Earlier this week, Apple released OS X 10.11 El Capitan on the Mac App Store. With some important under-the-hood improvements and a handful of new features, this upgrade is definitely worth your time. And with a price tag of $0, it’s hard to complain.
Okay, so what are we getting here? What’s so great about El Capitan? In this post, I’ll be running down my list of the six best new features in OS X 10.11. Whether you’re on the fence about the upgrade, or simply want to know a little bit more about Apple’s latest OS, this truncated list is what you need to know.
Fullscreen split view
Over on the iPad, iOS 9 finally introduced side-by-side multitasking. While the Mac has obviously had that kind of functionality for decades, Apple is making it even better with El Capitan.
Now when you’re in fullscreen mode, you can have two apps displayed side-by-side. Dubbed “split view,” this is a significant step forward for the distraction-free interface. More often than not, you need multiple windows open when you’re trying to accomplish a task. For example, being able to keep Soulver open next to my text editor in split view is a really useful improvement.
Of course, you can still navigate around your desktop as you would normally. Nobody is forcing you to use fullscreen mode if it’s not your cup of tea, but I’m glad that it’s getting better for those of us who use it to get work done.
Natural language search
The more content we have, the more important search becomes. Even with the diligent use of naming conventions, finding a specific document in the Finder can sometimes be like finding a needle in a haystack. That’s why I’m excited that Apple is rethinking how search works on OS X.
With this update, Spotlight is much easier to use. You still trigger the search bar in the same way, but you can do local searches using the same kind of natural language that you’d use with Siri. Now that you can search for “Keynote presentations I made in May” or “emails I received from Carol,” finding your files will be much easier.
This certainly isn’t the be all and end all for human-computer interfaces, but I’m thrilled that we’re hurdling towards a future where communicating with your computer is as easy as talking to your friends.
Third-party add-ons for the Photos app
Traditionally, people think of Apple’s software as completely walled off. Of course, the situation is more complicated than that. As long as Apple has been making software, people have been tweaking it. While that often means tinkering with unsupported and undocumented functionality, Apple has gotten better in recent years about letting third-party devs customize the OS X and iOS experience.
This time around, Apple is allowing third-parties to create extensions for the Photos app, and release them on the Mac App Store. If you’re not content with the built-in editing suite, you can now customize your experience as you see fit.
Considering that Cupertino discontinued both iPhoto and Aperture earlier in the year in favor of this new app, this gives me hope that some of best features from those apps will live on through these add-ons.
In El Capitan, Safari is getting a lot of love. It should go without saying that it’s a bit faster, but Apple is also offering up a few new user-facing features to make the built-in browser more compelling. And as a Safari user myself, I welcome these quality of life improvements with open arms.
Long ago, Chrome started showing a speaker icon on any tabs that are currently making noise. That was a smart addition, but Apple has taken it one step further. In this new version of Safari, not only can users see which tabs are making noise, but they can now mute all tabs from the address bar. Since we’re now living in a world where some websites think its okay to automatically start playing video with audio whenever you load a page, this feature is a godsend.
Want to watch your favorite web videos on your Apple TV? AirPlay streaming is now baked right into Safari. Press the AirPlay button on videos, and it will pop up immediately on the big screen. And since you no longer have to stream your entire desktop to the Apple TV, you won’t have to worry about broadcasting embarrassing URLs or desktop icons to your family.
As a nice little bonus, frequently-used tabs can now be pinned to the tab bar. We all know other browsers have implemented this feature before, but it’s a solid addition that every major browser should benefit from.
Metal comes to OS X
Metal, the low-level graphics API developers have come to love on iOS, has finally made its way onto the Mac. In the same way that Direct3D 12 and Mantle offer performance benefits on Windows, Metal is aimed at making the Mac faster. Not only will this make for higher frame rates on new games, but it could also make your normal computing experience snappier by allowing developers to better optimize graphically intense elements like animations.
At this point, it’s safe to say the Mac will never have the same kind of gaming support as Windows. However, Mac support has steadily improved in recent years thanks to the rise of multiplatform development environments like Unity. And because gaming is already heading this direction on other platforms, it’s wise for Apple to offer a comparable API.
On Unix and Unix-like operating systems, having root access can cause all sorts of security issues. Simply by entering your password, you could potentially let loose all sorts of hellish malware on your system. And hot off of the heels of that iOS App Store issue, it’s wise that Apple is taking security seriously in the new OS.
By default, El Capitan ships with something called “System Integrity Protection” turned on. This security measure prevents even the administrator from tampering with directories and processes deemed to be a security risk. Thankfully, most users won’t ever notice a difference. More or less, this is simply another layer of security to keep rogue software from infecting your Mac.
The tinfoil hat enthusiasts among us will likely point to this as Apple taking away control from users, but that’s not really the case. If you want, this feature can be turned off completely. You’ll need to boot into the recovery partition, and run csrutil in the terminal. But unless you absolutely need to tweak something, I can’t in good conscience recommend toggling this feature off.