Apple’s release of Mountain Lion (aka OS X 10.8) has dominated the news since yesterday’s release, but have no fear, Windows fans: Lifehacker’s got your back. The new version of OS X has some slick features to be sure. Here’s how to get them in Windows.
Note: For those features that don’t have a direct analog between Mountain Lion and Windows, we aimed to deliver a comparable feature that’ll at least get you headed in the right direction. Enjoy, and let us know if you know of any better alternatives at the end of the post.
What it does: Mountain Lion’s Notification Center works much like the Notification Center 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 what apps can send notifications and what kinds of notifications they can send.
Windows 7 workaround: Windows 7 does not provide a built-in substitute for Notification Center, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Our favorite tool for consolidating messages in Windows is the previously reviewed Growl for Windows. Long a favorite on the Mac, Growl for Windows made the scene a few years ago, offering a unified and highly customizable system for wrangling your notifications into one place. You can customize which notifications appear and what sounds they make. You can even send notifications off to your phone.
Growl integrates with a number of apps, 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, though, 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 the notification center. The primary way to keep tabs on your apps is by viewing live tiles on the Metro screen. These tiles update regularly to let you know the latest news from an app. 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. Right now, though, it doesn’t look like Windows 8 will provide a single window like Mac’s Notification Center for easily browsing past messages. And we’ll just have to wait and see what’s in store for Growl on Windows 8.
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 synchronization and backup of personal information like 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 in to Finder and can be accesed directly from many apps. iCloud also now provides synchronization 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 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 favorite Dropbox provides a dead simple way to synchronize documents with the cloud and with pretty much 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 synchronization will be more tightly integrated. If you create a Windows Live user account, Windows 8 will use that to synchronize 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 find a featured place in open/save windows, making it easy to use it for document storage. The door is 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 favorite cloud storage providers, as well as sites like Facebook and Flickr.
Notes and Reminders
What it does: Notes and Reminders are two of the new Mountain Lion features many Mac users have been waiting for. Both are very much like their iPad counterparts – simple and effective. Notes lets you organize 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 e-mail account you have configured on your Mac. While the apps themselves are quite simple, it’s the iCloud synchronization 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 up to “everything buckets” like Evernote. Both of those, and 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.
To-do apps provide another avenue to Windows 7 users for both note-taking and reminders. As with note-taking apps, the number of options when it comes to to-do apps is overwhelming. The best, like Lifehacker favorite Astrid, allow you to set reminders, track tasks, take notes, and share with others. Most of the popular to-do apps also let you view and enter notes, reminders, and tasks from anywhere – desktop, web, phone, and tablet. Check out the best to-do apps and decide which is most suited for you.
Coming in Windows 8: At this point, it’s tough to tell whether Windows 8 will offer dedicated notes or reminder apps. Microsoft OneNote will be available in an Metro version when Office 2013 ships. It supports online storage via SkyDrive and will have apps for most platforms. Many of the top note-taking and to-do apps will likely appear as Metro apps. Some, like Evernote, already have their Metro versions available for the Windows 8 Consumer Preview.
What it does: Dictation is front and center in Mountain Lion. Dictation 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 will accept 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 is pretty accurate. It seems perfect 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 largely the same 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. If you’re looking to chat between PC and smartphone, Google Voice, Skype, and even Facebook chat offer a lot of the same functionality as iMessage. Google Voice would be our first pick out of these. You can access it via the web site or using the official Google Voice Chrome extension. There are also a number of Google Voice desktop clients. Our favorite is previously mentioned GVNotifier, which provides a nice, unified interface for sending and receiving messages, checking your voicemail, and connecting calls.
There are also plenty of chat apps that allow you to connect to different chat services. Pidgin is our favorite 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. Digsby, Trillian, and Miranda are all solid offerings.
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 customizeable (and huge) list of sites and services where you might want to send a web page. Or, you can ditch your extensions for bookmarklets, which Lifehacker features tips on often.
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 favorites around here, though, 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 does not have a direct corollary to Share Sheets. Sharing is still handled at the app level. However, many of the same tools you can use on Windows 7 will continue to work with Windows 8 and will likely be updated to the Metro interface.
What it does: AirPlay Mirroring is a new feature of AirPlay that allows you to send your Mac desktop to an HDTV using Apple TV as a go-between. This is a handy feature for tossing 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 (like what 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. There’s no app store for Windows 7. You can download and install programs from pretty much anywhere. In Windows 7, permissions are controlled at the app level and you only get whatever control the app developer provides.
Coming in Windows 8: In Windows 8, all that changes. You can only download Metro apps from the app store. Period. As in Mountain Lion, Metro apps run sandboxed. Unlike in Mountain Lion, Windows 8 provides no central location for controlling app permissions. That happens on an app-by-app basis. Windows 8 does still allow you to download and install any desktop app from pretty much anywhere; it’s only Metro apps that will be limited.
So, there you have it. You won’t be able to get Windows 7 working exactly the same. But with a few tools and tweaks, you can do a lot to duplicate the new features in Mountain Lion and, in some cases, even improve upon them. Have any of your own favorite new features we skipped or a better way than we covered? Let us know in the discussions!