A NEW operating system is always something of an adventure; less so with Apple's systems because their central aim is always to be intuitive. But the thrill often comes from finding, hidden under the hood of major innovations, lots of little tricks and shortcuts to be enjoyed.
I have been using Mountain Lion, aka Mac OS X 10.8, for nearly three weeks. The transition from Lion was painless, done via the Mac App Store (an icon in the iMac's Dock) and the donation from my iTunes account of $20.99. Remember when a new OS cost $100 or more?
There was also a teensy benefit for Telstra - the download is a whopping four gigabytes - however, once bought, Mountain Lion can be installed without further charge on other Macs, either by a second download or, to save paying again for bandwidth, by making an installer thumb drive, a process requiring perseverance and care. Check out ArsTechnica at bit.ly/NaSkYJ or TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog) at bit.ly/SaKq0s.
Mountain Lion is indeed full of good things. It tidies up less-than-silky aspects of Lion, but also signals a further integration of Apple platforms. It requires the 10.6.8 version of Snow Leopard or Mac OS X Lion for installation and will not install on any iMac earlier than mid-2007, any MacBook built before late 2008 or any MacBook Pro built earlier than mid-2007. MacBook Airs must be late 2008 or newer.
Some new features, such as Power Nap and AirPlay Mirroring, need machines built since the middle of last year. Power Nap, for the moment, is limited to MacBook Retina models and mid-2011 or later MacBook Airs. Click on Mountain Lion in the Mac App Store for more details.
There are work-arounds of the AirPlay limitation on older Macs. Les Posen, president of iMug, Melbourne's Internet Macintosh User Group, suggests looking at AirParrot (airparrot.com).
The biggest thing about Mountain Lion, I think, is that it even more closely embraces the mobile OS, which is now up to iOS 5, but soon to appear in heftier form as iOS 6, along with a new iPhone 5 and (guessing) an iPad mini.
If you have not yet signed on to iCloud, perhaps now is the time. It is at the core of Mountain Lion's innovations and direction. Having all your stuff available wherever you are, whenever you want it, is what computing is now all about. That can only become more pervasive as we move into technology such as near-field communication payments and other services.
Documents in the cloud is but one example. It is possible to write and then edit a document on the Mac, say, and see the file and subsequent amendments appear on your iPad and iPhone. Messages on the Mac, adapted from iMessage on the mobile devices, allows starting a conversation on the desktop and continuing it on, say, the tram or in a coffee shop (free Wi-Fi, of course) with the iPad or iPhone. Similarly, people can share photos, videos, contacts, web links and documents with anyone who has a Mountain Lion Mac, an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.
There's a new Share button on the Finder's toolbar - a little box with an alias arrow with which to share pretty much any file by email, Messages or AirDrop. The same service is available for Mail attachments if you Quick Look them.
Notifications for mobile devices now work through Mountain Lion, with new mail and other arrivals appearing in panels on the top right of the Mac's screen.
Security is improved on Mountain Lion by the advent of Gatekeeper, which will block suspicious downloads or, rather, give you control over whether you want them or not.
Twitter, Flickr and Vimeo are built into Mountain Lion, but not YouTube, though you can, of course, just go to it via Safari, Chrome, Firefox or Opera. This apparent snubbing of YouTube, now owned by Google, is likely to be repeated when Apple replaces Google Maps with its own global mapping application when it releases iOS 6 in September.
And one more very useful feature: Mountain Lion allows Time Machine to back up alternately to two external hard drives - back-ups for back-ups. Great!
In short, Mountain Lion is a much stronger, sleeker and powerful cat than Lion and, at 20 gold ones, a real bargain.