Preview OS X Mountain Lion

Hands on with Apple's new OS X: Mountain Lion

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Gone from next to the address bar is the search box. Instead, at long last, Apple has unified the address bar and the search box. Now if you type “fourth doctor” into that box, you’ll get a bunch of links about Tom Baker instead of an error message telling you that Safari can’t find the website “http://fourth%20doctor/.” The address bar also now omits the http:// prefix on URLs, and while the main part of the site is displayed in black text, the rest of the URL displays in gray.

The new Safari toolbar emphasizes the domain name of the page you're browsing and has a more prominent Reader button.

And although I couldn’t find this feature in the version I tested, Apple says that Mountain Lion will bring the ability to sync Safari tabs to iCloud, so your open browser tabs can sync between Macs.

China-specific features

Apple’s had huge success in China lately, most particularly with the iPhone. With Mountain Lion, the company is trying to improve support for those who write in Chinese as well as recognizing that most of the popular sites that Apple integrates with OS X aren’t actually available within China.

On the text-input side, Mountain Lion will offer better suggestions and corrections via a dynamically updated dictionary, something an Apple representative told me was because Chinese word usages are evolving rapidly. Apparently English words are often inserted in Chinese text, so Mountain Lion allows the mixing of Pinyin and English without switching between keyboard layouts. Apple says Mountain Lion also doubles the number of characters recognized by trackpad-based handwriting recognition.

On the Internet services side, Mountain Lion offers support for Chinese alternatives to several worldwide services. Search-engine Baidu is now an option in Safari. Chinese microblogging service Sina weibo is supported in Share Sheets, just as Twitter is. In addition to Vimeo and Flickr, Mountain Lion will support sharing to Chinese video-sharing sites Youku and Tudou. And Mail, Contacts, and Calendar syncing will be supported to Chinese service providers QQ, 126, and 163.

Just the beginning

Of course, this is only the first disclosure by Apple about what’s in Mountain Lion. There are undoubtedly dozens, if not hundreds, of minor tweaks and small new features being added. And there might even be big ones as yet undisclosed—after all, we’re four to seven months away from Mountain Lion’s arrival.

If you’re a Mac user, the best news about Mountain Lion is this: Apple doesn’t seem to be reducing OS X’s development cycle and putting it in maintenance mode. Instead, OS X releases seem to be accelerating, perhaps so that the annual release cycles of iOS and Mac OS X can feed off one another.

It’s also clear that with both Lion releases, Apple is dead serious about making Mac OS X and iOS as synced up as they possibly can be, both in terms of interface and—thanks to iCloud—data. Mac users who aren’t fans of iOS might complain, but these days Apple sells many times more iOS devices than Macs in any given quarter. Having all of Apple’s products bear a family resemblance to one another can only help.

[Jason Snell is Macworld’s editorial director.]

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