Dear Lifehacker, So Yosemite is coming out today. It looks like it has some great features, but it's still an upgrade, and any upgrade has a chance of going bad. You guys have been using it; what do you think? Is it ready for prime time, or should I wait for the next patch to fix the bugs people will inevitably find? Sincerely, Yosemite Sam
Dear Yosemite Sam,
Yosemite is probably the most transparent, least surprising update ever. That's not a bad thing.
Apple told us all about its new features a long time ago, and opened the doors to its first truly public beta shortly after that. Thousands of Mac users have been running the Yosemite beta for months, watching the operating system evolve with each patch and update, and get ready for today's release. For many of you, the upgrade will be one more patch, and that's all. For others, especially those of you who couldn't risk being without critical apps or tools during the beta, you can relax — that open beta means Apple's received lots of feedback, and most of your apps should work without issue.
However, ever since Apple made new versions of OS X free, it seems like the bar for quality has dropped a bit. Mavericks had real issues when it launched, issues everyone glossed over because, hey, it's free! Remember, just because something is free doesn't make it good. That said, for most users, Yosemite will be a smooth upgrade. Let's go through the details.
Who Should Upgrade Right Away
We'll come out and say right away that most Mac users should go ahead and upgrade to Yosemite. If you have a machine built in the past two to three years, you'll have no issue with the update, and even if your machine is a little older, you shouldn't have much trouble (more on that in a bit.) The upgrade process itself is smooth and easy, and the App Store download is only about 5GB. The install process only took me about a half hour, and part of that may be because I'm using a slightly older Mac.
If you live in Apple's ecosystem and have an iPhone or iPad — especially one running iOS 8 — you should definitely upgrade. Many of Yosemite's coolest features show up in the way your mobile device and your computer talk to one another, especially if you leverage features such as Handoff and Call Answering, as well as iCloud Drive. The new Safari, for example, is faster, more streamlined, and makes it easy to get back to sites you visited on your phone or tablet, which is a nice touch if you're not already using something like Chrome Sync or Firefox Sync. Of course, to leverage those mobile-to-desktop features, you have to make sure your Mac meets Yosemite's basic system requirements (which, luckily, are the same as Mavericks'), your iOS device supports iOS 8, and both support features like Bluetooth 4 LE, which is required for Handoff, Call Answering and Instant Hotspot. If you can check off all three, you're in great shape.
You may also want to upgrade right away if you're a big fan of Apple's built-in applications, including Mail, Safari and Notification Center. Notification Center itself is finally actually useful, and not just a list of things you'll ignore forever. Mail is much improved and much faster, and Safari is leaner, looks better. While it won't unseat Chrome or Firefox anytime soon, it has certainly improved. All in all, if you live in Apple's garden and have up-to-date devices, Yosemite will make your life easier and more convenient.
Who Should Hold Off For A While
Some users might want to hold off a little bit until their apps and other favourite tools catch up. In our tests, we haven't seen too many issues, and many devs have already pushed updates to fix post-upgrade bugs. However, some popular third-party apps, most notably Chrome and Firefox, devour RAM and CPU time in a way they never did in Mavericks. Some other tools have side features that just don't work — or work as well — after the update. Airmail, for example, works well in Yosemite, but for some reason after upgrading, global search stopped working. A quick search shows other people have the same problem, but luckily the Airmail team is already working on a fix.
The screenshot above is a pretty well-documented issue between Chrome and Yosemite. Chrome launches helper processes for features including extensions and Flash. Something in Yosemite blocks the heartbeat check that Chrome uses to make sure those processes are still alive, so they show up in Activity Monitor as "Not Responding". Of course, they are responding, but the disconnect isn't helping anyone. Google will say Apple changed something, Apple will tell Google "tough it's our OS", and eventually someone (probably Google) will have to give up and push an update to resolve the problem.
Similarly, others have complained about sluggish or poor graphics performance in Yosemite, probably because of the new OS's shiny (but graphically demanding) translucent windows and effects. If you have an older Mac or a Mac with lacklustre graphics, it can drag your system down. In my case, I saw slowness in QuickLook and anytime my wallpapers rotated. Occasionally, my secondary display would just get covered with visual artefacts for no reason. These sporadic issues are my anecdotal experience, but a little digging says I'm not alone. Luckily, all of this is easily patched away, and probably will be before long. Still, if you have an older Mac, or one light on specs, you may want to hold off and see how other people fare, or wait for 10.10.1 before jumping on board.
Who May Not Want To Upgrade At All
There are a few people who may not want to dive in to Yosemite at all. People running pre-Mavericks versions of OS X and are happy, and people whose Macs don't meet the basic system requirements. Beyond those obvious users, anyone with an older Mac, by which we mean more than five or six years old, should think twice before hitting the App Store. If you're not running at least Mavericks, you'll have to update through each subsequent version to get to it, so be ready for that.
Most of the improvements in Yosemite are interface and graphics improvements, but that better look and smoother feel come with higher demands on your system. If you don't think that old aluminium-keyboard Macbook Pro or plastic-backed iMac can handle it, it's best not to upgrade it.
The Bottom Line: A Must Upgrade For Some, A Good Upgrade For Most
At the end of the day, Yosemite is a pretty safe upgrade. Some users may see some slowness at first, but that's to be expected, especially on older hardware. We're betting much of it will be patched out as developers (at Apple and elsewhere) get together and update their applications. If you're worried performance may suffer on your Mac, consider a clean install (which we generally recommend anyway) to root out the cruft from versions of OS X gone by. Beyond that, Yosemite will be a fast, painless update for most people.
The fact that so many people have been in the beta means there should be few surprises. Informally, I asked friends and followers on Twitter what their experiences with Yosemite have been, and the response was almost universally positive. Aside from minor quirks and some third-party app issues, the prevailing opinion is that Yosemite is a solid, evolutionary (as in, not revolutionary) upgrade — one that offers the most for people in Apple's ecosystem and who own newer hardware. If you're in that group, Yosemite is a great update with lots of new features. For the rest of us, or those of us who are cross-platform, dual-boot other operating systems on our Mac, or use it for work? You'll be fine too, just tread carefully and make sure your data is backed up.
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