs will be used given that they are able to interface with this infrastructure very well, ie - someone checking in remotely from his OS X desktop through Terminal as I've witnessed many times. Most of the high end shops in post-production I see are a mix of Mac and Linux.

Either way, the point of my argument isn't that Mac work is at the expense of Windows (lord knows that I know lots of production in Maya is done in Windows). It was simply that OS X is actually a common platform for work, that's it. I can't swing a dead cat without seeing Macs here.

As for the other things you brought up (air traffic control, power plants, banking, things like stock market exchanges), those mainly run on Linux. I don't understand what point you're trying to make. I'm obviously not saying that everything is running on Macs, that is ridiculous. It is also silly to think that everything (outside of games, my love) runs on Windows. As I said above, a lot of the world runs on Linux. Plugging Macs into that world (especially when it comes to people I know who do back-end web development) is logical.

RE: Newsflash
By TakinYourPoints on 2/20/2012 4:51:27 AM , Rating: 2
But regardless, look at the stuff you're talking about, websites, games, animations?

Also, it seems silly to marginalize a platform based on this. Media and technology are huge reasons why California generates so much GDP. Just because medicine, research, air traffic control, banking, etc, runs on Linux doesn't automatically mean that other platforms are not important or that they aren't responsible for aiding real work in other fields. Games are the #1 reason I and many people on tech forums run Windows, and I wouldn't dare say that Windows is a poor platform just because of that.

Where are we drawing a line on "real work"?

Either way, I completely agree that the world runs on unix derivations. If you go back it is one of the first points I made, and I really don't understand the angry tone of your post.

RE: Newsflash
By TakinYourPoints on 2/20/2012 5:01:14 AM , Rating: 2
I need to condense these into one post before hitting "post comment". :)

And far more then any apple troll like you will admit are PCs.

I've built my own PCs since Windows 95 days. My current gaming machine is an i7 860 with SLI GTX 460 cards running a 256GB Intel SSD inside a Corsair 800D. I've been using MSDOS and Windows for over twice as long as I've been familiar with Macs.

The last thing I am is an Apple fanboy, I'm pretty platform agnostic. I just use what works, and both platforms have their own strengths and weaknesses. I also know how Macs are used in the real world, and when I see FUD from mental midgets like Motoman being posted as fact, I respond. That's it.

"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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