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First look at the OS X El Capitan public beta, out today

Jason Snell | July 10, 2015
Apple announced OS X 10.11 El Capitan at its annual Worldwide Developer Conference, due to ship in the fall but with a public beta release to follow this summer. If you're just too excited about El Capitan to wait for fall, your chance to try out the next generation of OS X is coming this morning. Today, Apple will release the first El Capitan beta to users who have joined its public beta program.

A smarter Spotlight

Between Siri and Spotlight, Apple continues to build up its collection of searchable data sources, making one wonder when Siri and Spotlight stop being tools that use search engines and start being search engines themselves. With El Capitain, Spotlight now has access to weather, stocks, sports, transit, and web video, as well as support for natural-language queries.

Yes, this means you should be able to type San Francisco Giants standings into Spotlight and immediately be given the bad news from the National League West, or phoenix arizona weather and get the bad news from the blistering hot desert. It also means you can type queries like pdfs from June 2013 and actually get the result you're expecting.

I like this approach, because the fact is that many people search using natural language queries regardless of whether their search engine of choice supports it. A lot of us want to type how do I delete my Facebook account into Google, rather than carefully crafting a string of search terms. So Spotlight gets smarter, we get to be lazier, and it should all work out.

With Yosemite, the Spotlight window itself came unglued from the Spotlight icon in the top-right corner of the menu bar, and floated in the middle of the screen. In El Capitan, you can actually move the Spotlight box anywhere you want, and resize the results window.

Upgraded Notes

To paraphrase Yogi Berra, nobody likes the Notes appit's too popular. The App Store is full of apps that outdo Notes at the job of taking notes, creating shopping lists, you name it. But Notes has one major thing going for itit's on every Mac and iPhone and iPad in existence. That's why so many of us (and I'm including myself in this) use it.

So if Notes is popular, why not give it an upgrade? That's what Apple has done in El Capitan. Now you can stick a whole bunch of different files, PDFs, images, even videos into a note. Notes is also now an option in the Share button, so you can send data to Notes from any app that displays a share sheet.

To create a checklist in Notes, you just select some text and click the Checklist button in the toolbar. That's it every line gets a little check box in front of it, and you can check them on and off at will. The checkboxes aren't connected to anything, and clicking them doesn't do anything except check and uncheck them. But if you're making a quick to-do list, maybe that's all they need to do.

Up to now, Notes was one of the rare Apple cloud-connected apps on OS X that didn't actually use the iCloud infrastructure. Instead, it connected to a special IMAP mailbox in one of your connected email accounts. (If you've ever searched your Gmail and seen a dozen different notes files in your results, this is why.) But starting with El Capitan, Notes can also use iCloud proper. In fact, for some of the more advanced features including checklists you'll need to use iCloud. Fortunately, you can easily drag all your old notes from your email account right into iCloud, and they'll transfer over.


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