Mac users will be able to download Apple’s latest desktop operating system, OS X El Capitan, for free starting Wednesday.
“El Capitan refines the Mac experience and improves performance in a lot of little ways that make a very big difference,” said said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering, in a press release.
“Feedback from our OS X beta program has been incredibly positive and we think customers are going to love their Macs even more with El Capitan.”
Users have been able to use a beta version of the software since July, but Wednesday’s official release will allow users to experience the final version of the OS.
With the new operating system, users will be able to run multiple apps in split-screen mode, compose multiple emails in the Mail app through the use of tabs and experience improved search across the entire computer.
The new software is not aesthetically different from last year’s version, dubbed OS X Yosemite, but it provides many updates that will make it easier to multitask on Mac.
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You will be able to upgrade to El Capitan for free on any Mac released in 2009 or later, and some models introduced in 2007 and 2008. A complete list of compatible devices is available on Apple’s website.
However, as with any software upgrade, it’s important that you run a backup on your computer before proceeding with the update.
Here are some of the new features included with the upgrade:
A pin is like a bookmark on Apple’s Safari browser, except the website you’re pinning is always open and refreshing in the background. If you visit another website and come back, pins remember where you left off – as long as you don’t close the browser.
You might say this sounds like browser tabs. A key difference is when you click on an external link and leave a pinned site, the browser opens a new tab, so you don’t lose your place on the pinned site. With tabs, the new site sometimes replaces the site you were on.
As websites get aggressive at delivering video ads and content, audio might play automatically. This gets annoying if you’re watching video in another window. Safari now has a speaker icon to instantly mute all audio playing in the browser, without affecting audio elsewhere. With the computer’s mute button, it’s all or nothing.
If the video you’re watching is playing in the same browser, the audio for that will mute, too. It works better when playing video in a stand-alone app, such as iTunes. Or you can install a separate browser, such as Google’s Chrome, and play your Netflix or Hulu video there.
Split screens and spaces
The Mac has long let you run multiple apps in separate windows, but you’ve been limited to one app when it’s in full-screen mode. This changes with El Capitan’s Split View, a feature Microsoft has had since Window 8’s release in 2012. Although you can come close to split screens by resizing two windows and placing them side by side, you now just need to press and hold the green button on the top left of an app’s window.
The introduction of split screens also uncovers a little-known feature called Spaces. If your desktop feels cluttered, you can spread your apps out in groups, or Spaces. One Space might be for your productivity apps, such as spreadsheets. Another might be for goofing off. If you’re on a laptop, it’s easy to switch by swiping three fingers on the touchpad left or right. That’s perfect for when your boss suddenly walks by.
The Notes app has traditionally been little more than a word-processing app. Now, it’s possible to drag in photos, add map locations and create checklists. It’s also easier to sift through Web links and attachments you’ve added. The Notes app on iPhones and iPads got a comparable update, and your notes sync across Apple devices. You can also access them on Windows computers through icloud.com. Android users are out of luck.
You can search for old documents using natural language, such as “find me spreadsheets from March 2013.” The search tool also retrieves more types of information, including weather and stock quotes.
No doubt you’ve had times you’ve needed to select text or move a window, but you have no idea where the cursor went. Now, just move the mouse back and forth rapidly, or swipe your finger back and forth on the touchpad if it’s a laptop. The cursor turns into a giant arrow for better visibility.
It might remind you of those giant foam fingers at parades and sports arenas. Freaky, but useful.