OS X Mountain Lion: How to get it now without becoming a developer

So Apple has updated OS X Lion already. Like Snow Leopard’s tweaks to Leopard before it, the new software brings about significant changes to the way in which Apple’s operating system works. This time round, Apple has built on the iOS style integration of Lion, adding even more iPhone and iPad like functionality.

As it stands, Mountain Lion is only available in developer preview form. If you want to get the official preview build from Apple, you'll have to subscribe as a developer, which will set you back £59. The alternative is to wait until it arrives on general release.

Waiting is for losers. As is subscribing to the developer program if you aren’t actually a developer (we haven’t done it, honest). So how do we fix this? Easy really: cheat and cheat good. Mac OS X already has loads of apps that will do the same or very similar to what Mountain Lion will add to your system. Below are a few ways you can transform your computer into a near perfect clone of a Mountain Lion machine, without the waiting time.

Gatekeeper - Turn it on in Lion

Gatekeeper is Apple’s clever way of enticing potential app purchasers further into its application environment, as well as creating added levels of security. Designed to prevent malware infections, which are pretty rare on a Mac, it grants explicit control over what you download to your computer.

Apple has already secretly included this feature in Lion, but hasn't turned it on as standard. MacRumors has found that you can turn this feature on in Lion. To do so you type "sudo spctl --enable" into Terminal and you'll get the same protective features. You can type "sudo spctl --disable" to turn it back off. 

If that all sounds a bit scary, and we suspect it is, it's also a bit pointless as there aren't Gatekeeper supporting apps out there. You could opt for something like Norton AntiVirus for Mac which will protect against spyware and other malicious programs entering your system via email, iChat or as downloads. A simple but rather costly solution for protecting your Mac at Mountain Lion’s level.

iCloud documents - Dropbox

Mountain Lion works in all sorts of iCloud wizardry into OS X. Documents and data are now able to be stored in a cloud-based library. This library can then be accessed on either a Mac or on an iOS powered device.

The idea is that you write something at home, using Pages, and then open it up on your iPad or iPhone while out and about via iCloud. It is all designed to sync in seamlessly and should, when it launches, be a simple case of drag and drop.

There is already a program that does the majority of this, namely Dropbox, which can store just about whatever you want in the cloud. Like the Mountain Lion iCloud sync, Dropbox can also be accessed from a multitude of devices. It supports a wide range of documents and can hold just about anything.

Admittedly Dropbox can’t do things such as the automatic computer setup that Mountain Lion’s iCloud integration brings. Nor will it sync up so seamlessly with Mac apps. It does come pretty close however. If you want to open a Dropbox-based document in Pages for example, you just need to download it from the Dropbox website. Not a huge effort over Apple’s offering. Dropbox files can also be edited on the iPhone using Pages, QuickOffice or Evernote.

When signing up for Dropbox you get 2GB of space to play with. iCloud offers a bit more at 5GB. To be perfectly honest if you are using them both purely for text documents, unless you plan on uploading an entire library, 2GB is more than enough.

Notification centre - Growl

Mac OS X has had its own notification centre for quite a while now. Growl is a third-party app that provides context sensitive pop-ups in the top left corner telling you what various applications are up to.

Say, for example you, are playing a song on Spotify, this will appear via Growl, as will things like Skype messages. Notifications centre is mostly the same, although it is handled with a bit more of that Apple shine.

Banners and alerts, a-la-iOS, are now displayed either in the top right corner or as part of a slide out notification centre that you can access with a two-fingered swipe to the right. The real difference between Apple’s offering and Growl is with the apps it handles. Native OS X applications like Calendar, Mail, FaceTime and GameCenter are all within notification centre. Growl, however, can deal with third-party apps such as Skype a lot better.

Safari search bar - Omnibar

Safari has taken a rather big leaf out of Google Chrome’s book in Mountain Lion, dropping the search box altogether. Now, like Chrome, getting to a website or searching is all done via a single bar.

If you are Safari obsessed but don’t fancy making the Mountain Lion upgrade to get the mono-bar, then a plugin called Omnibar will fix that. This is the closest app we can find to Mountain Lion’s changes and is virtually identical.

Messages - download the beta

One of the most important changes Apple has made with Mountain Lion is to do away with iChat. An application that has long been overshadowed by the likes of Skype, it has returned in iMessage form. This is a very, very, good thing.

In Mountain Lion you can now receive messages sent between your iPad, iPhone and Mac. iMessage pushes text out to every device so you can chat away from your desktop then finish whatever you are chatting about using an iPhone.

Replicating this without Mountain Lion is really easy as you can just download the Messages Beta from Apple and test out the service straight away. The catch, according to some digging in the code, is that the Beta will only be available until Mountain Lion comes out, but you'll probably be upgrading by then any way. 

Notes - Stickies or Bento

In an increasing effort to make Mac OS X more iOS like in form, Apple has redesigned the Notes application. Now looking virtually identical to its mobile cousin, it syncs up with iCloud and transfers any notes you make across devices.

Built in sharing and note pinning - so that the window stays open even if the rest of Notes is closed - are all standard functions of the new app. This is not so easy to replicate, but a decent note-taking app is not hard to find.

The Stickies widget alone, that has existed in OS X for a good while now, was more than enough to keep us happy. But if you want something even more powerful as a notes tool, then Bento is the app for you. On top of the ability to organise contacts and manage your daily life, Bento can be used just to take notes if need be. The real deal breaker however is that it works across iOS devices and Mac. Problem is that unlike the included notes update, Bento costs £35.

Reminders - Evernote

iOS 5 brought with it a hugely improved way of managing reminders, in the form of a new app. Lessons were learnt and this has now been integrated into OS X with Mountain Lion, iCloud syncing and all. Lists, due dates and tasks can all be created using the Reminders app. Simple and easy.

Evernote however can go one better. What has become the go-to application for note-taking and organisation exists on just as many platforms as Apple’s Reminders. Pick it up on your iPhone, record, write or even video a reminder. The whole shebang is there for you to play about with. Evernote also uses a damn swish UI, nearly as nice as Apple’s official one.

Twitter - Twitter app in dock

Like most of the applications added to OS X with Mountain Lion, a lot find their roots in iOS 5. Twitter integration is most definitely one of them. Apple has worked hard to create an environment where a single sign-in will let you share just about anything via Twitter.

You can send a Tweet from Safari, Preview, Photo Booth and Quick Look. The Tweet Sheet will also let you send information from the share menu within applications. The integration is definitely a lot smoother than our alternative, still if Tweeting is all your bothered about, the fix is thus: download the Twitter app from the app store. Leave it open. Send Tweets from it. Simple enough really.

Game Center - Steam

Yet another iOS import and one which we were surprised to find missing from Lion. Including Game Center, Apple’s answer to Xbox Live, is actually more exciting than you might think. Sure you can check awards and compare them with friends, but the exciting bit however is cross-platform play, between Mac and iPhone or iPad. The first game to manage it is Reckless Racing 2.

Replicating this with a third-party application is virtually impossible. Partly because the App Store is the only place you will be able to download the relevant apps. The closest you can get at the moment is by using Steam on your Mac and then linking that with a beta account for the iPhone app. At least that way you can look at trophies earned while gaming on your Mac. Close enough?

AirPlay Mirroring - AirParrot

AirPlay Mirroring is another new feature on the Mac and one that with the help of an Apple TV will let you stream your desktop to your television so you can share and enjoy stuff on a bigger screen. 

Until then however you can use AirParrot a third party app that for $9.99 does a similar trick, although you will have to play around with some of the settings to get the most out of it. 

OS X Mountain Lion detailed as dev build goes live and we go hands-on

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