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What's New in OS X Mountain Lion: Yvonne Johnson and Jennifer Kettell Discuss How Changes in Mountain Lion Affect New and Experienced OS X Users

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Technical writer and web designer Jennifer Kettell and Yvonne Johnson, author of Introducing OS X Mountain Lion and OS X Mountain Lion Absolute Beginner's Guide, talk about what Mac users old and new can expect in the new OS X Mountain Lion update.
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What Changes in OS X Mountain Lion Matter the Most

Jenn: What features are you most excited about in Mountain Lion? Are there any new additions that stand out for you?

Yvonne: I think the system-wide integration with the social media sites (Flickr, Twitter, and Facebook) will be a very popular new feature for a lot of people, but for me personally, I really like the revamping of the Notes, Reminders, and iChat (now Messages) applications. I "live" on my MacBook Pro when I'm at home and on my iPhone when I'm on the run. The iCloud synchronization of these three apps across my devices really keeps me organized. I also appreciate the ability to send a message from my Mac's full-size keyboard (as opposed to the iPhone's touch keyboard).

Jenn: I think Mountain Lion will really appeal to those who have iPhones or iPads and people who like to stay socially connected no matter where they are. Putting those together, it will be even easier to take a photo with your iPhone, automatically have it appear on your Mac through iCloud, edit the photo in full-screen so you can fix any flaws, then post it on Facebook or Twitter.

I see those features and features such as Launchpad and Game Center especially appealing to people who are new to Macs, maybe drawn into the Apple world by their iPhones and iPads, who want a consistent interface across all platforms. What do you think Mountain Lion has to offer long-time users, those who have been using Macs since Snow Leopard, Leopard, or even longer?

Yvonne: I think long-time users will appreciate the little tweaks that bring more consistency to the operating system as a whole. An example of this is the new way you manage widgets on the Dashboard. It's much more similar to the functionality of the Launchpad. Including the Spotlight search field in new places (such as the Launchpad and Dashboard, for example), being able to customize the Finder sidebar, and downloading system updates from the App Store are other examples of changes in Mountain Lion that bring more uniformity to the OS.

Speed and security are also issues that long-time users are interested in, and Mountain Lion delivers on both counts there. Improved hardware acceleration renders text and graphics faster than before, and the new Gatekeeper feature protects from downloading malware. Additionally, in Mountain Lion FaceTime, Mail, Reminders, Notes, Game Center, and Safari are all now "sandboxed" applications—meaning that these applications provide strong defense against possible damage by malware to the operating system or your data.

Long-time Mac users are also looking for new apps and new functionality in OS upgrades. Most long-time users are going to like the new Notification Center. For those who find it annoying, it's easy to make it "sit in a corner and be quiet." Although I'm not personally a big gamer myself, web use statistics suggest that the new Game Center application, which enables you to compete with iOS users, will be a big hit for long-time Mac users. One of my favorite new functions in Mountain Lion is the ability to save data to and retrieve data from the iCloud. I also like the new Tabs view in Safari that enables you to swipe through all the tabs you have open.

How Security Factors In

Jenn: I think many in the Mac community were concerned with the malware scare this past spring. Can you explain sandboxing for those who aren't familiar with the concept? Will users be able to count on applications purchased from the App Store also being protected?

Yvonne: Sandboxing controls the access that an application has to the operating system and the user's data. An application that is sandboxed must specify exactly what operating resources it needs to use, and the system grants access to only those resources and no more. The operating resources that Apple allows an application to access are called "entitlements," and they include such things as interaction with USB devices and the ability to print. Apple decides whether or not to approve the entitlements for each application. Additionally, an application must function only within its own sandbox so it cannot affect another application in a malicious way. Access to the user's data is permitted only by way of Open and Save dialog boxes, drag and drop and other familiar user interactions. As of June 1, 2012, all developers had to implement sandboxing for their applications distributed by the App Store so users will be protected when purchasing those apps.

Prior to the development of the sandboxing technology, an application had direct access to all the operating system resources and all the user's data. This was potentially an open door to malicious software.

Jenn: I'm sure that these new policies will let users breathe easier knowing their data is safe! Do you think these changes will encourage even more developers to distribute their applications through the App Store so users can rely upon Gatekeeper and the App Store to keep them safe? Or might these requirements send developers back to other distribution channels to avoid these new rules? What level of Gatekeeper security do you think will best serve the average user in the long run?

Yvonne: Here's what I think will probably happen: Developers who do not want to be restricted to sandboxing, or who do not want to distribute through the App Store for other reasons, will distribute via other channels, but they will probably apply to Apple for a developer certificate so their applications will not be blocked from downloading by Gatekeeper. Developers do not have to sandbox their applications to receive Apple's certification, but they still can sandbox their applications if they want to, and it would be wise for them to do so from a marketing standpoint.

Whether a new developer chooses to distribute through the App Store probably has more to do with profit margin than with sandboxing. Although Apple gives the developer a very generous "cut of the pie," if a developer distributes his software himself he doesn't have to cut the pie at all.

I have seen some announcements from a couple of developers that they will drop out of the App Store, but I doubt that the App Store will lose many apps over all. Developers of apps that have been being distributed via the App Store have had plenty of time to become compliant with sandboxing.

For the average user, I think the security option that allows downloads from the App Store and from certified developers will be the best option with one caveat. I would still advise researching an app that comes from a source other than the App Store before downloading it. The novice or timid user might be better off with the option that allows downloads from only the App Store.

What's Next?

Jenn: Good advice! So with more iCloud integration, speed, and security, what do you think is next for the Mac OS? Where do you see the OS heading in the future? Do you think we're heading towards a one-size-fits-all type of user interface for the Mac, iPhone, and iPad? And what might that mean for users who see the Mac as a completely different animal from their iDevices?

Yvonne: With Mountain Lion, Apple has certainly tweaked the Mac to be more like the iDevices. Many are calling this process the iOSification of the Mac. I think the interfaces will continue to move in the direction of looking and functioning more and more alike. As there has been in the past, there will continue to be cross over in each direction (from OS X to iOS and from iOS to OS X). I think Apple will continue to focus on and simplify the user experience by finding more ways to eliminate complexity and drudgery.

Are you already experienced with OS X Lion and just want to get up to speed with Mountain Lion quickly and with minimal hassle? Yvonne Johnson's new digital short, Introducing OS X Mountain Lion: What's New and What's Changed for Lion Users is for you! This downloadable eBook is short, to the point, an inexpensive. Available as an EPUB download, this quick Mountain Lion primer is perfect for reading on your Mac, your iPhone, or your iPad. Learn more.

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