Apple OS X Mountain Lion review: iOS-like features help unify your digital world

The new desktop OS benefits from new features adopted from iOS

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Reading List has become decidedly more useful. To add your current page to Reading List, click on the Share button and choose Add To Reading List. A link will then leap into the Reading List icon -- the icon looks like a pair of eyeglasses -- and the Reading List icon will become a small progress bar, before returning to the normal black glasses icon when the sync is complete.

Safari pinch
Using the "pinch" gesture, you can shrink tabbed windows in Safari and scroll between them by swiping left or right with two fingers.

One issue I had with Lion was that Reading List didn't save stories for offline viewing; in Mountain Lion, it does. Using iCloud, stories you save in Reading List are available for offline reading on your other Macs, a feature that will also be extended to the iPad and the iPhone in a future update.

Apple boasts that Safari has a much faster JavaScript rendering engine than previous versions; the browser does, indeed, feel fast. That peppiness can also be attributed to the fact that Safari has hardware acceleration, and scrolling feels much more responsive. (Apple now allows websites to access Notification Center; we'll see how many take advantage of that feature -- and what they do with it.)

Safari's Preferences now has a Passwords panel, so if you ever forget your password for a website, you can find out what it was by entering your Mac account's password. Privacy settings allow you to ask websites not to track you and you can stop search engines from providing suggestions.

Finally, Safari features a nifty "pinch" gesture in Mountain Lion. If you use the pinch-to-close gesture with multiple tabs open, the gesture will shrink the current Web page to a Cover Flow-type image, and you can swipe left and right between your tabs using two fingers. It's a more graphical way of moving between tabs.

It's not all good news for Safari fans, though. This version of the browser no longer has a built-in RSS reader. If you try to connect to an RSS feed, you get a prompt to search the Mac App Store for alternative readers. I've been an avid RSS user in Safari and was initially disappointed with the change. I ended up buying the RSS reader called Reeder, and I recommend it for other RSS fans.

A more secure OS X

The trick to making a system secure is finding the right balance between limiting access to detrimental processes while maintaining as much freedom of choice as possible. In iOS, there's a reason Apple locks down what apps can be installed on an iPhone, iPad or iPod, but funneling all installations through an Apple-approved channel wouldn't work on the desktop. Or would it?

Currently, you can install and run programs on OS X from anywhere, and you'll receive just one warning that untrusted downloads can be harmful, and that warning will appear only during a program's first run. The Mac App Store alleviated most fears about potentially harmful software, since Apple has to approve any digital wares sold there. In Mountain Lion, Apple has come up with what seems like a fairly logical compromise between a Wild West download world and a total lockdown. That compromise is called Gatekeeper.

Security preferences panel
Apple's Gatekeeper feature allows a user to limit what apps can run in OS X.

Gatekeeper embodies a new security paradigm in which you pick one of three types of security modes for OS X. The first allows apps downloaded from anywhere to run -- it's an option literally called Anywhere, and it can be found in the "Allow applications downloaded from:" section of the Security preferences panel. This will let your Mac behave as it has in the past, with app installations from any source allowed with the proper permissions at a user's discretion.

The second option allows apps to be installed only if they come from the "Mac App Store and identified developers." This allows digitally-signed apps to run on your Mac. Because apps must be digitally signed, Apple can revoke privileges for troublesome apps and track down the responsible parties, since each signature is unique. Applications that aren't signed won't run in OS X when this mode is enabled.

The last option only allows apps downloaded from the Mac App Store to install or run. That's as self-explanatory -- and secure -- as you can get.

I ran into Gatekeeper when installing a new version of Parallels. Mountain Lion stopped the process, said I didn't have the security rights, and told me to go to the System Preferences and change the install options. To change security options requires an administrator username and password, and once I changed the setting to allow installs from anywhere, Parallels loaded up just fine.

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