Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan preview

El Capitan is a rock formation inside the Yosemite National Park, and OS X El Capitan is, as its name suggests, an enhancement to Yosemite, in the same way as Snow Leopard offered an enhancement to Leopard. Apple’s primary focus with this release is to be performance and stability, both of which should speed up tasks on a Mac – in fact Apple is claiming that older Macs will see significant performance improvements.

If that sounds boring to you, you’ll be glad to here there will be a few new features and some much needed updates to the accompanying software and the user interface.

Apple El Capitan install

For example, you’ll be able to choose to hide not only the Dock but also the Menu bar at the top of the screen, particularly useful with small screen laptops. Also, when you enter Mission Control (usually by pressing F3) you’ll be able to see all the documents you have open as used to be the case in Exposé in earlier versions of OS X – in Yosemite documents associated with apps are gathered together, overlapping each other so it’s harder to select the Word document you wish to edit.

There’s also a new full-screen mode called Split View that lets you have more than one app open at once. To activate it, click and drag the green window-resize button and you can fill the screen with two apps at once.

Also getting a significant change is Spotlight, Apple’s tool for searching you Mac. One of the criticisms of Spotlight in Yosemite was that Apple moved it to the centre of the screen from the right hand corner, this gave Spotlight more space for its results, but people were frustrated that the Spotlight window couldn’t be moved from its new location. Well that’s changing in El Capitan – you will be able to click on the Spotlight result box and move it around the screen. We are disappointed that when you click away from the Spotlight results the box vanishes though – we often find ourselves having to jot down conversions from Spotlight so we can copy them into a document we are working on. Now the box can be moved out of the way it is only logical that we should be able to keep it on the screen if we want to.

Spotlight is also getting natural language search – which hints that Siri may be coming to the Mac. You’ll be able to construct your search query in a more colloquial way, for example: “documents I wrote in July” or “emails sent by Ashleigh”.

Photos for Mac hasn’t been out for long but the new operating system will bring some much needed updates including the return of geotagging (which was present in iPhoto but missing from the first version of Photos). It will also be possible to sort albums by date and title. And Photos will apparently be better at identifying Faces. Photos hasn’t been released in the beta yet so we are unable to comment further.

Safari is getting a few tweaks. We like the fact that we can ‘Pin’ our favourite sites to the menu bar – although it strikes us that we will have too many ways to store our favourites: Pins, Top Sites, and Favourites. Apple really needs to do away with Top Sites now because it is essentially the same as Favourites.

Another new Safari feature is that it will identify which of your open tabs is playing audio and make it possible to mute the audio with a single click on that tab. If there is more than one audio stream open you can click on the speaker icon in the address bar to see a list of all the tabs playing audio. You’ll be able to shut down the audio on the tabs you wish from this view.

While both of these new Safari features are impressive, they have featured in Chrome for some time.

We are glad to see that Apple is giving Notes some attention in El Capitan. Notes will be able to handle photos and PDFs, URLs, and map locations as well as text. And it will allow formatting of text. There’s also a new formatting option that will turn a list into a checklist. There is also a new attachments browser in Notes which you can flick through to find all the media, websites and other attachments you have added to the app from any of your devices.

Finally, Mail is gaining some new features that are reminiscent of the iOS Mail app. There are two new gestures that will be familiar to any iOS users: swiping left to delete an email, and swiping right to mark as unread. You’ll also be able to minimise an email you are composing, just as you can in iOS.

One new feature in Mail is the ability to manage different email threads in Safari-like tabs. The new natural language search also shows up in Mail, making searching for “emails from Ashleigh with photos attached” easier than ever.

There is one more significant change coming to OS X El Capitan, Metal, the graphics technology that was announced with iOS 8. Metal will bring Will bring improved game performance and improved performance in processor hungry apps. Adobe has already committed to adopting Metal for its OS X apps and demonstrated how Metal has improved After Effects and Illustrator. Autodesk and The Foundry have also committed to using Metal and it is thought that using Metal will also drastically speed up the likes of Autodesk’s Maya.

Metal for OS X is also great news if you're a Mac gamer: major game developers have already confirmed commitment to Metal, including Unity and Blizzard, as well as Feral and Aspyr who specialize in bringing Windows games to the Mac. Along with the performance enhancements coming in El Capital we expect Metal to have a real impact on this sort of processor intensive work.

On the next page you can read about the features that were rumoured to be coming to El Capitan prior to WWDC including Control Panel and changes to iCloud Drive. Many of these rumoured features may still appear in OS X El Capitan.