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Mac OS X Mavericks Succeeds Mountain Lion This Fall

By Wesley Fenlon

The latest version of Apple's OS improves CPU efficiency and the Finder, and brings Maps and iBooks to the Mac platform.

iOS 7's visual rebirth, which Apple's Tim Cook called the biggest change since the introduction of the iPhone, was the star of the show at Monday's WWDC keynote. But it wasn't the only piece of software at the event showing off a new look. After Mountain Lion and Lion, Snow Leopard, Leopard, and every previous version of Mac OS X, Apple's moving away from big cats with the next version of OS X. It's called Mavericks.

OS X Mavericks looks plenty familiar. Unlike iOS 7, this year's iteration of the laptop and desktop OS is more feature-focused than UI-focused, though Apple still found the time to get rid of the skeuomorphic leather stitched design of Calendar in favor of the OS X's traditional steel coloring.

Oddly, given how radically Apple has restyled its iPhone and iPad OS, it's left OS X mostly untouched. We may see the iOS 7 look trickle down to color OS X next year. For now, Apple is focused on adding new features to OS X, including a dedicated Maps app, improving existing features, like reworking notifications and multi-monitor support, and tuning up OS X's under-the-hood power efficiency.

Power efficiency may be Mavericks' biggest selling point for laptop users. Mavericks compresses the RAM dedicated to inactive apps to free up space for more applications. A feature called "timer coalescing" groups together low-power CPU tasks to increase idle time; Apple says this will lower CPU activity by up to 72 percent. It's hard to say how exactly that will improve battery life, but it should make the already impressive gains coming with Haswell in this year's MacBook Airs even better.

Mavericks' power efficiency features should make the already impressive gains coming with Haswell in this year's MacBook Airs even better.

Another power saving feature, called app nap, basically puts applications to sleep when they aren't visible or performing an important background task (like playing music, for example). Apple demonstrated app nap by loading up a system-intensive animated web page and displaying the spiked CPU usage meter, then hiding the page. The meter dropped down to nothing. As soon as the window was visible again, it operated as usual, and the web page's animations looked like they'd been running the whole time. Safari tabs will work the same way in Mavericks--tabs that aren't visible will take a nap and lower CPU usage. Apple claims app nap will drop CPU energy usage by as much as 23 percent.

On to the Finder: It still looks like the FInder, but it has tabs now. Naturally, different Finder tabs can use different view modes. The Finder can go full screen. And a convenient menu item will consolidate a mess of windows into a single tabbed window. Apple also added a tagging system to its apps to make searching and organizing them easier, and a list of tags appear in the Finder sidebar.

Maps and iBooks are both coming to OS X with Mavericks, with the syncing you'd expect. iBooks remembers what page you're on and saves bookmarks and highlights. Maps can send a planned trip with turn-by-turn directions to iOS, where it will show up on the lock screen. Calendar also ties into the same data available in Maps to suggest locations nearby for lunches, calculate travel time, and read the weather.

The last new addition Apple talked about in-depth was iCloud keychain, which stores and encrypts passwords and credit card information across Apple devices. iCloud keychain will also suggest random, complex passwords for your various accounts, meaning it can essentially fill the same role as password applications like Lastpass. Using a strong password for the keychain is obviously critical.

Now for the improvements to existing features:

Apple overhauled multi display support to work better with spaces and full-screen apps. The dock and menu bars are now visible on multiple monitors, full-screen apps can stay full-screen on one monitor without messing with the other, and each monitor can have its own individual spaces. AirPlay displays are also now treated as fully functional monitors.

With Mountain Lion, Apple added notifications to OS X; they pop up in the upper-right corner as alerts for new messages, emails, etc. That's unchanged in Mavericks, but you can now respond to messages right from the notification--clicking on it lets you insert a response, or delete an email right away, or set a reminder to return a Facetime call later on. Notifications now work for certain websites, like news sources and eBay, and everything you miss will show up on your lock screen when you open up the Mac.

The dev preview of Mavericks is available this very moment, with the final release planned for the fall--perhaps conveniently timed to coincide with the release of some new MacBook Pros, which were notably absent from Apple's WWDC announcements.