OS X Mavericks review: Different name, looks the same

Apples new desktop/laptop OS builds on its predecessors, applying polish where needed.

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After setting up iCloud Keychain, I chose the first option, which allows me to approve any changes to my iCloud status from another device. As a result, when I used another Mac running Mavericks, I was asked to allow that machine to have access to my keychain data. After that, the other Mac had the same access to my info as my own laptop.

One note: While the iCloud keychain setup worked fine for me, a Computerworld editor who tried to do the same thing ran into trouble verifying his account. Your mileage may vary.

Tweaks to the Finder

When the desktop, Dock and menu bar load, you'll notice that Mavericks looks pretty much like Mountain Lion. The big change, if you can call it that, is that the Dock has a translucent background when pinned to the left or right side of the screen and there are a slew of new desktop wallpapers to choose from. Mavericks lacks the major user interface (UI) overhaul that made iOS 7 such a hot topic when it rolled out last month. Instead, Mavericks unifies the themes used in earlier versions of OS X, removing (as I mentioned before) the last remnants of skeuomorphic elements. That's not a bad thing. The Notification drawer (accessed from the upper right corner of the menu bar) now lacks the "linen" backdrop, the Dashboard has a new background, and apps like Calendar get a new UI to match the other apps.

The Finder does get something new: Tags. Like Labels before it, the Tags feature lets you highlight and organize files with different colors. Tags have more support than Labels throughout the operating system. First, tags can be synced with iCloud and onto your other devices, so that the tags remain consistent across your various Macs. Documents stored in iCloud and tagged retain that tagging whether you're using Pages for Mac, or Pages for iOS.

Finder Tags
You can tweak Finder Tags to suit your needs in the Finder > Preferences area.

The Finder sidebar now includes an area for tagged shortcuts, which automatically groups similarly tagged items for quick access to related files. Every Finder window also gets a new button -- located to the right of the Share button -- that lets you tag selected files. Tags can be added to files in the Save dialog box, which is located under the File menu.

You can edit the labels for your Tags under Finder > Preferences > Tags. From here you can rename the existing tags, delete them or assign them a different color. You can also drag favorite tags to the bottom of the Tags window, which sorts the order they're displayed in other areas of the OS.

Tags isn't the only thing new addition to the Finder. There's also Finder Tabs. (Yes, this may be confusing at first.) Finder Tabs work just like tabs in a Web browser, allowing you to group multiple Finder windows together in one. As in Safari, the Command-T key combo allows you to create new tabs, with each tab retaining its own view settings. You can drag and drop files between tabbed windows, and you can pull tabs out to create their own separate windows in the Finder.

Tabs is a welcome and overdue feature. My only problem is that I have grown so accustomed to the Finder not having them that I keep forgetting to use them, even though using tabs would be easier. Old habits die hard.

Finder tabs
Finder Tabs work just like tabs in a Web browser, allowing you to group multiple Finder windows together in one.

Spaces, the desktop and Calendar

In previous versions of OS X, whenever you used Spaces on multiple monitors, switching to another Space shifted the view of every display. In Mavericks, you can finally control each monitor's space independently of the others. Go to one monitor, swipe away that Space, and those on the other monitors stay just where they are. Like Finder Tabs, this is another "it's about time" feature, though it means users will have to relearn how they use Spaces.

The menu bar, which has been limited to the main display since the Mac was first designed, now extends through all of your screens. That means no more mousing back to the primary display just to access a menu item.

Another change allows the Dock to shift between primary and secondary displays; it's accessed by moving the cursor to the bottom of the screen on any of the displays -- at least, theoretically. The problem? It didn't always work for me. I've moused to the bottom of the screen on many occasions while the Dock stubbornly refused to move to the new monitor. That's pretty annoying, and clearly something that needs a fix when 10.9.1 rolls out.

Conversely, one new feature I love -- and one that works as billed -- is the AirPlay Display. iPhones, iPads and Macs can already beam music, video or the entire screen to an AppleTV-equipped HDTV. With Mavericks, you can now use that HDTV as an extension of your monitor, not just as a mirror of what's on your laptop or desktop machine. The extended desktop is fully supported by Spaces and Mission Control. Obviously, the refresh rate isn't as fast as a built-in monitor, so fast-moving images and intricate effects won't look as good on the TV. But it's perfect for things that don't require fast refresh rates like email, twitter feeds and even surveillance feeds from security cameras.

The Calendar app also gets some notable changes. It now sports a traditional Mac-like window wrapper, and there are hints of iOS 7 throughout Calendar's views; borders and boxes in the app have been replaced by minimal lines.

Calendar Inspector
The Calendar app's Inspector pane gives you more information about an event you have planned, including a map of your destination.

In addition to its new look, Calendar now has an Inspector that displays more details pertaining to a highlighted event. Along with date, time, alert, invites and note fields, there is a new travel time field. You add the estimated travel time before your meeting -- or you can enter a location and the Calendar app automatically calculates driving/walking time. Calendar can add the travel time to your appointment so you know the best time to leave in order to arrive on time.

The new Inspector will also display a map of your destination, as well as an avatar representing the forecast with high and low temps.

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