Hands-on with the OS X Yosemite beta, 24 hours in

Sections: Apple Software, Features, Hands On / First Looks, Mac OS X, Mac Software, Operating Systems, Yosemite

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Not to sound like a hipster, but I signed up for Apple’s software seeding program (cleverly called appleseed) before OS X Yosemite was even announced. This got me access to pre-release builds of OS X Mavericks, but it also granted me a download of the upcoming version of OS X when it was recently made available for public beta.

Important Stuff

There appear to be signups still available for the beta, so if you’re interested in testing out Yosemite you should check it out. Keep in mind, however, that beta software is, by its very nature, unreliable. I’ve got it installed on my MacBook Air, which is sort of a second computer, and also on a separate partition on my MacBook Pro. I can boot to Yosemite if I feel like it, but can still boot to a stable release of Mavericks if needed. Also, if you use iCloud document syncing, uncheck the option to upgrade to iCloud drive during Yosemite installation. Upgrading to iCloud Drive will break things like Pages and Numbers until all your devices are upgraded to Yosemite and iOS 8, which won’t happen until iOS 8 is available in the fall.

Yosemite Screen


Disclaimer-ish stuff out of the way, here are the things that really jumped out at me during my first day wandering through Yosemite:

  • Color & Style: I’m a little turned off by some of Apple’s color choices in Yosemite, but I’m reserving judgement until the .1 release. iOS 7.1 smoothed out some of the more shocking gradients from iOS 7, so I’m hopeful the first point release of Yosemite will do so as well. Some of Yosemite feels cartoonish; the new Finder icon feels like kindergarten, and the new new icon for folders is just distracting. The colors actually work when you have the Dock’s Dark Mode on, so maybe Apple just needs to darken the standard white backgrounds.
  • iOS/OS X integration: Colors aside, the similarities between iOS and Mac OS X do make switching from one to the other a more fluid experience, validating the wise decision to give Sir Jony Ives dominion over all Apple’s interfaces. Microsoft tried the same thing with Windows 8 and Windows Phone, but they chucked function out the window in the name of form. Apple’s made visual metaphors consistent across its OS lineup, without sacrificing the additional power available on a computer. The entire ecosystem now feels like it was designed by a single person—even the lighting on the OS X app icons comes from the same direction!
  • Rough Edges: So far, I’ve found one or two programs that aren’t compatible, but no showstoppers. This is a fairly minor release in terms of technology changes—most of the big features are new additions rather than removal of old functionality, so backwards compatibility isn’t much of an issue. I will beat up a little on MS Word, however; Office 2011 implements standard window chrome, so it got the new close/minimize/full screen buttons, but the juxtaposition of those with the old Word ’95 floppy disk save icon is atrocious.

MS Word 2011 Screenshot

  • Spotlight is AWESOME: No longer confined to your upper right hand corner, Spotlight is now front and center and wicked useful. The integrated Wikipedia entries showing the article summary are especially handy and quicker than a trip to Safari to Google something…not that Apple’s trying to discourage that, or anything.

Spotlight screenshot

  • Still-not-quite-used-to:
    1. Reduced drop shadows, which make it a little harder to distinguish one window on top of another.
    2. Extensive use of soft grey, making it tough to identify different interface elements, e.g. menu backgrounds and window toolbars are the same color.
    3. Window title bars as transparent overlays, meaning your window content literally slides under the title bar. It makes a small screen like my 11″ Air feel much bigger, but it’s also making me slightly agoraphobic (in an interface way).
    4. The green window button now toggles Full Screen app view, rather than the old “maximize to fit the window’s contents” function. I liked that idea in theory, but nobody ever implemented it correctly and I just got used to mousing over to the right hand corner of windows.
    5. No window titles. While the smaller title bar frees up valuable real estate, it also hides valuable information, like telling me the title of an article when reading a long post in Safari. Coupled with the loss of the full URL display from the menu bar, I feel a bit lost.
  • Wishes: Other than the aforementioned toning down of interface colors (let’s include the garish icon in that wishlist), there’s not much to dislike about Yosemite. In addition to fixing the green-button vs. full-screen-button issue, Apple’s also simplified iTunes Store access in iTunes, so it would be nice to see continued identification and resolution of OS X’s little idiosyncrasies. Away with cruft!
  • Not So Sweet Sounds: As part of Apple’s announced Continuity features, things like text messaging and phone calls can be handed off between iOS devices and Macs. Apple’s brought the iOS sound palette to OS X, so your Mac and iPhone can ring with the same tone when you receive a FaceTime call/iMessage. Unfortunately, this sound selection on the Mac is buried in each app’s Preferences rather than in the OS-wide System Preferences. It would be great to configure the sounds for incoming FaceTime calls and iMessages from one single place, but it would be even better if this preference could be automatically synced through iCloud.

iMessage Sound Palette

Yosemite represents the most drastic Mac OS interface shift since the original OS X Aqua interface with its pinstripes and lickable buttons. I guess it’s appropriate that this version be opened up for beta testing  just like its predecessor. If you do choose to sign up for the beta, please sound off in the comments about your issues, questions, or fave features. Also, make sure you use the Feedback Assistant to report any problems you discover to Apple!

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  • Jorge

    Testing Yosemite in my iMac Air (second) was a great surprise in terms of looks and performance.
    Look is great, with great fonts, colours and enhanced icons
    Installation was flawless and all the programs I tested (more than 20) work great. I decided not to use the iCloud feature to avoid other devises and main Mac without updates or files. I was worn not to do it and was a good advise.
    Minor bugs which are easy to report.
    The upgrade is virtually ready. Looking forward to have the final version and use it with other Mac and OS
    Kudos Apple