This morning, Apple announced that the next version of Mac OS X, dubbed Mountain Lion, is scheduled to be available later this year. It's filled with cool new features, but who wants to wait to get them? Here's how you can get the best features of Mountain Lion right now.
Messages is a little like iChat, but it lets you send messages to iOS devices via iMessage, and if you have Mac OS X 10.7.3 on your computer, you can actually start using the Messages beta today. Just download it, install it, and start keeping your messages in sync across all your Apple devices.
You've probably seen Notification Center on iOS 5 as it was probably the most-desired feature lacking from Apple's mobile operating system. It provides a more subtle notification system on your mobile device and a pulldown list to see your current notification history. A similar feature will be available as part of Mac OS X Mountain Lion. Although Apple's Notification Center for the desktop is going to be a far more robust, most of us currently use Growl for notification banners. Growl will cost you a few dollars if you want the latest version -- which actually has a notification centre of its own -- but you can download an older copy for free.
AirPlay Mirroring takes whatever is on your Mac's screen and wirelessly mirrors it on your television (via an Apple TV) or any other device that can receive an AirPlay transmission. You can do this right now with an app called AirParrot ($US10). It provides the exact same functionality. If you want to take things a step further than Mountain Lion can offer, then you'll also want to check out AirServer. This app will let you receive AirPlay signals on your Mac so you can send video from other devices, like your iPhone or iPad, and watch them on the computer.
GateKeeper is Apple's attempt at preventing malware on your Mac, and it does this by letting you decide which kinds of apps are allowed to run and which apps are not. You can run any app you download (the way things currently work in Lion), only allow Mac App Store apps or apps signed with an official Apple developer ID to run, or just allow apps downloaded directly from the Mac App Store to run. Obviously you can currently run all apps or just Mac App Store apps right now, without any fancy features, but the developer ID check is definitely something new. While we believe that you'll be just fine if you're diligent, there is malware protection and antivirus software for your Mac should you want to play it extra safe right now.
iCloud -- Apple's service that syncs all your information to the cloud and across devices -- is already a part of Mac OS X, but the integration is deeper in Mountain Lion. One of the features Apple is touting in the iCloud upgrade is document sync, allowing you to access your documents across multiple computers and mobile devices. You can have that right now with InSync and a Google Docs account. InSync lets you access all your Google Docs files directly from your desktop and keeps them in sync with the online version as well as any other computers. Of course, there's also Dropbox. It's not exactly the same thing, but it will keep your documents in sync and we do love it a lot.
Notes is Apple's addition of a syncing notes application to Mac OS X, but there's absolutely no reason to wait for Mountain Lion to get this functionality when Notational Velocity, using the Simplenote service, already provides this exact functionality. In fact, Simplenote is so well done that you'll probably continue to use it after you get your hands on Apple's official syncing notes application. Simplenote has apps for iOS, Android and Windows, so you have the additional advantage of using any platform you want. If you want to use rich text and images, try Evernote instead.
Reminders is just a simple to-do app, and there are plenty of those to go around on Mac OS X already. Our favourite is Wunderlist, which is a slightly more robust task management app that works on multiple platforms so you're not syncing your to-dos with just your Mac. You can have them on your iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows computer as well. It also works in your web browser, providing access just about anywhere.