Apple’s OS X Mountain Lion: A triumphant return to form

One of the most pinged articles on this blog is a review I wrote last August, entitled ‘OS X Lion: Apple’s Vista moment‘.

At the time, I certainly wasn’t alone in feeling disappointed with Apple’s inability to fix issues which had plagued the Mac for years, while adding features which seemed surplus to requirement, useless (Lunchpad, for example) or just plain buggy.

Not only that, Lion made everything much more sluggish. For example, having a photo organiser application like gBrowser open at the same time as Photoshop, used so much RAM while hogging the processor, that having any other apps open at the same time was like swimming through treacle. You simply couldn’t have the usual fleet of creative apps open at the same time as Mail, Safari and Twitter, without slowing the whole machine down to a frustrating crawl.

And it wasn’t just the big apps, which traditionally require plenty of RAM, which OS X Lion seemed to struggle with. I had to start writing long posts, emails and forum comments in TextEdit.app, instead of Safari, in case I ever needed to use the Shift + Command + D float-over version of Dictionary.app, for fear that it would crash the entire browser and lose what I’d written. And the least said about the stability of Spotlight, Finder the better.

Ding dong the wicked witch is dead
Read my lips: OS X Mountain Lion fixes all of that! It’s like having my old computer back again — in a really good way. My main machine is a mid-2007 iMac with 4GB of RAM. Under Lion it was really beginning to show its age. Under Mountain Lion, it’s as fast as it was when new.

The external USB hard drives don’t spin up every time I go to use the Dock, as the system desperately goes in search of more and more swap space. Launching Mail.app doesn’t involve waiting 5 minutes, while every other App hangs. I can actually switch between currently open Applications, without summoning the spinning beach-ball of doom, and have several tabs with Flash content in them at the same time as listening to uninterrupted music in iTunes. Not rocket surgery, I admit, but if you’d seen the state of the damn thing under Lion, you’d agree this is a huge improvement!

So much for Apple finally putting right what Lion got horribly wrong. But what about the new features?

Twitter integration in the new Notifications centre is a breeze. You literally enter your username and password and start using it. Similarly, adding Vimeo, Flickr, GMail and Yahoo account details, is as simple as opening the System Preference pane, and hey presto they appear in all the relevant places for sharing.

There is no shortcut key enabled by default, to open and close the Notifications sliding panel, but you can define your own in System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcuts in the usual way.

The new Dictation and Speech pane, again set-up with a new System Preferences pane, brings a Siri-like voice to text pop-up into any text input area. Simply double tap the Function key (or a user defined alternative) and the familiar purple microphone flashes up, as in Siri on iOS.

This entire paragraph, in fact, was entered using this new dictation tool. As you can see it works a treat. You’ll have to take me at my word, that I didn’t alter any spellings or insert any punctuation by hand. As the saying goes, “it just works”.

iMessage is now fully integrated with your iOS devices, so you can start a chat on your iPhone and finish it on your Mac. Also FaceTime now works as expected.

The new Reminders app mirrors the events set on your iOS device, and it’s skeuomorphic design is nicely done. On the downside, the new Notes app appears incapable of seeing the Notes I have stored on iCloud, and the new Game Centre app doesn’t seem to work at all. It’s possible these apps will come into their own once iOS 6 is launched in Autumn 2012, although I fail to see why Notes in particular couldn’t be made to work right away. Also coming in the fall is iCloud integration with open Safari tabs on all iOS devices.

The new version of Safari browser appears to be more stable under Mountain Lion than under OS X 10.7. I installed Safari 6 before upgrading to OS X 10.8 and was disappointed to see it was sluggish and unstable. But under Mountain Lion the only real problem I’ve noticed so far, is that the newly integrated Search and Address bar no longer allows you to pop down your recent search terms history, and to change the default search engine you must now open Preferences > General. But on the plus side, it now supports Do Not Track in the Privacy settings, and although this feature is turned off by default, many will be pleased to know you can now automatically opt-out of being tracked by Facebook, and other social networks which use tracker cookies, which collect personal information about you even when you’re not logged in.

Although that’s pretty much it for headline grabbing new features, you get the feeling that what’s happening under the proverbial hood is a lot slicker and more efficient. Everything feels solid — that amorphous something which makes an Operating System feel reliable, which was almost completely absent from Lion, is back in bucket loads with Mountain Lion.

Simply put, for £13 you’d be mad not to upgrade as soon as possible.

Pros: Your Mac works properly again!
Cons: Takes a long time to download.
Pro-tip: Run Repair Disk Permissions and Repair Disk from Recovery Mode, before you begin to upgrade. Restart your Mac, and after the chime, hold down the Command and R keys ( + R) to boot from the install / recovery partition. Choose Disk Utilities from the options menu, and highlight your main hard drive in the side panel. Click Repair Disk Permissions, wait for the scan to complete, and then click Repair Disk. When this is done, reboot and launch the Mac App Store, to download Mountain Lion.

2 comments on “Apple’s OS X Mountain Lion: A triumphant return to form

  1. Hi, I read your blog from time to time and
    I own a similar one and I was just wondering if you get a lot of spam feedback?
    If so how do you prevent it, any plugin or anything you can suggest?
    I get so much lately it’s driving me insane so any help is very much appreciated.

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