Apple surprised tech enthusiasts this morning with an announcement about a coming Mac OS X update, dubbed Mountain Lion, that will ship this summer. There were absolutely no rumors to indicate such a release was coming, and—given the timing—one can logically assume that Apple is trying to steal some thunder from Microsoft's eagerly awaited Windows 8.
"The Mac is on a roll, growing faster than the PC for 23 straight quarters, and with Mountain Lion things get even better," said Apple Senior Vice President Philip Schiller. "The developer preview of Mountain Lion comes just seven months after the incredibly successful release of Lion and sets a rapid pace of development for the world’s most advanced personal computer operating system."
That last bit is notable because Apple had previously announced (and then implemented) a plan to slow down Mac OS X releases, which for several years occurred on a roughly annual basis. Lion, however, was released two years after its predecessor, Snow Leopard, which arrived almost two years after its own predecessor.
The Mountain Lion developer preview further blurs the line between the Mac and Apple's far more popular iPad, adding iPad apps and features like Messages, Notes, Reminders, Game Center, Notification Center, Share Sheets, Twitter integration, and AirPlay Mirroring to the company's legacy OS. Also like the iPad, Mountain Lion will include deep iCloud integration, Apple says.
But Mountain Lion isn't only about bringing popular iPad functionality to the Mac. This release also includes unique new features, like Gatekeeper, which Apple hyperbolically describes as "a revolutionary new security feature that gives you control over which apps can be downloaded and installed on your Mac." Mountain Lion also includes better support for Chinese users.
Although I had expected Apple to merge its iOS and OS X releases in a future major update—and still do—Mountain Lion isn't that release. This upgrade looks very much like a surface-level minor update, which is typical for OS X releases. (Lion, however, was the rare major update.) Conceptually, it's similar to Windows 8 in that it further brings Apple's mainstream, legacy PC OS in line with its mobile products. But unlike with Microsoft's more integrated approach, Apple is apparently continuing its dual OS strategy and maintaining OS X and iOS as two discrete, separate product lines.
The Mac OS X Mountain Lion developer preview is available to Mac Developer Program members starting today; the program costs $99 annually. The system will ship on new Macs starting in "late summer 2012," and at that time existing users will be able to upgrade via the Mac App Store. Apple didn't reveal pricing for the release, but the current OS upgrade, Lion, is bargain priced at just $30.