DNP Apple OS X Mavericks 109 preview

There was no OS XI at WWDC. There was no plan to reinvent the wheel. The takeaway message at the launch event was simple: Apple is committed to OS X. What that means, in the long run (naming scheme aside) is that changes to the desktop will probably continue to be gradual. New features will be added and things will evolve over time. Like other recent versions of OS X, version 10.9 Mavericks follows the lead of iOS, culling from its most successful features -- though there's nothing on the order of iOS 7's dramatic redesign in store. But while the iPhone operating system seems to have taken the lead in terms of innovation, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of feature crippling in Mavericks, which some feared would come with the mobilization of the OS.

In fact, there are a number of welcome upgrades here -- things like folder tabs, tags and a more interactive Notification Center will likely improve the workflow of many Mac users. Built-in apps like Safari and Calendar have gotten nice facelifts, as well. We've spent a few days with the most recent build of OS X and are ready to give you a peek at what you're in store for, come fall. Still, knowing Apple, the company's likely still got a couple of tricks up its sleeve.

Apple OS X Mavericks 10.9 preview

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Finder

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 preview

Yep, it's the same old Finder Apple users have had more than a decade to familiarize themselves with. In fact, there's not even anything quite so radical this time around as the addition of the Notification Center that we saw in last year's update. Those waiting for dramatic change will have to keep waiting -- for a while, really. Apple has doubled down on its commitment to OS X, evolving it through gradual feature upgrades like window tabs and file tags, rather than the sort of drastic change we saw with Windows 8. But while Apple didn't rethink its approach to folder organization, there are plenty of handy new additions that may well have a decided impact on your workflow.

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 previewFirst up is the addition of tabs -- a feature ported over from the browser world. And really, it's hard to remember an era before they existed on that side, when internet browsing meant opening a dozen separate windows. How the feature affects your life on the desktop is completely dependent on your workflow. If you often find yourself staring at a hundred Finder windows, it could certainly be a godsend. Command + double-click on a folder and it will open up in a new tab in the same window. The tab will carry the name of the folder that created it -- you can't edit that directly, but if you change the name of the folder, it'll change automatically. Obsessive-compulsive window-openers will also appreciate the fact that you can keep different tabs in the same window organized using various folder views.

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 preview

From there, you can create additional tabs by clicking the plus sign on the side, as with Safari -- though, unlike with the browser, Apple opted not to have the plus sign on the window by default. You can open up tabs to your heart's content, though once you open more than five in the default window size, the rest will be hidden behind a drop-down menu. You can drag and drop tabs to reorder them, and when you hover over the tab, you'll see an X to close it in the left corner. Close the window entirely, and the tabs will remain intact the next time you open it. Pull a tab out and it will create its own window, and if you find yourself in the position of having opened up a bunch of windows in the Finder, just go up to Window > Merge All Windows in the menu at top, and you can merge them all into tabs.

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 preview

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 previewTags are the other big hot newness on the Finder side of things, also aimed at users who like to keep things nice and organized. The feature's not likely to see the same kind of widespread adoption as tabs, but if used correctly, they've got the potential to clean things up quite a bit for power users. The first time you open a Finder window, you'll find a list of default tag options in the sidebar: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. The whole rainbow, plus gray, basically. You can drag a folder directly into the sidebar tag, or right-click it and pick the tag from the drop-down. The sidebar tags are listed according to the date they were added, but you can drag and drop them to reorder things. Highlight a tag in the sidebar and you'll see all the folders that fall under that tag. There's also a tagging button at the top of the Finder window that's grayed out until you highlight a folder. From there you can assign tags via a pop-up window.

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 preview

You can associate as many tags to a single file as you see fit -- the colored dots will begin to overlap to the left of the file name. You can also rename tags by typing a new name into the drop-down from the button at the top of the window -- it'll default to a light gray, but switching colors from the limited palette is as simple as pulling one from a drop-down. Tags can also be assigned in the iCloud document library, regardless of the device (Mac, iPhone, iPad, etc.) that was originally used to create that file. Tags associated with documents on the desktop will also follow them to the ethereal world of iCloud.

One more small change to the Finder: full-screen scaling. Apple rolled the feature out across a number of proprietary apps with Mountain Lion, but somehow managed to miss Finder in the process. That's been amended here: the diagonal arrows have been added to the Finder window, so you can pretty much just ignore the desktop altogether, if you're so inclined. No big breakthrough there, but it's a nice addition with the inclusion of tabs, letting you do more business from within your Finder windows.

Multiple displays

DNP Apple OS X Mavericks 109 preview

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 previewWhich addition to OS X elicited the biggest response from the crowd at WWDC? Multiple displays. That's what you get when you launch your product in front of developers. In some ways Mavericks marks the return to functionality that was lost in previous versions of OS X -- namely, the ability to have full-screen apps running on multiple monitors at the same time.

Setup is a plug-and-play affair. We hooked a MacBook up to an Apple monitor and it was ready to go without the need for any additional configuration on our part. The stretched-out desktop from past versions is gone. In its place is a tiled effect -- essentially you've got an independent desktop on the other monitor. The wallpaper is repeated, rather than stretched, and the new display has its own menu bar and dock. The menu bar on each display remains ghosted until that desktop is in use. Click the mouse over there and it will turn opaque. To activate the dock, drag the mouse to the bottom of the screen and it will pop up. It's not super responsive, so it may take a couple of taps -- hopefully something that'll be ironed out in later builds. You also don't have a lot of control over the dock's behavior in settings -- the way it reacts is fully dependent on whether you activate it with your mouse. The contents of the dock, meanwhile, are mirrored from display to display.

Gone here is the ability to stretch apps across displays -- that may or may not be a bad thing, depending on your workflow. For most users, we suspect that the ability to have two full-screen apps open on different displays will make up for that (even if, frankly, it's the sort of functionality that ought to have been in the operating system in the first place), moving away from the blanking out of screens that was a hallmark of Lion and Mountain Lion. An update to Mission Control brings a lot to the table here, too, letting you easily drag and drop apps between displays after clicking F3. For those looking for a higher-res destination for web video and for business people who find themselves standing in front of a lot of conference rooms with MacBook Air in hand, Apple's made it possible to use an HDTV as a second display by way of AirPlay.

Notifications

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 preview

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 previewUpdates to Notifications likely didn't get the sort of feedback Apple had hoped during WWDC. Granted, additions to functionality introduced in Mountain Lion won't elicit the same sort of excitement as brand-new features, but there are certainly some welcome upgrades here. Most notable is the addition of Quick Reply for Mail and Messages. When you get a note from one of those two proprietary apps, you can reply directly within the alert. That means you don't have to reconfigure and launch a new application to shoot off a quick reply -- yet another way Mavericks is aimed at helping to reduce clutter.

Those who do a lot of chatting know what a pain it can be to have to switch back and forth between programs in order to have some semblance of an ongoing conversation. If you have those applications programmed to send out Alerts or banners, clicking through will open a dialogue box, where you can respond. Mail messages can also be deleted directly through this screen. Hopefully future updates to Mavericks will expand that functionality to even more applications down the road.

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 preview

Click through to "App Store" in System Preferences and you can set app updates to download automatically. That will happen in the background, and you'll receive a notification once it's done -- that is unless you're currently using an app, or if a restart is required. In that case, you'll get a notification with a drop-down list of options for delaying installation. FaceTime functionality has come to Notifications, too. You'll get a large pop-up image of the person calling along with a button to accept or decline the call. Miss it and you'll get a notification about it as well.

If a notification comes through while your computer's sleeping, it will show up on the lock screen. By going into System Preferences, you can decide whether or not you want a preview of said messages to show up there, in case the wrong person comes along. Apple will also be introducing website updates to Notification centers, so your favorite news sites and blogs can send you information through that river. Want to know what's happening over on eBay, CNN or Yahoo Sports (all companies mentioned in the keynote) without leaving the comfort of your desktop? Good news: that functionality is coming in the future.

Safari

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 preview

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 previewLet's face it; it wouldn't be an OS X update without a little love thrown in Safari's direction. This is probably as good a time as any to reiterate the fact that this is still an early build yet (with the consumer-ready version coming in the fall), as we had an unexpected quit in the app during our testing. That out of the way, let's dig into some of the features here. Really, it's easy to view Safari as a sort of microcosm of the larger system upgrade, which is to say that there are some nice tweaks, but not a full overhaul. Top Sites has been redesigned, trading the curved, globular layout for more of a straightforward grid. On that page, you can now drag and drop sites to reorder them, and when you hover over the thumbnails, you get an option to delete them or pin them in place.

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 preview

The browser's sidebar has gotten a makeover too. It's much cleaner than before, with larger text and a dark gray background. At the top, you've got big icons for Bookmarks, Reading List and Shared Links (the latter of which appears once you've signed into LinkedIn and Twitter in the Internet Accounts field in System Preferences). Each shows up in a clean list that is searchable via a field at the top of the sidebar, refining results as you type). Reading List now features continuous scrolling, a canvas that stitches together your offline reading selections, snapping to the top of the next article as you scroll. Shared Links pulls together links from your friends on the aforementioned social networks, embedded in the original context they were shared in. It could potentially become a useful feature if Apple adds more social networks. At the moment, however, it's not incredibly beneficial looking at a feed that just contains Twitter and LinkedIn updates.

As ever, Apple's done a lot on the back end as well. Adding to its cookie-blocking abilities, Safari now also features safeguards against sites that might skim your plug-in cache and local-storage data for tracking. JavaScript speed has been increased, according to Apple, and each webpage is now handled by a separate process. Placed to the side of a system running Mountain Lion, load times on the Safari build of Mavericks did load noticeably faster.

Calendar

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 preview

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 previewWe can't say we were ever huge fans of the chrome on Apple's Calendar app. Thankfully, as the company put it in the keynote, "no cows were harmed" in the making of this iteration. All of that faux-leather styling is gone in Mavericks. In its place is a layout with cleaner text and fewer boxes. It's easier to read and more straightforward -- a particularly welcome change on the calendar, which needs to be easy and quick to read / skim. Also new is continuous scrolling -- no need to flip ahead here. You can just scroll on through to the date you're looking for -- though we did find ourselves lost in the future a few times.

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 preview

Facebook events will automatically populate the Calendar, so long as you're logged in through System Preferences. Create an event through the Calendar and it will autocomplete the address and add a mini-map of the location using Maps -- those created in Google Calendar, on the other hand, didn't bring up a map for us in this build. The app also adds weather conditions for the time / location, so you'll know whether you'll need to pack those galoshes. And if you've enabled location-based services on your Mac (which the app will prompt you to do upon loading), Calendar will add travel times, so you'll know when to leave (you can also add those times manually, if you're so inclined). All of which brings us to the next feature...

Maps

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 preview

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 previewHere's one of the few truly new additions to OS X -- well, from a desktop perspective, at least. Apple Maps made its debut on the mobile side (too early, some might say). Of course, a desktop version won't have quite the same impact as its mobile counterpart -- you're a lot less likely to have your laptop on the dashboard of your car than your iPhone, for one thing -- but there's some nice functionality here. Load up the app and it will ask you for your location (surprise). We found the whole thing to be a bit less precise than on the iPhone, missing our location by about a block and a half.

Up top are buttons for flipping between Standard, Hybrid and Satellite views, as well as a search bar for entering locations. There's also a Locate Me button that zips you to your coordinates on the map, a traffic button (which is totally grayed out at the moment) and Toggle 3D, which shifts the perspective from overhead to three-quarters.

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 preview

The 3D mode is really quite breathtaking in those areas where there's imagery, such as New York City, though load times are a bit rough when you're using the trackpad to fly across the landscape, zoom in and out and switch orientation. We saw a lot of grids as the image worked to catch up with the change in location -- hopefully that'll speed up a bit in the final release. The app features driving and walking directions, which aren't super useful on a desktop machine, but you can print them out, export them as a PDF or send them to your mobile device (once you've got your hands on iOS 7, that is). There's also a button for bookmarking locations, which will be pushed out to your other Apple devices via iCloud.

As mentioned above, Maps functionality has been integrated into Calendar. It's also coming to Mail and Contacts, so it'll be pretty hard to get away from in this build.

iBooks

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 previewHere's the other major port from iOS. Unfortunately, it's the major addition that wasn't quite ready at press time. For that reason, we can't really give you a run-through now, but here's what to expect: the iBookstore and multi-touch books. Content purchased through iBooks will be pushed to devices through the cloud and the books themselves will have full-screen support, customized fonts, highlights, notes and search. Copying text from a book into Pages will create a citation. Groundbreaking? Not really, but there's certainly something to be said for having the multimedia books on the same device you use to write. It could be a seriously nice addition for students.

Looking ahead

Apple OS X Mavericks 109 preview

While there are some features ported over from iOS, the full mobilification (read: feature crippling) that many feared hasn't actually come to pass. There are still plenty of things you can do here that your iPhone can't -- but it's a bit of a bummer to see iOS continuing to largely lead the way in terms of new features. It would be great to see more customization targeted specifically at desktop power users, but as long as PC sales remain relatively stagnant, that's not likely to change any time soon.

All told, Apple's promised 200 features with this release. As ever, that number includes large and minuscule additions alike. It's a list that includes some really nice additions like tabs and tagging. Again, there's nothing that's likely to lure in anyone who hasn't already made the jump from Windows. For the foreseeable future, OS X's growth will continue to be gradual. But there are certainly enough additions in here to make upgrading a no-brainer for Mac users when the final version hits in the fall. And in the meantime, hopefully Apple will reveal even more reasons to give it a try.

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