Apple has whipped the curtain back from Mac OS X "Mountain Lion," the next version of its Mac operating system.
Scheduled to arrive this summer, Mountain Lion incorporates a number of features that first appeared on Apple's iOS operating system for mobile devices. Prominent among them: iCloud, which syncs user data (including mail, calendars, contacts and documents) between devices via the cloud. The new Messages feature allows Mac users to send unlimited messages to iOS devicesan expansion of the iMessage platform that debuted with iOS 5. Game Center, another iOS original, comes to the Mac with much of its functionality intact: users can play games (and compare high scores) with their friends.
Reminders and Notes, two other longtime iOS apps, will also appear on the Mac. Both will leverage iCloud to keep everything up-to-date. That's in addition to a Notification Center that consolidates emails, instant messages, friend requests and calendar alerts into a single integrated hub.
Mountain Lion's new Gatekeeper feature allows users to choose from three granular security options. You can choose to download and run applications from anywhere on the Web ('just as in OS X Lion,' Apple helpfully pointed out on its Website); alternatively, you can download and run apps from either the Mac App Store or those with a Developer ID; or you can select the top setting, which lets users only download and run apps from the Mac App Store.
For some time, Apple has increasingly positioned itself as a "mobile first" company. Successive editions of Mac OS X have embraced this philosophy; the current version, Lion, incorporated an app store clearly derived from the one available for iOS. Nor is that evolution toward mobile limited to software; Apple's MacBook Air, now its entry-level notebook, embraces a slim-and-light ethos that brings it more in line, aesthetically, with a tablet than the bulky laptops that defined the industry for so long.
If Mountain Lion's release schedule remains on track, it will arrive months ahead of its next big opponent, Microsoft's Windows 8. As with Mountain Lion, Windows 8 also embraces mobile-centric features: in addition to a "start" screen of colorful tiles linked to applications (the better for operating on tablets), the platform will include an app store and under-the-hood tweaks meant to optimize battery life and wireless connectivity. In the battle for the future, it seems, mobility is king.