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15.06.2015
Mac OS X El Capitan: Modest upgrade promises welcome features
Edward C. Baig, USA TODAY



Now that Apple is upgrading Mac OS X software on a more or less yearly basis, the need to pile on new features or go heavy on changes hardly seems necessary.

 

While the Mac faithful will certainly embrace snappier speeds and the few fresh or modified features that are promised with OS X El Capitan, what you have in this latest operating system are mostly incremental improvements that build on the current version Mac OS X Yosemite. El Capitan is a much lighter upgrade compared to the move last year from OS X Mavericks to Yosemite.

I've been checking out a beta version of El Capitan on a MacBook Pro that Apple supplied for my test drive. As a result, this is not meant to be a review but rather a quick survey of the new operating system. Indeed, I've encountered a few bugs at this stage.

The software will be released in the fall, and as with last time, will be free. Some features catch up to similar capabilities in Windows. The biggest omission on my wish list: No Mac version of Siri.

What you do get with El Capitan is a more capable Spotlight search feature, easier ways to manage open windows on your computer, and the ability to use gestures in the Mac Mail app that are similar to the gestures you use in the Mail app on the iPhone or iPad.

The far more complete Notes app lets you drag and drop photos, add audio and video files, maps locations and more. You can directly share content from other OS X apps into Notes. Unlike the new Notes app for iOS, however, you can't draw notes with your finger, though via iCloud you can display any jottings from the iOS version of the app inside the El Capitan version.

Public transit directions have been added to the Maps app, for London, San Francisco, Toronto and the New York City metropolitan areas, with more cities coming in the fall when El Capitan launches. More than 300 Chinese cities are included.

Among the small but potentially handy niceties comes the ability to silence audio playing in the background in Safari without you having to embark on an expedition trying to figure out where the darn sound is coming from.

You'll also find it useful to "pin" the sites you frequent to the left of the tab bar in Safari.

If you can't locate a wayward cursor, you can now shake your finger across the trackpad (or shake your mouse) to have the cursor momentarily grow in size so you can spot it.

Arguably the most significant additions to El Capitan are things you won't see. I'm speaking of the under-the-hood graphics technology Apple is pitching to developers called Metal, which arrives on the Mac after debuting last year on iOS. Metal will let developers produce more realistic graphics-rich games on the Mac.

In my tests, the expanded Spotlight capabilities that are supposed to let you search beyond the contents of your Mac for things like weather and sport scores worked intermittently for those items and didn't work at all for stock prices, apparently one of those beta snags.

Apple also promises to let you search for Web video in Spotlight from YouTube, Vimeo and Vevo. And the company is letting you use natural language searches via Spotlight or in the Mail app, along the lines of, "show me the unread email from Brian in February."

But you have to type in such queries. Regrettably, Apple has no plans to bring Siri to the Mac, at least none that they've uttered publicly. That's too bad — one of the things I'm most excited about when Microsoft launches Windows 10 next month is that the obedient voice assistant Cortana is coming to PCs.

I am pleased that Apple is adding is the ability for you to display two apps side-by-side on the screen. You might for instance display your Mail app next to your Calendar. This welcome split screen feature may be new to the Mac but is old hat to folks accustomed to using the Microsoft Windows "snap" feature, which launched back with Windows 7 in 2009.

Next month you'll be able to try out a public beta of El Capitan that will be further along than the version I've been using. Keep in mind that as a beta you'd be wise not to load the software on your main or only computer.

 

 
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