OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion: What Has Changed?

We are almost three weeks into the era of Mountain Lion, so it is a good time to talk about the new cat and what changes it has brought about for us. Which of the 200+ features that Apple talked about are actually useful? What has been made easier? Or which software no longer works?

I have gone through the Lion to ML migration twice and am happy to report that there were no problems. I have also not had any problems with IDL, iObserve, IRAF, or any other astronomy package. In fact, I just restored from my Time Machine backup, and everything thing just worked! Really. The migration seems to have been flawless, as of now. So if you are waiting to see if there are any problems before upgrading (remember Leopard?), go ahead and take the plunge. Plus, it comes at the cheapest price ever – $19.99.

Here is a quick list of things that I love and hate about the three-week old Mountain Lion:

  • There are two big additions to Time Machine: encrypted backups to a network drive and being able to backup to multiple hard disks on a rotating basis. Lion first introduced encrypted backups, (which had made me very happy), now ML extends that to networked drives. Gone are the days when a backup hard drive could be read by anybody. Now, ML also allows you to backup to multiple hard drives in case one fails  (e.g., rotate your backups to different drives every hour).  I suggest that the 10.9 version of Time Machine be able to create a bootable clone.
  • XQuartz is X11 and fully incorporated into ML. You do not need to keep both versions anymore.
  • Lion had problems with focussing on the right window when switching between Spaces; it has been fixed.
  • The “Save As” button is back! I hated how it had been replaced by “Duplicate” in Lion. Now, if you hit the option key (⌥) while in the menubar,  you get the “Save As”. I went ahead and changed ⌘⇧S to be”Save As”.
  • However, Apple got rid of the ability to hit “delete (⇧delete)” to go back (forward) in Safari. If you want it back, change your settings. I do not know why they love tinkering with long-established shortcuts.
  • Applications are much happier to automatically terminate now; try keeping TextEdit or Calendar open without a window. If you do not like it, fix it. X11, Mail, and Safari do not seem to be affected.
  • Mail Downloads are now stored at ~/Library/Containers/com.apple.mail/Data/Library/Mail Downloads. This drove me nuts for a while.
  • The new Notification Center means I no longer have to keep my Calendar open. Also, OS X and iOS are more compatible than ever, meaning I am less confused when switching between devices.
  • Apple takes another crack at incorporating third-party software right into the OS and, hereby, making them obsolete. iCloud tries to replace DropBox, and Notes is EverNote without tags and with a prettier background.

Have you switched to ML yet? Please share any tips/tricks as well as bugs you might have found.

29 comments… add one
  • EB Aug 13, 2012 @ 1:20

    Be careful with the Save As command in Mountain Lion:

    “If one edits a document, then chooses Save As, then BOTH the edited original document and the copy are saved, thus not only saving a new copy, but silently saving the original with the same changes, thus overwriting the original.”


  • John O'Meara Aug 13, 2012 @ 7:10

    EB beat me to it regarding ‘save as’.

    There are some grumbles about XQuartz 2.7.2 and IDL not completely playing nice so caveat emptor.

    I avoided Lion entirely because of this, and changes to Exposé and Spaces. It appears my installing Mountain Lion was a mistake. Also, be very very careful using Preview. It’s one of the programs with ‘autosave’ on, and it’s impossible to globally turn autosave off, which is frightening, to say the least.

    • saurav Aug 13, 2012 @ 9:42

      The ‘autosave’ was one of the things Apple introduced with Versions, sadly. One can turn if off for a single application (for Preview, use: defaults write com.apple.Preview ApplePersistence -bool no). However, there is no global fix, as you say. Thanks for pointing this out, John.

    • Jessica Lu Aug 13, 2012 @ 14:14

      I am curious about the dangers of autosave. Especially for an app like Preview. What are the cases I should watch out for regarding autosave?

  • EricD Aug 13, 2012 @ 8:03

    I recently updated my linux box. I am happy to report that nothing is broken (the same happened during the last 10 updates). Everything that used to work works exactly the same.
    And it did cost me the reasonable sum of 0 Euros.

    • saurav Aug 13, 2012 @ 9:36

      Good t know 🙂 I did use a Scientific Linux box for 3+ years, although the various distros have come a long way since then. Trusting a linux laptop to function used to be very illusional, even five years ago.

  • John O'Meara Aug 13, 2012 @ 9:46

    saurav: have seen the persistence trick on google, but I always have my fears about mucking in plist land….

    As for linux, I may have to go back there, but power management on laptops…ugh. And I actually *like* Keynote. What’s the linux alternative to that having proper scaling graphics and…well…looks good?

    • Ann Onymous Aug 13, 2012 @ 10:05

      I have yet to find a good cross-platform presentation software. As much as i love and defend Free Software, libreoffice impress is just not up to the task to make slides for a talk. However if you want to make a poster Inkscape is Free, very nice, and works everywhere.

      Regarding power management linux is getting quite decent. On my laptop when the battery was new i had a typical 8-10 hours battery life. Of course in that case i always put the screen brightness to the minimum (which is often too bright for me) and i avoid running anything too CPU heavy if not necessary. To write a paper and run small scripts on a long flight that’s more than enough.

    • Rohit Aug 13, 2012 @ 12:13

      John: I moved to Linux few weeks ago after being annoyed with locked OS X. However, I have never enjoyed working on any other laptop than the Mac. Therefore, I solved this problem by installing Ubuntu 12.04 on my mac (MBP 8,1). The dual-boot also solved the problem of looking for Keynote alternate. I do all the research in linux, use Dropbox for all of the work, boot into OSX and whip out a keynote presentation.

      Alternately, I have found a program called Crossover (Wine-type paid version) that allows me to run Windows. Yearly support with academic discount is $41. MS office works great.

    • saurav Aug 13, 2012 @ 16:02

      @John, ever since Apple took the “it is not the consumer’s job to know what they want” mantra to heart with 10.5, I do not hold any of their settings sacred and have played with plists with abandon. As a result, while my machine can be annoying for others to use, it has made my own life better; and I have not broken anything that could not be fixed.

  • Jim Davenport Aug 13, 2012 @ 10:25

    Saurav, have you tried IDL 8.X or 7.X on ML?

    • John O'Meara Aug 13, 2012 @ 10:30

      Jim: I’ve tried 8.X in it, and it works. Some graphics complaints with XQuartz 2.7.2, but only in that it dumps a complaint to the terminal, but plots it anyway. Works ok with widget based GUIs in IDL as well.

    • saurav Aug 13, 2012 @ 10:57

      I have IDL 7.1. Have not really noticed any problems

    • Jim Davenport Aug 21, 2012 @ 13:17

      For completeness: I’ve got 7.1.1 working on my new MacBook Air now, with relative ease.

    • Sebastien Nov 29, 2012 @ 5:37


      I would like to use IDL 7.1 on ML if possible, but the installation fails because PowerPC is not supported anymore. Have you found a workaround for this?

      Many thanks!

    • saurav Nov 29, 2012 @ 7:18

      @Sebastien, You will have to install from source or use an IDL install disk. Most of the disk images that are floating around are for PowerPCs and require Rosetta Stone.

    • Sebastien Dec 4, 2012 @ 3:36

      Thanks for your reply Saurav!
      Would you know a tutorial for installing from source?

    • saurav Dec 4, 2012 @ 10:10

      @Sebastien, I have not installed from source myself. @Jim Davenport (above) and a couple others have done it. Ping them maybe?

      I migrated my hard disk from 10.6, which makes me think that you can install IDL on a machine with 10.6 and then copy that to your machine. Definitely the hack way to do it though.

  • Brooke Aug 13, 2012 @ 14:55

    On delete no longer serving as a back button:

    If you’re typing in a text box and something happens to unfocus the text box just before you try to delete a character in the box, you end up going back to the previous page, which can sometimes mean losing any text you entered. That’s frustrating to say the least, especially when it happens because a background process steals focus without your permission.

    I don’t mind it being gone, especially with the swipe shortcut to ‘Back’ in place, which I use far more frequently since installing Lion.

  • Jane Rigby Sep 10, 2012 @ 10:48

    Anyone gotten XIDL to work on OSX 10.8? I’ve re-installed XIDL, but now a common reduction pipeline (Firehose, for FIRE on Magellan) is failing at extraction b/c it can’t read an xidl library:

    % CALL_EXTERNAL: Error loading sharable executable.
    Symbol: rebin2dspec, File = ~/Idl/xidl//lib/libxmath.dylib
    dlopen(~/Idl/xidl//lib/libxmath.dylib, 1): image not found
    % Execution halted at: X_REBIN2DSPEC 160 /Users/jrrigby1/idl/xidl/Spec/General/x_rebin2dspec.pro
    % CALL_EXTERNAL: Error loading sharable executable.

    Symbol: rebin2dspec, File = ~/Idl/xidl//lib/libxmath.dylib

    dlopen(~/Idl/xidl//lib/libxmath.dylib, 1): image not found

    % Execution halted at: X_REBIN2DSPEC 160 /Users/jrrigby1/idl/xidl/Spec/General/x_rebin2dspec.pro

    That file exists, but does not appear to be created right:
    /Users/jrrigby1/Idl/xidl/lib/libxmath.dylib ; exit;
    /Users/jrrigby1/Idl/xidl/lib/libxmath.dylib: /Users/jrrigby1/Idl/xidl/lib/libxmath.dylib: cannot execute binary file

    Anyone have a bright idea? I will buy you a beer!

    • Glenn Eychaner Sep 10, 2012 @ 12:00

      .dylib files aren’t actually executable; they’re shared libraries. Send me (or post):
      otool -L ~/Idl/xidl/lib/libxmath.dylib

    • John O'Meara Sep 10, 2012 @ 12:07


      Try running evilmake again in each of the three packages in xidl (xidl itself, and the idlutils, idlspec2d) directories, then try copying the .so files to the same name but w/ .dylib at the end.

  • Eva Wuyts Oct 25, 2012 @ 11:34

    I’m having troubles with dylib when installing idlutils and idlspec2d on OSX 10.8.2.

    ld: library not found for -lcc_dynamic
    make[2]: *** [/Users/evawuyts/Work/software/idl/idlutils/lib/libdimage.dylib] Error 1

    as suggested above, here’s the output of
    > otool -L /Users/evawuyts/Work/software/idl/xidl/lib/libxmath.dylib
    /usr/lib/libgcc_s.1.dylib (compatibility version 1.0.0, current version 1669.0.0)
    /usr/lib/libSystem.B.dylib (compatibility version 1.0.0, current version 169.3.0)
    neither /Users/evawuyts/Work/software/idl/idlutils/lib/ nor /Users/evawuyts/Work/software/idl/idlspec2d/lib/ contain any dylib files

    Help is appreciated!

    • Sarah Feb 6, 2013 @ 20:00

      My Mountain Lion also can’t find .dylib(s) when making idlutils and idlspec2d. Does anyone have any suggestions, please?

    • Sarah Feb 6, 2013 @ 21:33

      Edit: ML uses gfortran, so you want to edit the evilmake file at yourpath/idlutils/bin/evilmake file in the Darwin/ppc section:
      X_LD_FLAGS=”-dynamiclib -undefined dynamic_lookup -single_module”

      Now the libraries are found, and all but mrb_balkanize, mangler and mangle make ok.

  • BobbyD Nov 27, 2012 @ 18:34

    I just switched the home computer to ML. My office computer is too old to mess with it. The one major thing I use, that I can’t seem to get working in ML is the “Spaces” feature, of having multiple (eight) desktops that I can jump between. I love having one “desktop” per application. I’m doing something wrong, I just can’t find what…Help!

    • Patrick Broos Mar 21, 2013 @ 9:48

      If you loved “Spaces” in SnowLeopard, then you’ll want to buy TotalSpaces for Lion+ versions of OS-X: http://totalspaces.binaryage.com/

      It will be the best $15 you have ever spent. Shame on Apple for destroying the great capabilities in “Spaces”.

  • Alex Hill Nov 19, 2013 @ 0:08

    Has any astronomer done the upgrade to Mavericks? Any software compatibility issues?

    • contentmgr Nov 19, 2013 @ 21:22

      I’m actually going to be posting a summary of a conversation from the Astronomers Facebook group on this blog next week that addresses this very question. Stay tuned! (Though, if you want the super short preview: most stuff works just fine, need to reinstall XQuartz to get X11 apps working again.)

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