El Capitan, OS X 10.11, arrived for everyone yesterday, but I’ve been using it all summer. In these days of free operating-system updates, major OS X updates feel a whole lot more routine than they used to be. Apple has chosen not to roll out major OS X features piecemeal throughout the year, though, which still makes this the biggest change your Mac will experience this year.
El Capitan, named after the large granite rock formation inside Yosemite National Park, is very much a refined version of OS X Yosemite, a recognizable progression from its predecessor. (In iPhone terms, it would be Yosemite S.) Apple says this update is all about a refined experience and improved performance. But it’s traditional for Apple to take its no-big-deal updates and pour in a bunch of new features anyway, and El Capitan is no exception. This is a packed release, but one that makes sense as a follow-up to Yosemite.
Just the basics
Before we get started, it’s worth recapping what this El Capitan business is all about. El Capitan is Apple’s marketing name for OS X version 10.11, the latest update to your Mac’s system software. If your Mac is running Yosemite (10.10), Mavericks (10.9), or Mountain Lion (10.8), it can run El Capitan. And with the previous two updates, it’s absolutely free for you to update to El Capitan. If you’ve got OS X’s software update system set to automatically download updates, your computer may begin downloading the El Capitan update as soon as Wednesday, Sept. 30. And if you’re running an older version of OS X, you don’t need to do interim upgrades—you can go straight to El Capitan from Snow Leopard or later.
If the update will be free and readily available, what’s the big deal? Often people are trepidatious about upgrading their computers. If an app you rely on is incompatible with the new version, your entire workflow can be broken. It’s worth being careful and checking with the makers of any apps you rely on before upgrading—most will post compatibility information on their websites.
In the case of El Capitan, a few of the apps and utilities I rely on weren’t initially compatible, but most have already been updated as a result of Apple’s summer-long testing period. Most major OS X upgrades feature a lot of under-the-hood security improvements, which is a good reason to stay up to date, but some of those changes can also break software. Several of the apps I use, including SuperDuper and Default Folder X didn’t work properly with El Capitan, but SuperDuper has already been updated to regain compatibility and Default Folder X has a new version on the way (and a workaround in the meantime).
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