In my last blog post, I described my intent to run the Developer Preview of OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion until such time as it was officially released without resorting to installing any third party software. It was in part an exercise in minimal computing and attempting to restrain myself from the temptations of installing (and indeed often being required to purchase) the latest and greatest apps and utilities, and in part an attempt to see if you could really just pick up and use a computer with just the built in software and still get by.
Well, I have to say that whilst I am glad that the OS is finally released and I can thus end the experiment, I am also really glad that I did it in the first place, as I have learned a number of things both about my own computing habits and also, possibly more importantly, about the innate completeness of a modern operating system.
So, first things first, the roll of shame. In my original piece, I said the following:
“I have the Developer Preview sat on my Macbook Air as we speak. And I am going to try my level best to not install a single piece of 3rd party software on it from now until it hits retail”
Did I manage it? Well, no, but then I always knew that there were some things that I could not (yet?) replace. Here is a list of all the applications that I installed over and above the base OS:
1Password – Sorry, but once you start using this sort of tool, other than simply dumping the contents into a text file (which, theoretically I could have done, and also encrypted in a Sparse bundle image or similar) there is no going back. As I knew it would be, it was the first app to slip the net.
Moom – Using an 11″ air often means being careful about how you use your available screen real estate. I installed this to help me organise my desktop spaces better, and to be honest, I rarely use it and could easily remove it.
Steam – Yeah, well, let’s just say that there are a LOT of good games out on Mac these days, and nearly 2/3rds of my Steam games are now available on OS X…
Minecraft – When you have a 13 year old who runs their own Minecraft server, you always need to have access to it, for those times when someone destroys the plugin permissions AGAIN…
DropBox – This was kind of incidental; it’s where my 1Password files are and, to be fair, I did use it for other purposes too. I think it counts as an essential install.
Kindle – I’ll be honest, I installed this because I wanted to read a book that was only available from Amazon, and I wanted to read it using iBooks. So I downloaded the app, then the book, then some python scripts, and, er, well let’s say I read the book on my iPad in iBooks eventually…
Overall, I have to say that this was way more successful that I imagined it would be, especially when you consider the fact that my Developer ID ran out before the second preview install was made available and I didn’t renew it, so I have basically run full time on the very first preview, with no subsequent updates for 6 months.
So, installing so few additional apps meant I didn’t have any compatibility issues. However, using such an early build did mean that stability-wise it wasn’t optimal, and also that I never got a chance to try out some of the extra features that surfaced in subsequent preview builds. But overall, I have to say that I very quickly genuinely forgot that I was running a severely beta OS on the machine. I experienced a few crashes using Messages, which seemed to be par for the course, Safari bombed a couple of times, and an EFI firmware update once got very upset with me but eventually applied after several thousand reboots over a number of aeons (OK, well it felt like it…), but really it felt stable and feature complete from the first day.
In fact, I found that it all seemed so well rounded that I started using its mannerisms as my default behaviour, so when returning to my Lion-based iMac I would happily type search queries into the address bar and wonder why it didn’t work, etc.
So, that leaves the things that were missing. Well, whilst I know that TextEdit is no replacement for something like Pages if you really need the things Pages gives you, and Reminders hasn’t got a patch on The Hit List or OmniFocus, and Preview has minimal editing facilities etc, I have to say that there was nothing that I wanted to do that I could not do, and I say that with all honesty. I’ve written things, I’ve edited websites, I’ve created screencasts etc, all with the tools I was given. For those who require the extra features that other products can provide I see no reason not to avoid them just to prove a point if you can clearly demonstrate a need. But I can also genuinely suggest that for someone without such preconceptions about what they need or want (I need Microsoft Office – Really? I want Adobe Lightroom – Have you really tried iPhoto enough to be sure?), Mountain Lion ticks all the boxes for what these days, is the majority of home computer users. We know that a very large percentage of people only use a very small percentage of the features of many popular applications; what I think has perhaps gone understated recently is that a lot of the pre-installed apps are not merely good enough, they are often more than good enough, even if clearly not the best.
The provided tools are often relatively rudimentary and, unlike Microsoft who got into trouble for this sort of app bundling, I don’t see this as an issue on the Mac because for every app they give you there is no doubt that more powerful equivalents are available. They even have the App Store to make them available to you. If no bundled apps were allowed but Apple’s own were included in a level playing field for sale next to other similar apps, would I choose all the Apple ones? Maybe not, but that’s not the point; the point is that what they provide you with works, covers almost every conceivable home user requirement, and (better still) is consistent across the whole ecosystem – this alone is a powerful argument to keeping it default.
I’ll be installing more apps over the next few weeks, but you can be sure that anything that does make the cut will have to earn it’s place because I genuinely need it, and the number will henceforth be a lot smaller than it would have been this time 6 months ago.