Mountain Lion features you might have missed

Apple had a plan for what it wanted to show off in Mountain Lion when it came out last week, but what about smaller changes and tweaks to the OS?

Smaller tweaks, like laying out Widgets like the Launchpad will make finding them a little bit easier. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

The Mountain Lion Developer Preview was released last week and Apple was particularly excited to show off 10 of the bigger new features in OS X. Check out our First Take of the Mountain Lion Developer Preview here. But what else is under the hood in Apple's latest OS?

Poking around in Mountain Lion, I came across a lot of smaller changes to the UI and some feature fixes that users of earlier Mac operating systems will appreciate.

UI and System tweaks
The Dashboard is home to your widgets, and in Mountain Lion Apple has made a slight UI change. To select a new widget, you no longer need to scroll through a list of available widgets at the bottom; now, Mountain Lion displays available widgets in a Launchpad-like view so you can see them all. Widgets got updated UIs as well, with a new slow scroll of current movies in the Movies Widget, for example, and a new way to create stacks in widgets evidenced by a UI tweak in the Stocks widget. The Stocks widget now lets you flip through different types of info using arrow buttons at the bottom. While not a huge change, it means that we'll be seeing new treatments for widgets.

The system and preference pane UIs got some tweaks, too. Those who use screensavers will appreciate a few more options in Mountain Lion. Animated backgrounds that show your photos in unique slideshows as well as new static backgrounds are now available. The UI for screensavers has been tweaked, too, with available slideshow and screensaver listings on the left and a viewing window for selected listings on the right.

Screensavers UI
New screensavers and background images are welcome additions, with plenty of new ways to show off your photos. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Launchpad got a small, but welcome change with a search box. Now you'll be able to type in the first few letters of an app and Launchpad will only display apps with those letters--great if you have a lot of apps and know exactly what you want to find.

Launchpad Search
Launchpad too crowded? Enter a couple of letter in the search field to narrow it down. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Safari adds small adjustments
Along with the more major change of being able to tweet directly from Safari, there are a number of smaller tweaks that will save time in other ways. The Reader option is now a permanent UI element that sits to the right of the address bar where the search box used to be. Now you'll always have the option to use the reader to cut out all the ads and extraneous distractions while you read a story.

Where is the search box, then, you might ask? Taking a page from Google Chrome, you'll now simply use the address bar to enter search terms in Safari. This one will probably take some getting used to for longtime Safari users, but it's definitely more efficient to have one field do the work of two.

Now a permanent part of the Safari UI, the Reader button is now just right of the address bar. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Notification prefs
One of the major changes in Mountain Lion was to bring the notification system from the iOS and add it into OS X. A simple two-finger swipe brings it into view on the right side of the desktop when using a Trackpad or you can click an added circular icon in the upper right of the Menubar.

The Notification preference pane lists out the apps that will notify you on the left and preferences for how you're notified on the right. At this time, only Apple's apps inhabit this screen because it's early in development, but soon you'll have options for all the apps that can send you notifications.

For each application, you'll now have options for how a notification is shown. You can have OS X display a banner that will appear in the upper right, then quickly disappear or you can make them alerts that only disappear if you dismiss them. Certain notifications are more important than others, so it's great to have options for keeping them on screen. For example, when someone chats with me on Message, I would probably like to make sure I don't miss it so I could set it to notify me with an alert rather than just a banner. You also have options to play a sound when a new notification comes in or you can go the opposite direction and decide not to receive banners or alerts at all. I like the flexibility of these options because not everyone is going to want frequent notifications, and these settings let you decide how much or how little the notification center can bother you.

Mail adds VIP designation
The Mail app has often taken the rap for not being robust enough for business purposes. Conversation views and new search tokens went a long way toward making management of lots of mail easier in Lion, but a new feature in Mountain Lion will make it even better.

You'll now be able to designate certain people as VIPs in Mail. This means that with the endless e-mail that comes in during the workday, you can set specific senders as VIPs, sending you a banner or alert when those people send an e-mail. This will come in handy for making sure you see the most important e-mails (from your boss, for example), and reduce the notification noise of having every mail brought to your attention.

Quicklook sharing
You can go straight from the Finder to a Share Sheet with new Quicklook sharing options. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

The best new feature not in the top 10
When Apple launched the developer preview for Mountain Lion, it had 10 favorite features it wanted people to know about. But one feature didn't make the cut in the top 10 that might be one of the greatest tweaks yet. QuickLook already got some great enhancements in Lion, letting you quickly check out photos, PDFs, and more by clicking a file in the Finder and simply hitting the spacebar. To add to this already useful feature, you'll now be able to share files using a Share Sheet, directly from Quicklook. This means that, from the Finder, you'll now be able to send a file, image, e-mail, or even post a tweet of the file you're looking at without having to open separate programs. This little change eliminates a lot of steps and will be incredibly useful for sending files on the fly.

Scratching the surface
There's much more to Mountain Lion than the major changes Apple wanted us to see and even the smaller ones here, but we'll be uncovering more changes (and will probably have more questions) as we sift through Apple's latest operating system. Check back for more coverage of Mountain Lion in the coming weeks and months leading up to the official release.

About Jason Parker

Jason Parker has been at CNET for more than 13 years. He is the Senior Editor in charge iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.