El Capitan FAQ: Everything you need to know about OS X 10.11

Answers to general questions about El Capitan to help you decide about installing it on your Mac.

el capitan mission control macbook
Credit: Apple

On September 30, Apple released OS X El Capitan, which is version 10.11 of the Mac operating system. In this FAQ, we’ll answer some of the more general questions about El Capitan to help you decide about installing it on your Mac.

Why is it called El Capitan?

Apple now names OS X after California locations, and the El Capitan name has more meaning than what it seems on the surface. The El Capitan “location” is a 3000-foot monolith of granite found within Yosemite National Park.

As Apple puts it, OS X El Capitan is about “refining the experience and improving performance” of OS X. If you consider that OS X 10.11 is mostly designed to tweak, fix, and add minor features to OS X Yosemite (version 10.10), then the name of OS X 10.11 makes sense.

When will be available?

El Capitan became available to the general public on September 30, 2015.

What’s the price and how to I get it?

El Capitan is free. It’s available in the App Store. You can click on this link to go to the El Capitan page on the App Store.

Should I upgrade to El Capitan?

We have a in-depth review of El Capitan by Jason Snell. You should read it for his complete analysis, but here’s what he wrote in regards to whether you should upgrade or not:

The days of dramatic operating-system updates are over. El Capitan is as solid as the giant granite monolith that towers over Yosemite Valley. Upgrade, and get an improved Mac. It’s really that simple.

Will it run on my computer?

El Capitan will work these Macs running OS X Snow Leopard or later:

  • iMac (Mid 2007 or newer)
  • MacBook (Late 2008 Aluminum, or Early 2009 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid/Late 2007 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2008 or newer)
  • Mac mini (Early 2009 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (Early 2008 or newer)

The general minimum requirements call for 2GB of memory, 8GB of available storage, and an Internet connection for some features.

What are the new features?

For what’s considered a fine-tune release, El Capitan has a number of new features that make it worth the upgrade. The changes to OS X itself aren’t a lot: Split View, a revamped Mission Control, Spotlight improvements, better support for Chinese and Japanese text, general performance tweaks, and Metal, Apple’s new graphics core technology. Oh, and there’s also the thing where your cursor gets bigger when you shake your mouse so you can spot it.

The major changes are in the apps that come with El Capitan. Safari, Mail, Notes, Maps, and Photos all have new versions.

New features in the apps? OK. How about them? Start with Safari.

The two main new features in Safari 9 are Pinned Sites, which allow you to “pin” your most frequently visited websites to the tab bar; and tab muting, where you can find the tab playing audio and mute that specific tab. Get more details about the new features in Safari 9.

Sounds nice. What’s new with Mail?

Mail 9 has been revised so that it works better in full-screen mode. There’s also better integration with the Calendar and Contacts app. And you know how iOS Mail has those gestures to handle your emails? Mail 9.0 for Mac has them, too. Get more details about the new features in Mail 9.

Okey dokey. What about Notes?

Notes 4 is a different app from the previous version—it does a lot more. You can now create checklists, and notes can have embedded audio and video. The new Attachments Browser lets you easily spot the photos, video, sketches, map locations and more within your notes. All the data can be access between your Mac and iOS devices. Get more details about the new features in Notes 4.

Good, good. What’s up with Maps?

Maps 2 finally gets public transit information, but this feature won’t be available in many cities when El Capitan is released. This is probably more of a feature you’ll use with iOS, but it’ll be a limited one at the start. Get more details about the new features in Maps.

Next app: Photos. Tell me about it.

Photos hasn’t been out for very long, so the version in El Capitan is version 1.1. It has support for third-party image editing extensions, so you can do more with your photos while in Photos. You can also edit image data and better album sorting options.

What about performance enhancements in the system. What is this “Metal” thing?

You can never have too much speed, huh? Apple says that apps launch 40 percent faster than before, and switching apps is quicker. The company also says that the first mail message in Mail 9 will appear faster, and opening a PDF will have a 4x improvement.

As for Metal, it’s Apple’s name for its graphics core technology. Metal actually made its debut with iOS 8 last year, and now it’s on the Mac. Apple says Metal is 50 percent better at system-level graphics rendering, and that it dramatically improves draw call performance.

In plain English: Metal will improve graphics performance, so your apps and games will look awesome.

Ah, cool. Are there any new security features?

There are. The new System Integrity Protection works against malware by locking down more parts of the core system. Unfortunately, this could break some legitimate software utilities that you use. Get more details about El Capitan’s new security features.

Finally, what about Siri? Is it on the Mac? Can I sit in front of my computer and tell it what to do, like “Find the nearest pizza joint” and it’ll show me the results, and then I can call that place and order a sausage and anchovy pizza? Or, can I, like, sit in front of my Mac, and ask “What does the fox say?” and Siri will reply by saying “Fraka-kaka-kaka-kaka-kow!” and I’ll slap my knee and heartily laugh?

Siri’s not on the Mac, and it won’t happen with El Capitan. You’ll have to order your pizza the old fashioned way. Chacha-chacha-chacha-chow!

This story, "El Capitan FAQ: Everything you need to know about OS X 10.11" was originally published by Macworld.