Messages

One of the more tangible features of Mountain Lion is Messages, the iChat replacement that's long overdue. The main attraction is the ability to send messages to iMessage users from your Mac. The feature works and is available to Lion users as well through a beta, however the final version will be a Mountain Lion exclusive.

AirPlay Mirroring & QuickSync

Since Arrandale Intel has been offering its own flavor of wireless display technology called Intel WiDi. The premise is simple - take the display buffer, encode it in real time as a video (originally MPEG-2, later H.264), send it over WiFi to a box that can decode the video stream and display it over HDMI to an attached display (e.g. a HDTV). Apple enabled something similar on its iDevice platforms called AirPlay Mirroring. Deploying AirPlay Mirroring on iDevices made sense since all of those platforms ship with hardware encoders on their SoC. With Mountain Lion Apple is bringing the same functionality to Macs. The only requirements are that you have a second generation Apple TV and that it's on the same network as your Mountain Lion Mac.

AirPlay Mirroring isn't functional currently but by the time ML ships it should be. The usage models are plentiful (presentations, quickly tossing videos on the big screen for many users to watch, etc...) and the feature should do a good job of selling Apple TVs to Mac users.

Apple isn't being very specific on what hardware platforms will support AirPlay Mirroring. Sandy Bridge and later Macs shouldn't have a problem and I hope that Apple will leverage Intel's QuickSync technology to keep CPU utilization low. It's possible for earlier Macs to handle the encode workload but there's obviously a performance tradeoff. Apple is usually very sensitive to maintaining user experience over guaranteeing functionality so it'll be interesting to see where it draws the line for AirPlay Mirroring compatibility.

Unfortunately there's no update on QuickSync support elsewhere in Mountain Lion. Thus far all Finder and Quicktime initiated video transcoding is done in software on the x86 cores and doesn't appear to leverage QuickSync at all. Why Apple generally refuses to use one of Sandy Bridge's most valuable features for consumers remains a mystery to me.

Server

I won't dive too far into Mountain Lion Server, since this is just supposed to be a quick first look at a very early version of the product. However, for users of the product (and/or readers of our huge Lion Server review) there's one important change that comes in with 10.8 - Lion introduced a new program, Server.app, which took over some (but not all) of the functionality provided by the legacy Server Admin Tools. The tools are still provided as a separate download to close the functionality gap left by Server.app.

In Mountain Lion Server, more functionality of the Server Admin Tools appears to have been integrated into Server.app - NetBoot, the System Image Utility, DNS, and a few other services can now be managed in Server.app. There are still a few services that appear to be missing (DHCP, NAT, and a few others appear to be absent) - it's too early to say whether these services will be included in Server.app when Mountain Lion is launched, whether the company will offer a new version of the Server Admin Tools, or whether those services will be removed from OS X Server altogether.

Supported Macs

The last thing I wanted to talk about is something we've already touched on, but it bears repeating - Mountain Lion is dropping support for any Mac that is not capable of booting OS X's 64-bit kernel. Lion requires a 64-bit capable Core 2 Duo processor or better, but included the legacy 32-bit kernel to enable support for computers missing one of the other two components required for a 64-bit boot: a 64-bit EFI, and 64-bit graphics drivers. The complete list of supported Macs is below:

• iMac (mid 2007 or later)
• MacBook (13-inch Aluminum,  2008), (13-inch, Early 2009 or later)
• MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid-2009 or later), (15-inch, 2.4/2.2 GHz), (17-inch, Late 2007 or later)
• MacBook Air (Late 2008 or later)
• Mac Mini (Early 2009 or later)
• Mac Pro (Early 2008 or later)
• Xserve (Early 2009)

Generally speaking, if you don't want to use this Apple Support document to see whether your Mac supports the 64-bit kernel, there are a few rules of thumb you can use: if your Mac uses either the ATI Radeon X1600, Intel's GMA 950 or X3100, and any NVIDIA GeForce card older than the 8000-series, your Mac is likely disqualified from running Mountain Lion. This list includes computers (like the pre-unibody white MacBooks) sold just a little under four years ago, which is no doubt unwelcome news to users of those systems - unfortunately, you'll either have to upgrade your system or stick with Lion if you've got one of the unsupported Macs.

Some have reported that the Mountain Lion Developer Preview will install and run on some of these unsupported Macs without issues, but if you'll recall, early Lion previews could also be made to run on 32-bit Core Duo and Core Solo processors that were dropped from the support list. If the system requirements for the preview are in fact representative of the requirements for the shipping version of Mountain Lion, expect booting on those older machines to be blocked at some point in future previews.

Software Updates & Moving Toward the Mac App Store Conclusions
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  • Jaybus - Tuesday, February 21, 2012 - link

    Well, I think that if they go that route, then they will find themselves in court, just as Microsoft did. Embedding APIs available only to App Store apps is almost identical to Microsoft embedding Internet Explorer primitives into Windows. It is an unfair trade practice, and the DOJ will be all over it seeking a hefty fine to line the DOJ lawyers pockets. Reply
  • InsaneScientist - Sunday, February 19, 2012 - link

    Awesome preview as always, guys!

    A little niggle that has been bugging me for some time, I've just never gotten around to mentioning it: When you have an article with multiple authors that includes personal opinion (ie. things that are written first person) could you provide some indication of who wrote which sections? I'm pretty sure I've seen it from time to time in the past, but it's not consistent.
    I'm just OCD enough that I'm always wondering which person's opinion I'm reading at a particular point in time.

    With that out of the way, a random question: Does 10.8 support the ability to pause and resume file copies? I've actually found that I use that feature in the Windows 8 developer preview a LOT more than I would have thought.

    I also find it interesting that they seem to be simultaneously trying to make OS X server more consumer friendly (such as the management options for iOS devices) whilst making it so that it can't be the only server on a network by (potentially?) removing DHCP. Any insights into the contradiction?
    Reply
  • Malih - Sunday, February 19, 2012 - link

    exactly, I think many readers wonder who is "I" on one particular section of the article. Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    Unfortunately, you cannot pause a file transfer in the current developer preview :-( Reply
  • Mr. S - Sunday, February 19, 2012 - link

    "... Mountain Lion is dropping support for any Mac that is not capable of booting OS X's 32-bit kernel."

    I think you mean 64-bit.
    Reply
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Sunday, February 19, 2012 - link

    Yup! Fixed. Reply
  • MonkeyPaw - Sunday, February 19, 2012 - link

    My concern with aggressive OS releases is that of support. While I think iOS does a better job than Android when it comes to mobile unity, Apple has been notorious for dropping "old" desktop models from its support list. These aren't cheap pieces of hardware, nor are they useless as everyday machines on the day Apple drops them. While you can continue to run old versions of OS X on these machines, will security and stability updates continue? Will Apple will find that people are using anywhere from 10.6 to 10.10 in 3 years? Seems like it will get fragmented, which, as MS can tell you, is a nightmare. Sure Apple can just end support of "old" versions of OS X, but that has its risks. Will software developers keep up? What if people choose to stay on a given version because they don't want to upgrade?

    Don't get me wrong. I want to like Apple's products. I've owned Macs before back in the PPC days, and I have an iPhone 4 (work-issue). The hardware is top notch, and I like OS X for the most part. It's Apple's business practices that I just can't get on board with. I just wonder how many more people there are that feel this way that elude Apple's sales. Apple reap billions already, so maybe they are just fine with not having people like me as customers.
    Reply
  • HunterKlynn - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    Well, for dropping old hardware I kind of understand it, and if anything I think they're trying to reduce fragmentation. Right now, they're basically saying "it's time for 32 bit to just go away forever" which is a mindset I can easily get behind. That and requiring everyone to have OpenCL support which also is a matter of bringing the platform in line.

    I would assume an annual release cycle would have a reduced list of dropped hardware since A) things won't have changed quite so much and B) the two major changes in hardware types have been covered by the requirements on Mountain Lion.
    Reply
  • name99 - Tuesday, February 21, 2012 - link

    What exactly is your complaint? That's the part I don't understand.

    Apple has a very clear policy on security updates; and even when they stop providing them, chances are that your system is secure enough that it's not big deal.
    So you are upset that you bought a computer and Apple will stop providing new software for it seven years later?

    If you still want to use your slow computer seven years after Apple stopped supporting it, go ahead and do so --- it will still work. I have a PPC laptop I use as server running 10.5, and a 1st gen Intel laptop running 10.6. I don't bitch and whine about how they can't run newer OSs because what's the big freaking deal? They still work every bit as well as they did last year and the year before that. You come across as a guy who buys a car then complains that he has to buy gas every so often.

    Maintaining backward compatibility forever is not free --- just ask MS. Forcing backward compatibility introduces bugs and makes it that much more difficult to add new features or improved algorithms. To take an obvious example --- if (when?) Apple introduce a new file system, it's a whole lot easier if they can just assume that it runs only on 64-bit machines and that they can cleanly use 64-bit integers and even 64-bit assembly where-ever they need to. (And don't tell me that compilers can support 64-bit longs transparently on a 32-bit machine --- yes they can, but not atomic operations on 64-bit longs.)

    And it's not like Apple have made these decisions randomly. Dropping PPC, then dropping Intel 32-bit support are both obvious decisions that allow the company to concentrate on moving forward rather than constantly being slowed down by the past.
    The good news is that, for the most part, it's over now. The obvious future transitions are
    - drop ALL 32-bit code support (maybe coming in Mountain Lion even)
    - drop Carbon
    at which point ideally Apple has the energy to move forward with one OS and one runtime a whole lot faster.

    On the other hand, we are going to see, soon enough, the transition to 64-bit iOS. Expect a whole lot of bitching at that point from people who are upset that Apple won't support their iPad2 for the rest of time.
    Reply
  • B3an - Sunday, February 19, 2012 - link

    It's very obvious that this faster release cycle is in response to Windows 8. All the massive changes and improvements in W8 obviously have Apple worried. Especially with all the upcoming W8 tablets that will cut in to iPad sales. And unlike Mountain Lion which wont run on older Apple hardware, W8 will run on most PC's that can run the decade old XP, because as a benefit of all the performance optimisations for tablets i've managed to get Win 8 to run atleast as good as XP on laptops that are over 7 years old and only have 512MB RAM.

    And correct me if i'm wrong, but i dont remember seeing any article like this mentioning the new stuff within the Windows 8 Dev Preview when it came out late last year. Win 8 is a FAR bigger change and update than Mountain Lion, yet there was nothing like this article. I know the Dev Preview was missing many features but still disappointing.
    Reply

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