OS X 10.11, El Capitan

A couple of weeks ago Apple released the newest version of its Mac operating system - OS X El Capitan.  It is numerically OS 10.11.  It is free and available in the Mac App Store (Apple menu > App Store…).  In this blog I will give an overview of El Capitan’s features and suggest a procedure to make sure your Mac is ready for the upgrade before you actually install El Capitan.

Before we get started, Apple recently released the first update, 10.11.1 and I have not heard of any major bugs or issues with it.  El Capitan had over one million Beta (prototype) users around the world so Apple had a lot of field testing on this version.

El Capitan features:

To the user El Capitan is not radically different than its predecessor, Yosemite.  However under the hood it is actually quite different.  It also has some nice new features.  Every 2 or 3 versions of OS X, Apple releases a version that is focused more on improving quality, performance and stability as opposed to lots of new features.  El Capitan is such a version.  For you history buffs, both Snow Leopard (10.6, to clean up Leopard) and Mountain Lion (10.8, to clean up Lion) had similar goals.  In hindsight, these were two of the best versions of OS Xin the last 10 years.   Let’s hope El Capitan meets Apple’s similar goals for it.

As for features that are new with El Capitan, here are the highlights:

  • Performance - up to 40% faster app launching, 2x faster app switching
  • Split View - Easily put two apps side by side on your screen.
  • Mail  - Faster launching, suggested events and contact info automatically extracted from email message contents.
  • Notes - A total overhaul of the Notes app (also overhauled in iOS 9 for your iPad and iPhone).  You can now add photos, hand drawings, maps, checklists and more.  Also, Notes appears in the Share icon in other apps, like Safari, so what you see you can save in a note!
  • Photos - You can now rename photos en-mass as well as manually tag GPS data to photos. 
  • Safari - pin sites to the tab bar, Use AirPlay with your Apple TV to share web video without sharing your whole screen and easily mute sites playing video or audio.
  • Maps - now supports public transit and, like prior versions of Maps, once you have a route, you can send it to your iPhone with a click!
  • Calendar - now suggests when you should leave to arrive at an appointment on time (usually gets you there very early, though).
  • Spotlight - (system-wide searching using the magnifying glass near the clock) - you can now move and resize the spotlight window.  Searches now include weather, sports, stock and transit directions.  Also, natural language searches are supported.  For example, you can type a phrase like “documents I worked on yesterday” to see all of the documents you modified yesterday.


My theory in upgrading any device is to make sure it is healthy and backed up before upgrading. Its kind of like making sure a patient is healthy before undergoing surgery.  I think these steps are often overlooked and people that don’t take them are the ones that post rants on the Internet about the upgrade going badly.

First, let’s make sure your Mac will successfully run El Capitan.  Go to Apple menu > About this Mac and make sure your Mac has at least 4GB of “memory”.  Although Apple says 2GB is the minimum, you will not be happy with a Mac running El Capitan with 2GB of memory.  If you need more memory, contact me, I can help.

Next, if your Mac is running OS X 10.8, 10.9 or 10.10, it can run El Capitan (you can also find this on Apple menu > About this Mac).  If your Mac is running OS X 10.7 or earlier, it may not. Here is a list of compatible Macs: http://www.apple.com/osx/how-to-upgrade/

Now, let’s get your Mac ready to upgrade.  

  1. Go to the Apple menu > Software Update.  Do this over and over until your Mac tells you that there are no more updates.
  2. Go to the menu bar near the clock and find your Time Machine backup icon.  Choose Backup Now and let it finish.  If you do not have a backup for your Mac, contact me.  Backups are like seat belts for your Mac - they may save your data (including pictures & documents) if something unexpected happens.
  3. Once the backup finishes, Quit all apps using Command-Q (remember, using the red dot does not usually close the app, it only closes the app’s window).
  4. Finally, Apple menu > Restart. Uncheck the box that says, “Reopen windows when logging back in."
  5. Once your Mac restarts immediately go to Apple menu > App Store…  Click on the Updates tab along the top of that window and choose to upgrade to El Capitan.
  6. This upgrade is big - over 6GB, so it will take some time to download.  Once downloaded an “Install OS X El Capitan” app will run.  Follow its instructions and wait for the hour + installation to complete.  You cannot use your Mac during the installation.

Once the installation is complete your Mac will restart using El Capitan.  It will ask a few easy questions on startup and then you can start using your Mac.  Enjoy El Capitan!