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Aye aye, El Capitan

AS with previous versions of OS X, upgrading to El Capitan from Yosemite on my MacBook Air was a snap. The latest update to Apple’s OS X operating system is available free through the App Store as a 6.08 gigabyte download. Once the download is complete, the installation itself takes roughly half an hour.

El Capitan (OS X 10.11) requires 2GB of RAM to run, which shouldn’t be a problem for most Apple users since Macs have been shipping with 4GB or more of memory for some years now.

Unlike Yosemite, which was a major departure from Mavericks, El Capitan holds no drastic changes in the user interface or the applications that come with the operating system. But improvements under the hood and some nifty new features make El Capitan a worthwhile upgrade.

One of these features that I find particularly useful as a writer is Split View, which enables you to easily put two windows side by side—much like Windows 7 users are able to do with Snap. This feature lets me open up my word processor on one side of the screen and a browser on the other side in case I need to look anything up. On Yosemite, I got the same functionality with a free utility called Spectacle—but it’s handy to have this built into the OS. To activate Split View, just hold down the green button on the title bar of the window you want to position on the left side of your screen, then select the other window from thumbnails on the desktop.

The other thing you will probably appreciate about El Capitan is that it will feel more responsive than Yosemite because of improvements made under the hood. Apple says the new OS is anywhere between 1.4 and four times faster than Yosemite, depending on the task, but this isn’t easy to quantify, even with benchmark tests.

Part of the performance bump comes from Metal, Apple’s graphics technology that is supposed to reduce the CPU load by up to 50 percent, giving graphics-intensive applications a performance boost.

Apple’s built-in notepad, Notes, has grown up. Now you can drag and drop photos, videos and documents into your notes. Click on a button to create a checklist with items you can tick. If you’re logged into your iCloud account, you can also view your notes and checklists on your other Apple devices.

Apple’s Photos application has also been redesigned to organize your photos into moments, collections and years, just like on iOS. The application also now accepts third-party extensions that can be used to edit your photos.

Safari, Apple’s built-in browser, has also taken on some new features, including the ability to pin websites you visit often and the ability to mute websites that play music by clicking on the speaker icon on each tab. Or, you can choose to mute all tabs.

The Mac’s Mail program now accepts gestures: two fingers to mark an e-mail as read or unread, and a swipe to the left to delete a message.

Unfortunately, not all of El Capitan’s new features work as advertised, depending on where you are. An improved Spotlight search is supposed to enable you to get weather, stock market and transit information as well as web videos and sports scores, but none of this worked for me. A little digging in the Apple website revealed that Spotlight suggestions work only in a limited number of countries—Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and the US. Why the rest of the world—including the Philippines—has been left out is a mystery to me.

Natural language search (e.g. documents I worked on today), however, seemed to work fine.

Also, if you like your widgets, you might be puzzled that you can no longer get to the Dashboard. That’s because El Capitan disables the Dashboard by default. To reenable it, simply go to System Preferences > Mission Control and turn Dashboard on.

None of these annoyances are major issues—but you may want to hold off on upgrading your main work machine, until the bugs have been swatted down. And, when you take the leap, don’t forget to back up your important files first. Chin Wong

 

Column archive and blog at: http://www.chinwong.com

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