General Impressions: The iPad-ification of the Mac

With Mountain Lion Apple officially drops the Mac prefix to the OS, it's now simply OS X 10.8. It's interesting (and perhaps deliberate?) that Apple keeps speaking of the updates in Lion/Mountain Lion as bringing iPad features to the Mac, not just iOS features. Perhaps that speaks to the nature of the convergence we'll see going forward.

There was a time in the microprocessor business where AMD and Intel felt that the ideal architecture for low power was mutually exclusive with the ideal architecture for high performance. Over time it became very evident that what makes you power efficient often gives you great performance as well. What we saw was a unification of mobile and desktop CPU architectures as a result. Although you could argue that the same sort of product bifurcation is happening now with the popularity of smartphone SoCs, I suspect we'll eventually see more convergence there in terms of features over time.

I do wonder whether we'll see a similar transformation in the OS space. Much of the discussion has been focused around bringing iOS user experience and features to OS X, however I'm more curious about whether we'll see a more fundamental merging of the two OSes over time. Today Apple has an i and an X line of operating systems, but what's to say that we won't see an eventual unification there. In many ways this would be a motivation for OS X on ARM, but it's a similar (and possibly a stronger) motivation for iOS on x86.

For this developer preview, the download and installation processes are identical to Lion - you still get the OS from the Mac App Store, it still creates a recovery partition for diagnostic and reinstallation purposes, and it still looks and acts mostly the same. If you made a USB or DVD installer for Lion from the App Store installer, that method continues to work here.

The Mountain Lion Finder, along with Lion additions like Launchpad and Mission Control, are at this point largely identical to their Lion counterparts. There are two obvious new features right now: first, Launchpad now includes a search box at the top of the window that lets you browse your installed apps. Compared to Spotlight, I find it to be of dubious usefulness, but I'm already on the record as finding the whole Launchpad concept to be of dubious usefulness - take my opinion as you will.

The other addition is also vaguely iOS-ish - you can cancel file copy operations in progress by clicking an X in the icon's upper left-hand corner (see above). Once a copy operation is complete, you delete the files by dragging them to the Trash just as before.

Safari 5.2

Safari 5.2, which is also currently available to developers as a beta for Lion, bumps the browser's WebKit version to 535.18.5, and brings with it some performance improvements and features. Features first: tabs now work as they do on the iPad, with each tab taking up an equal amount of space across the window - in Safari 5.1 and most other desktop browsers, new tabs are a fixed width (in both cases, the tabs begin to contract as you open more of them).

The address bar and search bar in the new Safari are also unified (as in Chrome and IE) - when you begin typing, the browser will search your default search engine, your bookmarks and history, and the content on the current page for matches. The Safari Reader button is now present to the right of the search/address bar at all times.

There's a new passwords manager in Safari that allows you to view and remove any stored user name/password combinations for websites you've visited. In the past this information was only accessible through the OS X Keychain but now it's available in both places.

Now, for performance - Safari 5.2 is measurably faster than Safari 5.1.3, and while it doesn't beat the latest stable versions of Firefox or Chrome in the tests below, the upgrade at least keeps Apple's default browser competitive. The problem is that this performance is a moving target - if Safari 5.2 doesn't launch before Mountain Lion's release this summer, both Mozilla and Google will have released several minor upgrades to their browsers that may help them pull even further ahead of Apple's latest. Interestingly enough the new Safari is actually faster than the latest stable build of Chrome in SunSpider but it loses everywhere else. Subjectively Safari feels fast but still not quite as fast as Chrome, although the two are much closer now.

These tests were run on a late 2010 MacBook Air, which runs a 1.6 GHz Core 2 Duo - please try to remember that before you laugh at any of these scores.

v8 Benchmark Suite, version 6

Kraken 1.1 Benchmark

Apple Remote Desktop and Screen Sharing

The Apple Remote Desktop client in Mountain Lion has been updated to 3.6, which continues the years-long tradition of bumping the ARD version to support a new OS X release without adding enough fuctionality to justify a major version change. ARD gains IPv6 support and can now report information about batteries, trackpads, and Thunderbolt peripherals, but none of this fundamentally changes how the software works.

On a related note, Screen Sharing is made marginally more functional by the addition of controls at the top of the window - they don't really add anything that wasn't there, but they pull functionality that was previously hidden in menus and expose it to the user. Screen Sharing also supports drag-and-drop file sharing between connected computers, something previously limited to the full Apple Remote Desktop package.

Annual OS X Release Cadence Gatekeeper
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  • FWCorey - Tuesday, May 1, 2012 - link

    And what makes games so much less relevant on a platform that has more consumer users than commercial users?
    Windows has given them a high priority for ages despite the fact that OS's demographic balance swings in the opposite direction.
  • marioyohanes - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    Thanks for extensive review on the new upcoming OS X Mountain Lion.

    Since you guys are the most reliable sources for SSD, I was wondering whether OS X Mountain Lion has better support for SSD or not, specifically with 3rd party SSD?

    I have 2 different SSDs, Intel 320 and Vertex 3 installed on both 2011 MBP and 2009 MBP, and it always gets corrupted right after OS X update or Safari update under Mac OS X Lion (never have this problem on SL).

    I really hope Mountain Lion could brings better support for 3rd party SSD than it does on Lion. Because why bother buying new hardware if you'll get stuck with 5400 rpm hdd :)
  • vectorm12 - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    Considering Apple would much rather charge you 500+ USD for a 256GB SSD that's a decent performer at best I'd say we're out of luck on any kind of support on 3:rd party SSDs. In fact I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Apple in fact chose to limit booting from 3:rd party storage in the near future.

    Interesting about your Vertex 3 being corrupted after OS X updates. I've been running Lion for the better part of a month on my early '11 13" macbook pro I have for work with a Vertex3 Max IOPS and haven't seen any real issues thus far.

    I do however see intermittent slowdown at times which I've thus far figured to be TRIM related. Especially when waking the system from sleep/hibernation. Perhaps I've been to quick to jump to conclusions about those issues?

    All in all I see where Apple wants to take OSX and their platforms in general, but I can't help but pray people won't keep accepting all the limitations since it's really bad for all consumers in the long run.

    Otherwise we'll be running IOS 8 on mac hardware and being forced to jailbreak new mac pros as well.
  • KPOM - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    From what I have seen on the developer preview, it does not. I'm assuming the hacks still work, but I haven't tried them. My guess is that we'll see the MacBook Pro line either merge with the Air or become less user-upgradable in the future (perhaps RAM will still be upgradable), at least in the 13" and 15" models, so I wouldn't bet on adding TRIM support for third party drives. I've heard that Apple makes as much or more money on NAND as the manufacturers of the NAND themselves.
  • zdzichu - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    First page discussing rapid release cycles fails to mention Linux distributions. Major distributions shifted to half-year release cycle few years ago (pioniereed by Fedora in 2003 and Ubuntu in 2004). This pace works very good for consumer software.
  • damianrobertjones - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    "Microsoft announced a planned shift to a 3-year OS release cadence."

    Didn't they previously have this 3 year release thing? Pretty sure that they did
  • cjs150 - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    Actually I do not hate apple, it has a philosphy that does not work for me.

    Mountain Lion is clearly yet another step towards the walled garden approach that Apple wants. This approach will result in thinks that "just work", like any number of consumer electronic products. This is why many people at my work love Apple.

    But this approach has its downside, if all you want is something that "just works" then you do not need to know how it works and you are stuck with Apple's design decisions (eg no true HD on Apple TV). I want to know how things work, I want to be able to fiddle with settings, add programs that genuinely extend or enhance my working experience.

    A simple example. I have a young daughter (10) who is starting to ask for a computer in her bedroom. I have said that if she wants one and can explain why, she can have one but on the condition that it will arrive in bits and she will have to build it herself and install all the software. Admittedly this is a good parent trick to ensure the computer issue is deferred by at least 6 months, but assuming it happens it will teach my daughter very quickly how computers work, what bits are in a computer and how to install software and generally ticker with the computer. Apple take all that away - the computer should be simply a higher priced version of a washing machine - plug it in and away you go.
  • tim851 - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    What if your daughter wants a laptop?

    I've been managing my parents' PC for a while now. I could be a dick like you and tell them they have to do build it themselves, but I realized that not everybody is a nerd or has the time to become one and ultimately a PC is just an appliance like a fridge or a tv. I didn't make my mom assemble her car either.

    Next time you go into the supermarket to buy a steak, I hope they hand you a knife and point to a nearby cow.
  • bji - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    The obvious difference between your hypotheticals and his real situation is that he is the parent and its his responsiblity to educate his children and guide their development. It is not your responsibility to educate or guide your parents nor is it the responsibility of the supermarket to educate its customers on how cows are turned into steaks. There's no need to call cjs150 a dick just because you couldn't formulate this simple concept yourself.
  • vectorm12 - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    While I do agree with you for the most part I see a problem with "our" view of how things are supposed to work.

    The big issue is a lot of people want the "washing machine"-experience with computing devices. Heck even at times I do and it's something that is required at this point in my mind simply because most people choose the simplest/easiest way to get things done whenever possible. Most people simply choose rather not to use a function than actually learn how to use it.

    However I feel Apple as well as all others should provide a simple switch to disable to "walled garden" and expose the OS to people who choose to do so. In my mind that's the best of both worlds. Dumb it down for the people who couldn't care less, keep the techs happy who actually use and promote the devices.

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