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Mountain Lion Walks the Fence Between Innovation and Stagnation

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jul 26, 2012 5:00 AM PT

Finally. Apple's latest version of OS X, Mountain Lion, is here. Mountain Lion isn't the biggest or baddest cat ever, but Apple has been getting better and better at delivering incremental innovation that pushes its Mac operating systems forward, connects it to new devices and the world in new ways, and doesn't freak anyone out with radical newness that might might be shiny but ultimately worse than before.

Mountain Lion Walks the Fence Between Innovation and Stagnation

I'm not mentioning any names of other major operating systems here. You can think what you will.

Oh, wait. Even Apple has some missteps. Like Launchpad. There's so many things wrong with it that I can't bring myself to detail them. It's kind of like saying hello to your wonderful, beautiful niece and then turning to her mom and saying, "Who put that stupid, ugly, uselessly irritating bow in her hair?"

On to Mountain Lion!

Apple is delivering Mountain Lion as a Mac App Store download and upgrade to existing Mac users for just US$19.99. This cheap move is one of the smartest that Apple ever made. First, downloading and installing is easy. Second, the cost is plenty fair. Third, the first two points add up to genius: Apple will entice many of its customers to migrate to the latest and greatest version of its operating system.

This move will let the company deliver better products to its customers and ensure a higher degree of customer satisfaction. In addition, it will create a bigger, broader audience for Apple developers to sell their apps into. This is a wicked cool feedback loop for the entire Apple ecosystem. You can bet that Microsoft will attempt a similar process with Windows 8 and its customer base.

Meanwhile, Apple has created a new feature called "Gatekeeper", which lets users bypass the App Store and yet still feel reasonably certain that the apps they might be downloading and installing from independent developers in far-flung places of the world with laws far different from their own . . . might be safe. Or mostly safe.

Some people see this whole Gatekeeper thing as another element of Apple control over its Macs, but I don't see it that way. Apple could actually have done something far worse -- like simply start pushing everything to go through its "safe" Mac App Store instead while marginalizing anything independent.

In fact, I believe Gatekeeper is so cool that I might actually buy and install an app that doesn't come from the Mac App Store in the future. I give Apple a lot of kudos for heading down this path.

200-Plus New Features

OK, so while there's a couple hundred new features, let's face it, only a handful are relevant to any one person, and there's less than a dozen that most consumers will really use or care about. Still, for twenty bucks, I'm a happy camper. See what's happened here? As an operating system matures, it gains new features, and as it becomes more and more feature-rich, there's fewer and fewer things a company can add that will make it worth a hundred dollars or so to upgrade to.

In fact, as a consumer gets more and more embedded with an OS and connecting devices, radical changes actually become risky. I think Apple is walking the fence between innovation and stagnation pretty well here. I still want to be able to run iOS apps on my MacBook Pro, for instance, with similar types of synergy . . . but since I'm not even positive how I want to experience that myself, I'm willing to wait for the next cat.

Of these 200 features, there's only a handful that truly matter. Here they are:

Notifications. Ever since Apple debuted Notifications on the iPhone and iPad, I've been wanting it on my Mac. Sure, there's others ways to get at the same or similar information, but I want a seamless experience all around my Apple devices. And Apple is delivering. As long as it works and isn't buggy over the long haul, I'll be thrilled. Besides, Notifications is a feature that will connect users to the world as well as their own devices. That's powerful, habit-forming stuff. Good for the Apple world.

iCloud. iCloud promises to connect all your devices, automatically and seamlessly. It's amazing functionality for everyday consumers, with lots of powerful things going on behind the scenes. The only challenge is figuring out how to explain it all to your family members -- juggling an Apple ID with your password and household Macs and devices that maybe used to share one primary Apple ID . . . before the world became so integrated and complicated with family members packing around their own iOS devices -- or worse -- sharing them for more things than watching movies.

Reminders. Another fantastic app. Sure, there are other apps like it. But this one is integrated with iCloud and my iPhone and iPad. It's a fantastic app, and it's annoying, too. Every freaking day at 10 a.m. I get a reminder to go measure the window in the bedroom for a new blind. And every day I'm busy. Pesky thing. Eventually I'll do it, though.

Notes. The old way of using Notes sort of worked. If I created a note on my iPhone, I'd receive it via email to an email account. Keeping track of them was another problem, especially when I changed them. The new notes promises to fix that.

iMessage. I've been using the beta a little bit, and the thing is, it's OK. I'm not a fan, though -- mostly because I've been irritated when my iPhone tries to send an iMessage to another iPhone user instead of just sending the text message instantly. You get some dumb lags here, and the lags make me want to avoid all of it. Maybe Apple has fixed this. We'll see.

The New Share Button. Integrated through Mountain Lion is the ability to share content in various ways -- just like you can with apps on your iPhone. You can share photos, videos, email things, post to FaceBook or Twitter or Flickr. This kind of integration with outside key services is cool. Sort of un-Apple in some ways. Makes me appreciate it all the more even when I don't use all the options.

All of these new features, including Game Center, the ability to tweet from apps, and even the ability to use AirPlay to show your Mac screen on your HDTV with an Apple TV . . . are all about connections -- connecting to services, to people, to sharing experiences, and even communicating with yourself among your own devices. Each little feature is just that, a feature, but taken as a whole . . . it's becoming clear that Apple's Mountain Lion will slowly push and pull us along toward a life where we more deeply engage through all of our Apple devices.

MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at

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World governments should cooperate to address a potential planetary threat.
The DoD should investigate -- they could signal a hostile nation's tech advances.
The government should reveal what it already knows.
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Nothing. Studying UFOs is a waste of resources.
Keep the stories coming. People love conspiracy theories, and it's fun to speculate.