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Operating systems software Reviews
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OS X Mavericks review: I have a Mac, is there any reason not to upgrade to Mavericks for free?

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Manufacturer: Apple

Apple's brand new operating system for Mac is OS X Mavericks, available for free for almost all Apple desktops and laptops. Before you upgrade your Mac, read our OS X Mavericks review.

OS X Mavericks

OS X Mavericks is the latest desktop and laptop operating system for Macs, available on all new Apple computers and laptops, and as a free update for all Mac users with MacBook, Mac mini, Mac Pro and iMac computers purchased since 2007-2009. In order to upgrade your existing Mac it will need OS X v10.6.8 or later, 2GB of memory and 8GB of available space. But before you dash to the Mac App Store to upgrade, here is our guide to OS X Mavericks. (With thanks to Jason Snell and Karen Haslam, for their words - some of which are reproduced here).

Apple OS X Mavericks: should I upgrade?

Why wouldn't you? This is an Apple OS. And it is free. OS X has never been anything other than stable, and Apple says the changes Mavericks will bring to your Mac are additional features and improved perfomance and battery life. It sounds like a pretty good deal, not least because you can ignore any new features that don't float your boat.

We would offer one caveat, however. If you rely on third-party software for your work, it might be worth hanging back for a day or two and checking that other users that there are no compatibility issues. New operating systems sometimes throw up oddities and it is better to be safe rather than sorry. (See also: How to open Adobe CS Photoshop, InDesign in OS X Mavericks - quick fix.)

To upgrade to Mavericks, open the Mac App Store and click OS X Mavericks. Click the Download button. Then follow the onscreen instructions to install it.

On with the Mavericks review...

Apple OS X Mavericks: energy saving, performance boosting

The most eye-catching claim made by Apple on Mavericks' behalf is that its code is written so well it will increase performance and battery life by reducing the drag on your Mac's hardware. How effective is this remains to be seen, but Apple is talking a good game.

The most visible embodiment of this ethos is AppNap, a function that means apps you're not actively using receive less of the system's attention. When an app's windows are invisible and the app is not playing back audio, it enters 'nap mode'. This means the amount of active execution time the CPU dedicates to it is reduced. Apple also tells us that app's ability to access the hard disk and the network is throttled, and the app's timers are fired less frequently. This should mean that certain apps consume less power, and less of the resources chewed up by your Mac's components.

Here's the big claim: Apple says that App Nap alone can reduce CPU utilisation by up to 72 percent. Again, let's see. But it's an intriguing idea.

More quantifiable in the short term, we like the fact that live power consumption information is available via a drop-down menu under the Battery icon in the menu bar. You will see a list of currently running applications that are "using significant energy". Windows 8 users will be familiar with the all-new Taskbar that provides exactly this information. It's very useful in that you can shut down processes that are sucking power and don't need to be. Apple copying Microsoft, anyone?

Apple says that Mavericks will also use a Compressed Memory technique that means it can compress the portions of RAM that, though nominally in use, are not actively employed by any app. Doing this increases the free memory available to the system without requiring disk swapping, and because the algorithm used to compress the memory is very efficient, this process is much faster than traditional disk swapping. In simple terms, Apple can compress the inactive memory and make free space available. It also ends up saving more power by preventing the physical disk from spinning up and down continuously.

Apple claims responsive systems under load can see up to 1.4x improvements, even on SSD. It's also possible to see a 1.5x improvement on waking a system from standby, according to Apple. The theory makes perfect sense and it will be fun to see how older Apple hardware performs with the new software. Even the much-maligned Windows 8 makes older PCs feel faster, so Apple's software has a good chance of bearing out these claims.

With Mavericks's Timer Coalescing feature, when a computer is running on battery power, the operating system will automatically aggregate timers that are scheduled to fire within a short time of each other and execute them concurrently, thus reducing the number of times the system is forced to enter and exit power-saving mode and increasing the time it spends idling (during which power consumption is at a minimum).

OS X Mavericks

New and improved features in OS X Mavericks

Now, here in alphabetical order are some of our favourite new and updated features in OS X Mavericks.

Apple OS X Mavericks: Calendar

Calendar has been revamped with a new look and feel. Among other changes it's also more semantic, suggesting locations nearby and telling you the whether there when you schedule lunch. Calendar will determine travel time based on current driving directions, and you can set it to notify you when you need to leave.

Apple OS X Mavericks: Finder

The Finder has been totally redesigned in OS X Mavericks, making a strong comeback after years of neglect as Spotlight and the Dock took centre stage. In Mavericks the Finder is full screen. Finder windows can merge, too. You can now use tabs in Finder windows, too, so several pages can be contained in a stack of tabs inside a single window. It's a great move in particular for MacBook users - reduced screen space can mean multiple finder windows are a pain. Each tab behaves like its own Finder window; you can adjust the view settings of each one accordingly, so one tab can show an icon view, another a list view, and so on.

Double-click a folder in Finder to open it in the same window, or to open a folder in a new tab hold down Command key and double click. You can also type Command-T to manually open a new tab. You can gather together a series of open Finder tabs in one window by choosing Merge All Windows from the Window menu. Move files from one tab to another by dragging-and-dropping them.

Apple OS X Mavericks: iBooks

iBooks has come to the Mac, and as a result your whole iBooks library will be available on your Mac as well as your iPad and iPhone. Now you can read eBooks across iPhone, iPad and Mac, without having to sync. So there is one less reason to always choose the Kindle app.

Here's a reason to actively seek out iBooks: note-taking, highlighting, and study cards are all built into the iBooks application. You can even have multiple books open at once, and there is the added bonus that these can include iBooks Author-created textbooks. Users can copy and paste text from a text book, for example.

OS X Mavericks

Apple OS X Mavericks: iCloud Keychain

Here's a really smart idea. The iCloud keychain stores and syncs between devices passwords, credit-card numbers, and personal contact information. You can access this data from any Mavericks or iOS 7 device. Using Safari? iCloud Keychain will automatically fill in passwords, or help generate strong passwords in the first place. Everything is encrypted with AES 256-bit encryption for security purposes, Apple isn't able to access your data, and you have to opt-in.

Apple OS X Mavericks: Mail

Mail is, we're told, faster. And it's true: everything now opens more quickly and scrolling feels smoother. It's just a first impression, but we like it.

Apple OS X Mavericks: Maps

Mavericks brings Maps to the Mac and with it all the vector art, Yelp info and 3D Flyovers that are already part of the mobile version.

Apple OS X Mavericks: multiple displays

Mavericks supports multiple displays, allowing them to act independently. Before now, even if you used a second monitor on your Mac, the menu bar would remain on the primary display, necessitating a lot of mousing back and forth. OS X workspace-ordering features such as Mission Control, Spaces and full-screen mode can take advantage of the second display. You can also drag fullscreen apps between displays, and multiple menus can be viewed at once: one per display. Each screen can now have its own Spaces, and the Dock will appear wherever you mousem but if you're working full screen on both displays you can still share information between apps. This should be a productivity booster for users of multiple displays, meaning that their screen real estate is no longer primarily office-based posturing! (See also: Hands-on with OS X Mavericks: Multiple-display support.)

Finally, if your computer is powerful enough you can also turn your Apple TV-equipped HDTV into a third, fully-functional display via AirPlay.

Apple OS X Mavericks: notifications

In Mavericks Notification Centre becomes less intrusive and more useful. When you receive a message in Messages, a call in FaceTime or an email in Mail you can reply directly from the notification bubble.

Also new to Notification Centre are warnings about a dying battery, a failed Time Machine backup, and ejected disks. When you wake your Mac from sleep it will catch up on everything and notify you about what you missed while it was asleep. (See also: Hands-on with OS X Mavericks: Notification Center.)

Apple OS X Mavericks: Tags

Mavericks lets you organize files via meta data, using tags. You can tag a file with a keyword and then easily find all of the related files by searching for documents using the tag, or navigating to a smart directory in Finder. Now you don't need to put things in folders - you can append multiple tags. It's like the way Gmail allows you to tag mail, but for everything.

Users can tag documents when they save them – even documents in iCloud - via the Save dialog box. You're presented with a drop-down featuring common tags, as well as a Show All link to display all the tags on your Mac. You can click on items from that list to pick them, or just start typing. Once you have created a tag it will appear in the Finder immediately. Users can access their tags from the Finder sidebar and some Open dialog boxes. A small subset of your tags is listed by default, but if you click All Tags a second column appears that lists every tag on your Mac. Click on a tag and you'll immediately see all of the files on your Mac that have that tag. And if you start typing a tag in a Finder window's search box, you'll see an option to search for files containing that tag.

Tags are a really smart way of organising files and folders. And it's the way many of us have become used to doing just that, on the web and social media.

Apple OS X Mavericks: Safari

OS X MavericksMavericks' web browsing app is, or course, Safari. As you might expect there have been a few changes here, too. The new version of Apple's web browser boasts smoother scrolling and several under-the-hood improvements for speed and graphics acceleration, and also new security features.

The smoother scrolling is thanks to system wide Core Animation optimizations. According to Apple, Safari will offer better process per tab architecture, power savings, and background tab optimisation. The new Safari will also use less memory, and less energy (says Apple).  

Other changes? Whereas in Mountain Lion three features could be accessed via buttons on the far left side of the Bookmarks Bar: Reading List, Bookmarks, and Top Sites. In Mavericks Safari 7's newly rechristened Favourites Bar features only two: Sidebar (which is the new home of Bookmarks, Reading List, and Shared Links) and Top Sites.

There is also a new Bookmarks tab in the Sidebar that gives you a one-click access to your bookmarks. This loads on the right side of the window. There's even a search box to help you find a specific bookmark.

The next tab in the Sidebar is for Reading List. This is similar to the Mountain Lion version, but Reading List will now let users continuously scroll between articles without having to click. When you finish a page, keep scrolling to move on to the next page in your queue.

In previous iterations of Safari, there were toolbar buttons to add stories to Reading List and add links to your Bookmarks. These buttons are no more, instead there is a + button beside the search bar – you click this to add a page to your Reading List, or click and hold it for a menu of options that allows you to add to Reading List, Top Sites, or Bookmarks.

The third addition to the Sidebar is the Shared Links tab.

Safari Notifications will bring content from your favourite websites to your desktop without you even having Safari open. In essence it allows web developers to deliver push notifications from their web pages into Safari. You may end up hating this feature, reader, but we are going to love it!  

Apple OS X Mavericks: Software Update

If you should so choose, Mavericks will update in the background any apps you have bought from the Mac App Store.

Apple OS X Mavericks: Using Apple TV as a second or third display

As we mention in the 'Apple OS X Mavericks: multiple displays' section above, if you have an AirPlay connected TV you can now treat it as an extra display. You can drag windows from your Mac display to your TV screen, complete with menu bar and Dock. Pretty cool, no? If you're on a local network containing Apple TVs, an AirPlay icon shows up in the menu bar. Select an Apple TV from the menu, and choose to mirror your current display or extend the desktop. Thus the TV becomes just another display. The only proviso is you can use only one Apple-TV connected set, and you do need a principal monitor from which it can run.

OS X Mavericks

OS X Mavericks [PCA] Expert Verdict »

OS X v10.6.8 or later, 2GB of memory, 8GB of available space

It's a little early to give a definitive verdict on OS X Mavericks, but we like what we have seen so far.

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