Mountain Lion: Is the Upgrade Worth it?
(sorry it’s taken me so long to get this out… I’ve had it written for quite a while but ran into some WordPress formatting issues that Matt at digitonik helped me out with.)
I’ve been using Mountain Lion for about a week now and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I’ve been using a Mac 15+ years and have traditionally upgraded to the new OS right away. The biggest jump was from 9.1 to OS X. Any of you that were around during those days no doubt remember the struggles and challenges. Since then, upgrades have been relatively smooth except for Snow Leopard to Lion.
I was on Lion, the release before Mountain Lion, on Day 1 and immediately found that I couldn’t connect to WiFi (biggest problem) among a bunch of other small problems… Apple fixed most of these issues in the coming days and it eventually stabilized and has been a great OS. That being said, I was a bit nervous to jump from Lion to Mountain Lion but I’ve been pleasantly surprised.
Every time Apple rolls out a new OS, they always boast 200+ new features… that’s usually a bit daunting and who is nerdy enough to actually sit down and read about them all? Well I do, every time, so I thought I might pick out a few things that I think matter…
Upgrading is easy, just go to > App Store > Click on Mountain Lion. It will take awhile to download the file and then reboot and install itself.
Stuff I Like…
AirPlay Mirroring to AppleTV
In my opinion, this is one of the most awesome additions in Mountain Lion. We’ve had the ability to wirelessly mirror our iPhones & iPads to HD TVs via AppleTV forever now, but the ability to mirror a Mac has only been possible with the help of a great little 3rd party app called AirParrot. Fortunately, Mountain Lion has this feature built-in and it works really well. Simply select the AirPlay icon in the top menu bar and select the AppleTV you wish to mirror too (must be on the same WiFi network) and boom, your Mac screen is live on your TV.
This is great for sharing pictures, presentations, websites or whatever with friends and family but be warned, it’s not ideal for streaming HD movies for entertainment… it works really well but if you are looking to watch an action packed Hollywood film, I think you’ll find the quality is not quite up to par.
The new Mail is a great improvement. I’ve noticeed in Mountain Lion it being significantly more stable & faster. Search is way better. Up til now, my experience with Mail search has always been subpar in that it’s been slow, inconsistent and sometimes just useless. However, in Mountain Lion it seems to work beautifully. I get the results that I know are there, it searches across all the boxes when I ask too, and I never find myself being forced to manually hunt down messages cause Mail search doesn’t find them (used to happen all the time in previous OS’s.)
In addition to general improvements, they’ve also added a few cool features. VIPs are a major highlight… you can now select certain users and nominate them as a VIP. After doing this, any email sent from this person will be sorted into a VIP list in your sidebar. This helps sort through all the fluff and help you focus on the things you need to see first. I love it. Mail integrates with Notification Center too, so if you want to see an email as soon as it pops up, that’s no problem.
You can also click the top title bar of the messages list to scroll to top (just like on iPhone.)
In Lion, they changed the Mail layout a good bit and I don’t like it… I like the original layout. Fortunately, we can go back by choosing Mail > Preferences > Viewing > Use Classic Layout.
New in Mountain Lion is individual progress bars on each folder… nice because you can see what is taking up the time, and also cancel items individually, instead of canceling an entire transfer in the transfer dialog box.
I love that you can sign-in to most of your social apps in one place in System Preferences > Mail, Contacts & Calendars. Here you can sign-in to Twitter, Vimeo, Flickr, Gmail, iChat and more… once and for all, so you don’t have to do it all the time in different browsers and applications. This also is used by the Share buttons that have been put everywhere in the OS. You can now tweet content from just about everywhere on the Mac using these buttons.
Apple has replaced it’s iChat with Messages. It’s basically just like iChat with a few great little changes, one of which is the ability to communicate over the iMessage protocol… which means you can send messages to iPhones and iPads, from your Mac. It’s great for when you having a text conversation with someone and you are sitting at your desk… instead picking up your phone everytime they send you a message, you can just reply in using Messages.
It’s also great for travelers outside of US coverage because it enables text-message style conversations without paying per message for roaming.
Safari has some super cool updates too. They’ve adopted the Chrome method of one text entry field for URL and search instead of a field for web address and a separate one for search … it’s now clean and fast and makes sense.
Another very cool thing is you can sync your open Safari tabs with you iPhone & iPad and additional Macs. First you need to go to > System Preferences > iCloud > Safari. After enabling that checkbox, a cloud icon will pop up in your browser and allow you to see the tabs you have open across multiple devices. They’ve also re-vamped the way the predictive search list works and it’s much better than before.
Power Nap is a super cool new feature that unfortunately only works on the newest MacBook Pros and recent MacBook Airs. It basically allows your mac to receive new messages, sync photos, backup Time Machine and more while the computer is sleeping. You have to activate it and download the latest SMC update to make it work, but you should definitely check it out if you are on one of the latest edition Macs.
More info here: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT5394
Mountain Lion also integrates voice dictation everywhere. You simply double tap the function button and begin speaking. It actually works really well in fact to demonstrate works I used it to type this entire paragraph!
Although it’s much more seamlessly integrated, I still can’t say I think it’s going to be widely used… yet. It definitely is a significant improvement to the past and I think it will only grow more and more popular until voice is widely used for text entry, navigation and more.
iCal is no longer iCal, it’s now Calendar. They’ve added a few things that should have always been there… for instance, when adding a new event and selecting the date in the pop-up, there’s a mini-calendar to pick it the event date on a calendar instead of typing in the date. Also, search works a lot better it has great result suggestions and has token support.
Stuff I Don’t Like…
Hidden Status Bar
Remember the sweet little bar at the bottom of Finder windows that had the slider to adjust the size of icons & also number of items in the folder & remaining available disk space? This is something that was actually changed with the release of Lion, and I’ve heard from many people that they really wish it was still there. I was curious if they’d bring it back in Mountain Lion by default but they haven’t.
The good news is, it’s there, just hiding. To turn it back on, in the Finder choose the menu View > Show Status Bar… or simply hit Command-/ to toggle it on and off.
This was actually changed in Lion… Apple has really been working to mesh the iOS for mobile devices and the Mac OS… In some instances that works great, in others it just isn’t right. iOS is great because it offers corrective spelling for the common typos… but it’s just not right on Mac yet. It seems to be a bit over aggressive for use on a Mac and it changes things so quickly you might not even notice.
To turn it off, go to > System Preferences > Language & Text > Text and then uncheck Correct Spelling Automatically.
Pretty cool. I like the idea of being able to tweet embedded in the OS, though I’ll never us it. Notification Center is a lot like Growl but more integrated and streamlined in the OS.
You can Option-Click the Notification Center icon in the top right and it turns off all pop ups (ie: for a keynote presentation or any time you don’t want to be interrupted.)
I really wish you could turn it off all together though. I’m in the habit of throwing my mouse into the top right corner to Spotlight search… but now when I aimlessly throw my mouse up there it lands on the Notification Center instead.
The two alternatives:
1) Use a keystroke to trigger Spotlight. By default, Command-Space pulls up Spotlight…but any keyboard using creative uses Command-Space for Zoom in Photoshop. I reprogram it in System Preferences > Keyboard & Mouse > Keyboard shortcuts and I use “Option-Z” to pull up Spotlight.
2) Disable notification center all together using Terminal. This is what I did cause I am pleased with Growl and I don’t like something new commandeering my corner.
To do this, switch to finder and choose menu Go > Utilities and then select Terminal. Then paste in
sudo launchctl remove com.apple.notificationcenterui.agent launchctl remove com.apple.notificationcenterui.agent
Then hit Enter.
This will completely remove and disable notification center. To restore, paste in:
sudo launchctl submit -l com.apple.notificationcenterui.agent -p /System/Library/CoreServices/NotificationCenter.app/Contents/MacOS/NotificationCenter
Then hit Enter.
Additional details about the process here: http://www.chrisnovoa.com/os-x-mountain-lion-disable-notification-center/
So…is it worth it?
Absolutely. Increased stability, improved UX and all around more reliability are exactly what I wanted and what I got. If you use Mail, you’ll find Mail is a great upgrade, not because of anything significant but because of a few little things that just make it better.
Everything in Mountain Lion seems to work like you always wished they did in Lion… and frankly, they work the way they SHOULD have in Lion. At $20, it’s small price to pay for the increased ease-of-use and all around peace of mind that your operating on a stable machine.
PS: Regardless of the OS your on, you might find this little Thunderbolt to FireWire Adapter super useful, especially if you’re using one of the new MBPs or MacBook Airs: http://www.macnn.com/news/106564