OS X El Capitan: Initial Thoughts


I downloaded the developer preview of OS X El Capitan onto my late 2014 Mac Mini, and here are my initial thoughts.

It’s largely an under the hood update, which means that many of the benefits will be less apparent than in some prior more cosmetic and feature-focused updates.  This is a good thing, because Apple needs to focus on the speed and stability that Mac users have come to expect.

During the keynote, I was most excited about the ability to split your screen.  In practice, at least initially, it doesn’t seem as useful and efficient as I’d hoped.  For one thing, it’s a little cumbersome to initiate a split screen.  For another, it doesn’t look like you can share a screen with two windows of the same app (e.g., Chrome).  Sure, I can do it via a third-party app like Divvy, but it would be nice to be able to have two browser windows open in split screen mode.  In sum, I’ll probably keep using some apps full screen and accessing them via left and right swipes, which has always been pretty efficient.

Interestingly, the most useful new feature so far has been the Find My Friends widget.  I am not a big Today view or widget user, but the ability to see where my family is without opening an iOS app or Messages is handy.

I’m also not a heavy Spotlight user, so some of the enhancements to Spotlight are lost on me.  Maybe I’ll come to use it more over time, but historically, I’ve used it to find files on my Mac, and for little else.

There are a lot of enhancements to the Mac Mail app and to Safari.  Unfortunately, the Mail app doesn’t play well (and never has) with Gmail, so I can’t effectively use it.  Even more unfortunate, the Safari non-sticky zoom level issue has not been fixed, which means Safari is a non-starter for me.  This is the most frustrating thing in all of Apple-dom.  It seems like a 30-minute job for an Apple coder.  Chrome has had sticky zoom levels for years.  My inability to use Mail and Safari prevents me from using many of the features that are embedded in the OS.  It really bums me out.

The updated Notes application looks good.  While I am a dedicated Evernote user, I also use Apple’s Notes app for some things.  Unfortunately, unless you install the developer beta on a Mac or iOS device, you can’t access your upgraded Notes via iCloud.  So until I have the new OS on all my devices, I’m sticking with the non-beta version.

I’ll all for upgrades to Apple Maps.  I don’t use public transportation, but I think adding maps for it is a good idea, as long as they are accurate.  It will take some doing to get me away from Google Maps and Waze (maybe my most useful iOS app; it has saved me from many tickets), but if Apple gets maps right, it could happen (especially, if CarPlay ever really gets legs, which still seems like a far-off dream).

The very best new feature?  The ability to easily edit photos in third party apps.  I haven’t tried this yet because I don’t have photos in iCloud enabled on my Mac Mini, bit if I can once again easily edit my photos with Pixelmator, the way I could with iPhoto, I will consider my move to the Photos app and photos in iCloud a resounding success.

The new font seems cool, but candidly it’s not very noticeable.

Overall, this looks like a good, incremental upgrade, and hopefully one that will bring speed and stability improvements, along with a few new features.  So far the beta seems stable, and the experience feels almost identical to the Yosemite experience.  I generally keep my beta installs off my primary Mac and my iPhone.  I’ll probably do the same this time.  Probably.

For more details, check out MacStories’ write-up and 9to5Mac’s list of features that didn’t make the keynote.