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First Look: Apple’s Yosemite OS X for Macs

Apple opens up a beta version of its new Mac OS to consumers.

At its Worldwide Developers Conference in early June, Apple revealed details around its newest operating system for Mac computers, called Yosemite OS X. Starting tomorrow, the company is officially opening up its beta program to consumers, offering 1 million of them the chance to try out the free OS ahead of its official release this fall.

The reason? Apple says it wants to solicit feedback not just from developers who have already been experimenting with Yosemite, but also from Mac users who might spot bugs that devs don’t. Of course, it’s also quite possible that Apple wants to continue to ride the wave of early adoption: 55 percent of current Mac owners have upgraded to Mavericks, the latest release, making it by far the fastest Mac OS adoption of any other previous version.

I’ve had the chance to use the latest version of the beta OS over the past five days, and while this isn’t a full review, it’s a kind of preview of what to expect. I like its new design, the small improvements in Safari and Messages, and what appear to be promising fixes in Mail. It has already made a better impression on me than Mavericks did right out of the gate. But it’s also still very much a work in progress.

First, the good stuff:

Would You Just Look at That Trash Can

Yes, the metallic-mesh trash can is gone in Yosemite. But Apple’s desktop redesign is far from garbage. Most notably, Apple has changed up its Mac OS fonts (and anyone who knows a bit about the history of Apple knows how bonkers the company has been around fonts). The Dock, Finder and Message windows now have translucent edges, so that you can see hints of wallpaper or underlying applications underneath the boxes. These are seemingly small things, but they do make a difference — especially on a Retina display, which is becoming the norm for Apple.

Spotlight Is Now Like Google Search (Except Not)

When you click on Spotlight, you normally get a drop-down menu of everything on your machine related to that search. Now, with Yosemite, Spotlight appears as a Google-like search bar across the desktop, and indexes results from Bing, iTunes, Maps, Wikipedia and more, including Apple’s own servers. So when I ran a Spotlight search for “Big Sur,” it pulled up a Messages thread from earlier this week, a Wikipedia page, Maps, a movie on iTunes, old documents that mentioned Big Sur, and email threads with my reservation information for later this week.

Messaging Groups of Friends Just Got Less Annoying

Now, in Messages, you can name a group thread that has three people or more on it, and you can add new people to the conversation, as well. A group of us at Re/code tried this, and I was able to name the conversation “Yosemite Test” (you do this in the Details section of the message) and also add another participant to the thread, mid-chat. However, those using the Mavericks OS or iOS 7 on their mobile devices were unable to see the group name. See below, under the not-so-good stuff, for more on this.

Mail Shows Signs of Life

Let’s face it: Mail was sort of a disaster in Mavericks. I know some people who are still experiencing syncing issues with Mail — even in earlier beta versions of Yosemite, too. But during my tests over the past few days, I haven’t had any syncing issues with Gmail. I also used the new Mark Up feature, which lets you edit and annotate images from the “Compose Mail” window, and that worked for me, as well. (I sent Walt Mossberg an annotated picture of kittens, which I’m sure he liked.)

But also, the not-so-good stuff:

No Official iOS 8 Integration — Yet

At WWDC, Apple emphasized a lot of “Continuity” features, the idea that actions on the phone would integrate more seamlessly with the desktop, and vice versa. For example, you can start an email on your iPhone, and then, as you approach your Mac, be able to continue that email from your laptop. Or you can make phone calls directly from your Mac, using the cellular connection from your iPhone.

But the continuity features also require iOS 8 on your iPhone, which hasn’t formally been released to consumers yet. So even if you sign up for the Yosemite beta, you won’t be able to perform these actions. You also won’t be able to iMessage with Android users or other smartphone users unless you’re running Yosemite and iOS 8.

About That Mail Thing …

While my experience with Mail was pretty much flawless, I should note that I was using a new MacBook laptop that came preinstalled with the latest version of Yosemite (OS X 10.10 [14A283o]). I have heard complaints about delayed emails and syncing issues from others who are running an earlier version of Yosemite. I have no reason to believe that these aren’t fixed in the newest beta, but again, I was testing in a fairly controlled environment.

Oh, You Still Use AIM?

Minor but still-noteworthy irritation: AIM, for me, now appears as a separate chat box alongside the Messages box, instead of listing contacts directly within the Messages box.

Don’t Expect Perfection

Beta users are encouraged to back up their Macs before upgrading to Yosemite OS X — just in case. In fact, Apple recommends installing Yosemite OS X on your “secondary Mac,” which sounds like it came straight from the First World Problem Handbook. And while there will be “periodic updates to the OS X Yosemite Beta,” users won’t get the regular, every-other-week updates that developers get.

In short, you’re a guinea pig for Apple, and the beta version of Yosemite is not for the average user who expects everything to work. But if you were going to find a way to upgrade anyway, here’s your opportunity to do so.

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