As more agencies adopt Apple's mobile devices, the new OS' security, messaging and synch-ability could make the workplace more efficient and enjoyable.
The latest version of Mac OS X, called Mountain Lion, could prove to be a real boon for feds by beefing up security in some areas and making the OS even easier to use in others. This is not a major upgrade the way that Snow Leopard was, but more of a set of functional tools to improve the Mac interface overall. And at $19.95 for the download, users will get more than their money’s worth.
The biggest uptick in terms of security is in the iMessages program, Apple’s take on Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC), the IT strategy of centralizing all communication-based data. Specifically, iMessages combines the traditional “Apple message features” from all iOS devices, including the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch running iOS 5. So any computer running Mountain Lion can now send or receive messages to or from anyone with those iOS mobile devices, making the desktop a bit of a command center
And, as a big boon for feds, end-to-end encryption of messages is built right into the application. With a lot of agencies starting to invest in Apple’s mobile arena, Mountain Lion can help lock down communications without much extra effort.
All iMessages appear on your Mac and any device you use, which means you can stay connected with your team even when you’re away from your workstation. Unlike many public collaboration tools, iMessages also includes the ability to share photos, videos, documents and contacts, even with groups.
And many great features from before, like the ability to see someone typing a response to your message in real time, have thankfully stayed put. Plus, by enabling "read receipts," you can tell when someone has read a message you’ve sent. As a cherry on top, the new iMessage client even lets users receive regular phone messages on their computer.
Based on my experience in the field, this capability is much improved over Microsoft’s Instant Messaging UCC application, and iMessages is easier to install, use and maintain. With iMessages turning desktops into command centers, the teams I work with are now always connected and tethered to each other so the initiatives we work on can be constantly monitored.
The other focus of Mountain Lion seems to be integrating Apple’s desktop and mobile platforms.
Apple iPhone users need only to look at the new desktop Notification Center to see this trend. Very similar to the center in the iOS mobile platform, desktop users can now effortlessly receive e-mail, a message, a software update or a calendar alert in an intuitive pop-up display. Notifications always appear in the same configurable spot on your desktop and disappear quickly so they don’t clutter up your screen. To view all notifications, simply swipe your fingers from left to right on the trackpad, which is a gesture movement that is also used for the iPad, another clue as to the possible full convergence of the interfaces sometime in the near future.
Like the other Apple peripherals, the new OS X iCloud is the main tool for synching Mac, iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch so you can seamlessly operate on any iOS device. Mountain Lion just brings the desktop into that world. Although iCloud keeps all your information, such as mail, calendars, contacts, reminders, documents and notes synched, those who share their desktops at work or at home with a partner should exercise caution. This version does not support setting administrative permissions or even user controls, so schedules can get a bit mixed. I made the mistake of sharing my iCloud with my wife, and now we get our e-mails and assignments all mixed up. This is a curious feature to leave out of an otherwise stellar product, but I suppose Apple just assumed that each computer would only ever be used by one person.
That nitpick aside, now when you add, delete or change something on your desktop Mac, it also happens on your iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. To Apple’s credit, iCloud is automatic and effortless. Simply sign in with your Apple ID and, presto, you’re all synched up. Anyone who has ever wasted hours transferring contacts from one phone to another will appreciate this capability.
Apple has installed another cool app in the latest version of its desktop OS called Reminders, which I believe also has implications for future expansions. Reminders lets you create lists that are tied to your calendar so you can set due dates and receive alerts. Set a location from your Mac, and your iPhone or iPad will remind you of your tasks. The interesting thing is that Reminders works perfectly with Siri, the popular mobile assistant on the iPhone. I would speculate that this integration into the desktop Mac OS world is perhaps a precursor of Siri’s expansion into other devices, a backdoor way to get it into desktops to see how it might work if fully transitioned. Just about everyone wants to see if it can be done without totally crashing the Internet.
Finally, something that few feds will probably appreciate right now, but might in the future: Mac OS X now supports AirPlay, the wireless and automatic transmission of media to multiple nodes on a network. Although AirPlay is often used to play movies or music wirelessly, it has strong presentation potential in Mac-friendly networks. Should more agencies begin to integrate Mac wireless gear, this could be a powerful feature.
Mountain Lion continues to improve the usability and security of Mac-based equipment for the federal government. It makes the Mac desktop a much more viable choice for feds looking to integrate their communications among users, especially if they also are considering iPads or iPhones as part of that plan. As such, this little kitty earns the GCN Lab’s Reviewer’s Choice designation.