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


View All Comments

  • steven75 - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    "But my 10 year old needs to understand computers properly"

    And why, exactly, is that?

    Will you require her to build her own car, slaughter her own meat, assemble her own furniture?
  • bji - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    Is it really possible that so many people can't see the difference in the expected benefit of having deep technical knowledge of computers versus knowing how to build a car, slaughter a cow, or build furniture?

    Seriously - are you living in 1912 or 2012? I personally live in 2012 and can readily see the benefit of technical knowledge.

    Furthermore, experience with building/programming computers is fairly easy to impart when a) the parent is already interested in and knowledgeable about them, and b) it is an easily accessible, "clean" topic of study. We can easily teach our children about computers, it is much harder for a whole variety of reasons to give them hands-on experience with car manufacturing or cow slaughtering.

    I imagine that there are in fact some carpenters for whom the last suggestion - furniture assembly - is a reasonable thing to try to teach their children, but those people are probably underrepresented here. But I would not begrudge them a desire to pass their knowledge onto their children either, although I suspect those of you in the deliberately-obtuse crowd would.
  • solipsism - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    Is it really possible that so many people can't see the difference in the expected benefit of having deep technical knowledge of computers versus only having a computer if you've built it yourself? Reply
  • bji - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    Although your comment doesn't make any sense as written, I'll assume you meant to point out that you don't have to force someone to build their own computer as the only way to help them to learn about computers.

    Nobody said that building your own computer is the *only* way to learn about computers; but the burden of proof would be on you if you are suggesting that it isn't a good way to get some knowledge about how computers work and what they are made of.
  • cjs150 - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    If all children are taught is to use certain software packages, for example Word, you are not teaching computing but merely a more modern version of a typist course. Children deserve and need to learn more because they will be the next generation of programmers, system designers, graphic designers etc

    Yes children should learn about how the meat they eat is farmed, the slaughtering techniques, hygenie issues. Actually slaughtering animals is probably off the agenda in a inner city school though!

    I believe that assembling her own furniture would get taught in woodworking (or whatever the course is called now), although that covers a bit more as well. And she did (with help) assemble her own flat pack book case
  • Conficio - Tuesday, February 21, 2012 - link

    As a father, I'd only remark that you should carefully weigh if your daughter has an interest in building a computer.

    Nothing wrong with teaching your kids a subject where you are an expert. Just they have to be motivated.

    School teachers these days (not much to their fault) are not experts in anything they teach. In a modern (city or Internet connected) world there are always better writers, critical thinkers, mathematicians, biologists, farmers, woodworkers, typists, etc. in easy reach. It used to be 100 - 150 years ago that a teacher was one of the elite (besides the mayor, priest, doctor and lawyer in town) based on his/her academic training and ability to read/write and have some understanding of the world beyond the village boundaries. The world has changed often you find among the parents alone way more expertise in most subjects taught.

    Anyhow in most cases teachers do not and can not stretch the knowledge of their pupils into current expertise in almost any field. So being able to teach some of this yourself is a good thing.

    However, you got to see that at the end of the day you are not imposing your own desires and like onto your child. Because that won't help and make the child only feel misunderstood by its parents. Have an eye of the fact that it is not so much about what you learn, but more to what level of effort (and academic abstraction) you learn it. That is what teaches you how to learn any kind of complex subject and that is the skill that sustains you in life (besides social abilities and [self] motivation).
  • FWCorey - Tuesday, May 1, 2012 - link

    "As a father, I'd only remark that you should carefully weigh if your daughter has an interest in building a computer.

    Nothing wrong with teaching your kids a subject where you are an expert. Just they have to be motivated."

    Part of being a parent and helping your child to develop is giving them knowledge of a broad range of subjects. Just because something the have no knowledge of doesn't interest them, doesn't mean that might not change once they've been given a little experience with it. And if it doesn't change, at least they can honestly tell themselves it's an informed choice.

    We should all have at least a little knowledge of a wide range of topics anyway, whether they appeal to us or not for the simple practical reason of communication with others who do. You also never know when a tidbit of info from some other topic can help you see something you ARE interested in from another perspective.
  • suprem1ty - Tuesday, February 21, 2012 - link

    Theres nothing wrong with providing some education.

    Especially when said education (computing) is so important and fundamental to our current society.

    If I had a child I would want to make sure that they were well educated when it came to things I found important; it's not until they're old enough to choose for themselves that I would let them "take their own path" as it were.
  • cyabud - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    "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."

    Apple hasn't removed any features from Mountain Lion that prevent you from fiddling with settings or adding programs that genuinely extend or enhance your working experience.

    I am a power user running OS X, Windows and Ubuntu on multiple machines/VMs. All three systems offer plenty of configuration options (from a client perspective, as oppose to server) and third party software to do pretty much anything I want from any system I choose.

    Sure, AirPlay Mirroring is 720p only for now but don't act like alternatives don't exist... My copy of Lion is running a DLNA server streaming 1080p video to my Samsung blu-ray player without issue.
  • KPOM - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    Windows 8 ARM will be an even tighter walled garden than Mountain Lion. It will be like iOS, actually. Apps will be available exclusively from the Windows Store.

    I think computers have started to arrive where cars have been for the last 20 years or so. They are complex appliances that are turnkey to the end-user. Most of us don't know how to tinker with our cars the way people did back in the early days (or as late as the 1970s and 1980s).

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