updated 09:35 am EST, Thu February 16, 2012
Mac OS X Mountain Lion adds iMessage, Reminders
In a surprise step, Apple on Thursday gave developers a preview version of OS X Mountain Lion, the next significant update to the core OS. The new version is directly influenced by iOS 5 and includes Notification Center, Reminders, Notes, Game Center, and Twitter integration, with iCloud syncing where it's relevant. AirPlay Mirroring is also new to the Mac and shares exactly what's on screen through an Apple TV.
iCloud integration extends from a simple signup process on first boot to apps having not just the option to save to iCloud but to have basic file management, including single-level folders.
iMessage is now a core component of the Mac and will at last let owners keep track of messages that would otherwise be going only to their iOS devices. The app is available in a free beta for Lion users and replaces iChat while keeping its support for AIM, Google Talk, Jabber, and Yahoo.
Share Sheets likewise come from iOS and, in Safari, let users not just bookmark but e-mail, message, or Twitter whatever they're seeing. Apps with the feature active will also have the option to share photos to services like Flickr, videos to sites like Vimeo, and otherwise skip the need for a companion app.
Specific Mac additions focus on security through a new element known as Gatekeeper. Similar to Android, it lets users optionally limit apps to those only coming from the official app portal, here the Mac App Store, but goes a step beyond to support non-store "trusted" developers. A Developer ID program gives companies and individuals a unique signature that verifies that proves their code is both safe to use and authentic. The approach theoretically gives developers the freedom to code outside of Mac App Store limits and end users a reassurance they're using safe code.
Chinese Mac owners are courted specifically and get access to Weibo microblogging as well as calendar, contact, and e-mail links for 126, 163, and QQ. Video sharing includes Tudou and Youku in China, and text input in Chinese characters is reportedly faster.
Underneath, the Game Kit API taps into Game Center, while a new graphics engine incorporates GLKit and should improve making OpenGL- and OpenCL-capable apps. Core Animation is easier, and the video APIs are now truly 64-bit. Developers that want to use multi-touch input from Lion can now use double-tap and OS-level lookup gestures like Apple's own apps. A kernel-level address space layout randomization technique alters the memory footprint to discourage memory buffer overflow exploits, one of the most common tactics for viruses.
Apple expects Mountain Lion to arrive in the late summer and will have at least a Mac App Store upgrade available.