What makes OS X Mavericks so special?

Apple dials down the eye candy and builds in needed efficiencies in its upcoming desktop OS

OS X Mavericks
OS X Mavericks

Not surprisingly, iOS 7 got most of the attention at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this month. Given the importance of the iPhone and iPad to Apple's bottom line, that makes sense. But Apple does still make computers and spent some time showcasing the next version of its desktop/laptop operating system, OS X Mavericks.

Unlike iOS 7, which is getting an overdue UI overhaul, the changes coming to OS X aren't as obvious, but they're still important.

OS X Mavericks -- no feline name for OS X 10.9, which is named after a California surfing spot -- will be released later this year and hasn't yet been priced. But with the name change, Apple's clearly putting the hammer down on the Designed by Apple in California advertising push.

At first glance, Mavericks looks much like its predecessor, although clearly Apple's designers are getting away from highly detailed UI ornamentation -- skeumorphism -- and turning the focus more toward content. We've already seen this approach in the way Apple has gradually evolved apps like QuickTime, which started off with a heavily bordered window around the video that got thinner and thinner over time, to the point that now there are no more borders at all -- just the video you're watching and playback controls that appear on mouseover, then disappear.

With that design minimalism in mind, all of the built-in apps in Mavericks -- everything from Safari to Mail to FaceTime, Messages, Calendar and Notes -- have adopted standard OS X interface elements, ditching of the leather/metal/paper backgrounds that users have grown accustomed to.

The move to less UI ornamentation isn't a surprise, given Apple design chief Jony Ive's penchant for minimalism when it comes to hardware (and he's now in charge of software design). But Mavericks does offer some delights that users should appreciate.

They include:

Finder Tabs: In Mavericks, it will finally be possible to group all of your Finder windows into one, just as you can have multiple web pages open in tabs in Safari. Similar to Safari in look and behavior, Finder tabs can be arranged, switched between, and offer customized views per window. Particularly useful is that you can now drag and drop files between the tabbed windows. It's the little changes like this that make OS X a constantly evolving operating system.

OS X Finder tabs
Finder tabs will be familiar to anyone who's used tabbed browsing in Safari. (Image: Apple.)

File tagging: Tags are keywords you can use to describe your documents, which will help you better track and find them later on. You can 'tag' a file with a keyword -- or even an entire phrase -- like "In Progress" and then easily find all of the related files by searching for documents using the tag, or navigating to a smart directory in Finder. Tag support extends to iCloud, and there's support for adding tags right from the Save dialogue box. This should be a real time-saver for users.

OS X tags
OS X Mavericks lets users tag files in the Finder, on iCloud, or as shown here, when saving a document. (Image: Apple.)
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