OS X Mountain Lion: A big cat for business?

Apple's new OS offers some intriguing features -- and risks -- for the enterprise

Apple surprised the tech world on Thursday by unveiling a developer preview of OS X Mountain Lion, the next generation of its desktop operating system set to ship this summer -- just a year after OS X 10.7 "Lion" arrived.

Based on the information Apple has released so far, Mountain Lion will continue in the footsteps of its predecessor and bring more features from iOS to the desktop as well as strengthen ties to Apple's iCloud service. (iOS powers Apple's iPhone and iPad.) That makes Mountain Lion something of a mixed bag for enterprise environments: it has some features that are very useful for business users, while others -- like its near-total integration with Apple's personal cloud service -- will likely raise red flags in the minds of CIOs and IT professionals.

Even so, the new OS offers some changes that will be particularly welcomed by mobile business users. Here's a look at some of what's new as well as a look at some of the concerns to keep in mind if you plan to update to Mountain Lion later this year.

AirPlay Mirroring

If you're someone who does presentations, you'll like AirPlay mirroring, a feature that Apple first introduced on the iPad 2 and included with the iPhone 4S. AirPlay Mirroring allows a Mountain Lion Mac to wirelessly broadcast whatever is on its screen to an HDTV using the Apple TV set-top box. No doubt, this feature will be great for home uses like gaming and watching web-based video on your TV with next to no effort (something unlikely to sit well with Hollywood execs or companies like Netflix and Hulu that have gone to great lengths to secure licensing deals for streaming to set-top box devices).

What makes AirPlay mirroring for Macs valuable in the workplace is the ease of setup and the ubiquity of HDTVs (or projectors that can accept HDMI video). Pairing an Apple TV box with an Apple laptop creates a presentation system that can plug in virtually anywhere with just two cables (AC power and HDMI), no configuration needed. You don't even need to be on a Wi-Fi network, because a MacBook Air or Pro can create an ad hoc network the Apple TV can join. That's something that can easily be done in advance of a presentation.

Files in iCloud

The biggest business feature, however, has to be Apple's iCloud. In Mountain Lion, iCloud will put cloud storage front and center. Mountain Lion's open and save dialogs will include an iOS-like view of a user's iCloud storage space, including iOS-style "folders" for grouping documents. Any documents stored in this space immediately propagate changes to versions of the documents on all of a user's devices and Mountain Lion Macs. Updates take place in real time and you can even see the edits appear if you have a document open on two devices at the same time. You don't even need to remember to save changes.

That's a powerful feature that will let business users always have access to files they need, whether in the office, at a client worksite, at home, in an airport, or virtually anywhere else with Internet access. If Apple can get most of its developers, particularly those of business software, using iCloud document storage, it could revolutionize how we use mobile devices and computers in the workplace.

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