Apple on Thursday previews its next operating system, Mountain Lion, just seven months after its last edition, Lion, came out. (It won't be available to consumers until the summer.)

Short story: It brings much of the iPad experience to laptops and desktops – carrying over features such as the Notes, Reminders, the Game Center app for online gaming and an iMessage app that so far has worked only between Apple's mobile devices.

Bigger picture: It's not just a matter of making Macs look like iPads. It's about bringing computers up to date with how mobile devices work. That means constant access to the "cloud" of online data. Apple has done that by integrating its iCloud software more deeply to sync more data between (only) its mobile devices and computers.

For example, it's no longer necessary to open up a clunky iCloud website to move documents between a Mac and an iPad. Apple's Pages application has iCloud built in. It features access to an online folder of documents shared by the computer and iPad-based versions of the app. The list of iCloud-integrated applications is small now, but Apple is giving programmers the tools (called APIs) so they can build iCloud into any of their applications. Imagine no longer having to email Microsoft Word documents between computers. The latest version would already be in a folder for you.

Open any program today on an iPad, say the NPR app, and you will find buttons for sharing — in this case to Twitter, Facebook and email. Similar buttons (and generally more) have appeared on Web pages for some time. But Mountain Lion starts bringing them right into the applications on a Mac, saving users from having to register with or sign into websites to use their sharing buttons. And it's more elegant than copying and pasting Web addresses.Sharing is also about the ability to easily send anything on the computer to individual friends, social networks and other gadgets.

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Nowhere is that more obvious than with the integration of Twitter right into the operating system. As with the newish iOS 5 on mobile devices, Mountain Lion has a built-in Twitter app. Sign in once and you can share through several Twitter-enabled programs (with more to follow). It would, of course, be much better if Mountain Lion had Facebook instead, or in addition. But that likely has more to do with business decisions than feature choices.

Twitter, email, photo-sharing sites and other options now appear in popup menus on many Apple apps. And more are likely to come. As with iCloud access, Apple is allowing developers to build this sharing capability into any of their programs. And more sites are likely to be included — beyond Flickr for photos and Vimeo for videos. It's not hard to imagine, for example, adding a "Share to Pinterest" button allowing someone to shoot a picture from iPhoto to the wildly popular digital scrapbook site.

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