“Free” certainly has a nice ring to it.
So when Apple announced Tuesday that the latest upgrade to its Mac computer operating system, called OS X “Mavericks,” would cost nothing for Mac users, that caused a bit of a shockwave.
It used to be that a new upgrade to a computer operating system, like Windows or earlier versions of the Mac OS, would cost upward of $150. Apple’s last upgrade was a mere $30. The latest version of Windows that came out more than a week ago, Windows 8.1, costs $120 to upgrade.
Now that Mavericks is free for anyone who has OS X “Snow Leopard” or newer (that’s version 10.6 or newer), you’d be crazy not to take advantage of Apple’s goodwill. But if you’re an older computer user, there will be some minor setbacks.
I, like many Mac users, was hypnotized by the word “free,” and I decided to upgrade to Mavericks just because it cost me nothing. A lot of people with older desktops and laptops will be seduced into upgrading as well, so I thought I’d give you my first impressions of the installation and the new OS, with a specific view from someone with an older machine.
My home iMac is something like six years old and runs the oldest version of OS X allowable to get the new version for free.
To start, make sure you back up everything on your computer that’s precious, such as pictures and videos and songs. The best way to do that is to buy an external hard drive, hook it up to your computer and copy those files to it. Or you can use the Mac’s Time Machine feature, which automatically backs up your whole computer’s contents. You’ll want to make sure your most important stuff is protected before you proceed in case something goes horribly wrong — but it shouldn’t.
To get Mavericks, launch the Mac App Store from your dock. Right their on the home page is the link to it. Click on it and start the free (yes FREE!) download.
Now here’s where you get a cup of coffee or finally watch that series finale of “Breaking Bad” you’ve kept putting off. Depending on your home Internet speed, it could take an hour or so just to download the massive 5.2-gigabyte file. It took me about 40 minutes.
When the download is complete, there will be some more waiting. Now you have to wait while the file is extracted and installs to your machine. Now’s the time to finally watch that series finale to “Dexter” you’ve kept putting off.
After about an hour or so, depending on the speed of your machine, the installation will be complete, and it should be hassle free. I encountered no glitches whatsoever.
The first thing you may notice with Mavericks is that nothing has changed on the look and interface. The dock is still there and the icons have not changed. There will be some nice new and subtle animations for when you maneuver around the interface.
But for users with older machines, the most noticeable difference is how much slower things will be.
Starting programs, for example, take much longer — sometimes as long as four or five seconds before they launch. Calling up the System Preferences pane alone took forever. That’s largely because Mavericks will work better for newer machines with more system memory. The machine I installed it to only has 2 gigabytes of RAM, and all new Macs ship with at least 4 gigs. Some operations will run slower but not annoyingly so.
For older computers, that will be the most significant change and one you will have to weigh with the advantages of having the latest and greatest OS to ensure you can run the latest programs.
Despite that, Mavericks does have some nice new enhancements. You’ll notice on your dock that there is now an icon for iBooks, Apple’s bookstore, which allows you to read, highlight and search in all of the e-books you’ve purchased through your iPhone or iPad. Another new icon is for Apple’s Maps feature, the much-maligned navigation feature. While it’s nice that Apple Maps is now included on the desktop version of Apple’s computers, it’s still only as good as its mapping. Last week, I used Apple Maps on my iPhone to take me to a restaurant at Station Park in Farmington, and it instead led me to a house.
But Maps is integrated into other features in Mavericks. For example, you can schedule a meeting in the Calendar app, and once you input the location, it gives you directions and lets you know how long it will take to go to that meeting based on the current traffic conditions.
Mavericks also has notifications similar to what your iPhone or iPad receives. These notifications can include iMessage texts and alerts for when you need new updates or when someone is trying to FaceTime you or when you have an upcoming meeting.
Safari, Apple’s web browser, perhaps gets the biggest upgrades with Mavericks. It’s got new features like creating a reading list or a bookmarks column and Twitter integration. I found the new browser to be very slow on my older machine, however, especially when just calling up a new page. I found Firefox to still be much faster.
There’s also a lot of integration with iCloud, Apple’s cloud-based storage for the iPhone and iPad. Stuff like contacts, calendar events and documents can be saved on your mobile devices and picked up on your desktop or laptop.
There are some 200 new features in Mavericks, but most of them are under the hood so people won’t notice them, such as additional security measures or technologies to enhance performance. There are also upgrades that mostly benefit laptop users. They include power optimizations that are supposed to significantly raise the battery life. I won’t know if that’s true until I install it on a mobile machine.
Even if you have an older desktop or laptop, it’s worth making the upgrade to Mavericks. I encountered no bugs so far, and updating the operating system ensures that you won’t have issues with running newer programs. And there are some nice new features that are worth having, like notifications on your desktop and better communication with your mobile devices if you own an iPhone or iPad.
But the real killer feature is that it’s all free.