Apple surprised the tech world last week by pulling the curtain back on its latest desktop/laptop operating system: OS X Mountain Lion. The final version will be released this summer, but the developer preview unveiled on Thursday shows that the upcoming OS picks up where OS X 10.7 -- code-named Lion -- left off. The coming update incorporates even more popular features from iOS, the software which runs the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
The upgrade -- pricing not yet announced -- will be available only as a download from the Mac App Store. Apple won't sell it on disc or on a thumb drive, as it did with earlier versions of OS X. That's a change from past practice and gives Apple another way to showcase its fast-growing App Store.
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Another change: Apple execs quietly previewed Mountain Lion first with a select few journalists and bloggers. Their early-bird reports last week led to a sudden tsunami of information about Mountain Lion and what it offers: iOS-like Messages, Reminders, Notifications and Game Center, AirPlay Mirroring, and a new security effort called Gatekeeper.
It was clear with the release of Lion last year that the Mac OS X and iOS feature sets were morphing; this year, that trend continues with Mountain Lion. The big question for users then becomes whether this melding of features works, whether the iOS-inspired apps and processes fit within the context of a desktop operating system.
For better or worse, the future of Apple's desktop OS is full of iOS-esque flourishes, changes that reflect a new Apple way of thinking and indicate where Apple is going.
The most important element of the new OS is deeper integration with iCloud, the collection of services that stores your data to Apple's servers automatically and then syncs that data across all your devices. On the iPhone and iPad, every photo, document, bookmark, contact -- everything -- gets backed up. And through iCloud, it gets automatically sent to all your Macs/PCs, iPhones or iPads. To put it another way, iCloud shifts the onus of keeping data organized and up to date on multiple devices from the user to the machine. It's invisible. And it just works.