It's the last full week of July, which means Apple has seven days to release its new operating system for Mac, also known as OS X Mountain Lion.

The OS was announced in February, and Apple discussed Mountain Lion at greater length last month at its Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco, explaining some of the 200-plus new features ingrained into the updated operating system.

The current Mac operating system, OS X Lion, was released in July 2011 as the first Mac operating system completely downloadable over the Mac App Store. Lion included some of the most intuitive features from the popular iPhone and iPad, such as multi-touch gestures like swiping and tapping directly onto the Mac's trackpad. Lion also added support for full-screen apps, a new application viewer called Launchpad, and the company's cloud computing system for effortless syncing and managing information across devices called iCloud.

We see that people are in love with a lot of apps and functionality here, Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. Anywhere that makes sense, we are going to move that over to Mac.

Like its predecessor, OS X Mountain Lion will be released as a $19.99 download over the Mac App Store sometime in July. With the golden master of the operating system already released to developers, Apple is finally ready to unleash Mountain Lion unto the masses.

Apple wants all its Mac users to adopt Mountain Lion: In addition to dropping the price from $30 to $20 and letting Snow Leopard users (two OS's ago) jump directly to Mountain Lion, Apple has also instituted an Up-to-Date program, which allows any customer that bought a Mac after June 11 this year to receive a free upgrade to Mountain Lion. Users need only enter the date and location of their Mac purchase online, and enter the serial numbers of the eligible machines. The applications for the Up-to-Date program are currently live.

How To Upgrade To Mountain Lion

Apple users don't need to visit an Apple Store to upgrade to the newest Mac operating system, but they'll need to make sure they meet the requirements before they try to download the software.

First of all, Mountain Lion is only compatible with a handful of Mac models: The new Mac OS will only work with 2007 iMacs or later, MacBooks from late 2008 (aluminum) and late 2009, 2007 MacBook Pros or later, 2008 MacBook Airs and Mac Pros, and 2009 Mac Minis and Xserve devices. You can find the exact model of your Mac by clicking the Apple icon in the top left corner of your computer screen, clicking About This Mac, then clicking More Info on the bottom.

If your Mac computer is eligible, then congrats! Make sure the computer is running at least Snow Leopard (10.6) or Lion (10.7) before you upgrade. If your computer is running Tiger (10.4), Leopard (10.5), or any version prior to that, you must update to Snow Leopard or Lion first before moving forward.

Now that you're ready for Mountain Lion, you just need to wait for its release. Apple promised a July release date for the OS upgrade, which gives the company seven more days to let Mountain Lion out of its cage.

Features Of Mountain Lion

Users that upgrade to Mac OS X Mountain Lion will discover scores of useful features -- more than 200 of them, according to Apple. Here's a guide to the best and most important features in Mountain Lion.

Messages: In iOS 5, Apple dumped SMS text messaging on the iPhone and iPad and replaced it with a free platform called iMessage, a BlackBerry Messenger-type service that allowed Apple users to freely message each other text, photos, and videos to and from any iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

Messages is essentially iMessage for the Mac. It lets one send free and unlimited text messages from a Mac to anyone on an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, or on another Mac, letting users continue their conversations on any Apple device. As with iMessage, users can also send rich text, photos, contacts, locations, and even 1080p HD video to their friends. Furthermore, Messages supports FaceTime -- along with other instant messaging systems like AIM, Yahoo!, and Google Talk -- so users can pick up their chats no matter where they started.

Messages also comes with delivery and read receipts, encrypted messaging, and supports large attachments such as high-quality photos, full 1080p HD video, or documents up to 100 MB. Apple also makes it easy to switch from text conversations to video calls with a new FaceTime button.

Dictation: Finally, Apple has brought its sophisticated voice recognition software to the Mac in Mountain Lion. Now, any time you feel like typing, you can just as easily turn on the Dictation feature using a keyboard shortcut (press the Function key twice) to say exactly what you want to write, and Apple's software will instantly convert your words into text. It works with almost any app as long as there's a text field, and it requires no setup or training. Dictation learns the characteristics of your voice and adapts to your accent, Apple says.

Dictation will be supported for English, French, German and Japanese-speaking users.

Notification Center: Before Apple added the Notification Center to the iPad and iPhone, new texts and app alerts interrupted whatever the user was doing by popping a message directly in the middle of the screen. The Notification Center solved this annoyance by making notifications into small bars that appeared at the top of the device's screen momentarily, and those incoming notifications also did not interrupt the user's activities.

Apple wants its users to stay up-to-date across all of their devices, which is why the company added the Notification Center to the Mac in OS X Mountain Lion. By swiping the Mac trackpad with two fingers from right to left, the Mac Notification Center appears on the right side of the screen. Notifications from apps like Messages, Game Center, Mail, Calendar, Reminders, and other downloadable third-partyapps from the Mac App Store will tell you when there's something you should see. Like the iOS Notification Center system, users can choose which apps they want alerts from, and users can easily hide the Notification Center with a simple swipe.

Twitter Integration: Apple understands that people love and rely on Twitter to engage in the greater social community, and in iOS 5, the company gave its iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users the ability to tweet from almost any app. Users could tweet photos, links, locations and webpages effortlessly. In less than a year, this platform has become huge for both Apple and Twitter: iOS 5 users sent more than 10 billion tweets since the platform went live in October.

    With OS X Mountain Lion, this deep Twitter integration has reached the Mac, giving desktop users the ability to tweet out directly from apps like Safari, Photo Booth or iPhoto. Just like iOS 5, a Tweet Sheet pops up, with a paper clip over any attached image or website, and the user can write their message, add a location if they want, and send it out from there. It's simple, clean, and fast.

    Facebook Integration: After successfully baking Twitter directly into the OS software, Apple has decided to open up built-in support for Facebook. Now, after signing into their account just once, users will be able to share content -- text, links and photos -- onto their or others' Walls, automatically sync their Contacts with their profile photos from Facebook, and receive notifications over the Notification Center.

    Safari: Apple's browser has become a big hit on the iPhone and iPad: Safari accounts two-thirds of all mobile web traffic. In Mountain Lion, Apple is bringing many of the best features from the mobile experience to the Mac. But Apple has also learned from its rivals: Like Google Chrome, the new version of Safari will include just one search bar for web addresses and search terms. Other than that, the experience looks just like iOS: Tab View allows you to see your webpages in open tabs, which can be swiped to switch between them. A new feature called iCloud Tabs also makes the browsing experience from mobile to Mac much more fluid: iCloud Tabs remembers where you were on one device, and automatically synchs it to the others, whether you own an iPad or iPhone. But one of the best features of the new Safari on Mountain Lion is the ability to read pages from your Reading List without an Internet connection.

    Notes: Finally, Apple created a proper notes application for the Mac. Until this point, Mac users made do with an app called Stickies, which allowed them to create virtual multi-colored sticky notes and place them all over the computer screen. This app, while fulfilling a need for notetakers, had no way to search the notes or organize them efficiently.

    This has all changed in OS X Mountain Lion. The new Notes application on the Mac takes after the app with the same name on the iPhone and iPad, which lets users create and search notes in a clean and easy-to-use interface. On the Mac, however, users will also get a chance to add photos, movies and links to their notes, as well as rich text, bullet points and formatted lists. For those users that will miss Stickies, Apple also allows anyone to tear the note right out of the Notes app and stick it anywhere on their desktop for easy access.

    Game Center: The iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch were all great devices for playing cheap, good-looking virtual games, but before iOS 5 came along, there was no way to track and organize your progress, especially comparing it to other customers playing the same game on their Apple devices. With the introduction of Game Center on iOS 5, Apple allowed users to create accounts, keep track of their awards and achievements in games, and even compete with friends, or find friends to compete with.

    But then, Apple thought: Why should iOS have all the fun? With Game Center coming to the Mac, desktop users can play head-to-head and turn-based games against friends and competitors on any Mac or iOS device like iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Game Center also suggests games you might like, helps you find Game Center players from around the world to play against, and provides a leaderboard of the best players in each game.

    Accessibility: iPad and iPhone have made great leaps in accessibility for disabled users, and Mountain Lion looks to bring many of these great features onto the Mac. In Mountain Lion, users can now drag items to hotspots using the VoiceOver application, and the Mac will also come ready with 14 new braille displays for blind users. Apple has also made it significantly easier to customize your settings and add modifier keys like Command and Option, which opens the door for many more contextual actions.

    Reminders: In iOS 5, Apple added a new app called Reminders, which lets users create organized, virtual reminders on their iPhone or iPad. Users can program their Apple devices to remind them to do something at a certain time or upon arriving at a certain place, which is accomplished via text notification.

    In OS X Mountain Lion, users can better set and organize reminders on their Macs, which are then synched across every device via iCloud. Users can mark tasks as complete, swipe between individual lists of Reminders, or simply view them all within a single column, or by date, making it easy to manage and add due dates and set priorities.

    Preview: Mountain Lion will add Preview, the application for viewing PDF documents, to Documents in the Cloud, which will let Apple users view their documents from anywhere. In addition, Preview has added the ability to add text and fill out PDF forms directly on the application, and also added the ability to quickly see and search all of your notes and highlights. Apple has even made it easier to scan pages and images directly into an existing PDF document you're already working on and share it wherever you want to send it.

    Airplay Mirroring: One of the best -- yet most underrated -- features on iOS 5 was the ability to mirror whatever was on your iPad or iPhone 4S directly on a television hooked up to an Apple TV. In other words, iPad and iPhone 4S users could display high-definition movies, presentations, slideshows, photos, and websites onto a larger television screen wirelessly and seamlessly.

    Finally, this incredible feature is coming to the Mac in OS X Mountain Lion. Users can stream videos, presentations, spreadsheets, or anything on their desktop screen directly onto their television sets. AirPlay also seamlessly integrates with iTunes, allowing for movies and TV shows to be streamed instantly and optimized for your HD set.

    Share Sheets: It's extremely easy to share photos or links on the iPhone or iPad. A box with an arrow appears on almost every page, which allows users to book mark pages, add them to the Reading List for later reading, mail the page to a friend, tweet it out to Twitter followers, or print out the page on a nearby printer.

    In OS X Mountain Lion, Apple added the Share button to most apps within Mountain Lion, which similarly lets users add pages or links to their reading list, bookmark them on their browser, e-mail or tweet them out, or send them via Messages or iMessage. Not every sharing option applies to every page you see on the Mac, but Apple tailors sharing options based on the app you're using. For instance, some sites may allow you to share the page on Vimeo or Flickr, while others only allow Twitter. But once you perform a single sign-on for Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, or Vimeo, your Mac is ready to share any content directly from the apps that support it.

    Power Nap: Like the iPhone and iPad, Apple has changed the software inside the Macs so they can update even while they sleep. The feature is called Power Nap, which automatically updates your Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Notes, Reminders, Documents and other information in iCloud, such as Photo Stream and Find My Mac. As long as the Mac is connected to a power source, it can automatically download software updates (with the right preferences) and even back up information using Time Machine.

    Gatekeeper: An intimidating new security feature for the Mac? Yes, please! Apple wants you to be safe and secure, and know that whatever app you're downloading from the Mac App Store can be trusted. To achieve this level of safety, Apple has created the Developer Program, which gives each developer a unique ID and digital signature on their apps. The Mac sees and understands this digital signature and knows that the application doesn't contain malware or hasn't been tampered with. If your preferences don't match your current needs, users can also temporarily override their own settings by Control-clicking the app and installing it.

    Beyond the Mac App Store, Gatekeeper allows Mac users to control what apps they install and use. Apple added more optional security features, like requiring a password for sleep and a screen saver or disabling automatic login, but it's all in the name of giving the user more control over their privacy and security.

    Features For China: Apple didn't forget about its huge base in Asia. In OS X Mountain Lion, Apple has added support for many Chinese services and features, including the entire Chinese dictionary and an improved text input to make typing in Chinese faster, easier, and significantly more accurate, letting users type in any one of eight new fonts. In addition, Apple made Mountain Lion accessible with mail services like 163, 126 and QQ, as well as China's leading search engine in Baidu, which is now a built-in option for Safari. Similar to the integration with Twitter and Facebook, Chinese users can also post directly from the Web to different apps, including video apps like Youku and Tudou, as well as the Chinese equivalent to Twitter called Sina Weibo.

    System-Wide Enhancements: Some features don't fit into any certain category; they just apply across the board. In Mountain Lion, Apple now allows users to go full-screen on any display, even secondary displays connected to your Mac, and it has significantly improved the scroll bars to expand when the cursor is hovered over them, which will make it much easier to scroll through documents and web pages. Apple has also added several slideshows for screen savers, added a Faces integration in picking photos for your account picture, Messages account or Contacts card, and also allows users to create their own collections of their favorite fonts, which Apple calls Smart Collections.

    Mountain Lion also added the ability to copy files from one Mac to the other with a simple drag-and-drop interface, added a user's Photo Stream as a screen saver option, and also added its traditional Chess game to Game Center so friends can challenge each other, or other users.

    Apple also made a number of security enhancements beyond Gatekeeper. Mountain Lion is certified for FIPS 140-2, which is the government security standard for encryption, as well as Kernel ASLR to protect against malware by randomly arranging kernel components in memory as it boots up to make it more difficult for attackers to use kernel functions by calling their memory addresses. Apple also added new encryption and management tools for FileVault, and has instituted safe HTML handling into Safari, which allows it to display local information without accessing remote resources or sending data to remote servers.

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    Which of these features in Mountain Lion are you most excited for? Let us know in the comments section below.