OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion released

Today Apple released Mountain Lion, the next major release for the Macintosh operating system, OS X. Having been using it myself throughout the beta process, I can honestly say that this has been the most stable and reliable initial release in recent Macintosh history. Typically I suggest that people wait for the first service update which usually comes about a month down the road, but this time around I think that except for some extreme circumstances you should go ahead and do the $19.99 upgrade right away.

Can my computer run it?

As with each upgrade, there are going to be some Macs that can’t make the jump. This time around it doesn’t depend on a particular speed or a particular amount of RAM. No one seems absolutely certain of how these cutoff points fall where they do, but for each computer type the minimum release date is:

  • iMac (Mid 2007 or newer)
  • MacBook (Late 2008 Aluminum, or Early 2009 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid/Late 2007 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2008 or newer)
  • Mac mini (Early 2009 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (Early 2008 or newer)
  • Xserve (Early 2009)

If you are running Lion already it is easy to find out which model your computer is. Simply go to the Apple menu -> About This Mac -> More Info… and the model and year will be listed right there.

What if I’m still running Snow Leopard?
If your hardware meets the required specs, you can skip the Lion update and update directly to Mountain Lion from the app store for the same price, $19.99. If you’re unsure of which model you have you can put your serial number into Apple’s serial lookup page.

What if I’m still running Tiger or Leopard?
Some computers that originally came with Tiger or Leopard can still run Mountain Lion. Unfortunately, the only legitimate way to upgrade is multiple steps. First, purchase Snow Leopard on disc (Apple, $29.99), install all the software updates, and then purchase Mountain Lion from the Mac App store.

What’s the big deal? Why should I spend the $19.99?

Anyone who uses iCloud and iOS devices already will be in for some big new features, making your data work more seamlessly across your devices. Before Mountain Lion some things just didn’t make sense. Your reminders on your Mac were stored in iCal, and the options and layout were completely different than on iOS. Now the features are in parity: You have Calendar, Reminders, and Contacts on Mac the same way you have them on your iPhone and iPad. They’ve even changed the names to match.

In addition to the stronger iCloud integration and general polish you’ll find in every nook and cranny, here are some of my other favorite features:

  • Documents in the cloud – Now apps on your Mac such as Pages and Numbers can automatically synchronize with your iPad and iPhone. Not to worry if you don’t want your things in the cloud – you can still save only to your local computer if you want.
  • No more iChat – now it’s Messages. And it works with Apple’s iMessage system, meaning you can text your Apple-using friends from your iPhone and then continue the conversation from your Mac – and your friends won’t even know.
  • Notification Center – works similarly to the Notification Center on iOS. You can pull the panel up with a touchpad by swiping two fingers onto the touchpad from the right side. Or by clicking the new icon on the very right of the menu bar.
  • Power Nap – some fancy new Macs with SSD hard drives will continue to sync with iCloud, download new mail, backup to Time Machine, and download new software updates, even if your computer is asleep.
  • Dictation – The full personal assistant, Siri, hasn’t made an appearance in Mountain Lion. But you can still use built-in dictation by double-tapping the ‘fn’ key on your keyboard. Press it again to end dictation.
  • AirPlay to Apple TV – if you have an Apple TV you’ve probably sent your screen, YouTube videos and Pandora over WiFi to your television. Now you can do the same thing from your Mac. Yes, you can send Hulu by WiFi even if you don’t subscribe to Hulu Plus. Or Amazon Instant Video. Take that, Roku!
  • VIPs in Mail – Mail can be told who your most important contacts are by marking them “VIP”. This creates special smart folders for each person, and synchronizes to the upcoming iOS 6 so you can choose to only get new mail notifications from your VIPs.
  • Facebook integration (coming this fall) – If you want, your Facebook friends can be automatically synchronized with your Contacts app. Or you can post links to Facebook directly from Safari. Post a status update directly from your notification center. And read your Facebook notifications in the notification center.

Want to know the details? Apple has a nearly exhaustive list of new features.

How do I upgrade?

  1. Make sure the timing is right. I know I told you that this update is impressively stable and that you should update ASAP, but any time you make a big upgrade there are risks involved. Don’t do this right before you have a big presentation or are about to leave on vacation. While it’s very likely that the process will be flawless, you need to be ready to spend a little time troubleshooting your system just in case.
  2. Back upBefore you touch anything be sure to back up! My favorite method is Time Machine. And double-check your Time Machine backup by clicking the Time Machine icon in the menu bar. The last backup should be sometime today.
  3. Update. Make sure you are running Snow Leopard or Lion and that you have installed all the updates using Software Update in the Apple menu. Keep checking for updates until it says there are none left – sometimes one update is a prerequisite for another update.
  4. Purchase the upgrade. Make sure you aren’t on an internet connection that is metered (like a cellular connection). This is going to be a BIG update and without unlimited data it will cost much more than $19.99. Go the Apple menu -> Mac App Store and browse around for the Mountain Lion update. It’s likely on the very front page. This download is over 4 gigabytes, so depending on your connection speed this can take a few minutes or it could take overnight.
  5. Save the installer file. This step isn’t necessary if you are only installing on that one Mac. But if you have several Macs in your home you are allowed to install this update on all of them, and copying the installer file from your Applications folder to a disk is much faster than downloading it individually on each computer. For business computers you will need to purchase multiple copies which is beyond the scope of these instructions.
  6. Run the upgrade. The Mountain Lion upgrade application will be in your Applications folder. Whenever you’re ready go ahead and run it.
  7. Have a beer or coffee or read a chapter in that book you’ve been putting off. Check the progress. Repeat this step as necessary. It will probably take about an hour, but it just depends on how fast your computer is.
  8. Update. Run Software Update again from the Apple menu just to make sure.
  9. Check your apps and data. Make sure all of your apps load properly. Make sure that the content of your Documents, Desktop, mail, calendar, contacts, etc. all appears to be in order.