Apple moves toward digital unity with Mountain Lion

Blending the best of OS X and iOS makes both operating systems better

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Share Sheets arrive

Apple has made social sharing in Mountain Lion more integrated with Share Sheets, which are built in to home-grown applications like QuickTime, Safari and Notes and allow you to easily share what you're looking at with others. (Third-party developers will need to rewrite their apps to incorporate the feature, but its usefulness should be readily apparent, especially for Twitter users.)

Every app's Share Sheet has a different set of functions, depending on context. For instance, clicking on Safari's Share Sheet button allows you to add a Web page to the Reading List, to your Bookmarks, or to share it via email, message or tweet. Interestingly enough, Facebook isn't an option in most apps. You won't find Facebook under the System Preference for Mail, Contacts & Calendars (where you will find Twitter). But if you look under the Share menu in a QuickTime window, you can share your movie to FaceBook. The same is true in iPhoto's Share Sheet.

Given the explosion in social media, it's a smart move to incorporate easy ways to share digital content. I'd expect to see more of this as OS X develops.

Odds and Ends

Game Center: Apple has also added Game Center to Mountain Lion. Game Center is a centralized location that on iOS devices provides easy access to global game score and leader-board tracking; it also allows you to see what games friends are playing and how well they're doing, among other details. Game Center's support for turn-based and head-to-head games now comes to the Mac, allowing you to play supported games on your Mac against people playing on iOS devices.

Notes: In Lion and earlier versions of OS X, the Notes app was always bound to Mail; but in iOS, Notes has been a standalone app. When Mountain Lion is released, Notes will become a standalone application with an interface lifted from the landscape view on the iPad. (Similarly, to-do's and reminders get the standalone app treatment, too, with their appearance drawn from the iPad.)

Safari: Apple's Web browser gets a few tweaks, too, including a new address bar that handles searches as well as url addresses. Safari also gains a "Do Not Track" option, Apple's response to growing privacy concerns among online surfers.

Software Update: In Mountain Lion, software updates are now handled through the Mac App Store, and Notifications appear when updates are available for either the operating system or apps downloaded from the Mac App Store. This will surely raise awareness of the App Store and the apps it offers.

Final thoughts

Like Lion before it, Mountain Lion continues the merger of iOS and OS X features in a way that helps provide a consistent experience across Apple devices. In concert with iCloud, Apple is moving to make things easy to use no matter which device you have in hand, an iPhone or a iMac, an iPad or a MacBook Air. The main difference revolves around each device's interaction method: mouse and trackpad for the Mac; touch screen gestures on the iPad and iPhone.

There's been a lot of talk about whether OS X and iOS are becoming one. Clearly, they overlap and share features, but they're not the same, nor should they be. Apple won't follow the path Microsoft is taking with Windows 8 and its new Metro interface. Sure, Apple will continue to migrate features between iOS and OS X on a case-by-case basis, cherry-picking features that logically work across devices, regardless of the underlying OS. (I wouldn't be surprised to see Siri -- the voice activated assistant that's been such a hit on the iPhone 4S -- show up one day in OS X.)

What Apple is doing is creating a consistent ecosystem for your digital world, from media creation to distribution to viewing and sharing. Start something on one device, finish it on another, whether you're writing a document, sharing a link, listening to music or making a video. That's what makes iCloud increasingly important. It takes OS X where computing really needs to go: toward a world of unified data and interface consistency.

Mountain Lion Notes app
Notes is now a standalone app and is no longer built into the Mail program.

Michael deAgonia, a frequent contributor to Computerworld, is a writer, computer consultant and technology geek who has been working on computers since 1993. You can find him on Twitter (@mdeagonia).

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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