Friday, July 27. 2012
So, if you're a Mac user you'll know that Wednesday was the release of Mountain Lion, OS 10.8. Like the release of Lion this was run through the App store and, for me at least it went really smoothly, just as it had with Lion, although I didn't try until Thursday. I'm sure someone out there had problems, too many millions trying it, but for me it was plain sailing. Downloading nearly 5GB takes a while (about 20 minutes for me today) and then there's a roughly 30 minute install period too, during which as I'm sure you can imagine your computer is unavailable.
As with all these things, there's some fun. Snapz Pro X has stopped working. I hope that's fixed soon! Air Video Server (to let me watch videos stored on my iMac via my iPad) required an upgrade to the Java install but that was smooth enough. Apparently Photoshop CS4 has a few issues, but I tested a few of the things I do regularly and it didn't seem to be a problem for me. A few things took a while to find their feet and launch smoothly, including a couple of first time crashes and a Firestorm download that required playing with the security settings to allow other programmes to install, but otherwise for me it's been relatively smooth. SpamSieve, my preferred spam filter took a bit of playing - I had to make a rule to enable things it tags to be moved to the spam folder which is hardly a problem - but once I did that, it was all ok. Sneaky scripts on start-up that chmod to show the library by default still work for me.
The changes you're likely to notice will vary depending on how you use your Mac. It will be hard to miss the Notification Centre. There's an extra icon on the menu bar, hard right, that slides your screen left and a notification panel in for you if you wish. Alternatively you can have growl-like pop-ups under it, with a per-app choice of if these show and if they pop up and vanish or show and stay. It would be nice to be able to control how long they stay and what colour they are but if you're used to growl you'll be OK with this. I don't think there is currently third party app integration to the notification centre (unlike Growl) but it works nicely and the slide over screen is a nice option too, that will also let you tweet things and so on easily if you choose.
Mail has had some superficial seeming tweaks, most interesting of which to me is the VIP status - so you can very quickly sort emails from important people into their own smart mail boxes. Yes, you could do this with a rule, but because it's a simple option from their email address you can do it more dynamically as you change project partners and similar if you wish. If you don't like Mail I'm sure this won't make you start using it. I do, and this was a nice little extra for me. There's some nice eye-candy if you select multiple emails too, with the forming a stack of post that you drag around.
Safari, which I also use most times now, has also had some changes too. There's a nice set of buttons to let you share tabs across the cloud to other computers, your iPad etc. That is nice. There's a button at the end of the tab bar that lets you navigate through tabs in Cover Flow mode. It's pretty, but I'm not sure I'll use it much. If it had a keyboard short cut so I could easily add it to BetterTouchTool I might be inclined to use it more. It also has a single bar at the top that doubles as a URL display and a search bar. I find myself unconvinced by this - I liked the separate search bar - but I don't dislike it really strongly. I also found I often go to known sites by starting to type their URL into the location bar and that's still there, but I use Albert to start a search most times, even if I've got my browser open. The ability to search directly in DuckDuckGo has gone with the unified bar but is still there in dear old Albert.
And finally, although hidden away, Siri is sort of there. Well, a Fn Fn press will let you dictate into it. It's not clear to me what this works in and what it doesn't (for example it doesn't work in nvAlt despite the microphone icon appearing, I'm guessing it can't insert text nicely) but using it in Safari let me dictate a top level URL or two reliably despite background noise like the TV, a howling fan and more. It doesn't work with my version of Pages so I can't dictate an essay but I could probably dictate a blog entry if I wanted.
There's more lurking around. It might be my imagination, but Safari 6 seems faster than Safari 5. Other bits like that. But, overall, Mountain Lion seems like a good solid upgrade. I would definitely complain if I'd splashed out $60+ on it, but for $20 the little tweaks and whistles work nicely and will probably have more long term effect than any $20-worth of apps I buy on my day-to-day computing.
There are some interesting things too: If I start spoofing my IP address and buy AppleTV. Airplay Mirroring will let me play anything my computer can see wirelessly to AppleTV and then onto the TV. If I spoof my IP address to look American, all of Hulu is available free to a computer... so is a lot of US catch-up TV (think iPlayer). I'm not going to do that but I suspect it's harder to catch than downloading from Pirate Bay or similar if you're interested in doing such things. Will the next iteration of AppleTV be as disruptive as the iPod, iPhone and iPad I wonder, after earlier versions were essentially fan-boi only.
I've had BetterTouchTool (BTT) for a bit longer than MountainLion but it's taken a little while to explore it and get used to it. What is BetterTouchTool? Simply put, it's a tool to make your Magic Mouse and/or Trackpad work more nicely.
It essentially intercepts the taps, swipes and clicks, one, two, three or four fingers and lets you assign functionality to them. This can be global or application specific as you prefer. There is quite a range of choices available, including some predefined ones and a range of keyboard options.
So, for example, I have a four finger swipe up is always expose to desktop, and a four finger swipe down is launch finder. Normally I don't use middle finger taps for anything, but if Safari is my active application, tapping in the middle of the mouse (that's a left-right middle, still at the 'top' of the mouse) will do a command-click to open the link in a new tab and two finger swipes to left and right will move me through tabs. If I'm in nvAlt though, that same middle-tap will instead take me to the search bar (much more useful in the circumstances). The jump to the search bar is achieved by telling BTT that in nvAlt that middle tap is to do Cmd+L, similarly in Safari changing tabs is done by assigning the movements to the keyboard shortcuts (Cntl+Tab and Shift+Cntl+Tab if you don't know) for tab navigation.
I'm considering a quit gesture, overridden in Finder with something else - but frankly that's probably a step too far, I use the keyboard quite happily after all. Similarly, it would be easy enough to make universal gestures for copy and paste if I wanted - and perhaps make some sense since I often use the mouse to select text for copying so I can keep my hand on the mouse to actually copy, move to another place/app and paste. Perhaps three fingers down to paste, three fingers left for cut and three fingers right for copy... we shall see.
I suspect another issue will be remembering what all the choices are! You get, with just a mouse, about 40 different combinations of gesture/click. You can add even more fun with modifier keys (Fn as well as the more usual shift, command, control and alt) and you can have them in combos too. That gives millions of possible choices per application. But a good slew general ones and a few app specific ones for my commonly used functions like that will be nice. But BBT is free, seems to work very smoothly and efficiently (although it takes a minute or two for a new gesture to propagate and get established when you're creating them for specific apps) and offers a nice interface for creating new functionality. All in all, well worth a look if you're on a mac.
There are a couple of odd things. For example BTT installs as a preference pane, but runs much more smoothly from its menubar icon. It offers a "tap over mouse icon" entry choice but I can't get this to work. And, perhaps understandably, if there's not a keyboard shortcut (like changing panes in Safari) you can't do it from the mouse. But for the price it's hard to complain about the extras it does offer.
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