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A year ago Yosemite introduced all sorts of new features What's New In OS X 10.10 "Yosemite"? What's New In OS X 10.10 "Yosemite"? OS X is evolving both in terms of looks and features, and just like last year's Mavericks update, Yosemite will be another free download. Read More , all visible to the user. El Capitan is a subtle release: its biggest changes aren’t visible — but you’ll probably notice them anyway.

That’s because the main thing El Capitan offers Mac users What's New In OS X 10.11 "El Capitan"? (And How to Try it Yourself) What's New In OS X 10.11 "El Capitan"? (And How to Try it Yourself) While the changes don't seem that big on the surface, there's a lot going on under the hood that could make this incremental upgrade one of the most significant to date. Read More is better performance. El Capitan will be publicly released on October 1 – I’ve been using the Gold Master release for a few weeks now on a 2011 13″ Macbook Pro, and it’s a lot snappier than Yosemite or any recent version of OS X for that matter.

It seems like I’m not alone: users on Reddit and Twitter have been raving about the performance enhancements, and various tech reviewers have been backing it up. If you’ve been noticing all sorts of slowdowns after recent OS X upgrades, this is the one you’ve been waiting for.

Beyond performance, some of the nicest things about El Capitan are relatively minor tweaks that nevertheless show the designers are thinking about users. For example: you know that thing where you sit down at your computer and can’t figure out where you mouse is? Apple offers a fix for that:

capitan-call-out-cursorIt’s a small tweak that solves a small problem. That’s the sort of changes you’ll see here, along with backend tweaks that add up to noticeable performance improvements.

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Looking for reasons to download El Capitan? Here’s a quick rundown of the noticeable new features, to help you decide.

Two Full-Screen Apps, At Once

Even the new features in El Capitan are more like refinements, and split screen is a great example of this. Basically, it’s now possible to run two apps side-by-side in full-screen mode:

split-full-screen-mac

On one hand, this isn’t that much more useful than simply running two windows beside each other on the desktop. On the other hand, if you like the distraction-free part of running apps in full screen – but wish you could, for example, take notes while reading a document – this could be perfect for you. It kind of reminds me of the modern multitasking in Windows 8 What You Should Know About Multitasking In Windows 8 What You Should Know About Multitasking In Windows 8 Windows 8 features two types of foreground application multitasking. The first is the traditional desktop application switching, while the second is a limited full-screen multitasking found only in the Modern applications launched via the Start... Read More , to be honest.

To run an app in split screen, simply enter Mission Control and drag an open window to any currently full-screened app – the same way you moved windows to another desktop previously.

A Slightly Tweaked Mission Control

Speaking of Mission Control: there’s been a few tweaks. The thumbnails of your spaces are hidden by default, leaving more room to see your open windows.

mission-control-mac

Ever since Mission Control replaced several Mac features Do More, Better: Enhancing Multitasking In Mac OS X Do More, Better: Enhancing Multitasking In Mac OS X Multitasking is not always a choice. When you have to write up a report, you need access to your text processor, but also to your reference material. While working, I often end up working with... Read More , including Expose, users have complained that it’s difficult to see every window in one gesture – this seems to help. The downside: the desktop previews are missing, which some users are already complaining about. I guess there’s no pleasing everyone.

Hide The Mac Menubar

If you love vertical space, I’ve got some good news for you: for the first time, it’s possible to autohide the Mac menubar. You’ll find the option in System Preferences, under General.

capitan-hide-menu-bar-mac

We’ve shown you many ways to reduce menubar clutter An Easy Way To Tidy Up Your Menu Bar With Bartender Beta [Mac] An Easy Way To Tidy Up Your Menu Bar With Bartender Beta [Mac] The menu bar of Mac computers has become, for many power users, nearly as crowded and used as items in the Dock. Besides the default items that appear in the menu bar - including Spotlight,... Read More , but to me this is the ultimate solution: simply hiding it altogether.

I’m not going to lie: I’ve wanted this one for a long time. It’s nice to see.

New Spotlight Features

Apple, inexplicably, hasn’t brought Siri to OS X – but they’re getting just a bit closer by improving Spotlight. The search tool, can now quickly show you the weather from anywhere, for example.

It can also give you live sports updates:

sportlight-sports-scores

Another potentially useful feature is natural language processing. You can type things like “PDFs I opened in March” and get accurate results, which is kind of mind bending the first few times you try it.

If you’ve been using Spotlight alternatives like Quicksilver Remember Quicksilver, The Free Open Source Mac Launcher? Remember Quicksilver, The Free Open Source Mac Launcher? You've probably forgotten entirely about Quicksilver, and that's too bad. It's awesome. Read More or Alfred, think about giving Spotlight a chance after upgrading. It’s doing some interesting things.

One thing it doesn’t support, however, is a plugin system. And new security features mean that unofficial Spotlight plugin Flashlight Add Superpowers To Spotlight With This Unofficial Plugin System Add Superpowers To Spotlight With This Unofficial Plugin System Bring Google, Wolfram Alpha, the weather and just about anything else to Spotlight. Read More no longer works. Which is a bummer, but the security reasons for this aren’t bad.

Upgrades to Mail, Safari, Notes and More

mail-improvements-mac

Many of the apps that come with OS X get updates in El Capitan. We’ll go over these in the months to come, but here’s a quick rundown:

disk-utility-tweek

There’s more, but think of this list as an overview more than anything.

Metal Comes to The Mac

If you own a recent iPhone or iPad, you might be wondering how such relatively underpowered devices can have such smooth animations and transitions – especially when compared to significantly more powerful desktop computers. Part of the secret is Metal, a low-level graphics API that gives apps near-direct access to the graphics processor.

osx-metal

El Capitan brings Metal to the Mac, meaning your more powerful computer can take advantage of it. Apple is using this to power the system’s animations, and anyone with a lower-end Mac should be able to tell.

But Metal’s biggest promise should come with upcoming software and game releases: games that take advantage of it should be able to offer better performance. Sharing the platform between OS X and iOS also makes it easier for developers to port titles between the two platforms.

It may seem a little abstract for the everyday user to think about but it means a performance boost on the desktop and potentially better video and gaming experiences later on.

A Worthwhile Upgrade

El Capitan has been stable for me, which is more than I can say for recent versions of OS X. There aren’t many groundbreaking changes, but it’s worth the upgrade for the performance improvements alone.

On October 1, upgrade to El Capitan by launching the Mac App Store and heading to the Updates tab where you’ll be invited to download the update. Make sure you create a backup with Time Machine while the update downloads, then run the downloaded installer (you’ll find it in your Applications folder) when you’re ready.

It’s possible the download could take some time to appear or complete — particularly on launch day — so our advice is to keep trying if you’re not successful straight away.

Note: If you have multiple Mac computers you’d like to upgrade, copy the installer file to a USB drive or transfer using AirDrop and use it to update your other Mac computers without enduring the 6GB download on each.

Did you upgrade? Have you been enjoying El Capitan? Let’s chat about it in the comments.

  1. sean boero
    November 21, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    I have been primarily using Mac's for years along with various Windows and Linux OS's for work and home. DO NOT upgrade to El Capitan yet - too many bugs. I just spent the last couple of days recovering from the upgrade I did last week. Chrome/Word/email/firefox all froze up horribly and eventually I got to a point where we were just looking at the spinning rainbow. A restart caused crashes, and it could not even get into safe mode. I thought I had hard drive or other hardware problem until I booted into Windows 8.1 and Helix 3 and everything worked fine.

    I am a big fan of Mac, but it is not my religion. I am running MS Office for Mac 2011 and a few forensic programs, but not MS Office 2016 which seems to be the problem with so many others. Disk utility first aid failed also.

    I finally booted into Recovery mode - erased the Mac partition and used a Yosemite back up I had on my time machine. I cannot see any reason to upgrade (not the right word) - update to El Capitan and wanted to save someone a few days of aggravation or worse.

    I have the computer forensic equipment and tools to recover from a failure but most people do not. If the beta had bugs it would seem prudent to fix them all before releasing the update. Apple - Fail

    • Justin Pot
      November 23, 2015 at 3:14 pm

      I really appreciate how frustrating that must be for you, but will add the caveat that upgrading your entire operating system always comes with the risk of complications. Still, if you're happy with Yosemite stick to it.

  2. Christopher HasARightToPrivacy
    October 2, 2015 at 2:20 am

    Yes, we can agree to disagree, I suppose. I wish we had a choice, though. A "turn lighting effects on or off, etc) option would be awesome.

    I'm currently stuck on 10.8 & 10.9 because the washed out colors and poorly-defined lines on icons and UI elements 10.10 literally makes my eyes hurt. On pre-Yosemite icons and UI elements have a "depth" to them that's much easier on the eyes.

    • Christopher HasARightToPrivacy
      October 2, 2015 at 2:20 am

      I don't understand what happened - this was supposed to be a reply!

    • Justin Pot
      October 2, 2015 at 2:18 pm

      That kind of choice isn't going to happen, sadly. There is an option to increase the contrast, though.

  3. Ellen Loehman
    October 1, 2015 at 10:38 pm

    TotalFinder no longer works and BinaryAge says they aren't going to update them. I didn't realize how much I depended on it.

  4. kv kv
    October 1, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    don’t upgrade if you use a brother multi function unit to scan to your email. no updates available till at least the end of the month or later!

    http://support.brother.com/g/s/id/os/macintosh.html

    • Justin Pot
      October 1, 2015 at 8:52 pm

      Good to know, thanks for leaving the note here.

  5. Christopher HasARightToPrivacy
    October 1, 2015 at 2:11 am

    Looks like they haven't changed those stupid looking cartoon window buttons.

    • Justin Pot
      October 1, 2015 at 2:37 pm

      You can change them to grey if you want, and at least the 3D sphere thing is gone.

      • Christopher HasARightToPrivacy
        October 1, 2015 at 8:28 pm

        "at least the 3D sphere thing is gone" - you say that as if it's a good thing and I wholeheartedly disagree. 3D lighting effects SHOULD be applied to all interactive operating system controls.

        • Justin Pot
          October 1, 2015 at 8:57 pm

          Couldn't disagree more! To me the 3D effects look really dated. But we can agree to disagree.

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