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Apple releases OS X El Capitan, featuring full-screen Split View, new Notes, revamped Spotlight Search, Safari 9 and more

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 12.24.07

Apple has officially released OS X El Capitan for the Mac, adding some new improvements as well as bringing parity with changes in iOS 9, released two weeks ago. OS X El Capitan (version 10.11), can be installed on any Mac that runs OS X Yosemite: simply download the free update from the Mac App Store. The release does not feature anything radically new — like the major visual overhaul that came last year — but there are new features as well as a strong focus on overall performance and stability improvements.

Here’s what’s new in Apple’s latest version of the Mac operating system …

Spotlight Search


Apple has made some significant to changes to Spotlight, the system search function that pops up in the center of the display when you hit Command+Space. First off, in El Capitan, it doesn’t have to be in the center. As silly as it sounds, you can now freely resize and position the Spotlight box to match your own preferences for the first time. Apple has also bolstered the library of possible search terms to include more transient and informational data, like weather, sports scores or even YouTube and Vimeo video results. You can also make your search queries a lot more casual and Spotlight will understand what you mean. Rather than typing with obtuse filter syntax, you can use natural language queries like ‘email from Joshua last year’ or ‘presentations from last week’. These queries work great, are easy to remember and formulate, and work in apps like Finder and Mail as well as the Spotlight search bar.


El Capitan Notes

Notes will also take advantage of these natural language queries, but the big changes to look forward to here is the significant upgrade in what content can be used to compose notes. Just like iOS 9, you can add maps, embedded web link previews, and checklists to your notes. OS X had some rich text formatting features before, but it’s now fully developed in El Capitan with a variety of text styles and font choices. It’s mostly a port of the iPad Notes app in iOS 9. A neat OS X feature is the attachments browser, which offers an overview of your data by showing only the embedded content rather than the raw text; photos, sketches, maps, web URLs and linked files. Selecting an item takes you to the corresponding note.

Crucially, once you upgrade Notes to use iCloud Drive, El Capitan is required to sync with iOS 9. Yosemite users have no choice but to upgrade their Macs if they want to retain cross-platform harmony. Also keep in mind that sketches can only be created and edited on iOS 9 devices — they are only viewable on OS X.

Safari 9

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 12.32.33

OS X El Capitan includes the latest version of Safari, version 9. While Safari 9 will be released for Yosemite, there are also some features of the web browser only available on the latest OS. My favorite feature of the new Safari is its tab-based sound muting option. Safari will show a speaker indicator on any tab that is currently outputting audio. You can click this icon to instantly mute the tab. There is a similar control in the URL bar — click it once to Mute All Other Tabs or long-press to see a list of audible tabs and switch straight to them.

Matching Chrome from three years ago, Safari 9 adds Pinned Tabs. Essentially, you can put your favorite websites permanently in your URL bar as ‘small buttons’ on the left side of the tab bar. The websites stay loaded, so you can quickly switch to them at any time. Another appreciated addition in Safari 9 is revamped AirPlay support: rather than streaming your entire Mac desktop to the Apple TV, you can stream just specific videos embedded in pages. This doesn’t work on all websites, unfortunately, but popular websites like YouTube are supported.

Full-Screen Split View

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 12.16.28

A common workflow in El Capitan will be to use the new windowing features to put Safari at about 2/3rds width, with a smaller utility or social networking app filing the rest of the space. This is thanks to the addition of Split View for full-screen apps.

Hold down on the green zoom button on any window to activate Split View. Drag the window to either the left or right side of the screen to snap it as a ‘full screen’ app, even though that name is a bit of a misnomer because it isn’t actually filling the whole width of the screen. You can then choose another full-screen app for the other side of the screen. This now mirrors Split View multitasking on iPad, although you can drag the divider to any arbitrary ratio of content and drag files between windows. It adds a lot more flexibility to workflows and is especially useful on larger-screen iMacs … where having just one app dominate the display was comical. The combined Split View appears as its own space in Mission Control and can be dragged around like a normal full-screen app. Most apps adapt beautifully to the split-screen layout but there are some exceptions; Notes refuses to lose its left-hand column so isn’t really suitable as a skinny-width app unless you’re using a single note window.

It’s also worth noting that the new Mission Control drops window labels and hides desktop previews until you slide your mouse towards the top of the screen, which I personally think is a regression. Text labels show temporarily on hover but you lose the glanceable nature of the old behavior.



Updates to Mail in OS X El Capitan heavily respect the adoption of full screen. In earlier versions of OS X, Mail was not a good Full Screen citizen. Composing a new mail message would open a window outside of the Full Screen space. Yosemite added an integrated compose window and El Capitan builds on this further by adding a tab bar, so you can compose multiple messages at once. Similar to iOS, you can also slide the compose window down to refer to other messages before you finish sending your message.

Mail also has some ‘proactive’ data detection for events, contacts and flights. Relevant data appears in skinny bars at the top of the email so, in one click, you can perform a relevant action. Also like iOS, Mail for Mac now has the same action shortcuts for messages in list view. Swipe table cells to instantly delete or archive messages. It’s less obvious than doing the same gesture on a touch screen, but it works and is a nice time saver.

Performance Improvements

For graphics, Apple has implemented Metal, its high-performance drawing framework, at the core of El Capitan so that it powers all system-level graphics operations. This should provide better frame rates and snappier transitions across the OS — it’s particularly noticeable for the full-screen sliding animation when switching between maximized windows and desktop spaces. Metal is also available to third-party developers, so game creators will be able to use it to push more performance out of the hardware. Apple also claims it has improved the foundations of OS X in other ways to make everything feel faster. The company claims speed improvements from 4x faster PDF rendering to 1.4x faster app launching. Naturally, real-word gains will vary based on a multitude of factors.


Like any operating system update, there’s a bunch of minor improvements and refinements across the system. Following iOS 9 and watchOS, OS X gets the San Fransisco font makeover. There are also minor redesigns to many of the stock interface elements, including some moderate shadowing. It’s personal preference of course, but I think it looks way better than the buttons and controls used in Yosemite. Maps gets Transit directions, Photos finally lets you geotag pictures and supports third-party editing extensions, and there’s even a Find My Friends widget in Notification Center. You can even shake the mouse cursor to enlarge it in case you lose track of what you are doing. There also some welcomed additions for Chinese and Japanese users, including a special system font for Traditional and Simplified Chinese characters (which is apparently better for readability), improved trackpad OCR and as-you-type translation of Hiragana into Japanese.


In summary, El Capitan is not the biggest update in Mac history, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a variety of changes and improvements to enjoy. It’s expected for a maturing platform to have less major additions and it doesn’t really matter when the updates are free.

Make sure you backup first in the (frankly unlikely) case something goes wrong, but otherwise you can update any Yosemite Mac right now from the Mac App Store with effectively zero downside. It’s practically a requirement if you use iOS 9 Notes, anyway, to keep syncing working. Let us know what you think of El Capitan in the comments below!

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  1. srgmac - 7 years ago

    Did they just make it available? App Store says no updates available for me :(

    • Cmellon - 7 years ago

      Its not an update its a whole new OS you need to search for it.

      • Dustin Moskowitz - 7 years ago

        Apple’s site still shows Yosemite as the OS to get, with EC listed as a preview… for me, at least.

      • srgmac - 7 years ago

        Thank you! Dunno why I assumed it would be an update.

    • srgmac - 7 years ago

      After a few hours of using El Capitan, I like it. It seems faster to me. Dunno if that is placebo or what, but Mission Control & app transitions to full screen / split screen seem much quicker. I am on a 13″ retina, the 2012 version (the first 13″ retina) and I did an upgrade (not fresh) install. The new Safari (also available on Yosemite) is fricken great! The pinned tabs work wonders; I pin gmail, gvoice, twitter, and a bunch of other sites I access all the time and it’s so nice that the tabs don’t take up all that space anymore. AirPlay video works amazing as well; I really like being able to AirPlay specific videos and not have to do the entire screen or a screen extension. The new Mission Control labels at the top (instead of previews from before) piss me off, but there’s nothing that can be done about that, unfortunately. Spotlight’s new search is also great, works good for weather and sports scores — now I don’t have to open up a browser and google stuff, I can look it up right from spotlight. The only thing I wish I could figure out how to do (and this has nothing to do with El Capitan) is automatically dim the screen after 5 minutes or so of idle time while on AC power (there’s a setting for this in Energy, but it’s only on battery power!), since lately I’ve noticed some really bad burn in problems on this unfortunately out of warranty retina display.

      • nekomichikun - 7 years ago

        UI transitions really are faster, El Capitan uses Metal so that animations and such can run at higher frame rates. So it’s not placebo effect. :)

  2. thatautguy - 7 years ago

    I’m actually really excited about third party photo editing extensions; I know Apple said they would be available in the App Store, hope they start showing up soon.

  3. Benjamin Mayo - 7 years ago

    Use the link at the top of the article to download, if El Capitan is not showing up in Updates tab:

  4. Muhámmad Táyel - 7 years ago

    Not available for me even now!

  5. Tinh Lac - 7 years ago

    It is a not big problem, but the update does not show up on my software update.

  6. tuanbuinguyenanh - 7 years ago

    This is the link guys for those who don’t see the update on AppStore yet

  7. HiroiSekai - 7 years ago

    I’ve been using El Capitan since the very first public beta and it’s been great. I did start having a few software compatibility issues with InDesign crashes and the inability to swap stock Apple .icns, but I’m thinking once this update finally downloads, I’ll be good to go. Really looking forward to Metal starting to roll out in the near future for Adobe apps.

  8. saifrawahy - 7 years ago

    How to get the El Capitan from El Capitan public beta?

    • Charlie Shi - 7 years ago

      Bump, how do I get out of the Beta and into the public version?

      • pairof9s - 7 years ago

        Just open the App Store and go to the El Capitan info page which contains the download link. Click the link which will subsequently bring up a warning window that you already have El Capitan installed. Click the provided “Continue” button to go ahead with the download. The auto installer will start upon completion of the download and you’ll proceed with a typical install…nothing else to do. It’ll update your beta to this release version.

        (Just finished doing this myself…OBTW after you install 10.11, you’ll be shown the 10.11.1 beta update in the App Store should you wish to continue beta testing the next version.)

  9. swe3t23 - 7 years ago

    what do you guys recommend. starting fresh i am running yosemite. instead of just updating, is it better to wipe out whole macbook and install el capitan so it runs with no problems. I feel as though updating there is all of junk from the previous os to slow down. Does that make sense.

    • mansoorbeck - 7 years ago

      I believe Apple have considered that type of question and therefore built it such that the user don’t have to do a clean install.

    • Rex Mantlepiece - 7 years ago

      There’s not much of a reason to do a clean install of an OS on a Mac. On Windows, the registry file gets bloated and slows down the machine over time as applications are installed and removed, updates are run, etc. No such registry exists on Macs. The only thing gained is a bit of storage if you have removed a lot of programs. Their configuration files may still be present afterward. These files are typically a few MB in size, though, so not worth the trouble at all, in my opinion.

  10. mobileseeks - 7 years ago

    How long is the download taking? It has be 20 minutes and counting for me. Normally an OS download might take a few minutes.

    • William Robinson - 7 years ago

      Servers must be very busy. It’s over 6 gigs x how many million people trying at once. I started the download over an hour ago, and the App Stores isn’t even giving me an estimate of how long remains. If I look at the installer file in my applications folder, it hasn’t increased in size at all (still at 134K); although I think the actual date is invisible till completed.

      • srgmac - 7 years ago

        If you click on the “Purchased” button at the top of the app store, it will give you the download progress and time remaining. Mine is only going about 1MB/s…pretty slow, but like you said we have to consider how many people are downloading this right now.

      • William Robinson - 7 years ago

        Update: I just realized that if I clicked on the Purchased tab El Capitan shows up with a progress bar. I have over 1G downloaded with about 4 hours to go. I’m not on the fastest connection, so your speed will vary.

  11. uniszuurmond - 7 years ago

    For productivity reasons I won’t go into here, I don’t use Mail or Safari. I’ve never really used Notes, nor Spotlifght Search (I am very organised and know exactly where I’ve put things). I seldom use Mission Control and Full Screen. And In South Africa our public transport is so unreliable, it never (really never) matches the schedule, or often gets cancelled. So there’s not really any reason to upgrade then, is there?

  12. srgmac - 7 years ago

    Off topic: I think there’s something wrong with the 9to5Mac comments — they all say “12 hours ago” for the timestamp, but this article wasn’t even out 12 articles ago..

  13. sardonick - 7 years ago

    Sticking with better touch tool for window snapping. The new window snapping here is just not impressive. Matter of fact, not really impressed with the whole thing for the first time.

  14. Ali Hamodi - 7 years ago

    I hate that now on mission control I see text of the available desktops instead of instant pictures. What is the point of this!!!!

    • srgmac - 7 years ago

      Now I understand what the other dude was saying about seeing labels instead of the previews of each desktop — when you mouse over the top though it does show the preview windows.

      • Ali Hamodi - 7 years ago

        Yes and this is stupid. When I go to mission control that means I want to see EVERYTHING visually and choose something.

    • srgmac - 7 years ago

      Can’t reply to your other comment, cause WordPress (lol) — but yeah, it looks like you have to move your mouse up to the top to view the previews of each desktop…pretty lame. I really miss the old “spaces” although it’s been *so* long since I’ve actually used 10.6, I have a hard time remembering sometimes! What I really dug about spaces though is you could have vertical stacked virtual desktops, and you could get an entire view of what was on everything with the spaces / expose view. I think they had the right idea back then and should have kept that, along with the previews.

  15. Niklas Modin - 7 years ago

    Is it just me or does none of the examples actually work in Spotlight ? (weather in XYZ, sports results etc). Is this a perhaps a US only feature ?

  16. srgmac - 7 years ago

    Question for anyone smarter than me: Is there a way, when on AC power, that I can make the display dim automatically after a certain period of time, and then un-dim when I move the mouse or press a key? Unfortunately my retina mac is now having burn in issues with the display…I don’t want the screen saver to automatically start after a very short time, I think an auto-dim would do the trick a lot better. Any ideas, anyone? This is a 13″ retina, the first one ever released, and it’s out of warranty.

    • Niklas Modin - 7 years ago

      This looks like something you might like :

      • srgmac - 7 years ago

        Thank you!!!

      • srgmac - 7 years ago

        Unfortunately it doesn’t work properly on El Capi but I’m going to write the developer and see if he can update it…This seems like it would be the perfect solution though thank you again :)

    • Brandon Burkett - 7 years ago

      I had odd image persistence too when I was in the developer program for OS 10.10. Two minutes in, and I could see it. Started on Beta 2 and persisted until release. I honestly thought something went wrong with my iMac Late 2013 screen. Because I rely on my iMac for work, I dealt with it until I could go in. Thankfully, once the Gold version was released to everyone, I updated and lo and behold, the image persistence disappear and all was normal and I didn’t have to go in to the Apple store. However, it was really bad and I feel for you :(

      Since it just started for you with El Capitan, my guess would be the different video drivers included with the release are not aggressive enough for refresh on your Mac. Hope you are able to get it resolved soon, as it drove me batty!

  17. Dario Enmanuel Ramirez - 7 years ago

    Is it juts me or spotlight search does not give me search results as it should? It only displays local files like it used to. Theres something wrong here with my CAPITAN

  18. rob (@rooob) - 7 years ago

    can you attach images in Mail now? before everything was inline

  19. Full-Screen Split View, new Notes, revamped Spotlight Search, Safari 9 and fu**ing nothing! And it’s a brand new OS by Apple. I can’t believe this shit :/

  20. sword 2 pen (@sword2pen) - 7 years ago

    Tried to update this morning, still stuck on ‘Waiting….’ – must be some big volume at the mo

  21. Mustafa Gerçek - 7 years ago

    split screen is annoying! if splitted to mail and safari even the apple website bugs and everytime you klick on mail => mail goes fullscreen with no way back to split screen.

    They have to work on that! It might be my fault because of a lack of understanding the system. But I am using my Mac to work intuitively, and the current split screen is definitely not on that level. (Even the MS first split screen was with less problems… (even when everything else of MS is worse)

  22. Stephen Ellerington - 7 years ago

    Once again I am running out of space (4.1 GB free of 120.1 GB) on my 128 GB 2011 MacBook Air: Other 48.61 GB, Photos 33.75 GB, Audio 12.39 GB, Apps 12.18 GB, Movies 9.01 GB, Backups 49.4 MB. I will delete some Audio to create space to enable my upgrade to El Capitan. I was wondering if I reformat my Mac will I see a substantial reduction in “Other”? I have already deleted all old iPod/iPhone/iPad backups and other “housekeeping” to tidy up and regularly use Time Machine to backup to my 320 GB G Drive. Any suggestions?

  23. kjl3000 - 7 years ago

    Definitely waiting for 10.11.1 this time …

  24. Why is not possible to sketch in El Capitan Notes as it is possible in IOS 9 Notes app?
    This is silly because Mail app has similar Markup feature (since Yosemite).

  25. vkd108 - 7 years ago

    I wonder how many years it will be before a significant GUI overhaul? Yes, they just had one, that is the problem! Meanwhile here we are on 10.9 Mavericks…

  26. after installing el capitan, outlook 2011 freezes up. to avoid this boot up your mac without opening outlook, disconnect your internet connection, open outlook and then reconnect and outlook will now work. this workaround isnt too arduous until microsoft sort out the glitch

  27. Bowie Low - 7 years ago

    How do you snap the spotlight window back to it’s original position? I played around with it and now I want it to be back in the centre. I have OCD and I’m freaking out.

  28. And they still haven’t fixed the “wake from sleep” wi-fi connection. Still have to disable wi-fi then re-emable it to get it to connect, even with a completely fresh install.

  29. Daniel Guzman - 7 years ago

    Other than Split view, i can’t find anything new. Just like in iOS 9 on an older iPhone. I had to buy the 6s to see the difference. But it is smoother, the difference to me seem like the difference between windows 8 and windows 10.

  30. Downloading and Upgrade from OS X 10.10 Yosemite to 10.11 El Capitan, with new after-upgrade and pre-upgrade backup to time machine, ALL done in under 1 hour all WiFi Network, using AirPort Time Capsule on MacBook Pro Mid-2014 (i7-2,5Ghz &16GB RAM) Job well done for Apple + OS X 10.11 Rocks.

  31. Paul Andrew Dixon - 7 years ago

    Having used it a day – i dont like it…

    The split screen is very awkward to use… i should be able to snap them into place and easily change which program i want snapping into place — but no…i have to go into full screen mode and if i want to change one of the programs i have to go back to normal screen for both of them and do the process all over again…

    It does not find my phone for the wifi…and if my laptop goes to sleep and i wake it up, it loses the connection with my phone and i have to turn off the hotspot, turn off the wifi, and turn everything on again to find it…

    its not noticeable faster — actually it takes longer to shut down now…

    at the moment it just feels like yosemite with a few add-ons that are more of a gimmick than a fully integrations :-(

    it feels unfinished…

  32. So far…the volume does not work and facetime says the camera does not available. Idk what to do.

  33. Andrew Tong (@andrewtvl) - 7 years ago

    Have upgraded to El Capitan and now VMWare will not run giving this error message “Operation not permitted”. It cannot open the disk “Boot Camp.vmdk. Module Disk Power on failed”. Anyone facing this problem? Please help..

  34. Maureen Rebello Hagerty - 7 years ago

    my safari will not load any pages since I did the dl of this shit El Capitan 2 days ago! What is the problem? I have to use Chrome and all my bookmarks are on safari!!

  35. Anyone know where the tour post-download is?

  36. If you’re using Outlook 2011 on your Mac OS X, don’t upgrade to El Capitan (yet) – it’ll kill your Outlook (yes, completely dead). As soon as it tries to sync mail for the first time, the application freezes (‘Not Responding’). This is problem is known to Microsoft and apparently they’re working on a fix. In my case that means I’ve had to resort to using Apple Mail, but there’s numerous features it doesn’t have which I’m accustomed to in Outlook – most important of them is the ability to set reminders and due dates, etc… for emails that provides, in effect, a great To Do list.

  37. Rodney Haigh - 7 years ago

    I have tried installing El Capitan – twice onto my MacBook Pro. Each time the progress bar (underneath the Apple Logo and the Login Space) will progress to a certain point (the closest I’ve came to full download is approximately 1/8th remaining before it freezes). I have tried erasing the hard drive and reintalling but unfortunately the same result.
    I finally restore my computer to the previous OS and it is operating as it should be.

    Does anyone have any suggestions and has anyone else had any similar difficulties?

  38. Adam G. Johansen - 7 years ago

    Hey you all..

    How do I turn off the bookmark that slides in from the left in Safari ?

    • Zac Hall - 7 years ago

      Command Shift L keyboard combination should do it.

      • Adam G. Johansen - 7 years ago

        Dose’t – It keeps sliding in…

      • I made the mistake of activating the upgrade which had already appeared in ‘settings’ without looking up the iNet forums to find out about all the issues, because past upgrades have all gone fine, even if I was not all that impressed with the result. But with this El Capitan I can’t get past log in. It just flashes an error message too quickly to read, then goes back to log-in, and round and round the futile exercise goes. I’ve tried logging in in safe and recovery modes to no avail, and sadly, I had not done a recent back-up before I started all this, so I can’t just wipe the damn thing and re-install with Yosemite, and now it appears too late. Anyone else been able to get out of this bind..?

  39. Barbara Santos - 7 years ago

    I can’t post pictures to a friends Facebook page. Help.

  40. Christopher Lavoie - 7 years ago

    Hey just tried to upgrade, my Macbook pro is stuck on the installing screen says 30mins remaining for over an hour now. What should I do?

  41. Mauro Jds - 7 years ago

    After installation of El Captain I can’t get Full Finder to work. Thus my docs and apps are gone unaccessible.

  42. maramccann - 7 years ago

    help, I did the download today- now there is a small blank 1 inch by 1 inch box on the middle of my screen- like someone put a blank label over a small window on my screen- does anyone know how to remove it? It wasn’t there before I did the download this morning thank you!


Avatar for Benjamin Mayo Benjamin Mayo

Benjamin develops iOS apps professionally and covers Apple news and rumors for 9to5Mac. Listen to Benjamin, every week, on the Happy Hour podcast. Check out his personal blog. Message Benjamin over email or Twitter.