OS X Yosemite: A Neater, Sweeter Beta
When it comes to beta software, common sense tells you to let someone else find the bugs while waiting for the first .1 release for the greatest safety and compatibility – and it’s definitely solid advice.
However, given that part of my job revolves around exploring the latest and greatest technologies, I couldn’t resist the chance of throwing caution to the wind and using the Yosemite beta as my primary operating system – after first making a full Time Machine backup, of course.
It’s not the first time I’ve taken the risk of operating in a beta environment, having run the public preview of Windows 95 which came on something like thirteen 3.5-inch disks, and having run beta editions of Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 as my primary OS without serious issue for months before the software was finally ready for public release.
Many of us have also used plenty of Google products with the beta label without too many issues – even Siri launched as a beta.
That said, test versions of Apple software usually aren’t for the faint-hearted, as they’re restricted to developers who have paid to either be part of Apple’s iOS developer program, its Mac developer program, or both.
So, Apple releasing a public beta of OS X Yosemite, despite limiting it to the first million registrants, is a bold statement that the first beta should be vastly more rock-solid than notably buggy developer releases of iOS and Mac OS which are far more prone to crashing, with the beta program still open at time of publication for those who dare – or have a Mac, a partition or a hard drive to spare.
The beta OS is approximately 5GB in size, taking around a couple of hours to download on a standard ADSL2+ connection, and takes less than 30 minutes to install over an existing OS X Mavericks installation.
After installation, which went smoothly for me on three different MacBooks – a 2010 MacBook Air, a 2010 MacBook Pro and a late 2013 MacBook Pro with Retina display, the first thing you notice is the login screen, which takes cues from the simplicity of the iOS lock screen.
Then, when the desktop loads, you immediately see that the system font has changed, as have most of the icons, reflecting the clean and flat design first seen with iOS 7, as seen during OS X Yosemite demo during the WWDC 2014 Keynote, which also featured iOS 8’s coming advances alongside plenty of other updates that enable developers to create ever more capable apps on all of Apple’s platforms.
The entire effect is to deliver a noticeably cleaner and fresher looking Mac OS that matches the style of iOS, continuing the trend of bringing iOS advances into the Mac OS fold, as happened when the iPad-style grid of icons launched on Macs as the “LaunchPad” app screen, as well as the introduction of iMessaging across iPhones, iPads and Macs, which will now be extended to all SMS messages in the final version of Yosemite.
Apple’s Safari browser has had a big interface upgrade, too, consolidating upper toolbars to give a bit of extra browser window space, better displaying open tabs and offering a new “tab” view that lists tabs in a grid of windows, with tabs from the same domain name stacked on top of each other.
You also get to see a view of the tabs opened on your iPhone and iPad, if signed in to iCloud.
It’s worth noting at this point that Apple warns Yosemite testers not to sign into the new iCloud Drive within Yosemite as they’ll lose access to iCloud data from iPhones and iPads – or at least until your iOS devices have been upgraded to the as-yet unavailable iOS 8.
Another warning from Apple comes if you have a very old Time Machine backup before installation as was the case with my MacBook Air, which was good to see, as it shows Apple is looking out for its beta testers.
The notifications bar that swoops in from the left hand side now lets you add widgets, and developers will be able to craft new widgets for sale in the App Store too – just in time for the long-awaited widget capability in the forthcoming iOS 8.
As I’m not an iOS developer, I haven’t taken the plunge of installing an iOS 8 beta onto my iPhone, but if I had, and had a developer build of Yosemite, various elements of the new “Continuity” features that allow you to answer iPhone calls and send and receive both SMS and iMessages on your iPad or Mac would have started working.
For now, the feature is switched off in current version of the public Yosemite beta and there’s no public beta of iOS 8, so most users will have to wait until both iOS 8 and Yosemite are released in about three months time.
You’ll find plenty more detail on what to expect at Apple’s official Yosemite preview site.
It’s not all fun and games, though – there have been reports of users who have installed third-party SSD drives into their Macs having problems if they use software such as Cindori’s Trim Enabler to eke out better SSD performance.
All third party TRIM software needs to be disabled before Yosemite beta is installed, or your Mac will fail to boot properly during the installation process.
Luckily, I read this useful tidbit of information before installing the Yosemite beta before installation on my 2010 MacBook Pro, into which I had installed a 250GB Samsung SSD.
Yosemite beta also informs you of programs you have installed that aren’t compatible, which for me was an app called “Printopia”, which allows you to use iOS AirPrint to any printer connected to your Mac – whether it is AirPrint compatible or not.
No doubt plenty of developers are updating their apps as quickly as possible for the onslaught of Yosemite upgraders to come towards the end of the next 90 days and beyond.
Other apps are running fine – from Microsoft Office 2011 to Apple’s Pages, Numbers and Keynote, apps such as Parallels Desktop with an installation of Windows 8.1 that sailed through the OS upgrade process as it all did, through to invaluable apps such as the BetterTouchTool, the Boom Mac audio enhancer, the 1Password password management tool or the Ghostery browsing privacy app – I’ve luckily experienced no issues with everything running just as it was under Mac OS X Mavericks.
The only app that is a bit slow to start up is TextEdit, the built-in basic Mac text editor – an app you wouldn’t expect to be slow, but hey, this is beta software after all.
Yosemite’s new design also looks fantastic on Retina equipped Macs, while naturally looking fuzzier on non-Retina screens, although when comparing a Retina screen next to an 11.6-inch MacBook Air and a 2010 MacBook Pro with 13.3-inch screen, Retina is always going to win out.
I’ve seen it said online that this might be Apple’s subtle way of encouraging older Mac users to upgrade once the final version is out and millions get the free update, but anyone who has seen a Retina screen running any version of Mac OS knows just how much sharper and clearer Retina is already and knows one awaits them if they haven’t yet already upgraded.
All-in-all, this first beta of Yosemite actually feels like a polished, final release, which is extremely encouraging.
Although the experience of others will clearly be different depending on their individual installations and software collections, I’ve loaded Yosemite beta on all my Macs and everything – at least for now – is running as right as rain.
I would still advise everyday users to stick with what they’ve got and wait for the final release to arrive, or to install Yosemite in a separate partition, a separate hard drive or, if available, a spare Mac.
However for Mac users who like living on the bleeding edge but don’t want the vastly riskier instability of developer OS versions, and who want to give Apple some feedback before Yosemite goes gold, the current beta is a neater, sweeter preview of the not-too-distant future!