After much anticipation, it looks like Apple is finally unwrapping Mac OS X Mountain Lion for the masses. The company has bragged that the latest version of the Mac operating system is packed with more than 200 improvements, many of which draw from its sister platform, iOS.
With all that going on, some of these features are bound to rock harder than others. But which ones are the cream of the crop? Well, we've picked out our top 5 favorites (in no particular order), so hit the shortlist below to compare them with yours.
1. Power Nap
This connected standby feature means newer Macs will continue to update, even while sleeping. Power Nap-compatible computers — 2nd gen MacBook Airs and the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display — will stay current with Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Reminders, Photo Stream, Docs in the Cloud, tweets, OS updates and more (as long as your power source and Internet connection remain intact). There's peace of mind too: Since Time Machine won't be foiled by standby mode, you can go about your business knowing that back-up is always up-to-date. And the best part is that it will do all of that without a blasting a million nag prompts or kicking on any lights or fans — whether it's in standby mode or just working in the background.
2. iOS Integration (including iMessage)
Those who'll benefit the most from this update will be users of both iOS and OS X. It has never been easier to have that familiar iPhone, iPod Touch and/or iPad experience on your Mac. Mountain Lion users get iCloud syncing, voice dictation, enhanced multitouch and more baked right in, as well as the supremely useful iMessage. Admittedly, the beta software was pretty buggy, but this polished version should bring many performance improvements to the table, as well as one key function — dual users will be able to send/receive iMessages across their devices and computers. (This should also thrill OS X-only folks, since it allows them to text iOS friends' devices for free right from the desktop.)
3. AirPlay Mirroring
It always seemed strange that users could send photos, music and more from their iPhones and iPads to their living room televisions via Apple TV, but not to that pricey Mac sitting on their desks (at least not without a third-party application). Well, no more. AirPlay is finally arriving on OS X. That may be bad news for AirPlayer and others, but it is long overdue on the Mac. And we're pretty sure that the masses will love it, as it finally gives those cat photos a proper stage for showing off to more than one person at a time.
4. Notification Center
See ya, Growl. Mountain Lion users will purr along just fine withoucha. When Apple changed up its mobile notifications, it made a big and immediate impact for iOS users who were tired of giant, screen-hogging pop-up messages or alerts that couldn't be saved. With this change, they could customize the behavior of alerts and determine which apps will appear in that spiffy drop-down list, which also houses those handy weather and stock widgets. The Notification Center is one of the most popular recent features on iOS, so it was a no-brainer that it would come to OS X too. Likewise, users will be able to finetune alert bubbles from Twitter, Facebook, Apple native applications and others.
Once upon a time, using an Apple computer meant a virtually malware-free existence, but those days are gone, as more Mac-oriented security threats get unleashed. Enter Gatekeeper. Accessed via a system preferences setting, the feature lets users restrict specific types of applications from being downloaded and installed. Because an admin account password is required to make changes, enterprise administrators will be uniquely interested in this, as it ensures that business users don't load any potentially malicious programs. It will also be a boon for anyone who wants to keep their kids, younger siblings or anyone else from downloading random bits of risky stuff.
And all this is only the tip of the iceberg. We'd be remiss not to mention other user-experience focused improvements — like VIP mail, which lets people designate email notifications from only priority contacts, and social integration that brings Facebook and Twitter sharing natively into the fold. Then there's that stunning price tag. While it's not exactly a feature, the cheapo $19.99 expense should entice many a user to upgrade.
OS X Mountain Lion is launching today, for your Mac App Store downloading pleasure. Will you be among those taking it for a whirl, or do you plan to hold off until the release version has been thoroughly vetted? And if you're not an OS X user, does this update sufficiently tempt you to switch OSes, or are you unimpressed with these changes? Share your thoughts in the comments below.