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What’s New: The Mac OS X El Capitan

Mac OS X El Capitan

Apple’s OS X 10.11, dubbed “El Capitan,” was released on September 30, 2015, but up until now, there are still a lot of people unfamiliar with the new improvements that the OS X Yosemite update brings. If you’re part of this group, there are a few things you should know about El Capitan. For instance, despite the El Capitan seemingly breaking the old naming scheme, the truth is that it has been retained.

“El Capitan” being the successor to Yosemite may seem like a weird name when compared to previous versions, such as Leopard/Snow Leopard and Lion/Mountain Lion, but it still follows Apple’s naming scheme because El Capitan refers to the popular landmarks and rock formations found within Yosemite National Park. This means El Capitan is not a code overhaul, but a refinement to Yosemite. As for what it brings to Yosemite, El Capitan’s main focus is on performance and UI improvements, as opposed to an introduction of a completely new codebase. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any new features. Here are a few of them:

Improved Side by Side Multitasking

The Mac has already had side-by-side multitasking for decades now (though it was only fully introduced to the iPad via iOS 9), but El Capitan makes the feature even better with what they dubbed “split view.” This new interface improvement further minimizes distractions when working on multiple programs at the same time. The best thing is that it’s an optional feature, so people who don’t like full-screen mode are not forced into it.

Improved Search Function

Now that storage devices, available bandwidth and people’s reliance on media have contributed to the number of user files on any given PC numbering in the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, diligent use of naming conventions is no longer enough to facilitate seamless searching, so Apple improved Spotlight in El Capitan by incorporating the same kind of natural language searching capability that is present in Siri. For example, instead of searching for specific filenames and wildcards, you can simply search for “keynote presentations I made last month” or “emails I sent to Tech support.” The feature is not perfect by any means, but it is a big (and much needed) step in the right direction.

Photos App Gets Third Party Add-On Support

Apple’s products are known for being strictly walled gardens where third party content has to pass through the eye of a needle before finding its way alongside first-party software. But El Capitan is the OSX update where Apple starts showing a more welcoming side – they are finally letting third parties create extensions for their Photos app, and have those same extensions be released via the App Store. This not only sets a precedent for Apple’s walled garden policy but also benefits users of the Photos app because it has the potential to greatly extend the usefulness and user-friendliness of the app.

Much-Needed Safari Improvements

Apple’s own browser of choice is getting some much-needed love, with improvements that you might not see but will definitely feel. It’s been optimized so people who are complaining of sluggishness will notice that it now runs a little bit faster and smoother. The browser now also show which tabs are making noise, and it can also be muted all at the same time via the address bar. This is a welcome feature now that many websites deemed it fit to automatically start playing multimedia content without even giving users an option. Another addition is that AirPlay has been integrated into Safari, so you can watch your favorite web videos directly from Apple TV.

OS X Goes Metal

One of the biggest selling points of iOS was the graphics API called Metal, which was a low-level API similar to Windows’ Direct3D 12 and AMD’s Mantle. Low level meant there were fewer abstractions between the hardware and software, allowing developers to squeeze out as much performance out of the hardware. This is particularly useful for 3D games. With El Capitan, the Mac is finally getting the same Metal API, which no doubt will help make the Mac faster and will allow better performance for OS X-based 3D games. Additionally, this may finally convince more developers to port their games to OS X.

Security Improvements

Last bit of important changes brought by El Capitan has to do with security. This is probably Apple finally making up for the security issues associated with the iOS app store, as El Capitan now ships with what is called “System Integrity Protection” turned on by default. Without going into specifics, this feature prevents administrator accounts from tampering with directories and any other process that has security risks. Most users won’t notice the difference, but the change is indeed an important one and a very, very big improvement in terms of security.

All in all, El Capitan is not a massive all-encompassing upgrade, but then again it is not meant to be one. What little changes it did bring had significant positive effects, and for the most part it did its job, and will be fine until the next big OS X update.