First impressions: Mac OS X ‘El Capitan’

X-logoOnce per annum, Apple releases an update to its Mac operating system, Mac OS X. Last year, it was Yosemite (Mac OS 10.10), an ambitious release that offered a raft of new functionality. This year, it’s El Capitan (Mac OS 10.11).

And, unlike the confusing cost structure and versions endemic to Microsoft’s Windows operating system, Mac OS X releases are always free.

Simple and relatively easy. Download, install, use.

Apple also does an excellent job of supporting the new OS on computer models dating back as many as eight years. According to an article on Computerworld, El Capitan will run on iMacs dating back to the mid-2007 model; on 13-in. MacBooks from late 2008; MacBook Pro notebooks from late-2007; MacBook Air laptops from late 2008; Mac Mini desktops from mid-2009; and Mac Pro desktops from early 2008 forward.

Comparisons to Snow Leopard

Long-time Mac users will remember Snow Leopard (Mac OS 10.6), a release that still powers many older Mac models.Snow-Leopard

The compelling story driving Snow Leopard was that it was Apple’s first effort to reduce the OS footprint, fix most (if not all) nagging bugs, improve performance, and form the leaner, meaner foundation for OS X updates going forward.

Although there were new features and functionality in Snow Leopard, those enhancements were modest and took a back seat to the efforts to streamline the OS.

By all accounts, El Capitan is a similar effort by Apple. The name, El Capitan, is a good indicator. Just as Snow Leopard’s name signaled lineage to its predecessor, Leopard (Mac OS 10.5), El Capitan, in reality a monumental rock formation at Yosemite National Park, reveals its own lineage.

Here is Apple’s own description of its new OS:

OS X El Capitan, named for the iconic landmark in Yosemite National Park, builds on the groundbreaking features and beautiful design introduced in OS X Yosemite, refining the experience and improving performance in lots of little ways that make a big difference.

Smooth installation with minor nits

Although El Capitan became available on September 30, I waited a week, as I usually do, before installing the new OS. Although Apple gets things right a lot more often than its goes wrong, it’s always a good idea to wait to see if any showstoppers emerge.

Although some users complained of issues, none seemed like they’d affect me, and I went ahead and installed El Capitan on October 7. The installation took about an hour and went very smoothly.


Since then, I have been using El Capitan without any major issues. The issues I did have were pretty easily fixed.

For example, I had to re-install an older version of Java SE 6 to enable my ancient version of Photoshop 6 to still run. After I did that, the application ran (and continues to run) just fine.

I also maxed out the space on the backup drive I’m using with Time Machine, and received a message to enable the backup to proceed. The new OS had to be fully backed up, on top of all the previous backups that were stored over time on the drive. This required a block of older backups to be removed from the drive to free up space, which I approved. Time Machine then proceeded and ran smoothly.

Nice touches in El Capitan

One of the first things I noticed was that El Capitan is using the San Francisco font throughout, replacing the Helvetica Neue font that Apple had previously been using. San Francisco is the Apple-designed font also being used in the latest iPhone OS, iOS 9.

By Cjt3007 (Own work)

By Cjt3007 (Own work)

So, there is now a nice symmetry between the two OS’es, and the new font looks quite good in El Capitan.

Overall, the appearance factor, which has always been good in OS X, is stellar in El Capitan.

Aside from look and feel, Apple has delivered a considerable number of new features and enhancements, described here.

My first impressions of El Capitan are mainly very positive. In fact, unlike some earlier Mac OS X upgrades, where functionality either disappeared or changed noticeably, I haven’t really found anything in El Capitan not to like.

The new version of Safari browses the web quickly and with no display issues that I’ve encountered so far. The new version of Mail is faster and more responsive. All of my third-party apps appear to be functioning as before.

I’m enjoying some of the new features so far, as well. For example, Split View enables me to display two apps side-by-side. I could always do this with a fair amount of manual sizing and positioning, but El Capitan makes it fast and practically automatic.

Apple has improved Search in OS X, including natural language search. I typed “find the PDF file about Hillary,” and the file I downloaded a few months ago was quickly found and displayed. Pretty slick.

Photos provides enhanced photo editing features that, for most purposes, are all that is needed to optimally improve a photo.

Should you upgrade?

There’s more, but you get the picture. Good stuff.

Now, should you upgrade? Here’s the thing: over the years, I’ve maintained fairly vanilla Macs. I’ve not installed any haxsies, few plug-ins, and only one or two fringe apps. Consequently, when I’ve upgraded to new versions of Mac OS X, I’ve rarely run into the types of serious issues that a minority of users invariably report when a new OS version is released.decisions

Over the years, many users have complained about Wi-Fi issues when they’ve upgraded to a new version of OS X. Curiously, I’ve never run into those issues, but I have been using an Apple Wi-Fi router. Coincidence? I think not.

Now, if you’re a tinkerer, an explorer, a risk taker—if you like to try out new games, freeware, shareware, etc.—then I recommend proceeding with caution. Although if you’re that technical, you’ll probably figure it out.

Now, I’m pretty technical, but also don’t have a lot of time—or motivation— to experiment like some folks. If you’re similar, then I can unreservedly recommend that you upgrade your Mac to El Capitan.

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