OS 10.8: Mountain Lion, The Svelte King (Upgrade Advice & First Impression)

Yet another major version release of OS X is out, and I have talked to a few people about it. For the most part, aside from a few “.0” bugs, the response has been pretty positive. I decided to upgrade after I noticed a vast majority of the apps I use regularly released updated Mountain Lion compatible versions within days of its release. Also, there were no reports of data loss (not that I have to worry about that because of the religious fanatic level of backups I have) or any major problems from people that upgraded right away.

My Advice for Upgrading to Mountain Lion: 10.8

So, I followed my own advice previously posted about upgrading. I’ll recap it here. In short:

  1. Check any essential programs and drivers for compatibility
  2. Backup, Backup, Backup!
  3. (optional) Buy a new HD (at Costco I can pick up a 1.5TB Seagate GoFlex FreeAgent for $110 {more about that later})
  4. Use Disk Utility to Verify and repair the disk & permissions. (You should be doing this monthly anyway.)
  5. Install
  6. Run Disk Utility to clean up any errors made during the install. (It is normal for a permission to be set wrong or part of the directory has a small error.)
  7. Open System Preferences, and go through each pane and tab to see the new features and change settings that you don’t like (such as only allowing AppStore or Signed code if you are an advanced user that doesn’t need training wheels, or fixing the “natural scroll” to the old fashioned way that is more logical with a trackpad, etc.)
  8. Make a new system (or complete) backup (to a new volume or disk image) before installing more programs just in case. (I use Carbon Copy Cloner for these because of its flexibility and speed.)
  9. Complain about silly changes or crashes (also optional for advanced users).
  10. Enjoy.

“GoFlex Young User”

About the Seegate GoFlex: In case you don’t know, all external drives are usually just a case with a SATA drive plugged into a backplane that converts the connection bus type from SATA to USB, Firewire, eSATA or Thunderbolt. Aside from the drive’s data throughput speed limit, each interface standard has its own speed limit. The Seagate GoFlex series takes the backplane and makes it removable. The advantage is twofold.

First: you can connect the external drive to the fastest bus type you computer has. Second: if you replace your computer with a newer model, it will most likely have a faster bus. Instead of having to buy a new external drive to take advantage of the increased speed the newer bus offers, you just need to buy a cable which is usually a fraction of the cost of a new drive. In essence, until SATA hard drive transfer speeds are exceeded by a new drive interface technology, you are getting a forward compatible piece of hardware that is easy to upgrade. You simply plug in a new backplane to upgrade, which is about as difficult as plugging in a USB cable. Because of the price and speed advantages, I am recommending these drives to anyone that needs external storage.

Real World Bus Speeds

Thunderbolt is easily the fastest bus type on the list, but the cables and adapters are active and require a chipset made using 3 very high quality specialty chips. So, for now, they are expensive. In about a year the prices for the cables and interfaces will probably be half of what they are currently. The Thunderbolt backplane adapter for the portables are currently between $80 and $100. However, the transfer speed Thunderbolt offers is pretty mind-blowing. I do not have a thunderbolt capable machine yet, but its bus speed is the best out their for consumer level external buses.

Firewire 800 has a real-world throughput of about 60-80MB/s. USB 3 should be at least two to three times faster than FireWire 800 in real-world tests. However, just like when USB 1 was introduced, bumping or moving the USB 3 cable will cause the drive to disconnect. If the drive is disconnected unexpectedly, the entire volume could be corrupted if the directory is being written when the drive disconnects. So, I am avoiding USB3 until it is revised. I suggest others do so as well, unless you have a perfectly stationary setup where you can avoid moving the cable or bumping the connector. USB 2 has a real-world throughput just under half Firewire 800, averaging around 30MB/s. Firewire 400 is comparable at about 35MB/s. These are all real-world numbers that I get. As you might know, USB is a shared bus, so performance drops with each device on the chain. What many people do not realize is that many devices included in a laptop —keyboard, trackpad, etc.— use the same bus as the USB connection on the case. All the machines I have seen only have one USB chip and thus one USB bu. You might have 2 to 4 sockets, but it is all on the same bus. When I noticed that even Apple does this to keep component costs down, I was disappointed. The USB numbers above are with nothing attached except the built in keyboard and trackpad. I could disconnect those, but given that most people would be unwilling to disable the drivers or unplug them, I left them connected in.

Mountain Lion: First Impression

This isn’t a complete review, but my first impression given that I have had it less than a week. Overall, I like it. I was pretty wary of some of the iOS integration, but the iOS conventions that were chosen this OS update where good ones overall. While I have yet to use the dictation features and iMessages, the feature set in this upgrade is pretty good.

iOS similarities

The notification center side panel slides out very nicely and might just replace Fantastical. When something is downloaded from Safari, an animation of it dropping into the downloads folder on my dock plays as a visual indicator of the download activating and where the file is going. Also, when files are copied in the finder, the size column (in list view) shows a progress bar for each file individually. This is a subtle change, but a huge improvement in the visual feedback department. Mail notifications also pop up like in iOS in alert form by default (although banner format is better for most things IMO) and look very similar to Growl.

Launchpad is Now Actually Useful (Kinda’)

The dashboard now uses Launchpad’s interface when pulling up new widgets. Launchpad is pretty lame as a app launcher, but a huge improvement over dashboard’s previous single line widget selection. A few changes such as three-finger clicking a word now pulls us the dictionary/thesaurus which takes only seconds to adjust to. Now a two-finger double-tap zooms the screen in. This is infinitely easier to remember than option-scrolling.

Safari 6.0: The “.0” is Telling

Safari is now blazingly fast, but not without a few display errors (such as when using the old webkit inspector) and the occasional crash-happy behavior when javascript or the network connection goes wrong. The new inspector takes a bit to get used to, and I am still adapting to it (mostly the lack of text labels for each tab are tripping me up), but the interface changes seem to be better than the old web inspector GUI. The crashes can be a bit annoying given that in about two to three hour of heavy use, multiple-tabs and the usual javascript madness, it crashes at least once. Because of the frequency of crashes, I am pretty sure we will see a Safari update to 6.0.1 very soon. (UPDATE: A friend commented that I am not a typical user, and for me anything less than 4 simultaneous tab open with 2 pages loading at once is a light load. On average I probably have 5-6 tabs open, and most have some javascript or other processing going on. Since my initial comments about stability, Safari has acted much more stable. I do not think it has crashed for a few days at this point. —20120810)

OS Refinements: “The ’S’ is for ‘Svelte’”

I’m a huge fan of giving people options, and Mountain Lion doesn’t disappoint there. Remember when people balked about Lion’s (10.7) Dashboard’s inflexibility? Now dashboard can be an overlay or its own space. Mountain Lion’s screen saver is snazzier and gives a few more slideshow options. I would complain about the inclusion of even more desktop picture taking up needless space when I am never going to use them, but I prefer more options in general. Plus, they are easy enough to trash, and some people might like more stock photo choices. (I use EarthDesk for my desktop background unless I am doing color-accurate work—in which case I switch the desktop to a neutral shade of grey.) Accessibility has been worked over to give it a prettier interface, but information on actually getting devices or using it is lacking on both Apple’s site and within the help system.

All in all the OS changes are positive, with the exception of the “.0” curse that plagues all new software. But there is one more thing that sells this OS: overall speed increases. After just a few days, I can tell the 64-bit versions of standard system software — striped of legacy code — are noticeably faster on my 8GB 2.53GHz Core2 Duo. This speed increase parlays into faster overall speeds of the applications updated to take advantage of the streamlined OS.

If you are wondering if you should upgrade, consider your actual needs first. The cost is negligible, and I can honestly say, I am glad I did. Just be prepared to deal with a few changes, but luckily the ones I have noticed are positive.

UPDATE: I just checked Memory prices at Other World Computing and Crucial. If you have a recent (2010-current) MBP, you can pick up 16GB of DDR3 DRAM for just over $150. If you are a NewEgg newsletter receiver, they have a sale on Patriot DDR3 with a subscriber code for even less. If you have an older MBP, I strongly recommend shelling out the $60 and maxing the memory out to 8GB.

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