The Cat You Have To Have (Part 3)

10/1/2012 9:12:46 AM

Ever since Apple introduced the Mac Store, many people have speculated that it was only a matter of time until the Mac, like iOS, could only run software sold directly via the store.

I never really thought that was a serious possibility and Mountain Lion seems to clinch it. The new Gatekeeper feature, found in Mountain Lion’s Security & Privacy preference pane, adds an intermediate level of protection between fully approved App Store apps and random files download from unknown sources over the internet.

Description: Gatekeeper eyes your apps

Gatekeeper eyes your apps

It’s Apple’s attempt to bring more iOS-style security to Mac users even if the apps they use are not from the App Store and it’s a great move.

By default, Mountain Lion will launch newly downloaded aps from the Mac App Store as well as any apps written by ‘identified developers’ without complaint. Identified developers are members of Apple’s Mac developer program who have obtained a certificate linked to their identify which they use to cryptographically sign their apps.

(Apple doesn’t do any sort of background check on the developer and it doesn’t approve any of this software. All it means is that Apple knows who the developer who signed the app was and that gives Apple the ability to revoke the developer’s license if they’re discovered to be a distributor of malware.)

The act of cryptographically signing apps also prevents legitimate apps from being tampered with after the fact, since any modified apps will fail the check that Mountain Lion performs.

Most people will only run into Gatekeeper when downloading an app that hasn’t been updated with a developer signature. You can turn off Gatekeeper altogether, of course, but you can also choose to open unidentified apps manually: Just control-click on the app in the Finder and choose Open. Gatekeeper won’t stop you.

It’s also important to note that, as the name implies, Gatekeeper is not a system that continually scans your Mac looking for malware. It works only the very first time you try to open an app, using the same system that warns you before you open just about any file that you downloaded from the internet. Once you give that app entry through the gate and into your Mac, there’s no more security.

Gatekeeper’s not the only security addition to Mountain Lion. The Security & Privacy preference pane’s Privacy tap is now more granular. In addition to control over location-based data (introduced in Lion) and the sending of diagnostic information to Apple, you can also control access to Contacts, Twitter and Facebook.

Sharing and social services

In an attempt to reduce the amount of steps required to share stuff on your Mac with others, Apple has added a sharing button to most of its apps and provided access to the same sharing functionality for third-party app developers. When you click on the (familiar to iOS users) Share button in an app, you’ll see a pop-up menu listing several ways to share the item you’re working with.

Description: You can quickly share web pages with Twitter using Safari’s Share button

You can quickly share web pages with Twitter using Safari’s Share button

Extending the theme of sharing, Apple has integrated Twitter and Facebook, as well as other services including Flickr and Vimeo, throughout Mountain Lion. (I was able to try the Facebook functionality on a demo system lent to me by Apple; the initial release of Mountain Lion doesn’t support it, but it’ll be made available in an update sometime soon.)

In Safari, the Share button lets you post a link to Facebook or Twitter (and, in a nice touch, that choice will bring up a ‘share sheet’ where you can compose your own text, rather than sending out a generic pre-formatted message), add a bookmark, send a link via Messages, add the page to Reading List or send the story via email. (If you choose to send the story via email, you can choose to send a link, the HTML of the page or a stripped-down view of the page in the style of Safari’s Reader feature.)

You can add your Twitter and Facebook account information in the Mail, Contacts & Calendars system preference. Once that’s done, it becomes easy to quickly share items from just about anywhere via the Share menu or the buttons at the top of the Notification Center list. I was able to post an image to Twitter and Facebook from within Preview, as well as send it to Flickr. I could even transfer it to a nearby Mac via Apple’s AirDrop file transfer feature, all without leaving my Preview window. You can even choose whether to make your Facebook posts public, just to your friends or to a limited list of friends.

Twitter and Facebook integration goes beyond that, though. Mountain Lion can sync with your Facebook contacts list, so that all your Facebook friends appear in Contacts. If the members of your Contacts list are also your Facebook friends, Mountain Lion will do its best to avoid making duplicate entries. (A few of my friends were duplicated when I tried this, but merging them back into one record wasn’t too hard using the Merge Selected Cards command in Contacts.)

Mountain Lion can also optionally update the pictures attached to each of your contacts based on those contacts’ public Facebook profiles, even if they’re not Facebook friends, and can do likewise with Twitter avatars.

Goes in here, comes out there

There aren’t that many different ways to say, “Here’s a feature that you’ve seen on iOS that’s also now on the Mac.” But here we are again: AirPlay mirroring, a feature introduced in iOS 5, has arrived on the Mac.

Description: AirPlay Mirroring

AirPlay Mirroring is a new feature to iOS 5 that allows you to stream anything on your iPad 2 or iPhone 4S directly to your HDTV with the help of an Apple TV

For a while now, Macs have been able to play back iTunes audio and video to Apple TVs (and audio to AirPort Expresses), but in Mountain Lion, you can mirror the contents of your Mac’s display on any video device connected to an Apple TV (so long as it’s the small black version).

When a 2011-vintage or later Mac running Mountain Lion senses the presence of an Apple TV on the local network, an AirPlay icon appears in the menu bar. Click and select an Apple TV and your desktop will be duplicated on the TV it’s connected to.

If you’re in a Mac-centric office, equipping every conference room with an Apple TV seems like a no-brainer. And I found myself using this feature all the time at home.

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