The Most Enduring (and Endearing) Features of OS X Throughout the Years. Part II

Every new release of OS X brings a full complement of new features. As I was looking at the new features of Yosemite last week, I started thinking about what new features in each release have been significant and were brought into my own daily use — and which ones ended up just being gimmicks.


Part I covered OS X Cheetah through Snow Leopard. This Part II takes us up to OS X Yosemite.


In this second part, I'm continuing a look at the hallmark features of OS X throughout the years. Under-the-hood refinements, for example, the introduction of a Cocoa-based Finder, the "Core" frameworks, HFS journaling, and other deep technical refinements made OS X faster and more reliable, but they're not the high profile features I'm thinking about as I size up Yosemite's potential legacy.

The things I think about when a new release emerges are those that could fundamentally change my way of life. Some new features always seem to be a bit of fluff while others become standout features of OS X, and I can't imagine living without them because they're used every day.

Finally, this trip down my own memory lane is far from a history of OS X and should not be treated a such. (But if you find a error, let me know.)

Lion (2011-2012)

OS X 10.7 Lion was probably Apple's most controversial OS release to date. The crux of the problem was Apple's observation that new users were complaining about lost work, and Apple elected to introduce AutoSave and eliminate "Save As..." in many of its own marquee apps. Other developers, listening to their users, continued as before to our great relief.

In time Apple backed off on this crusade, and later reintroduced "Save As..." to the File menu of its own previously modified apps (by holding down the OPTION key). It's an adventure best forgotten, but was a valuable lesson that Apple learned just in time. Notably, Microsoft made the same mistake a few years later with Windows 8 by eliminating the Start Menu. Agenda never endears the customer.

On the other hand, Lion introduced a host of new technologies that have become part of our Mac life, and that makes this release a milestone effort. Lion added, most notably, the Recovery Partition (because the OS would henceforth be delivered in the Mac App Store), FaceTime, AirDrop, FileVault full disk encryption, full screen app capability, Mission Control and application resume.

Multitouch Gestures make life easier for those with MacBooks or Magic Trackpad, and that's, as most believe right now, the right way to use touch gestures with a notebook computer like the MacBook series.

On the other hand, it was at this point where it was driven home to me that Apple was fundamentally satisfied and would never really upgrade its Mail app to a first-class effort. Rather, we would only see incremental upgrades in each OS release.

In summary, today, we can't imagine living without these notable features that Lion introduced, and they more than make up for Apple's limited, wayward attempt to make the Mac look like a cool iPad with a keyboard for new users by the use of LaunchPad, another fluff feature best left in the past.

Despite the fact that it unnerved many users, Lion was the first of a new breed of OS releases that brought fundamental new and useful technologies to the Mac user that continue to stand out to this day.

Mountain Lion (2012-2013)

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion has to be considered a minor upgrade, and yet significant technologies were introduced. Back in Lion, Apple added Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR), a much needed security feature. In Mountain Lion Apple added Gatekeeper, a mechanism whereby the user can set a preference to only allow apps digitally signed by developers and Apple to launch. In my mind, this is the major contribution in this release.

This release also added Messages, replacing iChat, and while I never could get it work, I appreciate its appearance. (In Mavericks, it works perfectly for me.)

The jury is still out for me on the introduction of Notification Center. I leave it off so I can have peace and quiet while I work, but I can see how many users might appreciate it more than I do. In the end, I see it as an other attempt to make the Mac work more like iOS, and I think one has to be careful to keep perspective about the different ways these OSes are used. Thankfully, in Mavericks, Apple added "Do Not Disturb" to Notification Center, and that closes the books on that concern for me.

Mountain Lion, like Snow Leopard before it, gave Apple a chance to take a breath and clear up some important issues. While over 200 total features were touted, Mountain Lion will be memorable for me thanks to Gatekeeper and Notification Center.

Mavericks (2013-2014)

As I think back, the most important features in OS X 10.9 Mavericks were, in fact, under the hood. App Nap, Compressed Memory and Time Coalescing all make life better with a MacBook on battery power. Other features in the official list, seem to fall into a similar category of adding functionality without making a dramatic impact on my own life. For example, I'm not into iBooks on the Mac, I'm not planning to put my keychain into iCloud, and I seldom use Apple's Maps app when I have an iPad nearby.

When I wrote about my initial impressions of Mavericks, I liked the idea of Finder tabs and file Tags, but they haven't turned out to be as essential to my life as I thought they'd be. On the other hand, Mavericks fixes multiple display support (which was roundly broken in Mountain Lion), so I appreciate that — as well as the irony of taking, then giving back.

In my review, I wrote: "Mavericks is not a drastic update. It fixes some things that needed fixing, like multi-display usage, and introduces power saving, iBooks and the Maps app. It installs nicely over Mountain Lion in my experience with little fuss. Considering that it's free and has solid new features that will make your life better, you should be able to upgrade with confidence." And that about sums up how Mavericks improved but did not dramatically change my computing life.

Yosemite (2014- )

I believe that OS X 10.10 Yosemite, like Lion, has the potential to change a lot about how I'll live with my Macs. That's because Yosemite will introduce not just nifty features but real functionality that solves real problems in a way we've all been hungry for. For example,

  • iCloud Drive
  • SMS messages in the Messages App
  • Make and receive calls on the Mac with an iPhone nearby
  • Instant Hotspot
  • Dramatic improvement in Spotlight and concept of search
  • Widgets in Notification Center (no longer out of sight, out of mind)
  • AirDrop between a Mac and iOS device

On the other hand, I am dubious about Handoff as originally described. I can't imagine composing an important email on a Mac, then running out the door to finish composing on my iPhone. It's not how I work and live.  I think the technology will have potential, but it's just too new to diagnose how it will finally come to be exploited.

Combined with the flater, more sophisticated look and feel and the soft translucency, I expect Yosemite to be a release that can really improve the way I work. I expect it to be the best, most memorable release in years.

What about you? I'd love to hear from you in the comments about what OS X features endured over the years and changed your computing life. And which ones ended up being duds.