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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Apple's Mail app gets a few notable improvements, including notification support, inline search for words and phrases, and the optional escalation of selected contacts to "VIP status." Visually, things looks pretty much the same as before, save for a few tweaks. The threaded view now automatically displays replies, something that was hidden in Lion, though it was an option. And clicking the top of the email list scrolls the list to the top, similar to the tap-to-scroll behavior in iOS.

Behind the scenes, though, Mail now syncs a variety of settings -- such as favorites, account information, recent senders, mail rules and preferences, and smart mailboxes -- to iCloud. If you have more than one Mac, that means if you set up Mail on one, all the information is synced with the others when logged into iCloud. Nice and easy.

If there are special people in your life, you can now make them VIPs; their emails will go into a smart mailbox aptly named VIP. And you can adjust Mail notifications to only alert you when you get emails from your VIPs. How do you make someone a VIP? Hover the cursor near his name in Mail and a star will appear: Click that star. Or you can right-click the name and select VIP.

Mail, while nice, still has its share of flaws, many of which have been part of the app for years. Emails that have been read sometimes still show up as unread, and only quitting and relaunching Mail remedies that; sometimes the names listed in the To: field appear jumbled; and Apple's Junk Mail filter doesn't work anywhere near as well as it did when introduced years ago. One would think these issues would have been eliminated by now. One would be wrong.

Safari and Web browsing

Safari, Apple's Web browser, gets its share of improvements with Version 6 in Mountain Lion. The search and address bars have been consolidated into a single bar that does the job of both. Once you start typing in the new bar, Safari tries to help out by listing suggestions from your bookmarks, browsing history and Google searches.

To the right of this unified address/search bar sits the always-present Reader button. This feature reformats the Web content for easier reading by removing ads and superfluous images and by consolidating multipage stories into one -- it isn't new, but it gains a bit more prominence by being integrated with the address/search bar as a bright blue button.

To the left of the address bar, Safari gets a new Share button that allows you to add a Web page to the Reading List for later viewing, add a bookmark, email a Web page, send a URL via Messages or tweet a link.

Next to the Share button is a feature Apple calls iCloud Tabs. It consolidates all of the browsing sessions on all of your devices using one button and allows on-the-fly access to whatever you were reading on your current device. For instance, if you were reading a Web page on your laptop at home, you could pick up where you left off on your iMac at work. Eventually, when iOS 6 rolls out, this functionality will be expanded to the iPhone and the iPad.

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.

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.)

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