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The Mountain Lion Report: Some Developers Are Way Behind the Curve

Trying to predict what Apple is going to do is an exercise in total futility. Just as soon as you think you have a handle on their product and marketing strategy, they turn around to upend your assumptions. It has happened often enough that you have to realize it’s all part of a plan you may never understand.

Take those “predictable” Mac OS X upgrades. With Leopard, Snow Leopard and Lion, you expected to see the birth of a new feline every couple of years, give or take a few months. It was all clockwork, and your expectations had it that the earliest Apple would disclose the particulars about 10.8 would be the 2012 WWDC, or maybe later.

But Apple had other ideas, and, no, I do not believe that Mountain Lion was designed in response to the perceived potential threat of Windows 8. To me, Windows 8 is little more than the traditional Windows OS with an an ill-conceived tiled overlay. That change could have been accomplished with an add-on, and Microsoft didn’t need to spend billions of dollars to make it happen. Aside from that, and the alleged porting of Windows 8 to ARM processors, I don’t see much meat in Microsoft’s OS plans. It seems to be little more than misdirection rather than OS innovation.

The real question is how developers are greeting Mountain Lion. For those who quickly made their wares Lion friendly, adding Mountain Lion hooks may not be so big a deal. I’m thinking in terms of compatibility with the Notification Manager, for example. A number of third-party programs use an open source tool known as Growl, which puts up similar notification banners, usually on the upper right of your Mac’s display. The message is white on black, same as the Notification Manager counterparts on the iOS and, now, Mountain Lion.

For Growl to work with an app, the developer has to put in the proper hooks, but now that Apple has a system-wide tool offering a similar capability, does that mean that Growl will be “Sherlocked” into nonexistence? And if you’re wondering what I mean by that, well there once was a clever third-party search app, Watson, that was beaten to death by Apple’s version, known as Sherlock. Apple didn’t even attempt to come up with an original name, but Watson soon went bye-bye, and Sherlock morphed into Spotlight.

I suppose the larger question will be whether Growl will be able to coexist with Mountain Lion as developers decide which direction to take, but a system-wide feature is almost always to be preferred if the Mac user is offered similar or better features. For 10.8, the Notification Manager’s setup screens very much resemble their iOS counterparts, as adapted to a desktop OS.

I also have to wonder about developers that, so far, haven’t really embraced Lion and are suddenly confronted with the prospect of having to catch up with yet another OS X upgrade. Perhaps they will just have to consolidate their work, and get it done in one process. But when it comes to such companies as Adobe and Microsoft, we may be looking at 10.9 before anything meaningful happens.

While Adobe’s recent Creative Suite apps do work fine under Lion, at least the ones I’ve tried, they do not support such native features as Auto Save or Versions, and forget about Full Screen Apps. With Mountain Lion, Adobe will have to consider not just the Notification Center, but the enhanced tools for iCloud. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to edit the same InDesign document on all your Macs, moving from desktop to note-book and back again, having the changes appear instantaneously. But that assumes you’re online when the magic happens. Otherwise, if Mountain Lion doesn’t fall back to your local network when you’re offline, you might have to wait for the changes to queue up. This is one of the unanswered questions about the whole thing.

You see, Apple imagines a future in which we are all living in the cloud (and not just the part of our anatomies above the neck). This means relatively swift 24/7 connections, and that’s not a certainly. In the U.S. alone, millions do not have broadband connections. Some don’t want it, many more can’t get it, which means they will have to keep their old fashioned analog telephone modems active all the time, and suffer from those pitifully slow connections many of you have forgotten. At least the local phone companies in those areas will be able to sell you a second line strictly for online use, if you don’t already have one.

I’m also more or less certain that Gatekeeper, meant to keep you from opening a possibly malware-ridden app, is yet another subtle gesture to coerce developers to put their stuff in the Mac App Store. However, there are apps that aren’t suitable now, and may never be suitable for such placement. Some of those apps tap system resources to, for example, capture both sides of a Skype conversation. Others have intense and sophisticated installers that throw files hither and yon on your hard drive. Neither would get to first base in the Mac App Store.

But if Apple were to work with developers to help them simplify those convoluted installations, and provide hooks to allow apps and the OS to talk to each other to allow recording from other apps and other functions to safely happen within a sandboxed environment, maybe it won’t matter.

Meantime, Mountain Lion may be both a threat and a promise to developers as they continue to try to embrace Apple’s OS future of major annual upgrades.