FAQ: everything you need to know about OS X Mavericks

Apple's newest Mac OS, Mavericks, is still several months away. But if you're itching for information, we've put together everything we currently know about the operating system to give you an idea of what you have to look forward to in the fall.

Why call it Mavericks?

Apple's finally run out of cat names for its OS X updates--sorry, lynx, bobcat, and liger--so it's on to a brand new theme. Instead, the company has chosen to base subsequent OS X updates on locations in its home state of California.

The first of these is Mavericks, a famous surfing location just southwest of San Francisco.

I missed the keynote: What did Apple introduce?

A decent amount. Mavericks has a mix of under-the-hood features, enhancements for expert users, and new capabilities. Among the highlights are better support for multiple monitors and Finder tabs; improvements to performance and battery consumption; new Maps and iBooks apps; and updates to Safari and Calendar.

What about the design? Will Mavericks have the same "flat" look as iOS 7?

Not quite. Mavericks still looks much like OS X Mountain Lion, though certain apps--Calendar, for one--have had their rich Corinthian leather stripped in favor of a more simplified design.

However, haters of OS X Mountain Lion's "dark linen" pattern will be pleased to find it largely absent from Mavericks: In its place, users will see a plain dark background.

What's new with multiple displays?

A lot! Users of the more-than-one-monitor crowd will appreciate the ability to get your menu bar and Dock on all of your screens. You can also put an app into full screen mode on one display and still use the other monitor; previously, that second display just showed wall-to-wall linen.

Even better, if you've got an Apple TV hooked up to an HDTV, you can actually turn that TV into a full-fledged display, complete with menu bar and Dock. You can drag windows and full screen apps between the two, as Mission Control has been (in Apple's words) "supercharged" in Mavericks to take advantage of all these new enhancements.

You said Finder tabs. Did Apple fix the Finder?

Well, that depends what you mean by "fixed." There are some new enhancements to the Finder, including a tabbed interface that's reminiscent of apps like Safari and Terminal. You can collect windows into one, maintain different views, easily drag files between tabs, and even, say, leave AirDrop open in one tab for quick file transfers.

Is that all the Finder got?

Not quite. Apple also added tagging capabilities to its filesystem. When you save a file, regardless if it's on your Mac or on iCloud, you can assign it a tag or tags of your choosing. Then, in the Finder, you can click on the tag in the sidebar and see everything that's been assigned that tag, no matter where it's been saved; you can also search for tags in the Spotlight field in the Finder.

So, what are those under-the-hood improvements?

Apple demoed a number of enhancements of a more technical nature, with names like "Timer Coalescing" and "Memory Compression," but they all share the same goal: Making your computer more powerful without sacrificing battery life. As such, in OS X Mavericks, apps like Safari should gobble up less memory (especially when they aren't the frontmost programs); you should get longer playback of HD video in iTunes; and your apps should consume less power when they're in the background.

Did I hear that Keychain Sync is returning?

Indeed. Apple announced iCloud Keychain, which is like the old MobileMe Keychain Sync, only better. iCloud Keychain keeps your passwords, credit card numbers, and Wi-Fi authentication in sync across all your devices on OS X and iOS.

Integration with Safari means that iCloud will automatically fill in your password for you, and it can even help you come up with strong passwords, which it will automatically remember. On the credit card front, you'll be able to store multiple cards and their expiration dates--though you'll still need to know your security code for each card.

As for security: Don't worry, everything's encrypted with AES 256-bit encryption, so it's safe from prying eyes.

What else is new with Safari?

Apple's browser got a handful of tweaks, mostly to features introduced in Safari 6 and under-the-hood performance systems. (The latter incorporates OS X Mavericks's aforementioned power-saving features, as well as improvements to JavaScript and other performance systems.)

Safari's Reading List now features a continuous scrolling option that lets you continue on to the next item in your list when you're finished with the current one, as well as a one-click adding option. And Top Sites has been redesigned to feature a look more reminiscent of Google Chrome's starting page; it also lets you add pages from your bookmarks, and easily rearrange the sites to your liking.

Additionally, there's a new Shared Links section of the sidebar that collects links shared by friends on Twitter and Linked In. You can quickly visit those links, scroll through them à la Reading List, or even re-share them yourself.

Safari Reader is getting a redesign, dropping the hover screen for a separate page render and cleaner text.

So... LinkedIn? Is that now on the list of integrated services?

While Apple only mentioned LinkedIn in passing, the social networking company itself took to its blog to say that LinkedIn would be integrated throughout OS X Mavericks. Come the fall, you'll be able to update your profile pictures from Photo Booth and iPhoto, share to LinkedIn from Safari, see LinkedIn notifications in Notifications Center, and access all of those features via a single sign-on pane, just like with Twitter and Facebook.

You said stitched leather has had its day in the sun in Calendar. What's replaced it?

If you've missed the pre-Lion Calendar (to some of us it will always be iCal), then you're in for a treat in Mavericks: It's back to gray toolbars and windows for Apple's calendaring app. You'll also be able to connect the program to Facebook and see location and weather data for any event. Calendar will even alert you when you need to leave, based on current driving directions, and block out time in your schedule for transit.

Additionally, a new Month view offers continuous scrolling, and locations will now include suggestion and autocompletion capabilities--start typing, and Calendar will offer up possible locations based on your keywords.

What about Contacts, Notes, and Reminders? Are they still all skeuomorphically inclined?

Truth be told, we don't officially know. None of these apps made an appearance on Monday, and they're equally absent from Apple's promotional materials. However, given the number of jokes at the expense of skueomorphic design made by Apple executives during Monday's keynote, we'd be surprised if they didn't all sport extensive makeovers by the time Mavericks finally ships.

Mountain Lion notably brought iOS apps to the Mac. Does Mavericks continue that trend?

Two notable iOS apps make their first appearance on the Mac in Mavericks: Maps and iBooks. Neither, however, looks as close to their iOS counterparts as Reminders and Notes did when they debuted in Mountain Lion.

Maps features the same clean look as its iOS 7 counterpart and many of its features, including support for directions, point of interest search, bookmarks, and more. Notably absent from the keynote was any mention of transit: There doesn't appear to be a button for transit directions in the app, and given Apple's current solution (third-party transit apps), we're not surprised.

Apple did show off one unique feature of Maps for OS X: Send to iPhone. Once you've selected a route, you can wirelessly send it to an iPhone running iOS 7 and your device will be ready to start directing you once you leave the house.

iBooks, meanwhile, has ditched the wooden bookshelves of its iOS 6 counterpart for clean grey rows of book covers--synced across all your devices via iCloud, of course. You can also browse the entire iBookstore, download books, and read them right on your Mac.

We know that many of you question reading on your Mac, and we admit, staring at a computer screen isn't the most exciting way to read a book. But many of us read quite a lot in this way already: We just read articles on a browser instead of in a book-reading application. Furthermore, we imagine students and teachers will love being able to skip the book bag in lieu of a laptop packed full of textbooks.

Because, didn't we mention? You'll be able to read iBooks Author-created textbooks on your Mac through iBooks, too. Note-taking, highlighting, and study cards are all built into the application, and you can even have multiple books open at once, if you like study multitasking.

What didn't we see this week?

OS X Mavericks's design interface as a whole wasn't shown off as thoroughly as what we saw with the iOS 7 preview, and we suspect that's in part because Apple didn't have the time to finish the de-skeumorphism of its other applications. Reminders, Notes, Contacts, and Game Center still have OS X Mountain Lion icons, while other apps (like iBooks and Calendar) look more simplistic. But Apple still has a few months before the fall, and we expect to see a deeper overhaul come OS X Mavericks's release.

Notably absent during the keynote was any mention of dictation improvements or Siri on the Mac. Though other websites have posted rumblings based on the developer beta regarding dictation, it looks like we may still be a year or more out from getting Apple's favorite personal assistant on the Mac.

Also missing was any nod to the Messages app and its continued syncing trouble with OS X. We're all crossing our fingers that this is being talked about at length in closed developer sessions this week, though, and we'll see better Messages sync come the fall.

When will OS X Mavericks be released?

We don't have an exact release date quite yet, but Apple says that Mavericks will arrive sometime in the fall. Knowing the company as we do, that could be anywhere from late August to December 20th; that said, it's likely that come October or November, we'll all be lining up (virtually, of course) at the Mac App Store.

How much will it cost?

We don't know that either, but Lion and Mountain Lion went for $30 and $20 respectively, so either the downward trend will continue to $10, or it'll hold steady at $20. Given the new pricing strategy Apple's employed over the last few updates, we think it's unlikely to cost more than $20.

This story, "FAQ: everything you need to know about OS X Mavericks" was originally published by Macworld.

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