There was a time when a new version of Apple’s OS X operating system was a major event for Mac users around the world. However, the recent arrival of Mavericks – or OS X 10.9 as it is officially known – went almost unnoticed amid the furore surrounding the release of the latest iPhone and iPad models. Mavericks is also an unusual upgrade in that it doesn’t boast the user-interface enhancements and eye-catching graphics that Apple is known for. But while it may not be the most glamorous OS X update of recent years, Mavericks is still a worthwhile update for business users – especially those who use Apple’s MacBook range of laptops.

Free Upgrade

The most unusual aspect of Mavericks is simply that it’s free. Apple hardware is notoriously expensive, but the company increasingly seems to be treating its software products as loss-leaders that are designed to tempt users into the Apple ecosystem. In addition to the consumer-oriented iLife suite, Apple recently announced that it is giving away its Pages, Numbers and Keynote productivity apps with all new Macs, and now Mavericks itself has been made available as a free upgrade too.

Individual Mac models can upgrade simply by downloading Mavericks from Apple’s Mac App Store. The upgrade is about 5.3GB in size, so it might be best to leave it for an overnight download, but once the download is complete the installation process is straightforward and takes just a few minutes. Larger organisations that wish to roll out the upgrade to multiple users may require the OS X Server edition, but even this now costs just £13.99 (inc. VAT), which means that the upgrade process is effectively free even for the largest organisations.

Interface Enhancements

There’s clearly no financial barrier to adopting Mavericks, and there have so far been few reports of any significant technical problems with the upgrade. The only remaining question, therefore, is whether the upgrade brings any real benefits in terms of productivity or ease of use.

In truth, many of the new features in Mavericks actually consist of relatively minor additions to bundled apps such as Apple’s Mail and Calendar programs, rather than to the underlying operating system itself. There are, however, a handful of changes to the operating system’s user interface that may well appeal to business users.

You can now merge multiple open windows on the Mac desktop into a single window that displays tabs – similar to those found in most web browsers – that allow you to quickly switch from one window to another. You can move files simply by dragging them onto a tab, or expand a tabbed window to full-screen size in order to provide a clearer view of the contents of each window.

More useful, perhaps, is the ability to add ‘tags’ – or key words – to files and folders. You can create your own tags, such as ‘Budget’ or ‘Urgent’, and use these to quickly locate all the files associated with a particular project. You can add tags to files or folders simply by right-Microsoft Word or Excel. This means that the use of tags can easily become a standard part of your workflow and will be a real timesaver for business users who are working on a number of different projects at once.

The operating system’s handling of multiple monitor set-ups has also been improved. Features such as the Dock – the Mac’s equivalent of the Windows Taskbar – now appear on all connected displays, which means that you no longer have to spend time configuring each display connected to the Mac.

Under The Bonnet

However, the most important addition to Mavericks is not a new interface feature, but an under-the-bonnet technology known as ‘timer coalescing’. This energy-saving feature – which has been available on Windows since around 2009 – manages the ‘idle time’ of running apps more effectively, so that a laptop’s CPU can spend as much time as possible in its low-power resting state.

Apple has also added another feature that it calls ‘app nap’. This minimises CPU usage by slowing down apps that are running but not visible. Apple claims that these two power-efficiency features can extend the battery life of its new Haswell-based MacBook laptops by as much as an hour. And, as we’ve seen recently, the impressive battery life of the latest MacBook Pro models is certainly one of their strongest features.

Another behind-the-scenes improvement in Mavericks is the increased use of ‘sandboxing’ to prevent malicious code spreading from apps or phishing web sites. The Flash and Java plug-ins are now sandboxed, while the Safari web browser runs each open page as a separate process, as well as sandboxing its built-in PDF viewer to prevent malicious code penetrating the host system via corrupt PDF files.

Universal Upgrade

The iPhone and iPad may be the star attractions at Apple, but Mavericks is a worthwhile update to its veteran OS X operating system. The tags option will be a handy time-saver for many business users, and anything that helps to improve battery life on your laptops is obviously to be welcomed. And, since Mavericks is free, the only real cost involved in deployment is the relatively short period of time required to download it from Apple. [4/5]