Apple Update

Hands on: OS X 10.10 Yosemite beta shows off a new look and features

Apple's latest OS promises a sparkling new design and some very useful features.

During this year's World Wide Developer's Conference (WWDC) -- where software is introduced and released in beta form to developers and masochists enthusiasts -- Apple execs revealed that they would ship a public beta of the latest Mac operating system, OS X 10.10, popularly known as Yosemite.

Last Thursday, the public beta of Yosemite was finally available to download. This is Apple's first official release of an unfinished operating system since the OS X 10.0 beta back in 2000. The beta release will give fans a sneak peek into the future of the Macintosh lineup.

Yosemite marks a major UI overhaul for OS X. In addition to a new design, Yosemite also brings fresh features and capabilities, as well as built-in apps that take advantage of these features.

I installed the beta build on a 2012 Mac mini, and have been running the developer builds since their first release in June on a 2012 MacBook Pro. Since this isn't a final release, I haven't written a formal review, nor will I be discussing speed, stability or battery life. Instead, I'll be looking at the major additions since last year's release of OS X 10.9 (Mavericks), and detailing how the features are implemented.

Installing Yosemite

Before we start, let me be clear: Yosemite is beta. Expect that there will be bugs, some minor and maybe some major. "The Summer of Bugs" is what I like to call the period between WWDC and Apple's fall software and hardware releases. Don't install Yosemite on computers that you rely on because, by definition, beta software is at best unreliable. If you choose to proceed, make sure to back up your data beforehand.

Still interested in testing the software? You'll need to have Mavericks installed (which is a free upgrade you can download from Apple's App Store). Yosemite runs pretty much on any Mac that can run Mavericks -- that includes any iMac from mid-2007, any MacBook from late 2008, any 15-in. or 17-in. MacBook Pro from 2007, any 13-in. MacBook Pro from mid-2009, any MacBook Air from 2008, any Mac Mini from 2009, any Mac Pro from 2008, and (if you have one) any Xserve from 2009.

If you can run the software, the question then becomes: Should you? The answer is up to you, but remember -- I can't stress this enough -- this is a beta. Apple execs have stated that the public betas will not be updated as frequently as the developer builds, so don't expect bugs to be remedied right away.

If, after all this you still want to give Yosemite a try, you can sign up at Apple's website. There are only a million beta slots allocated, so availability is limited.

Once you sign up -- which is as easy as logging in with your AppleID -- you're given a redemption code that can be used in the App Store. The Yosemite beta is a 5GB download. Installation is pretty straightforward and automated, once the initial legal pages are clicked through and accepted.

A new look and feel

First, Apple has changed the way OS X looks. Yosemite has adopted the design cues from iOS 7, meaning a brighter theme with a stronger focus on content. This is achieved by removing toolbar cruft, introducing flatter interface elements and adding a bit of translucency, emphasizing layering within apps and the system software.

Yosemite introduces flatter interface elements and adds a bit of translucency.

From the controls now found in the upper left of every window to new interface elements for updated apps, the design gives a more flattened look to each window, while the use of drop shadows and translucent elements gives the OS a sense of layering and depth.

The layering is even done on a per-window basis. For instance, Finder, Safari and Messaging now feature main windows with content that slides underneath the app toolbar when scrolling, while the colors of the content shine through the frosted toolbar. The translucent sections allow color -- but not detail -- to show through. The effect, which is sprinkled throughout the OS and apps, gives each Mac a personalized feel.

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