KELLNER: Apple’s Mountain Lion upgrade worth $20

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In its first four days on the market, Apple Inc.’s OS X 10.8 operating system release, also called Mountain Lion, was downloaded more than 3 million times, the firm announced Monday. That makes it “the most successful OS X release” of the nine major OS X versions, Apple said in a statement.

This is not the kind of “major” upgrade we’ve seen in times past, however. Yes, there are a lot of new features — Apple says more than 200 have been added — but it’s not the paradigm shift we saw a couple of years ago with Snow Leopard. Instead, it’s a solid, useful, interesting upgrade well worth the $19.99 price tag.

Where to begin? One nice thing is the Notification Center, a little sidebar on the screen — you can slide it in and out — where all your notifications can be found, including text messages, incoming email alerts (from Apple’s Mail application) and the like. It’s a nice feature, especially when combined with the new Messages application, which lets you do what essentially is texting to your friends. It requires an email address (don’t ask me why) but it works, and works nicely.

Another plus is integration with Apple’s iCloud service. By keeping your data and even documents stored online in its network, Apple says, “When you edit a document, the changes appear across all your devices.” I haven’t tried this yet, but it certainly is appealing. So far, iCloud seems to be free (for up to 10 devices, including iPhone, iPad and Windows-based PCs) but at some point, there may be a price involved.

Apple says it will add a Facebook sharing feature in the fall, letting you put stuff on the popular social media website from within “any” application. That may be a good thing; it’s almost guaranteed to create more embarrassing moments for someone online.

Apple also says it has boosted the power of its Safari Web browser, letting it offer more suggestions as you search the Internet from a unified Web address/search bar. It also will synchronize your Web doings, if desired, across your various devices, Apple says.

There are other improvements across various applications: Mail seems a bit smoother and better organized, although I’ve just about despaired of any chance of seeing “read receipt” as an option in Apple’s mail program. Some things are right regardless of whether anyone else thinks so, and this is one of them, even if Apple seems (uncharacteristically) tone deaf to its business-class users. On the plus side, you can select certain senders as “VIPs” by clicking a star icon next to their names. Those emails will get priority in future inbox refreshes.

Also new is Dictation, which will let you speak and have the Mac type. Once it’s enabled in the system preferences, you can invoke it and use the internal microphone on a desktop iMac or Macintosh notebook. In very brief testing, it seems to work almost flawlessly. This is a far cry from the past, when users had to “train” dictation software to recognize their voices and inflections.

Overall, David Pogue, the Mac savant whose “Missing Manual” series makes lives easier for millions, got it right: The Mountain Lion release marks the time when “the Mac became an iPad.” In other words, touch and gestures and the like dominate many of the new features of Mountain Lion, along with other niceties first seen on, well, the iPad.

There’s an importance, and logic, to this: With the incredible popularity of the iPad, using gestures to do things on a computing device is becoming a more usual practice for many of us. By moving this toward the desktop/notebook computing experience, Apple is pointing toward a merging of the platforms, something likely to take place in the next three to five years, I’d suspect.

If you have a Mac that’s capable of running the new Mountain Lion upgrade — Apple’s website can help you figure that out — go ahead and get the upgrade. If you need a good Baedeker, purchase Mr. Pogue’s “OS X Mountain Lion: The Missing Manual,” available as an e-book for $27.99 from http://shop.oreilly.com or later in August as a paperback. The author knows his subject, and users, especially insecure ones, will save a lot of grief with this book.

Email mkellner@washingtontimes.com

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