Mountain Lion- personal review

The purpose of this piece is to reveal hiccups at the first encounter with Mountain Lion, little corners missed out in the reviews I’ve read and my personal impression on the new system as an individual user instead of a journalist who has more access to information and “people familiar with the matter”. So it’s not going to cover everything, but I can, however, promise to voice my own opinions. Plus, you guys know where to find thorough and detailed reviews.

200+ new features, that’s what Apple promised they’d deliver OTA if you’re willing to pay $20, which I did, willingly, and with, I’ll admit, a bit of impulse. Visually, it doesn’t look like a completely different system. The look and feel of Mountain Lion is pretty much like Lion. But overall, it feels much faster and smoother than Lion. Most noticeable example, which I’m really glad it’s the case, at least on my 13-inch Macbook Pro, is that launching Preview takes significantly less time. Although I didn’t do any “scientific” testing using benchmarks, the subjective feeling is that it’s no longer a prolonged and sometimes frustrating process. Another overall impression, a good one at that, is that as a former Lion user, the new systems feels familiar and at home, yet with a sense of improvement, and snappiness. Read on for more details on my personal review.


Notification Center

This is probably the feature that single-handedly “lured” me into spending the twenty bucks for the upgrade. I don’t get many notifications. Email, calendar reminders, are probably the two most frequent types of notifications. But the moment I saw it demoed on stage, I knew I had to get it. Not that Apple is particularly good at making the notification center (either on iOS or Mountain Lion), frankly Google might be able to sue Apple for infringing the notification design on iPhones and iPads, although I don’t want to get into the legal issues here, considering that recent Samsung vs Apple legal actions have disgusted me deeply. All I’m saying is that I was not as excited about the idea of notification center, as about that of transplanting it to a desktop OS.
Once you’ve set up the Notification Center, it works pretty smoothly and as soon as a notification comes in, the drop-down banner immediately shows and slides away in a few seconds. Here is some little problems you might face.
For Twitter, It appears that you have to follow someone in order for the message to show up in the notification center, which makes sense, since if you’re not following a person, most likely you don’t want to get messages from him/her.
In terms of email client, Sparrow is definitely better than the Mail app, if you’re a Gmail user like me. The good news is that Sparrow is compatible with the notification center. Although you do need to tick “use notifications” in Sparrow preferences for it to work.
Other than these two, I haven’t seen any problems.

Dock

It’s not a very noticeable change, since first of all, it’s only different when you set the dock at the bottom. It looks exactly the same when it’s on the right or left side of the screen. The new Dock looks less glossy and more solid in color. The other difference is the dot indicators are now short dashes of light under the apps.

Safari

The best part, and also the part that should’ve been included in the browser long time ago, is the unified field for search and URLs. Like the system as a whole, the browser feels much faster and smoother, and the cool tab view is definitely a plus.

Dashboard

All I want to say is that some of the newly added widgets just look awful. Actually the whole Dashboard is out of the “Apple” standards in design.

Sharing Button

It is certainly a very nice feature to have if you’re a “social” person like me who would like to share with others wherever you are in the system. That’s exactly what Apple did with Mountain Lion. You will find the share button in almost every native app, Safari, Preview, Finder, Notes, Contacts, etc. You know, apps whose content Apple thinks you would probably want to share with the world. You can also find the “share” option by tapping two fingers on an item. The system detects the content you want to share and automatically provides you with the pre-set options.
It’s all nice and easy, but the Button shows certain annoying restrictions Apple always imposes in its “walled garden”. For multimedia files, such as movies, music, the options are limited down to two and three, respectively. It makes sense for those large files to only be transferred via Airdrop, or Messages (or Vimeo and Youtube for video files, although Youtube is an option only IN the Quicktime player). What baffles me is that for documents, such as the ones in Word, Excel, or PDF, the only two options are Airdrop and Messages. That, to me, is very unreasonable (I don’t know if there are more options in Pages, Numbers or Keynote, since I don’t have them on the machine). Overall sharing via email seems to be a function that doesn’t come up a lot. For example, you can’t share a picture via email from Preview or by tapping two fingers on it and share from there. There are only two ways to share a photo via email: drag it to the email client of choice or hit the share button in iPhoto, a feature that was covered in Lion about a year ago.
In any case, while the sharing buttons are nice to have, I don’t think I’ll utilize them. It would be great if Apple can add more options in later updates. Frankly Android does a much better job in this realm.


Dictation

Though it’s no Siri, Dictation does what it does pretty accurately, assuming it works. The reason I mentioned this assumption is that it doesn’t seem to be working in Google Docs (it doesn’t come to me as a total surprise though), while it works in other places on the web in Safari where typing is needed, such as Facebook, or twitter. Tap the ‘fn’ key twice and you’ll see the very Siri-like microphone with purple light glowing, and now you can start talking to your computer. Little side note: Apple prefers “full-stop” to “period” for the punctuation.

Features for China

Apple’s attention to China basically comes in two places in the new system.
The first is the inclusion of several popular Chinese services in the “Accounts”: 163 & 126 email services from Sina.com; QQ mail from Chinese tech giant Tencent; Youku and Tudou (which literally means potato), the two major video services and also Youtube clones in China; and of course Sina Weibo (literally means ‘micro’ ‘blog’), the vastly popular Chinese micro blog (or the Chinese Twitter), is integrated in the whole “Share” scheme. Or let me put it this way, where you can tweet, you can weibo.
The second is the slightly improved Pinyin input method. There is this little snappy animation when you type and the character options show up. But at the end the day, third-party input methods (such as Sogou) still does a better job.

Messages

I don’t have an iPhone or iPad. Frankly, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is the only Apple device I have with internet connection. So the whole iCloud thing is a little pointless to me. I’m just glad that Messages, like iChat, supports and syncs Google Talk conversations across all platforms almost instantaneously.

Preview

Nothing much has changed for Preview, except for a few more options in adjusting colors of an image, the “share” button, and a few other UI alterations, as well as the fact that it’s now much fast to launch the app.

Finder

Just like Preview, there isn’t a ton of new features. Apple, on its website, pretty much explains the changes: Inline progress for downloading and copying files (the little white progress bar at the bottom of the file), the “share” button, the ability to rearrange sidebar items, quick tap view and easy encryption to external drives, such as your flash-drive.

Mail

As a heavy Gmail user, Sparrow is my mail client of choice. The inability to label and categorize emails in the way I’m used to completely drives me away from the beautifully designed and made Mail.

Launchpad

The search function in the launchpad is certainly helpful for average consumers, but for power users third-party apps may be doing a better job, such as Alfred.

Facebook

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