Apple has made the ninth release of its Mac OS X operating system, Mountain Lion, available for download from the Mac App Store as a $19.99 upgrade for users of the Lion or Snow Leopard OSes.
Chief among the more than 200 new features in Mountain Lion is integration with iCloud, Apple's cloud offering for customers for storage of files, photos and other content. In a July 25 news release, the company said iCloud enables easy setup of Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Reminders, Notes and iWork documents and that using iCloud keeps all of a user's content up to date across all of their devices such as an iPhone and iPad.
Mountain Lion also introduces a Messages application, which replaces iChat, and brings the iMessage app, already available on iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices, to Mac computers.
Apple addresses the risk of malware in Mountain Lion with a security feature it calls Gatekeeper, which monitors software that is downloaded from the Internet for malicious code. However, when Gatekeeper was previewed in February, some security experts said the feature doesn't go far enough to stop the spread of malware.
The new features in Mountain Lion were detailed at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in June in San Francisco, and reports indicated Mountain Lion will enable Retina displays on Macs, currently only available on the new iPad, as well as better integration between Mac OS X and iOS, the operating system for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.
The launch of Mountain Lion comes just a few months before the launch of the new Windows 8 OS from Microsoft, which holds the lion's share of the desktop and laptop OS market, though iOS rules the smartphone and tablet OS market. Microsoft is hoping to beat Apple at its own game by introducing the Surface tablet computer this fall, a device in which the software and hardware are both built by Microsoft.
Facebook will be more tightly integrated with the OS in Mountain Lion, Apple says, enabling users to post photos, links and comments with location information right from within applications. Users also will be able to automatically add Facebook friends to their Contacts and update their Facebook status from within the Apple Notification Center, which aggregates alerts from Mail, Calendar, Messages and other apps.
Also new in Mountain Lion is AirPlay Mirroring, which lets a user wirelessly send a secure stream of video content on their Mac to an HDTV using Apple TV, or send audio to a receiver or speakers that use AirPlay. While Apple TV is presently an appliance that streams content from a Mac to any brand of HDTV, there's speculation that Apple will introduce its own branded TV set, perhaps this year.