Apple is a company that always strived for perfection – just look at any of their products and you will notice that not even the tiniest details are overlooked or left to chance. The size, shape, weight and features are all aspects that are carefully planned, tweaked and polished before the products hit the market, in a continuous effort to make them as user-friendly as possible. A major role in the whole process is played by the software that powers the devices. With a history dating back all the way to the ‘80s, the operating system that sits at the base of Apple computers has undergone numerous modifications and updates, evolving into one of the most stable and intuitive operating system available to date.
This article will compare two of the most popular releases of the operating system: OS X Snow Leopard and OS X Mountain Lion. While we will try to cover as much ground possible and highlight the differences between the two versions, it is highly recommended that you have some basic knowledge of the OS X operating system to better understand what each version of the operating system offers. Whether you’re new to computers or just new to this particular operating system, you can learn the basics of OS X by checking out this online course.
A feature that makes OS X stand out today is its user-friendliness, and if you think that’s just applicable now, you’re in for a surprise: OS X, or System Software as it was known as at the time of its first release in 1984, was one of the first operating systems to come with a graphical user interface. This allowed the user to use a mouse and graphic controls to complete a task, as opposed to the competitors of that time, which used a command-line type of approach. Basically, Apple’s vision was to create an operating system that would allow the user to simply get the job done as quickly as possible, sparing her the effort of having to deal with technicalities. Keep in mind that this was all happening in 1984, when operating a computer was pretty much today’s equivalent of piloting a rocket.
The operating system proved to be a success, so updates started flowing. After 6 major releases of System (which was an unofficial name, by the way), Apple decided to give it a name, so Mac OS was officially born. This happened in 1996.
Mac OS continued to evolve and, with the release of its 10th revision in 2001, it was renamed to Mac OS X. In 2012 the “Mac” was dropped from the name, leaving the operating system named simply OS X. Different releases that followed used the OS X name, usually followed by a feline name. This is where OS X Snow Leopard (version 10.6) and OS X Mountain Lion (10.8) got their names from.
OS X Snow Leopard Overview
When Snow Leopard was released, in June 2009, the OS X operating system was already very well shaped, packing in everything a user might need. However, the large amount of added features started to have a negative impact on performance, so Apple decided to make Snow Leopard a release that wouldn’t deliver a lot of new features but rather focus on improving performance.
An important addition in this direction was the OpenCL framework, which allowed applications to take advantage of the processing power of both the CPU and the GPU, thus significantly increasing performance. As a result, several applications and services already present in the previous versions of OS X, such as Finder and Quick Time X were rewritten to take advantage of the new technology. This resulted in little to no visible differences, but a significant performance boost. Snow Leopard was also the first operating system to introduce Grand Central Dispatch, a technology that allowed programmers to optimize applications to make more efficient use of multi-core processors.
A negative aspect of OS X Snow Leopard is that it ceased support for PowerPC-based Macs and applications, getting complaints from a large mass of users. This meant that Snow Leopard could not be installed on Macs that were powered by PowerPC processors, which is pretty much every Mac manufactured between 1994 and 2006, when Apple started using Intel processors in its computers. The operating system still managed to run PowerPC based applications with the help of Rosetta – a piece of software that acted as a PowerPC emulator, allowing Intel-based Macs to run PowerPC-based software. Even so, Rosetta had limited functionality, so it was pretty clear to users that it was just a temporary solution that should buy them some time to upgrade to a new Mac.
OS X Mountain Lion Overview
OS X Mountain Lion is the 9th major version of OS X and was released in July 2012, 3 years after Snow Leopard. Don’t let the huge gap between the two fool you, though, as there was another version released between the two: Lion – released in June 2011. Despite the fact that OS X Lion was indeed a release that brought major changes, it also generated a lot of negative feedback because it was immature enough at the time of its release, feeling as it was completed in a rush. Deployed only one year after Lion was released, OS X Mountain Lion can be considered a refined version of Lion rather than a release of its own, as it doesn’t add any significant upgrades over it but rather corrects its problem.
One of the things that are clear right from the first glance is that Mountain Lion is set on pushing things forward by letting go of the past and focusing on the trends of the moment. While Snow Leopard cut support for PowerPC-based applications, but still left users with an option – Rosetta, Mountain Lion cuts support for PowerPC completely by dropping support for Rosetta, thus becoming the first release that is completely Intel based. On the “trends of the moment” side, Mountain Lion is greatly improved when it comes to productivity, social media and synchronization. Learn everything about the new features of OS X Mountain Lion from this online course; we are going to cover some of the major improvements next.
Mountain Lion – A Closer Look
The first thing you should consider when you think about upgrading to Mountain Lion is whether it can run on your machine, and how well. OS X Snow Leopards requires a machine with a minimum 1GB of RAM and 5GB of hard drive space, while OS X Mountain Lion requires a machine with 2GB of RAM and a minimum of 8GB of hard drive space. You can find the complete system requirements for Snow Leopard here and the system requirements for Mountain Lion here.
Mountain Lion is all about sharing, otherwise we wouldn’t see the reason for placing a share button pretty much everywhere throughout the operating system. The initial release of Mountain Lion had sharing options for Twitter, email and AirDrop, but lacked Facebook; a later update that came at the end of 2012 added full Facebook integration though, so you can easily capture and share everything.
If you own an iPhone or an iPad, chances are you will be quite familiar with the design of the new Notification Center, as it looks almost identical to its iOS counterpart, making it obvious that Apple is struggling to minimize the differences between its mobile and desktop operating systems.
The upgraded Notification Center is far less intrusive and intuitive, grouping notifications based on the application they belong to and automatically hiding them if you don’t take any action. You can also turn off notifications completely if you want to focus solely on being productive.
iCloud is one of those apps that just sit there quietly and make your life a bit easier. You may already be familiar with iCloud and cloud syncing at this point, but this version of iCloud takes it even further by syncing calendar entries, contacts and documents, making it significantly easier to share them or access them from paired devices. A very attractive feature of iCloud in OS X Mountain Lion is that it can even do its magic while your Mac is in sleep mode. Thanks to the Power Nap technology, everything will be synced all the time.
Again, if you use an iPad or iPhone and you also happen to own an Apple TV, AirPlay will definitely not be something you are unfamiliar with. The feature that allowed you to easily stream your digital content from your handheld device to the Apple TV now comes to your Mac, allowing you to watch a movie or hold a presentation much more conveniently.
Reminders and Notes
Two of the features that used to be hidden throughout other applications now evolved into standalone applications. This may not sound as much of an improvement, but this is another step into making OS X more similar to iOS. A neat feature of Reminders is that it gives you the possibility to set location-based tasks, such as setting different to-do lists for work and home.
Users that migrate from Microsoft Windows will find Gatekeeper very familiar, as it is basically the equivalent of Microsoft’s User Account Control feature. Gatekeeper adds an extra layer of security to your Mac by alerting you each time you are about to install an app that comes from a suspicious source. The feature comes with different security levels and you can even turn it off completely if you are completely sure about the safety of the apps you are using.
We’ve mentioned this feature briefly before, but we think it deserves its own paragraph. Power Nap allows laptops that are equipped with flash storage (some MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models) to perform some light tasks while in sleep mode. With Power Nap enabled, your laptop can synchronize files with iCloud, get updates or perform backups to a Time Capsule. Power Nap also became available to some desktop models with the release of OS X Maverick.
Apple’s famous browser gets updated to version 6 in Mountain Lion, and comes with some useful goodies. One of the most useful features would be the “omnibox”, a Google Chrome-like address bar that allows you to either type in an address or some search terms, instantly displaying results as you type. Safari is also integrated with iCloud, so if you need to leave your home in a hurry and want to continue browsing from your laptop while on the move, you can easily reopen the tabs you had, thanks to iCloud. The ReadingList feature that was also present in the previous version of Safari got upgraded, being able to detect if an article is spread across multiple pages and save it as a whole, making it more comfortable to read.
Upgrade – Is It For You?
So now that you’re a bit more familiar with both OS X Snow Leopard and OS X Mountain Lion, the question remains: will you upgrade or not?
On the upside, Mountain Lion brings some neat features that might improve your overall usage experience. Of course, you will need to familiarize yourself with the changes first, but it might be well worth the effort on the long run. While you’re learning, you might consider going a bit further and learning not just how to use the newer operating system, but also learning how to use your Mac at its fullest or even going the whole way through with an OS X tutorial that covers technical and security aspects.
If you still need to use older PowerPC-based applications or your current system configuration is not powerful enough to run OS X Mountain Lion, Snow Leopard is still a good option to consider. The final choice is yours.