Sharing and social services

In an attempt to reduce the amount of steps required to share stuff on your Mac with others, Apple has added a sharing button to most of its apps and provided access to the same sharing functionality for third-party app developers. When you click on the (familiar to iOS users) share button in an app, youll see a pop-up menu listing several ways to share the item youre working with.

Extending the theme of sharing, Apple has integrated Twitter and Facebook, as well as other services including Flickr and Vimeo, throughout Mountain Lion. (I was able to try the Facebook functionality on a demo system loaned to me by Apple; the initial release of Mountain Lion wont support it, but itll be made available in an update sometime this fall.)

In Safari, the Share button lets you post a link to Facebook or Twitter (and in a nice touch, that choice will bring up a share sheet where you can compose your own text, rather than sending out a generic pre-formatted message), add a bookmark, send a link via Messages, add the page to Reading List, or send the story via email. (If you choose to send the story via email, you can choose to send a link, the HTML of the page, or a stripped-down view of the page in the style of Safaris Reader feature.)

You can add your Twitter and Facebook account information in the Mail, Contacts & Calendars system preference. Once thats done, it becomes easy to quickly share items from just about anywhere via the Share menu or the buttons at the top of the Notification Center list. I was able to post an image to Twitter and Facebook from within Preview, as well as send it to Flickr. I could even transfer it to a nearby Mac via Apples AirDrop file-transfer feature, all without leaving my Preview window. You can even choose whether to make your Facebook posts public, just to your friends, or to a limited list of friends.

Twitter and Facebook integration goes beyond that, though. Mountain Lion can sync with your Facebook contacts list, so that all your Facebook friends appear in Contacts. If the denizens of your Contacts list are also your Facebook friends, Mountain Lion will do its best to avoid making duplicate entries. (A few of my friends were duplicated when I tried this, but merging them back into one record wasnt too hard using the Merge Selected Cards command in Contacts.) Mountain Lion can also optionally update the pictures attached to each of your contacts based on those contacts public Facebook profile, even if theyre not a Facebook friend, and can do likewise with Twitter avatars.

A few years ago I tested a Palm WebOS smartphone and was impressed with its attempt to sew my social networks and address book together into a unified collection of contacts. Apple has, up to now, resisted deep integration with services like Twitter and Facebook. The good news is that with Mountain Lion, Twitter is fully integrated and this fall Facebook will finally be likewise. It will be a great convenience for users of these services. (And if you dont use them, you wont miss anything.)

Mac, take a memo

Dictation, a feature previously available only on the iPhone 4S and the third-generation iPad, comes to the Mac with Mountain Lion. Mountain Lions dictation engine appears to be identical to the one found on iOS, and requires an Internet connection. (Keep in mind that Dictation and Siri are two separate functions. Mountain Lion doesnt offer Siri.)

Mountain Lion dictation can be used just about anywhere there is a blinking cursor. If you can enter text there, you can dictate text into itno app updates required. By default, you kick off a dictation session by tapping the Function key twice, although you can customise this to a different keyboard shortcut in the Dictation and Speech (formerly Speech) preference pane. Then you just say what you want to say, and once youre done, your utterances will be rendered (usually quite accurately) as text.

Its a great addition. Of course, there are better speech-to-text options available commerciallyNuance offers Dragon Express for $50 (roughly £32) and Dragon Dictate for $200 (£130). Those programs work on your Mac without an Internet connection and offer voice-training and customisability that Mountain Lions dictation feature cant match. But not everyone who might use Dictation needs that level of customisability.

Ive never managed to use most dictation products for very long, but I find that I use iOS dictation every now and then when I need it. I look forward to being able to do the same on my Mac with Mountain Lion.

Sleepwalking MacBooks

When a Mac is asleep, its basically dead to the world. When an iOS device is asleep, its still doing stuffchecking your mail, making alert sounds, and even backing up. It means you can flip open an iPad and your Inbox is already current, for example.

With Mountain Lion, Apple is introducing a version of this iOS feature to the Mac. Its called Power Nap, and its a somnambulant state thats neither asleep or awake as we currently understand them.

First, the restrictions: While Id wager that most future Macs will support Power Nap, right now its only supported by a handful of systems. On day one of Mountain Lion, youll only be able to take advantage of Power Nap if youve got a Mid-2011 or 2012 vintage MacBook Air or the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

To turn Power Nap on and off, you use the new Enable Power Nap setting in the Energy Saver control panel. By default, Power Nap is turned on when your laptop is connected to a power adapter and turned off when on battery, but you can choose to turn it off completely or turn it on for both.

Power Nap works by periodically waking up a MacBook even when its closed, but its not the usual wake-up. Fans dont spin and the screen doesnt come on. And since Power Nap only works on systems that use flash storage instead of spinning hard drives, disk access is silent too. From the outside, youd never know that it was awake.

When in this dark-wake state, your MacBook will (once an hour, if you're connected to a power adapter or have more than 30 percent of battery remaining) check your mail, sync your contacts, update your calendars, sync reminders and notes, make sure Documents in the Cloud are synced, and update Photo Stream. If youve got the Find My Mac feature turned on, itll also phone home with its current location just like an iOS device would.

A few Power Nap features are a bit more intense, and will only work if the MacBook is plugged in to a power adapter. If youve ever groused about leaving your laptop open in order for Time Machine to run, Power Nap will let you finally just close it and forget it. Now those Time Machine backups will keep on running when the computer is asleep. If youve set your laptop to automatically download software updates in the background, those downloads will also happen during sleep, so theyre ready to be applied when you wake it back up.

I have to admit, it never really occurred to me that my Mac could be doing a lot more when its sleeping. But I certainly dont expect my iPhone or iPad to be dead to the world when theyre asleep, so why not ask my Mac to keep on working too? Im especially excited about my MacBook Air finally being backed up regularly, since its rarely awake long enough when Im at home to do a full Time Machine backup over my network.

The next step here, of course, would be for Apple to allow certain third-party apps to have access to Power Nap. Users of online backup services, for example, would love it if their MacBooks would do all of that work in the dead of night. But Apple likely will be judicious in this areanobody wants to wake up in the morning and discover that their laptops hot and its battery hasnt recharged.