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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.

Another huge user complaint was about a lack of flexibility in sorting albums. (The first version of Photos let you sort them any way you want, as long as it was by date.) The new version of Photos will let you sort them by date, title, and more.

Photos will support image-editing extensions written by third-party developers. If there's a particular editing effect or tool that isn't available in Photos, a developer can write an extension that provides that feature, and it can be accessed from within Photos. I wasn't able to test this feature out because, unsurprisingly, I don't currently have access to any of those extensions.

Grab bag

Of course there's more. Though I haven't been able to test the claims and beta versions, even public ones, are not usually ideal for speed testing Apple claims that in El Capitan, apps launch up to 40 percent faster, switching between apps takes half the time, and opening PDFs is up to four times faster. A lot of speed boosts in El Capitan are due to Apple's adoption of Metal, the high-speed graphics technology that came to iOS last year. Apple itself is using Metal for its key graphics technologies, including CoreAnimation and CoreGraphics, so this isn't a case where Apple's tossing out a shaky new technology and hoping that third-party developers work out the bugs. As the saying goes, Apple's eating its own dog food on this one.

Other new features in El Capitan include transit support in Maps though it's limited to even fewer cities in the beta version than the relatively small number of cities due when El Capitan ships this fall. Clicking the Transit tab when you're in an unsupported city displays a banner that informs you there's no transit data for that city. (Maybe the Transit tab could fade out when no data is available?)

Beta warning

Using tomorrow's OS X today is an exciting prospect! But even a public beta is still a beta. That means that some features won't be fully functional and there will be bugs. I highly recommend that you don't install the El Capitan Public Beta on a system that you haven't backed up. If it's the only Mac you've got in order to get your work done, think twice. Consider installing it on an external drive or separate partition, or be prepared to restore to an older version of OS X in case of disaster or (more likely) software incompatibility.

Still, El Capitan feels pretty good to me. I love the audio-muting features of Safari and can't wait to use some slow in-flight Wi-Fi just so I can test out the new features of Apple Mail. And the speed boosts and support for Metal should improve everyone's Mac experience by making everything just a little bit faster. Isn't that what upgrades should be about?


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