OS X El Capitan: A More Solid Rock?

OS X El Capitan Public Beta 1

Apple’s last major operating system release, version 10.10 or “Yosemite” focused on a design overhaul and the addition of multiple features to native applications like Mail, Contacts, and Spotlight. The next major release 10.11, called “El Capitan” was announced at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) event early June this year. The El Capitan release is focused on improving two distinct aspects: user experience and performance, and is expected to be released sometime autumn 2015. It is also worth noting that Apple’s shift to releasing major operating system versions with emphasis on introducing new features has taken a toll on the stability of the OS over time. Many users feel that version 10.6 or “Snow Leopard” was the last truly solid version of OS X. The returned focus on these two key aspects hopefully will resonate with users, and function as a modern “Snow Leopard” release.

Experience

The El Capitan Public Beta 1 release on July 9th, included modifications to Mail, Safari, Maps, Spotlight, Mission Control, and Notes. All new functionalities are designed to, as Apple’s website states, “take the Mac experience to new heights.” Notable improvements are as follows:

In Mail, fullscreen support has been improved to take advantage of space and provides better tools for managing multiple messages, swipe gestures like those found on iPhone and iPad, used for quickly managing messages have been implemented. The Mail application can now suggest events and contacts to add to calendar and contacts accordingly, as it detects them in newly received messages. (Click on photos to zoom.)
Mail

In Safari you are now able to pin sites to the tab bar, keeping them up to date in the background and readily accessible. AirPlay is now able to stream video from the web without showing the rest of your screen. Additionally, we are all familiar when an open tab starts to randomly play audio at an inopportune moment, now you can quickly mute a tab (or tabs) playing sound from the URL bar.

Safari

Maps can now show transit directions such as bus routes, along with more detailed walking, subway, train, and bus directions. You now are also able to send directions created while working at your Mac to iPhone, allowing for stop-by-stop directions on the go.

Maps

Spotlight is now much, much smarter. It can now pull information on stocks, weather, sports scores, schedules, and athletic information. Another massive change is the way Spotlight can now search with natural language and phrases, such as “Documents I worked on last week” or “Emails from John Smith in July,” rather than trying to remember the name of the document you worked on a week ago, or seeing every email that John Smith has sent rather than what you actually need.
Spotlight

Mission Control has been tweaked to allow easier window and desktop management across the board, and a new feature called “Split View” has been added to allow better multitasking on the same desktop space. Split View enables you to snap two programs to half the screen much like Windows 7, but builds on this further by suggesting other applications to pin to the other half of you screen, similar to Windows 10 functionality. Similarly, you can create Split View desktops by dragging applications into the workspace bar at the top of Mission Control.
SplitView

Notes has seen the largest changes in basic functionality, users can now attach content from other apps directly into a note, such as a video, website, photo, or map. And thanks to iCloud these notes can be shared easily across multiple devices, taking advantage of the same features being introduced in iOS 9. Additionally, you can now create interactive checklists within the notes application that act similarly to the Reminders application.
Notes Some smaller experience improvements include:

  • Improved Chinese and Japanese system fonts;
  • Improved Chinese and Japanese textual input systems;
  • Disk Utility has a new graphical user interface;
  • The spinning wait cursor (beach ball of death) has been “flattened” to reflect design changes first introduced in OS X Yosemite;
  • Shaking the cursor will temporarily enlarge it, making easier to locate;
  • The continued use of mDNSresponder (reintroduced in 10.10.4) over discoveryd, the latter having been attributed to widespread wireless issues in 10.10;
  • The system font is now San Francisco, rather than Helvetica Neue.

Performance

Although performance changes are less visible, Apple has focused on improving system functions across the board to make your device feel snappier and more responsive, while also running with greater efficiency. According to the announcement at WWDC users can expect up to 1.4x faster application launches, 2x faster application switching, 2x faster mail load times, and 4x faster pdf loads in preview.

One of the major overhauls to OS X El Capitan’s efficiency, is the introduction of “Metal,” an API set designed for handling graphics with improved performance. Metal was introduced on mobile devices in 2014 with the release of iOS 8, and is expected to improve performance of graphically intense programs. This better graphics performance can also be expected to apply to gameplay, along with productivity applications such as Adobe Photoshop and After Effects.

OS X El Capitan will also introduce a new feature called “System Integrity Protection,” also known as “rootless.” It offers new security by preventing users and processing from writing to system-protected folders (e.g. /System, /bin, /usr [excluding /usr/local], and /sbin). System-protected folders are secure against elevated users and the root account (this is key on systems which only have one account that is the de facto administrator). “Rootless” will come enabled by default, but can be disabled. The average user should notice no changes in day-to-day usage.

OS X El Capitan Public Beta 2

Apple released El Capitan Public Beta 2 on July 22nd. The update log does not contain any listed changes that fall under “experience” improvements, or new features. However, it is likely Beta 2 includes behind the scenes tweaks, that squash bugs, improve performance, and further refine features introduced in Public Beta 1.

Support

All Macs that are able to run OS X Yosemite will be able to run OS X El Capitan once released (Surprisingly, most Macs that are able to run OS X Mountain Lion (10.8) will be able to make it all the way to 10.11). However, some features will not be available on all models. Metal has only been confirmed to run on devices released in 2012 or later. The following models are compatible:

  • Macbook: Aluminum Late 2008; Early 2009 or later
  • Macbook Air: Late 2008 or later
  • Macbook Pro: 13-inch, Mid 2009 or later/ 15-inch, Mid 2007 or later/ 17-inch, Late 2007 or later
  • Mac Mini: Early 2009 or later
  • iMac: Mid 2007 or later
  • Mac Pro: Early 2008 or later
  • Xserve: Early 2009

Sources:
OS X Preview: http://goo.gl/cGaQGL
Ars Technica: http://goo.gl/oCsyL
Apple Beta Software Program: https://goo.gl/XfzV0f