The best new features in OS X Yosemite

Look for these cool capabilities in the Mac's newest OS.

OS X Yosemite
What to look for in the OS X Yosemite

It's been in public beta for months, though iOS 8 got most of the attention. Now OS X Yosemite is here for your Mac.

Despite some visual cues from iOS, you'll find that Yosemite is very similar to OS X Mavericks, so the learning curve is small. Apple is both refining and enriching its tools, as well as moving the user interface closer to iOS's, a journey it's been on for several years.

OS X Yosemite Handoff
Handoff: Liquid computing in action

The Handoff feature uses Bluetooth Low Energy connections to let Macs and iOS devices see what's happening on them and hand off activities from one to the other as they get in range. (You need a mid-2012 or later Mac model and an iOS 8-based iPhone or iPad -- all using the same iCloud account -- for this to work, and Handoff must be enabled in the General system preference.)

As you can see here, an app alerts you in the Dock when there is a handoff it can accept from another device.

• Learn more about Handoff and the coming trend toward liquid computing

OS X Yosemite iCloud Drive
iCloud Drive: Cloud storage that works as you’d expect

OS X has supported iCloud Documents for a while now, which let OS X apps share documents with other Macs and iOS devices as long as you have the same apps on them. But you can't easily see all your documents, and moving documents between the Mac's Finder and iCloud Documents is unintuitive and awkward.

In Yosemite, iCloud Drive makes these documents visible in the Finder and in Open and Save dialogs to all apps (not only the ones from the Mac App Store) like any other drive, similar to using a Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive virtual drive.

You set up which apps participate in iCloud Drive in the iCloud system preference for live syncing as you work. Otherwise, syncing happens after you save.

Note that iCloud Documents hasn't quite gone away; individual apps still save to their specific folders by default. However, those folders are now visible in iCloud Drive.

Also, the Mail app can use iCloud to automatically store large attachments (that's the MailDrop setting for each account), so they're not clogging up your servers. Recipients get a link to the file and don't need an iCloud account.

OS X Yosemite Notification Center extensions
Extensions: The overdue reform of widgets

For a decade or so, OS X has had the Dashboard, an awkwardly separate space to run widget applets -- which no one does. In OS X Yosemite, the widgets screen no longer must be separate (though you can set it to be separate if you wish); instead, you press F12 to display them over the current Desktop screen.

But the real reformation of widgets is the new concept of extensions, system-level add-ons that can integrate with both the Finder and apps, managed in System Preferences. The Markup image editor is an example (see next slide), as is the revised Notifications Center (shown here) to which you can add extensions like Weather and Stocks in the iOS-inspired Today view.

OS X Yosemite Markup extension
Markup: Annotate images within apps

The Markup extension is enabled by default in Yosemite. It lets you, well, mark up an image or PDF in the Preview app, in an image in a TextEdit document, or in an email you’re sending in the Mail app. You can draw on it, add text, and apply other effects for virtual whiteboarding.

The original image is untouched, by the way; Markup works on a copy it creates.

OS X Yosemite AirDrop
AirDrop: Exchange files with iOS devices more easily

You don't need to email or text yourself a Maps link, URL, or file to get it from your Mac to your iPad or iPhone, or vice versa. The AirDrop Finder window can now do that. It works exactly as it did in the Mac-to-Mac AirDrop; the only difference is that compatible iOS devices also show up and can AirDrop you.

One caution: The new AirDrop works only with 2012-model or more recent Macs and Lightning-equipped iOS devices. To exchange data with an earlier-model Mac, click the Don't See What You're Looking For? link, which reverts to the previous AirDrop protocol -- and prevents you from sharing with newer Macs or iOS devices while the older protocol is on.

OS X Yosemite Spotlight
Spotlight: More info than ever

OS X's Spotlight search tool has long been a treasure trove of information as it searches your documents, emails, and apps, not only your file names. The newest Spotlight incarnation takes it a step further by adding Web search and, more important, a much better visual presentation of the results. The previous Spotlight was too densely arranged, dissuading exploration of its results. Yosemite's version fixes that.

OS X Yosemite Safari 8
Safari 8: Simplified and consolidated

OS X Yosemite also marks a new version of Safari: Safari 8. Its HTML5 compatibility is greater, but the big change is in its user interface. Gone is the iCloud Drive button and the Show All Tabs button. They've been unified into a new Show All Tabs button, that presents locally open tabs at the top and open tabs on other iCloud-connected devices in lists below. That should look familiar: It's how the iPad's Safari works.

One simplification you may or may not like involves your favorites. They're still available in the Favorites bar (if you turn its display on), but now they always show up in a tray when you click the Search bar, along with your recent Web pages. That makes it easier and faster to go to your regular set of websites.

But the new display means the URL of the current page is no longer shown in the Search bar, only the root URL. When you select a URL to copy it, you get the Favorites tray blocking part of your current Web page.

OS X Yosemite UI
User interface: The inexorable iOS pull

Apple clearly wants us all to treat devices and computers as interchangeable, so it's been building in all sorts of integration, such as iCloud Keychain, iCloud Documents, Photo Stream, Maps integration into Calendar, AirDrop, and now Bluetooth-enabled AirPlay (look, Ma: No network!), cross-device AirDrop, and Handoff.

It's also been making the visual experience more and more similar.

In a previous slide, you saw the iOS-like Today view in the Notification Center. The venerable Dock now has the iPad's look. Mac app icons now match the iOS versions. The system font has changed from Lucida Grande to iOS's Helvetica Neue. UI elements are simplified à la iOS. The iconography is also modeled after iOS, as the new iTunes 12 shown here demonstrates.

Another change unrelated to iOS: Modern apps' Maximize button now makes them full-screen, rather than requiring the use of the little-known Full Screen button. It also exits full-screen view.

More on InfoWorld
More on InfoWorld

OS X isn't the only major operating system to get an upgrade this year. All the major platforms have. Check out our other slideshows:

First look: Windows 10
First look: Android L's fresh new face
6 reasons you'll love Windows Phone 8.1
How iOS 8 makes email, contacts, and calendars work better

And whether you use iOS 8 or not on your iPad, be sure to check out our productvity-suite smackdown comparing Apple iWork, Microsoft Office, and Google Apps.