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  • Just When You Thought Apple Ran Out of Cats

    February 17th, 2012

    Apple continues to defy conventional wisdom. On Thursday morning, just when Mac users were still getting accustomed to OS 10.7 Lion, Apple unleashed yet another cat, OS 10.8 Mountain Lion. But unlike previous versions of Mac OS X -- which is now officially OS X (Mac is not in the versioning or branding of the new OS) -- there was no special media event to herald the forthcoming release.

    Instead, Apple installed pre-release versions of Mountain Lion onto MacBook Airs and judiciously distributed them to certain members of the media, with the proviso that they not reveal any information until Thursday's announcement. Tim Cook also gave an interview opportunity to the Wall Street Journal. Quite a difference from the way such releases were handled in the recent past under the leadership of Steve Jobs.

    Yes, there has already been plenty of coverage about all the nooks and crannies of Mountain Lion and, of course, you can take a quick tour at Apple's site. But much of what you'll see can be summed up in a single phrase: the iOS-ification of the Mac continues. Take out an iPad running iOS 5 and you'll see most of the major features Apple has revealed. There will be others of course, to fulfill the promise of 100 plus.

    For example, Messages replaces iChat, combining the previous features of the venerable OS X app, FaceTime support, and integration with the iMessages texting feature from iOS 5. A renamed Contacts app replaces Address Book, and you will use Reminders rather than iCal to send yourself and your contacts alerts about events and meetings.

    One feature that might be a tad controversial for developers is Gatekeeper. It's part of the new Security & Privacy preference pane, and affords extra protection against the most common -- and one of the few -- types of Mac malware these days, the Trojan Horse app. There will be two settings to keep you from downloading one of those things by mistake and perhaps compromising your Mac. The first limits the installation and opening of apps to those you download from the Mac App Store. The second, which appears to be the default, adds an "identified developers" category. This one requires that developers, when signing up for Apple's developer program, apply for a developer ID, which creates a certificate that becomes part of their apps. If the app contains malware, the certificate can be revoked and the developer drummed out of the program. If that certificate isn't present, or is no longer in effect, the app won't open unless you follow a bypass feature I'll get too shortly. The third option lets you run any app, same as now.

    According to published reports, protection is limited to the initial installation and first launch. If right or control-click the app, you'll be able to open or install ones that would otherwise be blocked. From there on, those apps will run without any further interruption. But I wonder how this security scheme will work if you're not online and Apple's servers can't be contacted to identify a valid developer certificate.

    All in all, Gatekeeper seems to be a good idea, though I suspect developers who keep their apps on their own sites and not in the Mac App Store -- often because Apple won't accept apps with complex installations or which modify system capabilities -- may feel left out. They will, at the very least, want to make sure they get that developer ID and update their apps accordingly. Otherwise Mac users, particularly those new to the platform, may never discover those treasures, or abandon them when they don't install or open without an extra step. I suppose we'll have to see how it all works out.

    There's also a new Notification Center that's extremely close to the iOS counterpart. It will provide notices of events, messages, email and so on evidently on the upper right of your Mac's display. A System Preferences option will let you configure Notification Center separately for each supported app, again in the same way that it's done in the iOS. Since Apple will provide APIs for developers to add many Mountain Lion features, you have to wonder the fate of Growl, a third-party notification manager that's currently supported by loads of third-party apps.

    The Mountain Lion Game Center will allow you to share your gaming experience with friends and across Apple products. Over time, you will also likely see larger numbers of iOS games being ported to the Mac, which means you can start a game on your iPad, continue playing in your iPhone, and get to the finish line on your Mac. The Mac version of Game Center may indeed be the magic bullet to really grow the gaming market on the platform.

    There will be system-wide integration with Twitter, an enhanced iCloud with document sharing capabilities, and a lot more goodies. I suppose people who have ranted about Lion and the initial foray into iOS integration won't be impressed, but since you'll still be able to do most things on your Mac in the same fashion as you can now -- except for the revised Apple apps of course -- I fail to see that as a huge problem. Well, except for all those developers, such as Adobe and Microsoft, who still still haven't released Lion savvy stuff.

    Mountain Lion is scheduled for release in the "late summer," and will be available as a download from the Mac App Store. While the price wasn't announced, I'd be surprised to see Apple changing the current $29.99 rate. And, of course, you won't get a cheap upgrade from Lion. Apple doesn't do that.

    Now some might suggest Apple rushed Mountain Lion to trump Microsoft and the promised integration of Windows 8 with desktop PCs and tablets. But it may be part of a larger goal, which is to resume annual OS X upgrades. That will certainly keep developers busy, and you can expect that the differences between the Mac and the iOS will continue to lessen.

    I do wonder whether Mac OS 11 will move away from feline names and maybe focus on another animal. Canines perhaps? How about OS XI Bulldog?



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    12 Responses to “Just When You Thought Apple Ran Out of Cats”

    1. Turner Bain says:

      Please! No bulldogs! I'm a Yellowjacket fan.

    2. DaveD says:

      I was pleasantly surprised with the very early unveiling of OS X Mountain Lion. I did not think that we were going to see a 10.9 version, but it is good to see Apple putting OS X back on a yearly schedule of major upgrades. The members of the media who were blessed to have a one-on-one session with an Apple honcho, Mr. Phil Schiller, must be real stoked.

      Maybe we will see more forgotten Mac OS 9 features coming back. For us old timers, the Classic Mac OS had a notification system that went missing on Mac OS X. Growl stepped into the void with a solid system that was not annoying as seen on Windows. One might see that Apple is pulling a "Sherlock" on Growl, but I see as a lost feature returning.

      I don't mind the iOS-ification of OS X. There are so many more iOS devices out and about, consistency/familiarity of user experience with Apple products is a good thing. If Apple keeps the upgrade price at $30, it is a reasonable amount for those with upgradable Macs can opt to buy.

      This appears to be an opportunity for Apple to extract more and more Mac sales within the disillusioned PC users community still using Windows XP, not moving on to Windows 8 (the "Meh" edition). In 2014, what should one buy, a beautifully-designed Mac with OS X 10.10 (or OS XI Starship Enterprise) or a generic PC with Windows 8?

    3. Dan says:

      My guess is that they will stay away from canine breeds as OS XI names. Too easy to make "jokes" like: "OS XI 11.2 is a dog of an operating system. Apple really pooped the carpet this time."

    4. Jeff says:

      Given the myriad of issues that I'm currently having with Lion on a three year old MacBook Pro, I'm not at all excited about this upcoming release. Apple, how 'bout addressing the known issues with Lion before adding more features - and possibly new problems with another cat release? And don't even get me started on my issues with Safari crashing regularly on iOS!

      For the first time in my 25+ year Mac using life, I'm seriously considering reverting to a stable OS such as Snow Leopard!

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @Jeff, Are those issues in the OS or the apps you use? Details?

      Peace,
      Gene

    5. Jeff says:

      Gene-

      This are issues in either the OS or Apple's own apps, for example:

      1) I've had enormous problems with iTunes database corruption ever since mid-December. Problems range from files becoming associated with the wrong entry in iTunes, files disappearing from the database completely, and several dozen database temp files being created in the iTunes folder but not being deleted automatically when the database update is done. I also have issues with opening iTunes, getting an error that iTunes cannot locate the database (a restart fixes this issue). Manually pointing it at the database does not work.

      I do have an extremely large library on an external RAID server connected via WiFi, but the application was rock solid until about the time iTunes match was launched. My library is over 25,000 tracks, so I do not subscribe to that service. I connected the RAID server directly and that did not solve the problem.

      I spent much of January cleaning up the mess and using Doug's AppleScripts for iTunes to locate files that are in the iTunes media folder but not in iTunes or to find missing files in iTunes. Thankfully, the metadata is in the file itself and even if it is in the wrong location in the iTunes library folder, when it is added back to iTunes it populated correctly and I only have to remove the incorrect entry from the library to correct the "missing" file issue.

      I hesitate to start with a new library and import the xml file because I lose critical data on playcounts and date added going back to 2004. In my opinion, iTunes is having issues with writing to the database file and is either losing track of the primary key and writing new data in the wrong place, or is not updating the database at all and when you quit iTunes after an operation that moves or renames the files, the association is lost. The database itself is only about 50MB in size, so I'm at a loss to explain how this could be other than Apple made some major changes to how the database is managed under the hood.

      This weekend I plan to do a clean install of Lion and restore my data from Time Machine.

      If that doesn't work, I'll probably go back to Snow Leopard and pre-iTunes match version of iTunes.

      2) When opening an application in full screen, I'll frequently get the grey linen background on my main desktop and this will not revert to the correct picture until the application is closed. When in full screen in an application, the dock will inconsistently appear instead of disappearing as it should. Sometimes the finder will not display the menu bar or dock at all and only by command- tabbing to the application and using command-q can I get my finder and menu bar back. I thought this might be an issue with RAM, so doubled my RAM from 4GB to 8 GB and saw no improvement.

      3) On both the iPad and iPhone, Safari crashes regularly. This seems to be on sites with a large amount of scripting or pictures. iOS 4 was rock solid.

      4) There are also issues with video files that are purchased from the iTunes store refusing to play in iTunes or to sync with my V1 AppleTV, iPad, or iPhone. I'm told that the version of quicktime installed is incompatible with the file type. Deleting the file from iTunes (but not from the disc) then manually adding it again resolves the issue and it syncs and plays as it should. There is at least one thread in Apple's forums on this issue.

      I've been an Apple user since the 128k Mac, and this is is most frustrated I've ever been. The announcement of Montain Lion worries my because I don't see Apple addressing existing issues before rolling out new features in order to keep the company in the news and the stock price high.

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @Jeff, Sounds like a real mess, but I do not encounter any problems of that sort, and I run the latest and greatest of everything. Indeed, I find iOS 5 more stable than previous releases, particularly with regard to sudden Safari crashes.

      The rest of your problems, while obviously of concern to you and clearly severe, may happen to other people but aren't consistent enough to indicate OS, iTunes, hard drive corruption, or a combination of these and other factors. You are running OS 10.7.3 now at least?

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. Jeff says:

      Gene-

      Yes, the current OS and version on everything. No systems hacks. 75% of what I use are official Apple applications like Main, Safari, and iTunes. On a network that uses Apple hardware almost exclusively. I'm the perfect Apple customer.

      Perhaps a clean install will solve the issue. Thankfully I've got Time Machine.

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @Jeff, Wipe the drive. Start from scratch with your backup.

      As to the iOS, maybe restore your devices.

      Let me know how it works for you.

      Peace,
      Gene

    7. dfs says:

      “One might see that Apple is pulling a "Sherlock" on Growl. Growl is an open source project. Maybe Apple’s implementation will in fact be based on it, enjoying something of the same relationship that Safari has to Webkit. The implication of this might be interesting: could it be that any program already written to accommodate Growl notification will work with Apple’s implementation? That would give us a large library of Mountain Lion-ready applications from the get-go. This may be just a pipe-dream, but it would seem very sensible for Apple to build on an established scheme rather than designing its own from scratch.

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @dfs, Well, understand that there's already a Notification Manager in the iOS. But there's nothing that would have stopped Apple from using Growl there too, assuming licensing was proper and all. But Apple does things their own way, so don't expect to see existing app support to be included. Developers will probably have to use Apple's own APIs for this. Take a look at the iOS-style options and you'll see why.

      Peace,
      Genef

    8. Kaleberg says:

      re: "@Jeff, Wipe the drive. Start from scratch with your backup."

      That's probably good advice, and it's often given. My favorite version was some guy explaining:

      "The only way to fix your computer is to pour out all the old software, and then pour in nice new, fresh software to replace it."

      I think he was an auto mechanic, but it seems to work for cars.

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