Apple has been moving towards a more “mobile feel” with Mac OS for a while now. Lion introduced a few features like the Launchpad, Mission Control, and even some multi-touch gestures to make your Mac feel much more like an iPad or an iPhone.
The recently released Mountain Lion builds on that, by providing even more snappy goodies to the OS like increased compatibility with mobile devices through iCloud, a Game Center, social network integration, and, most notably, a newly introduced notification system called, quite fittingly, “Notification Center”.
How does it work? Where is it moving towards? What’s gonna happen to other apps, like Growl, that have done the same thing for quite a while now? Let’s take a look.
If you’ve already installed Mountain Lion, it is likely that you’ve run into the Notification Center. It is pretty much what it sounds like. It provides your Mac with built-in notifications that work through a system called Notification Center, which integrates with a few of Apple’s apps like Mail.app, Calendar, Messages, Facetime, the App Store, as well as a few third party apps like Twitter, Sparrow, and even Growl (we’ll get to this later).
Notifications by default are shown as small windows on your right top corner as they come up. They include a preview of what it’s about, the icon and the name of the app where it came from. These will disappear after a few seconds, but you can view a summary of all of them inside the Notification Center.
Bringing Up the Notification Center
The Notification Center panel is pretty much a collapsable sidebar on the right side of the screen that shows you a summary of all of your active notifications, as well as a quick access “Tweet” button that gets activated once you setup your Twitter account in the OS. Here you can activate any notification to view the content in the corresponding app, or you can just delete them so that they won’t clutter up your summary.
There are quite a few ways to display the Notification Center:
- Notification Center Button: it lives on your system status bar, on the upper right corner, just next to Spotlight.
- Keyboard Shortcut: Inside the system settings you can setup a new shortcut for displaying and collapsing the Center. Just go to Settings/Keyboard/Keyboard Shortcuts, choose the “Show Notification Center” field and record your shortcut. Mine is Alt+Left, it’s quite convenient.
- Hot Corners: This is also customizable under Settings/Mission Control/Hot Corners. Here you can set the Center to show up once you touch any of your screen corners with your cursor.
- Gesture: Mountain Lion comes with a default multi-touch gesture for displaying and collapsing the Notification Center. It works with two fingers, by swiping from the outside of your trackpad to the inside from right to left. It sounds way more complicated than it is, you can see a visual example under Settings/Trackpad/More Gestures.
While the Notification Center is as cool as it gets, it still falls short on a few aspects, like the apps that it’s compatible with. Right now, it pretty much only supports apps built by Apple and only a few third-party apps, although this is bound to change soon enough as developers get more familiar the API.
This aspect is where the competition of the Notification Center still wins, at least for now…
If you’ve been a Mac user for long, chances are that you’ve heard of and most likely have installed a little third-party app called Growl. You might have gotten it by yourself or you might have run into it when installing another app that includes it, like Adium or Dropbox. For the longest time, Growl has been considered an essential app to any Mac user.
But what does it do, exactly? Well, pretty much what the new Notification Center does. When installed, Growl works together with many of your already installed apps (Bowtie, Twitter, Evernote, you name it) to provide you with customizable notifications of all sorts.
As it stands in terms of features, customization and compatibility, Growl beats Apple’s Notification Center by a mile. It works with pretty much any relevant third-party out there, and even if it doesn’t, there’s likely some sort of plugin that will make it work (at one point I even got it to work with Mail.app).
Then there’s also the customization. Growl lets you easily turn off notifications from certain apps, install and switch notification styles, turn it on and off right from your menu bar, as well as install plugins that make it work with a number of apps that usually don’t work with Growl.
What’s Next For Growl?
What does a third party developer do when its marketshare seems threatened by a giant like Apple? Well, many decide to go against the competition by building on what Apple’s service or app offers and adding a bunch of new goodies that put their products above it, like Postbox has done with Mail.app.
Others, like the Growl team, make the more difficult choice of working with the competition instead of going against it. They realized it’s only a matter of time before third party developers start choosing building their app to work with the Notification Center API rather than with Growl. After all, for regular users it’s always easier to use something that comes installed with your computer and that you don’t have to look for, therefore making it a more widely used platform.
And so, in recent statements the Growl Team has made it clear that they intend to further continue developing Growl, but along with the newly introduced Notification Center. Here’s a little quote from the dev, taken from this post:
…in the back of our heads we always knew that some day that Apple would be implementing a notification system. That was one of the original points, to get the idea noticed by Apple. That point has long since passed, but hey it is what it is.
Growl is already beta testing Growl 2.0, which is going to bring a few new features to the app, like integrating the action notifications (like the MailMe display) and the visual notifications (the usual notifications that you see in Growl), along with a bunch of other minor improvements like an improved “rollup”. But the main feature of Growl 2.0 is that it makes it much easier for both developers and users to decide whether they want to switch to the Notification Center or just to keep using Growl.
Growl 2.0 improves the framework of the app, making it much easier for developers to implement Notification Center features in their app, if they already had the Growl framework setup. Or, if users have the Growl app installed in their system, they can also choose to continue using it and take advantage of its many features. This makes it a breeze for users and developers to make the transition into the new Notification Center, but it isn’t yet released and it might take a while until it sees the light. That’s where Hiss comes in.
Hiss is an app that can help you forward all your current Growl notifications to the Notification Center. It’s still in beta and it will likely be useless once Growl 2.0 comes out, but if you’re looking for a way to get Growl working with the Notification Center right now, then this is a great alternative.
As it is still in beta, it doesn’t work quite as well as you’d expect it to. All the Growl notifications forwarded will come up in the Notification Center as if they were just coming from “Growl” instead of from the actual app that it originates from. Aside from that, it works great for having all your notifications in one single center instead of splitting them in two.
The Notification Center is a big step towards making Mac OS a modern and complete operative system, but it still has a long way ahead of it. Apple certainly has the big hand on being able to implement notifications in a true native manner, with the sidebar and the compatibility with the major Mac apps.
Growl, in the other hand, isn’t going anywhere and the team behind it is proving to be smart and cooperative by making it easy to migrate from what they have already built to the new Apple system. The soon to be released Growl 2.0 will surely be a more than capable competitor to the Notification Center, but the Growl Team is also not forcing its users to stick with it in order to continue taking advantage of its superior compatibility.
What do you think? Has the Notification Center fit your needs so far? Have you used Hiss? What do you think will happen to Growl in the future? Which notification system will you continue to use? Are you even able to fit notifications into your workflow? Discuss!