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.

Apple Update

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More useful features

Another area in which OS X has assimilated useful iOS features is in the Notification Center, specifically the Today view. Notifications are still displayed in the Notifications Center -- which is accessed via a click on the upper right of the menu bar or via a two-finger swipe starting from the edge of the right side of a trackpad -- but there's now a toggle for Today that displays everything you might want to know about your day at a glance.

As of Yosemite and iOS 8, file transfers via AirDrop work between Macs and iOS devices.

Date and weather, calendar events, data about stocks, a world clock, and a glimpse into the next day's upcoming events are listed by default. The widgets contained in the Notification Center can be programmed for interaction, so clicking on widgets like Weather will bring up more details. There are also shortcuts so you can quickly update your status to social networks like Twitter and Facebook or start instant messaging conversations -- right from the Notification Center. There is a calculator widget, as well.

Better yet, the Notification Center is extendable via third-party software. During the WWDC keynote, Apple execs showed off Notification widgets for ESPN and others, so expect more once Yosemite is officially released.

Spotlight searching has become much better at displaying relevant data in search results, and Apple engineers have increased the amount of sources that Spotlight pulls from, including online sources for the most current data. As before, Spotlight can be found in the upper right of the menu bar -- or summoned by pressing Command-Space -- but, unlike before, search results aren't crammed into a small section of the screen.

In Yosemite, Spotlight search results display front and center. Not only can Spotlight help you find obscure phrases in documents you forgot you had, but now it references Wikipedia, Bing, the iTunes Store, Maps, theater show times, current news, conversions of units/currency and more.

iCloud -- Apple's set of services that help keep your data consistent across your Apple devices -- has been improved as well. For the first time since iDisk, Apple now offers iCloud Drive, a folder accessible from the Finder's Side Bar that behaves similarly to Dropbox, syncing any document to all of your devices using your AppleID. The documents are accessible from any iOS device or Mac, and even Windows PCs.

What's most interesting about iCloud Drive is that, after years of endless conjecture and theories of Apple doing away with a user-modifiable file system, iCloud Drive supports folders and any type of document and also supports Finder Tags for easy lookup.

Note: Enabling iCloud Drive in the public beta will move all of your current iCloud docs to the new system, which isn't supported in earlier versions of OS X or iOS, so be careful. You might want to hold off on enabling this feature until it's officially supported in the final releases of Yosemite and iOS 8, just in case. Unless you're a developer, having access to your data is more important than confirming iCloud Drive works as it should.

Minor but handy

There are a ton of minor feature enhancements throughout the OS that I'll be diving into in greater detail in the final review, but for now, here are some of my favorites:

Mail has been updated with email markup capabilities, which allows you to annotate and draw on graphics and documents you send through email. You can add speech bubbles, circles, text, and other simple designs without opening up Photoshop.

When Yosemite finally ships, the Actions menu, the Share menu and the Today area in the Notification Center will be enhanced and customized by third-party extensions.

Safari now features tabs you can swipe through. Instead of filling the tab bar and then offering a drop down list for tabs that can't fit, the new Safari allows you to use two-finger trackpad gesture to scroll sideways through the tab list.

Bottom line

With Apple (under CEO Tim Cook) making moves that would have been unlikely when Steve Jobs was in charge, it seems that the Yosemite beta is the perfect metaphor for Apple: Both a new direction and a natural evolution for the Mac.

By taking advantage of the vertical hardware/software/services strategy, Apple execs are apparently keen on providing solutions and integration that competitors might find tough to imitate.

Michael deAgonia, a frequent contributor to Computerworld, is a writer, computer consultant and technology geek who has been working on computers since 1993. You can find him on Twitter (@mdeagonia).

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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