Apple Unleashes OS X El Capitan: What to Do Now

Apple has unleashed its next version of OS X for the Macintosh, named El Capitan. (OS X version 10.11) In this release, Apple has officially focused on the user experience and performance, but this new version will have traditional attention to stability and security. Here's a rundown of how to be properly ready before you pull the trigger.

This update, like recent versions before it, is a free upgrade. It can be found in the Apple Menu > App Store... As always, the rollout may be gradual by region. (Here's a direct link to the 6 GB download.) However, as always with a major upgrade like this, most users will want to make thorough preparations.

TMO's Melissa Holt has written a great article, "OS X El Capitan: 3 Steps to Get Ready."

It's an excellent place to start and will save you from serious headaches down the road. In summary:

  1. Back Up your Mac in at least two different ways. 1) Time Machine and 2) A second file backup tool, for example, Data Backup 3 or Carbon Copy Cloner. Mass Finder file copies in Yosemite can sometimes fail in the middle of a giant transfer with no graceful recovery, so it can be slow and frustrating.
  2. Verify that your mission critical apps are all compatible with El Capitan and upgrade apps as necessary. The RoaringApps site can help you determine if your apps are compatible right now.

The Waiting (and Imitation) Game

One strategy that's worth serious consideration is to simply wait. This will give you time to observe the Mac community to see if any serious issues have cropped up that escaped notice in beta testing. Everyone's system is different, and that often surfaces issues that weren't uncovered by casual public beta testing.

Second, not every developer is ready on day one. Most are, but you'll need to check with the developer of your critical apps to make sure. Painful as it is, that may mean waiting for a short period of time.

Many readers have expressed an interest in doing a clean install of El Capitan. Again, it will be wise to wait on that until one is sure that every important app is ready for this release, especially in light of a new El Capitan security feature called System Integrity Protection (SIP). (More on that below.)

Why Upgrade at All?

Apple often makes significant changes under the hood, like SIP, to support better OS security. While older generations of OS X get support for a time, not all technology fixes migrate backwards. In this era of aggressive security threats, it's always wise to have the latest version of OS X.

Image credit: Apple

Finally, even though this release is widely considered a maintenance release, as was OS X Snow Leopard compared to Leopard, El Capitan still has some nice new features. One way to think of El Capitan is as a very late version of Yosemite instead of as a dot zero release of a new OS.

  • Split View, helpful perhaps to some MacBook/Air/Pro users.
  • Improved Misson Control.
  • More powerful Spotlight search.
  • New Email Gestures.
  • A revised and improved notes app.
  • Pinned tabs and tab audio mute in Safari.
  • System Integrity Protection locks down critical OS files to make sure malware can't alter them. See: "OS X: El Capitan’s Deletion of 'Repair Disk Permissions' Could Impact You."
  • A more graceful handing of Finder file copy issues when copying, say, a large folder.
  • An easy way to find your cursor. Just jiggle the mouse.
  • A technology called Metal that gives the OS and apps faster, more direct access to the graphics hardware.
  • A revised, better looking and easier to understand Disk Utility.
  • The ability to not only hide the Dock (as before) but also hide the Menu Bar, freeing up more room on a small display.

With these new features, El Capitan looks to be a stellar release of OS X, one that also quietly fixes things that ruffled feathers in OS X Yosemite. As always, however, a planned and methodical approach to upgrading that includes several kinds of backups will help avoid one of those OMG events that keeps you up all night.