Apple iPhone 6

Bottom line: Should you upgrade to OS X Yosemite?

yosemite desktop

Recently we’ve covered OS X Yosemite up one side and down the other. Read through our guides for installing Yosemite; getting familiar with the new operating system’s design; putting Handoff and Continuity to good use; and learning about changes to Safari, Notification Center, Spotlight, and Mail, Messages, and Calendars. That should give you a pretty fair idea of the changes Apple has wrought with Yosemite. Equipped with this knowledge it’s time to ask the important question: Should I update or not?

The big picture

When pondering the wisdom of updating your operating system it can be helpful to understand what its creator was hoping to achieve with the release. For the last several iterations of the Mac OS, Apple has moved away from a computer-focused digital hub strategy where your Mac held and commanded your data and you attached other devices to your computer to sync its data with them (and vice versa).

In recent years, Apple has turned instead to a stuff-centric scheme. In this case your Mac is just another device (although an important one) that has access to your files. What you’re largely concerned with is being able to work with those files, regardless of whether you’re using a Mac, an iOS device, or accessing them via a web browser. The cloud is a key component in that it provides the means for making your data available to all these points of entry, and transparently so.

Under Mountain Lion and Mavericks this was evident as iCloud was designed to sync much of the data it had under its control—your email, contacts, calendars, notes, Safari bookmarks, photos, music, and files from apps that once belonged to the iWork and iLife suites (as well as TextEdit and Preview documents). With Yosemite, Apple is further loosening the constraints of computing via two broad efforts. The first is creating an operating system that plays better with data outside Apple’s control. The other is making it easier for you to work with your data on the most appropriate device available to you.

On beyond Apple

Three key elements of Apple allowing you to more easily work beyond its borders are Spotlight, Notification Center widgets, and iCloud Drive.

Spotlight: In the past, Spotlight was a perfectly fine tool for searching the contents of your Mac, producing dictionary results, and performing calculations. If you wanted to move farther afield you could select the Search Web For or Search Wikipedia For entries at the bottom of the Spotlight menu, which were little more than Safari shortcuts. With Yosemite, Spotlight will now incorporate and provide previews of results from the Internet, including Bing search results, map data, news headlines, Wikipedia entries, Apple’s store content listings, and movie showtimes. The net result means more efficient searching and fewer trips to your web browser to find the information you desire.

spotlight movie

Spotlight can now pull in information from the Internet.

Notification Center widgets: In earlier versions of the Mac OS, if you wanted to venture outside the Mac and pull in data from the Internet, you turned to Dashboard. (Or you would have if Apple and developers hadn’t lost interest in it.) Apple still seems to think this is a good idea but wants to make it more noticeable while, at the same time, not shoving these resources in your face. It does so through Notification Center widgets. Open Notification Center, scroll to the bottom, click on Edit, and you see a collection of widgets available to you, including Calculator, Stocks, Weather, and World Clock. These are a fine start, but like the Dashboard widgets before them, Notification Center widgets can be developed by third parties, which could make some very valuable information available to you with a single click.

iCloud Drive: Perhaps the most important development in regard to opening the OS is taking the shackles off iCloud file sharing. Much as you may have liked the ability to store your Pages, Numbers, and Keynote files in the cloud, if you wanted to sync other kinds of files—Microsoft Office documents, graphics files, and so on—you turned to a third-party service such as Dropbox, Box.com, OneDrive, or Google Drive. With iCloud Drive this isn’t as necessary as it once was. Now you can store files in the cloud that were created by any app—either by moving them from within the Finder via the iCloud Drive entry that appears in a Finder window’s sidebar or through a Save dialog box.

icloud drive

With iCloud Drive you can store any file in the cloud.

Where iCloud Drive remains incomplete is in its ability to share files with other people (though Mail’s Mail Drop feature can serve as a workaround for files up to 5GB in size). For this reason we shouldn’t expect Mac users to abandon other syncing services in a rush. But for those who don’t need to routinely share files, a file-agnostic iCloud Drive makes for a more open cloud strategy, and a greater convenience for Apple’s customers.

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