The latest version of Mac OS X, Mountain Lion (aka OS X 10.8) has dominated the news since yesterday's release. But have no fear, Windows fans: Lifehacker has your back. The new version of OS X has some slick features, but many of them can easily be added to Windows as well.
If you're happy using Windows, there's not much point emulating Mountain Lion for its own sake; after all, the update isn't universally popular amongst existing Mac users either. Windows 8 (which you can try out right now) also has its own selection of improvements, and we've mentioned these in the listing below.
But if you've read about a feature in Mountain Lion and wanted the same experience on your PC right now, we're here to help. In many cases, these features already exist in Windows already; others can be easily incorporated through additional software, virtually all of it free.
For those features that don't have a direct analogue between Mountain Lion and Windows, we aimed to deliver a comparable feature that will at least get you headed in the right direction. Enjoy, and tell us in the comments if you know of any better alternatives.
What it does: Mountain Lion's Notification Center echoes the option found in iOS 5, consolidating alerts and messages from various apps into a single bar that slides down the right side of your display. Using System Preferences gives you a central location for controlling which apps can send notifications and the kinds of notifications they can send.
Windows 7 workaround:: Our favourite tool for consolidating messages in Windows is the previously reviewed Growl for Windows. Long a favourite on the Mac, Growl for Windows offers a unified and highly customisable system for wrangling your notifications into one place. You can customise which notifications appear and what sounds they make. You can even send notifications to your phone.
Growl integrates with a number of apps directly, but for others you'll need to install small utilities or browser extensions to make it happen. The downside of this is that you may end up running several additional background services in Windows and cluttering up the notification area on the Windows Taskbar. But, in our tests we found Growl itself and the additional services we needed to be pretty light on system resources. Growl for Windows is free, so try it out for yourself and see if it's right for you. Coming in Windows 8: Windows 8 will have a different take on notifications. The primary way to keep tabs on your apps is by viewing live tiles on the Metro start screen. These tiles update regularly to let you know the latest news from an app -- meaning in essence you get notifications direct from the start screen. Windows 8 also will have pop-up notifications that appear along the right side of your screen. Developers will be able to tie into this notification system so that notifications are better unified.
iCloud (and Documents in the Cloud)
What it does: iCloud is Apple's foray into the world of cloud storage and it is tightly integrated into Mountain Lion. iCloud has long offered synchronisation and backup of personal information such as mail, contacts and calendars. It also provides an online location for backing up your iOS device, effectively freeing you from having to connect with a desktop computer. With Mountain Lion, iCloud now offers storage space for documents (5 GB for free, but you can buy more). Access to iCloud document storage is built into Finder and can be accessed directly from many apps. iCloud also now provides synchronisation of user settings for unified login across multiple desktop Macs.
Windows 7 workaround: Windows 7 users (and Mac users, for that matter) can take advantage of many different cloud storage services. iCloud itself is available for Windows, though in a more limited form than on the Mac. You can sync mail, contacts, calendars and tasks with Microsoft Outlook, as well as your bookmarks and photo stream. But there's no provision for document storage in iCloud for Windows.
Fortunately, Windows users have plenty of options in that area. Longtime Lifehacker favourite Dropbox provides an extremely simple way to synchronise documents with the cloud (and with almost any other device you can name). Microsoft's SkyDrive, Google Drive, Box and many others also provide a similar service, so you'll have to decide which one is right for you.
Coming in Windows 8: In Windows 8, cloud storage and synchronisation will be more tightly integrated. If you create a Windows Live user account, Windows 8 will use that to synchronise user settings and preferences for a unified logon experience. You will be able to logon to any Windows 8 device and see your own desktop, set up the way you like it. SkyDrive will be featured place in open/save windows, making it easy to use it for document storage, and will be the default option for apps such as Microsoft Office. The door is also open for app developers to build other online services into their apps and for cloud storage providers to build access to their services into Windows 8. So, expect to see easier and more integrated ways to save documents to your favourite cloud storage providers, as well as sites like Facebook and Flickr.
Notes and Reminders
What it does: Notes and Reminders are what they sound like: simple apps for storing notes and tasks, mimicking their iPad counterparts. Notes lets you organise text notes and images. Reminders lets you create reminders for things you need to remember. Both sync with iCloud, though you can also set up a separate notebook for each email account you have configured on your Mac. While the apps themselves are quite simple (and their leather-look design has been widely criticised), it's the iCloud synchronisation that gives them power, especially if you use multiple Macs or iOS devices.
Windows 7 workaround:Windows 7 users (and Mac users) have many options for duplicating and even extending these features. The number of cloud-based, dedicated note taking apps has exploded in recent years. These range from the straightforward text note app SimpleNote through to "everything buckets" like Evernote. Both of those, like many other note taking apps, feature cloud and local storage and the ability to sync with a range of devices. If you'd like to explore your options, check out the five best note taking applications according to Lifehacker readers. There are also plenty of to-do apps available for your reminder needs, most of which easily handle multi-device syncing. Again, we've got a Hive Five list to cover your options. There's really not much for Windows users to feel envious of here.
Coming in Windows 8: Existing Windows apps work well in Windows 8, so all these choices will remain available. You can also expect to see Metro versions of the popular apps, which will be helpful for tablet users (or anyone who is happy to switch full-time into the new desktop app.
What it does: Dictation is front and centre in Mountain Lio, and is enabled by default. If an app can accept text input, you just press the function (fn) key twice, start talking, and press the function (fn) key again when you're done. As in iOS, dictation in Mountain Lion is handled server-side, meaning it requires an internet connection to work. It accepts up 30 seconds of speech at a time, sends that information to Apple's servers (along with a bit of personal information like your first name and anyone you mention in your speech), and displays the text onscreen when it returns. It all happens very fast and seems fairly accurate. It seems ideal for entering short bits of text. For longer pieces, if you're used to other systems that show text on the screen as you speak, it can be a little disconcerting to see nothing there until after the server gets back to you.
Windows 7 workaround: Windows has long had dictation built in and it works very well. You can use it to issue basic system commands as well as to dictate text. It also works in pretty much any app that accepts text. In Windows 7, dictation is not turned on by default. You can turn it on by running Windows Speech Recognition, which you can find in All Programs>Accessories>Ease of Access, or you can just press the Start button, type Speech, and it will show up in the results. When you run it, a small widget appears at the top of your screen. Click the Microphone button to turn listening on and off. Right-click the Speech Recognition button in the notification area of your taskbar to configure options.
Coming in Windows 8: Windows 8 dictation will work in largely the same way as in Windows 7, though it has been improved to support issuing commands in the new Metro interface.
What it does: In Mountain Lion, Messages replaces iChat and provides much the same functionality, allowing you to set up multiple accounts for different chat services and work with them all in one app. The most important addition in Messages is support for the iMessage protocol used by iOS. You can also sync messages with iOS devices using iCloud, which is handy if you want to start a conversation on one device and finish it on another.
Windows 7 workaround: For Windows 7 users, there is no client that supports iMessage and there's no telling whether one will appear in the future. But if you're not committed to Apple's official protocol, there are plenty of chat clients, including Skype, Google Talk and Facebook.
There are also plenty of chat apps that allow you to connect to different chat services. Pidgin is our favourite here at Lifehacker. It's free and open source and it supports most IM networks you can think of. It also supports third-party plugins for integration with services like Twitter, Last.fm, and many more. You also have plenty of other options, including Digsby, Trillian, and Miranda.
What it does: Share Sheets provide an easy way to share from both apps and the Finder. They work much like the Share Sheets you see scattered across apps in iOS. Apps that support Share Sheets have a sharing button that opens sharing options pertinent to whatever you're looking at. For example, Safari allows you to quickly share sites with Messages, Twitter, and e-mail recipients. In Finder, Share Sheets let you do things like sharing files with friends or uploading files to popular online services. Windows 7 workaround: In Windows 7, you can duplicate the functionality of Share Sheets in any web browser by using extensions like AddThis. AddThis gives you a drop down menu with a customisable (and huge) list of sites and services where you might want to send a web page.
Windows 7 users also have great options when it comes to sharing from the desktop. Many online services have Windows apps that let you drag and drop files and some even extend the Send To menu you can get by right-clicking a file. One of our favourites</a is Click.to, which redirects contents from your clipboard to a number of desktop apps and online services. You can even use it to upload photos or files. Just select text or an image in any app, or select a file in Windows Explorer, press Ctrl-C to copy, and Click.to pops up a bar with options on where to send the file. You can use it to save bookmarks, perform Google searches, share things with social networks, and even upload entire text files to online note apps. It supports just about anything you can copy.
Coming in Windows 8: Windows 8 builds in sharing at a fundamental, OS-wide level via the Share charm. Any apps which use this can share directly from within the interface to any other sharing-enabled apps.
What it does: AirPlay Mirroring allows you to send your Mac desktop to an HDTV using Apple TV as a go-between. This is handy for transmitting web pages, email, or even videos over to your big screen for more relaxed viewing. It should also find a lot of use in schools or meetings for sharing your screen more easily with others.
Windows 7 workaround: You can duplicate this functionality right now on Windows 7 using AirParrot for Windows. As with AirPlay Mirroring, AirParrot for Windows requires that you use an Apple TV as the go-between for mirroring your desktop. If you don't have an Apple TV, you can always connect your computer directly to your TV.
Security and Privacy Settings
What it does: Though there are plenty of new security features in Mountain Lion, the primary features revolve around handling apps from the App Store. By default, you can only install apps that are verified by Apple and downloaded from the app store. Mountain Lion will allow you to install apps from other sources as an option and does not apply these same controls to apps you don't get from the app store. Mountain Lion also provides a single control panel where you can control permissions for apps (such as the personal data they can access). Apps are also sandboxed so that they have limited access to the rest of your system.
Windows 7 workaround: For Windows 7 users, these features really don't apply, as there's no centralised app store for Windows 7. However, Windows' security features (such as User Account Control) do make it harder to install apps from developers who don't provide security details.
Coming in Windows 8: Windows 8 sees significant changes for Metro apps, which will only be available from the Windows app store. As with Mountain Lion, Metro apps run sandboxed. Permissions are still handled on an app-by-app basis. In desktop mode, Windows 8 does still allow you to download and install any desktop app from pretty much anywhere; it's only Metro apps that are limited.