OS X El Capitan is here for Mac

Apple releases the new Mac update called OS X El Capitan today, September 30. As usual, it's a free upgrade that appears as a download in the App Store on the Mac. Should you install it now? Maybe. It's certainly ready for the public. Read on for details....

Refined Performance

El Capitan refines the performance of OS X. There's a noticeable difference in the speed of many actions, especially on newer Macs. A few tweaks to the look and feel of the system make it more of a pleasure to use, and there really isn't a learning curve since on the surface things have changed very little. Like a bottle of wine it's what's inside that counts though, and OS X 10.11 (as it's officially numbered) is technically a more secure, capable system than its predecessors. In particular, Mail has become smarter and faster, even with Google accounts. Finally!

What's new in OS X El Capitan?

The new system font, San Francisco, matches the one in iOS 9. Its subtle changes make onscreen text easier to read.

The Mission Control app presents windows in a more intuitive way so their relative positions are preserved. This means it's easier to find the right window. (If you're not using Mission Control, you're wasting time opening, closing, and moving windows. Try clicking the Mission Control icon in the Dock or, better yet, sliding 3 or 4 fingers straight up on the trackpad.)

This one is good: When you can't find the cursor, you can jiggle it left and right and it pops up very large and visible for a moment.

The Notes app has perhaps the most obvious changes. It'll ask to be upgraded, which is just a click of a button that enables new features like text formatting, checkbox lists, and the pasting of items besides text into notes. The Share box in other apps now offers Notes as a destination so, for example, you can put a thumbnail link to a web page into a Note. (Your other devices must be up to date to take advantage of these new features.)

In Safari you can also now "pin" web pages so they stay permanently at the top left of the window. Chrome users will be familiar with this, although Safari keeps to its design aesthetic by displaying grey icons. There's also a way to mute audio that's playing from open tabs — great for silencing those annoying autoplay videos.

There's more, and Apple has this web page to summarise it all with beautiful images too. For extreme depth, try this Ars Technica article.

How to upgrade safely

Do a Time Machine backup first, and make sure it's completed. While that's going on, research your third-party apps to find out if they work all right with El Capitan. We've found software as old as Photoshop CS6, Parallels 9, Word 2011, and Excel 2011 to be okay. We've heard that Outlook 2011 isn't. (Our advice — stop using Outlook.) Your mileage may vary. Old software is rarely supported by developers, so be cautious.

When you install OS X El Capitan and the process gets to the new setup screen, don't enable iCloud Keychain when asked. Do it later if you must. There will be enough of the usual glitches to deal with. The same applies to FileVault.

Should you upgrade right away?

Yes, if you're eager to try El Capitan and have time and maybe money to solve the inevitable glitches that all upgrades bring. No, if you run important apps and rely on the Mac to be working properly every minute of the day; in that case wait at least a month till the first update (10.11.1) comes out.