OS X 10.8: Getting the most from Mountain Lion

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Today is the launch of Apple's latest Mac operating system: OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion. (Check out the full Mountain Lion review here). After testing each preview release (as a developer), I thought I'd share a few quick suggestions on how to get the most out of the newest big cat.

First off, If you were disappointed by Lion, ML addresses many of its shortcomings. The disappearing scroll bars are much easier to grab, auto save reintroduces "save-as" like functionality, and iCloud features like Documents in the Cloud finally live up to the promise. Bugs have been tracked down as well... Hopefully this version can live up to the venerable Snow Leopard in the stability department, especially.

Mountain Lion is $20 from the Mac App Store, and I'd definitely recommend checking it out. An introduction to what's new is available at the Apple website - we're going to dive straight into the customizations here, so brush up!

Open up Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper

"Allow applications to be downloaded from: Anywhere" is the preferred option, for power users especially. If you're setting up the computer for someone who's less tech savvy, "Mac App Store and identified developers" is a solid middle ground for better security. The restricted settings can still be overridden on a per-app basis by right click -> "Open" and confirming the app, if the user so choses.

Gatekeeper: Anywhere

People who are concerned about Gatekeeper locking down their Mac don't need to worry too much yet. Apple is heading towards only allowing software from identified (i.e. registered with Apple) developers, but this still allows apps from anywhere (not just the App Store), has great security benefits, and all told is still years away.

Lightning fast Notification Center access

Gestures have become an integral part of Apple's trackpad strategy, and they are awesome to use. Mountain Lion continues the trend, introducing a two-finger swipe from the right, sliding over the desktop to reveal Notifications Center. But for mouse users, OS X has a feature that can provide "mouse gestures" for quick access too.

Hot corners

This is a nice trick that takes advantage of OS X's "hot corners." First introduced in 10.3, many options have been added to it in Lion and ML. Enabling them allows accessing various OS features via mouse gestures to the corners of the screen. It does take a little getting used to but I encourage my mouse-wielding OS X buddies to try this out for a little, and decide whether it's for them.

Hot corners have been tucked away in a couple of settings panes since Lion. From the Mission Control panel, you'll find the "Hot corners..." button in the lower corner.

Hot corner options

The thing to notice here is selecting "Notification Center" for the top right corner; the rest are just personal preferences of mine. If you look in the upper right menu bar, you'll see your Notification Center icon in that same corner. With the hot corner enabled, you can simply slide your mouse to the icon and Notification Center pops out, instantly.

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Note too that the "Desktop" option shows/hides your desktop - useful for grabbing items like screenshots or downloads and dropping them into finder or to a web uploader (just click and drag back to the hot corner and your previously open windows will fly back on screen). All of these hot corners can be dismissed immediately after activation with just a left click, and you'll be right back in your workflow.

Notification Center toggle

Notification Center alerts

Since we're talking about Notifications Center, it's worth mentioning that you can quickly toggle banner displays on and off at any time. When disabled, the menu bar icon is greyed out to indicate you won't be interrupted.

This feature got hidden pretty cleverly in the last few preview builds of Mountain Lion, but you can access this handy toggle any time by scrolling up inside notifications center.

You can also customize what apps send you what kind of alerts from System Preferences, if certain apps are bothering you.

Growl, meet Hiss

Hiss logo

Growl has been widely adopted for years as OS X's unofficial unified notifications service. And while it isn't going away just yet, it's nice to be able to aggregate all your notifications in Notification Center.

Growl is promising an update that will allow built in forwarding for all your notifications (which is great news as now non-App Store distributed apps will be able to integrate with Notification Center), but in the mean time, you might want to check out Hiss.

Hiss runs over Growl, intercepting those notifications and sending them into a single category in Notifications Center.

Quick access to Spotlight

Now if you're like me, then for years you've been running your mouse right up into what is now decidedly our Notification Center corner, in order to easily click down on the Spotlight icon.

Spotlight is my preferred way to launch undocked apps, look up words in the dictionary, and also functions a really handy calculator. While Spotlight hasn't changed in Mountain Lion, it's got some super handy features that are worth getting to know.

Spotlight search

Luckily, we have a simple solution here too, just get used to using the old Spotlight hotkey, which is Command + Space.

Add your new Accounts

One of my favorite Mountain Lion features at the moment is the Twitter integration. You'll get a quick notification when you're direct messaged or mentioned. Some don't use Twitter, but this section will be revisited for many when Facebook integration is enabled in a point update this fall.

Twitter integration

In addition to services like iCloud, Gmail, and Exchange, you'll find Twitter in the list, which functions as a single sign on and enables sharing to twitter throughout the OS (including a composition button inside notification to Tweet anytime), and integrates mention and direct message alerts into Notification Center.

iCloud features

While we're inside the accounts menu, it's worth your while to go through your iCloud (as well as any other mail accounts) to configure what features you're enabling, as well as what data is being pushed down to your Mac.

Find My Mac

Features like "Find My Mac" may be disabled if you haven't turned on location services, for example.

That's it! For an exhaustive look at what's new, you can peruse the list of 200+ new features if you really want :) Feel free to share your own suggestions below, and have fun with the new cat!