Below is an overview of what each new version of a Mac computer’s OS brings, starting with the version released in 2009, called Mac OS X 10.6 (code name: Snow Leopard).

But you’re not interested in what features every version has brought in the past. You want to know what features your new version will bring.

To find out, simply do this:

  1. Take note of what version of the OS your Mac computer is using now. (Check out this simple how-to if you don’t know the answer!)
  2. On the list immediately below, click your current version (for example, OS X 10.9 Mavericks). The page will jump downward. Start reading there for list of the goodies you’ll get by upgrading to the next version, and keep reading all through the version you plan on upgrading to (probably the most recent version, which is macOS 10.14 Mojave). That’ll give you a brief overview of the main new features you can look forward to. (If any of the noted features seem unexciting or just plain incomprehensible, it’s probably safe to ignore them!)

Click on your current version to see what the next version(s) will get you:

“Just show me what’s new in the latest version.”

The last item on the list above will take you to what’s new in the latest version, macOS 10.14 Mojave. Click there or click here to jump ahead and see.

 

If you upgrade to Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard

What’s in it for me?

Overall, Mac OS X 10.6 (code name: Snow Leopard; released in 2009) didn’t change a lot of noticeable things. It focused on “under the hood” improvements that made existing features work better, and enjoys a good reputation among many Mac owners as a reliable OS (that is, as a version without a lot of crashes, unusual slowness, or other bugs).

If you’re still running ol’ Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard (released in 2007) or an earlier version, here’s what upgrading to Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard will change on your Mac:

  • General refinements: Snow Leopard offers lots of “behind the scenes” changes to make Macs operate more speedily and stably than before. Waking the Mac up from sleep and shutting it down should become faster. Snow Leopard itself takes up less space on a hard drive than earlier OS versions (meaning you should gain more “free space” on your hard drive for storing your own stuff).
  • Better Safari app: Faster and more stable.
  • Better Mail app: Faster, with a new ability to reorder mailboxes in the sidebar.
  • Better Finder app: Finder in Snow Leopard is faster and and offers “live” icon views (the ability to flip through document pages, “play” movies, etc. right in the icon, which lets you check the content of a file without actually opening it).
  • Better Preview app: Snow Leopard’s Preview can operate scanners and can open multiple documents in a single window. With PDF files, it improves the ease of annotation (comments, arrows, highlighting, etc.) and selection of text.
  • Improved accessibility features: Snow Leopard’s VoiceOver feature can be controlled with a trackpad, and can automatically read web pages out loud. Snow Leopard also works with more Braille devices.
  • Faster backups: If you use OS X’s Time Machine feature to back up your data, you should find that Snow Leopard makes backups more quickly.
  • New text substitution: Snow Leopard can automatically replace typed text with substitutes you set. This is useful for automatically fixing your common mistakes (you type “teh”, Snow Leopard fixes it to “the”) or creating handy shortcuts (you type “myaddress”, Snow Leopard replaces that with your full address).
  • Improved Dock: Snow Leopard’s Dock lets you click and hold on an application icon to show all of the application’s open windows, and improves navigation of “stacks” (folders placed in Dock for quick access to contents).
  • Miscellaneous improvements: Minor improvements to movie playback, iChat app (better audio/video), Dictionary app (new thesaurus), disk ejecting, file sharing, Spotlight searching, Chinese input (including ability to draw characters directly on a trackpad), display of bidirectional text (Arabic, Hebrew, etc.), and more.

Can my Mac take it?

Your Mac can use Snow Leopard if it meets these requirements. (If you’re unsure what any of these mean, ask!)

  • Processor: Intel processor
  • Memory (RAM): at least 1GB
  • Available hard drive space: at least 5GB
  • Current OS version: no special requirements
  • Other: DVD drive (required for installation)

Note that the above are the general requirements. Some specific features may have other specific requirements (such as a built-in or attached camera for video chat-related features).

What does it cost?

Snow Leopard was installed from a DVD that originally cost US $29 – much cheaper than the $129 DVDs for some earlier versions of OS X. Currently, Apple sells the Snow Leopard DVD here for $20.

 

If you upgrade to Mac OS X 10.7 Lion

What’s in it for me?

Mac OS X 10.7 (code name: Lion; released in 2011) offers users a big heap of new features. In particular, it marks the start of Apple taking popular features from its iOS (the OS that runs iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch) and bringing those to Mac computers.

If you’re still running Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard (released in 2009) or an earlier version, here’s what upgrading to Mac OS X 10.7 Lion will change on your Mac:

  • New iCloud feature: Lion introduces iCloud, apple’s service that automatically makes sure your Mac(s), iPhone(s), and iPad(s) always have access to the same photos, email, contacts, calendars, Safari bookmarks, iTunes purchases, and more. It can also let you access files on your Mac, or even your Mac’s screen, when you’re away from home and using another computer. (Apple has offered similar sets of features in the past, but iCloud is arguably its first that works well…)
  • Automatic saving of documents: In many (if not all) apps, Lion can automatically save documents you’re working on, without your having to answer questions about saving documents or otherwise worry about it. (For anyone who’s lost hours of work after forgetting to save a document, this is a big deal!) Similarly, when you quit and re-launch apps, or even restart the Mac, apps will launch “as they were”, with in-progress documents automatically open and ready for more work.
  • Saved versions of documents: “I wish I’d kept that paragraph I deleted in my novel last week…” Lion will let you shuffle through old versions of documents and revert to an old version, or pick up parts from it.
  • New Mission Control app: This new app offers a quick, easy way to see all app windows (both regular app windows and full-screen app windows) at once, so you can quickly switch from one window to another.
  • Full-screen apps: For many apps, Lion lets you “zoom” a window to a size that fills the entire screen, maximizing space for the window and removing other (potentially distracting) windows from sight. You can easily switch among these “full-screen” apps and your usual “Desktop” screen with its regular app windows.
  • New Launchpad app: This new app does one simple thing: it shows all of your Mac’s apps in the same style of “grid” that the iPad and iPhone use, to let you quickly launch the app you want.
  • New Multi-Touch gestures: Lion introduces new ways to scroll through pages, “zoom” in and out of pages, “swipe” among document pages or web pages, launch apps, drag windows, and otherwise perform tasks more easily with “gestures” on your Mac’s trackpad or on modern Apple mice.
  • Easy file sharing: A new feature called AirDrop lets you send files wirelessly to anyone nearby, with no need to use email, set up networks, or otherwise jump through hoops.
  • Free video calling: Lion includes Apple’s FaceTime app, for no-cost video calls between your Mac and other Apple devices.
  • Mac App Store app: Lion includes the Mac App Store app, which makes buying new apps (including free apps) and updating apps safe and simple.
  • Better Mail app: In Lion, the Mail app can show messages from the same “thread” (i.e., the same back-and-forth conversation) in easy-to-follow groups. It also improves searching for messages and adds a “favorites bar” for easy access to specific mailboxes (i.e., email folders).
  • Protection for lost or stolen Macs: Another “big deal” feature: Lion lets you use any iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or computer to try locating your Mac if stolen or otherwise lost. You can also display messages on the lost Mac’s screen (like “Call 555-1212 if found”), or deter ne’er-do-wells by password-locking or even erasing the lost Mac. Lion also offers a feature (FileVault 2) to fully encrypt hard drives inside or attached to your Mac, meaning that a thief who steals an external hard drive of yours, or removes the hard drive inside your Mac, will not be able to get at your information inside.
  • Easier recovery from trouble: In the event of computer trouble, Lion lets you restart the computer into a “Recovery HD” feature to attempt repairs, search the web for troubleshooting information, reinstall OS X, or restore your hard drive from a backup, all without the OS X DVD required by earlier OS X versions.
  • Improved accessibility features: Lion’s VoiceOver feature offers improved feature search, web navigation, drag-and-drop, and speaking voices (in many more languages, too). Lion also improves screen zooming and braille tablet support, and fine-tunes braille verbosity level.
  • Miscellaneous improvements: Lion makes minor improvements to Address Book app (ability to add contacts’ social network profiles, easily call contacts using FaceTime, etc.), Finder app (easy way to view all of your files, better grouping of files into folders and merging of separate folders, etc.), Photo Booth app (more wacky effects, etc.), Preview app (easy way to add signatures to PDF documents, etc.), and Safari app (better performance, better control over privacy, Reading List feature to queue web pages for later reading, etc.). In the area of text, Lion adds suggested spellings to text auto-correction, adds and expands input support for several foreign languages, and improves the ease of inputting accented characters (“Łïøń”, anyone?). Lion also makes a few notable changes to the way your Mac “feels” overall, by offering the option to have scroll bars in windows appear only when used, the option to “reverse” up-and-down scroll direction to mimic the finger control of iPhones and iPads, and the ability to resize windows from any side or any corner (not only the lower right corner).

Can my Mac take it?

Your Mac can use Lion if it meets these requirements. (If you’re unsure what any of these mean, ask!)

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo, Intel Core i3, Intel Core i5, Intel Core i7, or Intel Xeon
  • Memory (RAM): At least 2GB
  • Available hard drive space: At least 7GB
  • Current OS version: OS X v10.6.8 Snow Leopard or later (v10.6.8 recommended) (required for download and installation of 10.7 Lion or later OS X versions)
  • Other: An Internet connection (required for download and installation)

Note that the above are the general requirements. Some specific features may have other specific requirements (such as a built-in or attached camera for video chat-related features).

What does it cost?

Lion did away with DVDs as the way to install OS X upgrades. Instead of using a DVD to install Lion, you download the upgrade software for Lion (and any OS X version after Lion) from the Internet, using Apple’s app named Mac App Store (or in later versions, simply App Store).

In the case of Lion, though, this wasn’t a free download: Apple charged $29.99 for the upgrade.

 

If you upgrade to OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion

What’s in it for me?

OS X 10.8 (code name: Mountain Lion; released in 2012) offers several new features, but focuses mostly on refining existing features. It also ushers in a minor change to the naming scheme, simplifying “Mac OS X” to just “OS X”.

If you’re still running Mac OS X 10.7 Lion (released in 2011) or an earlier version, here’s what upgrading to OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion will change on your Mac:

  • New Reminders and Notes apps: These apps, familiar to iPhone and iPad users, are for making checklists (to-do, shopping, anything) and for general note-taking, respectively. With iCloud. lists and notes stay updated across all of your Apple devices.
  • New Messages app: In another borrowing from iOS devices, this text messaging app replaces the older iChat app. Your message conversations stay coordinated across all of your Apple devices. Messages can also easily hand off a conversation to FaceTime to start a video call.
  • New Notifications Center: Again from iOS: Notification Center offers on-screen notices of incoming messages, calendar alerts, software updates, Facebook messages, Twitter tweets, and other activity, as well as a panel that slides out to show all recent notices.
  • New Power Nap feature: Recent Macs running Mountain Lion will quietly update email and information from other apps even when the Mac is sleeping, so everything is ready to go upon awakening.
  • New Dictation feature: For some users, this is a big one: Instead of typing text, you can talk and let the Mac do the typing. Dictation works in any app, and requires no special set-up to use.
  • New Sharing feature: Mountain Lion places a Share button in Safari, Notes, and many other apps, for easy sharing of photos, notes, files, and more by email, Messages, AirDrop, or other means. Sharing is also closely integrated with services like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and LinkedIn, so you can post content, update your status, reply to comments, and more, without having to log in to the services’ websites.
  • New AirPlay Mirroring feature: With an Apple TV box attached to your living room or other TV, your Mac can wirelessly send its screen, music, and more to the TV. Perfect for playing your Mac’s music on a home stereo system, or playing a presentation on a conference room screen.
  • New Game Center app: Another app from iOS, Game Center tracks your game scores and the scores of friends, shows your ranks among players worldwide, and even coordinates finding opponents, sending challenging, and setting up multiplayer games.
  • Stronger security: A new security app called Gatekeeper lets you decide whether the Mac can install any apps from anywhere (potentially risky!), only apps from identified developers (safer), or only apps from the Mac App Store (safest). (Malicious apps aren’t much of a problem on Macs, but it’s an added layer of security for users who want strong protection.)
  • Improvements to the Safari app: Safari in Mountain Lion gains some new tricks, starting with auto-fill of passwords. It uses just one field for both searches and web addresses, suggests favorite pages and popular searches as you search, and can show all tabs in a browser window at once. Its Reading List feature saves whole web pages so they can be read later even without an Internet connection. Finally, iCloud lets your Mac see what pages are open on Safari in your other Apple devices (and vice versa).
  • Miscellaneous improvements: These include special features for users in China (new built-in Chinese dictionary, better text input, new Chinese fonts, integration with Chinese search and social network services, etc.); improvements to accessibility (easier dragging of items using VoiceOver, more customizable accessibility preferences, support for more braille displays, etc.); improvements to document Auto Save (ability to rename documents from their title bar, east reversion to last saved version of a document, easy iCloud access from other Apple devices even for untitled documents, easier keyboard shortcuts, etc.); new dictionaries in the Dictionary app (Simplified Chinese, Spanish, and German); many minor enhancements to Mail, Preview, and other apps.

Can my Mac take it?

Your Mac can use Mountain Lion if it meets these requirements. (If you’re unsure what any of these mean, ask!)

  • Mac model: To install Mountain Lion, you need one of these Macs:
    • iMac (Mid 2007 or newer)
    • MacBook (Late 2008 Aluminum, or Early 2009 or newer)
    • MacBook Pro (Mid/Late 2007 or newer)
    • MacBook Air (Late 2008 or newer)
    • Mac mini (Early 2009 or newer)
    • Mac Pro (Early 2008 or newer)
    • Xserve (Early 2009)
  • Memory (RAM): At least 2GB
  • Available hard drive space: At least 8GB
  • Current OS version: OS X v10.6.8 Snow Leopard or OS X 10.7 Lion (required for download and installation of the new OS X version)
  • Other: An Internet connection (required for download and installation)

Note that the above are the general requirements. Some specific features may have other specific requirements (such as a built-in or attached camera for video chat-related features).

What does it cost?

Mountain Lion is downloaded and installed from the Internet, using Apple’s app named Mac App Store (or in later versions, simply App Store). Apple charged $19.99 for the update.

 

If you upgrade to OS X 10.9 Mavericks

What’s in it for me?

OS X 10.9 (code name: Mavericks; released in 2013) marked the end of “big cat” code names, and the start of code names taken from locations in California. (Mavericks is a famed surfing location in the northern part of the state.) It also brought a welcome change to OS X: No more cost for updates! Starting with Mavericks, all new versions of OS X feature free download and installation.

If you’re still running OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion (released in 2012) or an earlier version, here’s what upgrading to OS X 10.9 Mavericks will change on your Mac:

  • New Books apps: The Books app from iPhones and iPads came to Macs with Mavericks. The app lets you read (and mark up) digital books on the Mac, mark up text with highlighting and notes, purchase books from Apple, and share books among your Apple devices.
  • New Maps app: Also brought over from iOS devices: Apple’s Maps app for viewing maps, finding directions to destinations by foot or car, and finding points of interest. You can send travel directions from the Mac’s Maps app directly to your iPhone or iPad’s Maps app, to take turn-by-turn directions on the road with you.
  • New iCloud Keychain feature: In any version of OS X, Keychain is an app that (with your consent) safely stores your IDs and passwords for web sites, mail accounts, and most everything else, conveniently filling in these items for you when you need them. In Mavericks, iCloud Keychain goes one better, sharing this info among your Apple devices so (for example) your iPhone will “know” the password for some website service you joined on your Mac, and vice-versa.
  • Miscellaneous improvements: The Calendar app gets smarter with planning events, by showing location maps and nearby points of interest for your scheduled items, as well as weather forecasts and estimated travel times. The Safari app gets smarter with saving energy on busy web pages, to boost your portable Mac’s battery life. Mavericks improves the ease of using multiple displays (that’s two or more screens on one computer). The Notification Center feature gains a few improvements, including notification pop-ups (e.g., incoming text messages, incoming FaceTime calls, and incoming email) that you can respond to directly (e.g., reply to the message, take the call, and delete the email) without switching to another app. The Finder gains a new feature called Tags, letting you “tag” files with keywords like “Work” or “In Progress” or “Project ABC”, for easy organization and search. Mavericks adds a number of Accessibility features (customizable closed captions, full Mac control using a single switch, etc.). The Dictation feature now lets you talk as long as you like, shows what you say as you say it, and can operate without an Internet connection. Finally, a number of “under the hood” improvements promise to make your Mac run apps faster while using less energy.

Can my Mac take it?

Your Mac can use Mavericks if it meets these requirements. (If you’re unsure what any of these mean, ask!)

  • Mac modelOne of the following Macs:
    • iMac (Mid 2007 or newer)
    • MacBook (Late 2008 Aluminum, or Early 2009 or newer)
    • MacBook Pro (Mid/Late 2007 or newer)
    • MacBook Air (Late 2008 or newer)
    • Mac mini (Early 2009 or newer)
    • Mac Pro (Early 2008 or newer)
    • Xserve (Early 2009)
  • Memory (RAM): At least 2GB
  • Available hard drive space: At least 8GB
  • Current OS version: OS X v10.6.8 Snow Leopard or later
  • Other: An Internet connection (required for download and installation)

Note that the above are the general requirements. Some specific features may have other specific requirements (such as a built-in or attached camera for video chat-related features).

What does it cost?

Mavericks is downloaded and installed from the Internet, using Apple’s app named Mac App Store (or in later versions, simply App Store). Mavericks marked a change from previous versions in one key way, though: it was free!

 

If you upgrade to OS X 10.10 Yosemite

What’s in it for me?

Apple added several new features to OS X 10.10 (code name: Yosemite; released in 2014). That “OS X 10.10”, by the way, is pronounced “OS Ten, ten point ten” – and yes, that’s too many “tens”. (Much easier to say “Yosemite”.)

If you’re running OS X 10.9 Mavericks (released in 2013) or an earlier version, here’s what upgrading to OS X 10.10 Yosemite will change on your Mac:

  • An all-round “fresher” look: Yosemite brings new icons and simplified designs for the apps that are included with the OS, and slimmer toolbars (the “top part” of windows) for some apps to show more stuff inside windows.
  • New Continuity feature: A set of new abilities (under the general name “Continuity”)  make your Mac and other Apple devices work closely together. You can take or make phone calls and SMS messages using your Mac instead of your nearby iPhone. Another feature (called Handoff) lets you start writing an email message, checking a web page, or performing other tasks on one device and easily continue on another device. The Air Drop feature lets you easily send images, documents, and other files among Macs, iPhones, and iPads.
  • Better Safari app: In Yosemite, Safari offers an easy way to see all web page tabs that are open in a window, as well as see what web pages you have open in Safari on your other devices. Safari also improves searching and sharing abilities.
  • Better Mail app: A new feature (called Mail Drop) can send huge files of up to 5 gigabytes total size as email attachments, while a new feature (called Markup) lets you annotate image attachments in email (with comments, underlines, circles, text, signature, etc.). Also, Yosemite makes the search feature in Mail more forgiving of misspellings.
  • Better Messages app: New features to add titles to running conversations, see the locations of friends you’re messaging (with their permission, of course), send and receive audio clips instead of text messages, and better manage group conversations.
  • New iCloud Drive feature: This new feature is a place to save files, called iCloud Drive, that can be easily accessed by any of your devices.
  • New Photos app: Yosemite replaces the old iPhoto app with the new Photos app. The difference (besides the dropped “i”): Photos works more similarly to the Photos apps on iPhone and iPad, makes moving pictures from those devices to your Mac easier, makes sharing photos easier, and works more smoothly with large libraries of photos.
  • Better Notification Center: Yosemite’s Notification Center, like that on iPhones and iPads, shows a summary of the day (current time, calendar events, birthdays, reminders, weather, etc.) in a “Today” view.
  • Better Spotlight: Yosemite gives Spotlight, the feature for searching for stuff on your Mac, new abilities to search for information on Wikipedia, news sites, movie review sites, etc.; search for information inside apps like Maps and iTunes; convert currencies and units of measure; search for contacts and call or message the persons from inside Spotlight; and more. Yosemite’s Spotlight also places your search and the results in a big window in the center of the screen, showing previews of what it found.
  • Miscellaneous: Accessibility improvements (more features for reading text aloud and navigating by voice; new features for color blindness and other visual needs), new languages and features (editing and formatting) for Dictation, minor improvements to Calendar app (including added lunar calendars), easy phone calling (and custom ringtone setting) from Contacts app, new ability to rename multiple files at once in Finder app, improved maps of China for Maps app, many minor Safari improvements, improvements to Japanese and Chinese text input, new dictionaries in Dictionary app (Portuguese, Russian, Turkish, Thai, Spanish-English) improvements to security, ability to use your Apple ID to log in to your Mac (reducing the number of IDs to keep track of).

Can my Mac take it?

Your Mac can use Yosemite if it meets these requirements. (If you’re unsure what any of these mean, ask!)

  • Mac modelOne of the following Macs:
    • iMac (Mid 2007 or newer)
    • MacBook (Late 2008 Aluminum, or Early 2009 or newer)
    • MacBook Pro (Mid/Late 2007 or newer)
    • MacBook Air (Late 2008 or newer)
    • Mac mini (Early 2009 or newer)
    • Mac Pro (Early 2008 or newer)
    • Xserve (Early 2009)
  • Memory (RAM): At least 2GB
  • Available hard drive space: At least 8GB
  • Current OS version: OS X v10.6.8 Snow Leopard or later
  • Other: An Internet connection (required for download and installation)

Note that the above are the general requirements. Some specific features may have other specific requirements (such as a built-in or attached camera for video chat-related features); in particular, Handoff and Air Drop features for sharing files and tasks among devices are restricted to fairly recent Macs and other Apple devices. 

What does it cost?

Nothing. Yosemite is free!

 

If you upgrade to OS X 10.11 El Capitan

What’s in it for me?

OS X 10.11 (code name: El Capitan; released in 2015) is the third OS X version named after a location in California – specifically, a 3,000-foot rock formation within Yosemite National Park. OS X 10.11 “El Capitan” isn’t terribly different from its predecessor OS X 10.10 “Yosemite”; it doesn’t add a big number of new features, and instead focuses on refinements, stability, and speed.

If you’re running OS X 10.10 Yosemite (released in 2014) or an earlier version, here’s what upgrading to OS X 10.11 El Capitan will change on your Mac:

  • New Split View feature: El Capitan takes the existing “full screen” feature that lets an app’s window fill the whole screen, and adds the ability to place two windows side-by-side as a full screen.
  • Better Notes app: El Capitan turns the simple Notes app into a more powerful tool for note-taking and note storage. Using OS X’s Share button feature, other apps can easily add photos, videos, web links, maps, and more to Notes. A feature called Attachment Browser lets you scan these photos, web links, etc. in one place, to quickly locate the note containing the attachment. Other new features include checklists (handy for to-do lists and the such).
  • Better Mail app: The Mail app offers easier handling of mail messages when you use the app in full-screen mode. It also adds an easy way to add invitations, or other events in email to the Calendar app; an easy way to add new contacts in email to the Contacts app; and an easy way to delete a message, or mark it as read or unread, using trackpad swipes. Mail can also understand more “natural” search requests, like “email from Dana last week”, to help you find specific messages.
  • Better performance: El Capitan adds under-the-hood technologies that greatly increase the speed of opening apps, switching between apps, displaying email, and opening PDF files. (However, these speed improvements are generally limited to Macs made in 2012 or later.)
  • Miscellaneous:
    • El Capitan improves the Mission Control feature, letting you more easily move windows into and out of “full-screen” mode and otherwise better manage multiple windows.
    • A new cursor feature helps people who sometimes lose sight of the Mac’s little small cursor on a large screen: shake the mouse or shake a finger on the Mac’s trackpad, and the cursor momentarily grows huge and easy to spot.
    • The Spotlight search feature gains improvements, including a moveable and resizable window, the ability to search for weather, sports, stocks, web video, and transit information, and the ability to understand more natural search requests (like “Recipe documents I worked on last week”).
    • The Photos app gains minor improvements, including easier naming of faces, more powerful sorting of albums, and the ability to set locations for photos without a location.
    • Improvements to the Safari app include the ability to send just the video on a web page, not the entire web page, to your TV (via the AirPlay feature and an Apple TV device); the ability to see which tabs or windows are making noise (from a video, etc.) and to mute the sound; and the ability to “pin” favorite web pages as tabs that always remain visible and up to date.
    • The Maps app adds the ability to include public transport in its transit directions (though for a very limited number of cities initially).
    • Finally, El Capitan offers enhancements to display and input of many languages, including substantial improvements to Chinese and Japanese text input.

Can my Mac take it?

Your Mac can use El Capitan if it meets these requirements. (If you’re unsure what any of these mean, ask!)

  • Mac modelOne of the following Macs:
    • iMac (Mid 2007 or newer)
    • MacBook (Late 2008 Aluminum, or Early 2009 or newer)
    • MacBook Pro (Mid/Late 2007 or newer)
    • MacBook Air (Late 2008 or newer)
    • Mac mini (Early 2009 or newer)
    • Mac Pro (Early 2008 or newer)
    • Xserve (Early 2009)
  • Memory (RAM): At least 2GB
  • Available hard drive space: At least 8.8GB
  • Current OS version: OS X v10.6.8 Snow Leopard or later
  • Other: An Internet connection (required for download and installation)

Note that the above are the general requirements. Some specific features may have other specific requirements (such as a built-in or attached camera for video chat-related features); in particular, Handoff and Air Drop features for sharing files and tasks among devices are restricted to fairly recent Macs and other Apple devices. 

What does it cost?

Nothing. El Capitan is free!

 

If you upgrade to macOS 10.12 Sierra

What’s in it for me?

macOS 10.12 (code name: Sierra; released in 2016) is the fourth version of the OS with a code name taken from a location in California. It also changes the main OS moniker from “OS X” to “macOS”. (This has no special significance; Apple changed the OS’s name to make it more closely match the names of its other operating systems for other products. Whether your Mac’s OS is called “OS X”, the even older “Mac OS X”, or the new “macOS”, it’s all the same thing, with a name that keeps changing every few years.)

macOS 10.12 Sierra isn’t a huge change from OS X 10.11 El Capitan. It mainly focuses on features to make your Mac work better with other Apple devices (mainly iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch).

If you’re running OS X 10.11 El Capitan (released in 2015) or an earlier version, here’s what upgrading to macOS 10.12 Sierra will change on your Mac:

  • Say hello to Siri: Siri is an “intelligent personal assistant” introduced a few years ago in iPhone and iPad. “Sierra” makes it available on Mac computers, too. You can speak to Siri and ask it to help find files, report sports scores, schedule appointments, check the time and weather forecast in another city, play music, and much more.
  • Universal Clipboard: This feature is the ability to copy and paste information between your Mac and other Apple devices (iPhone and iPad). For example, you can copy a block of text on your Mac, then pick up your iPhone, and paste that same text into a note on your iPhone. Or copy an image on your iPad, switch to your Mac, and paste the image into an email message you’re composing. It’s handy if you use multiple Apple devices.
  • Auto unlock with Apple Watch: If you use a password to protect your Mac from snoopers, and if you own an Apple Watch, 10.12 “Sierra” will sense your watch, recognize you as the rightful user of the Mac, and let you use the Mac without requiring the password. This feature should save a few seconds when you “wake up” your Mac from sleep, if you use an Apple Watch.
  • iCloud Drive: This feature already exists on Macs, iPhones, and iPads, letting you store files on “iCloud Drive” (essentially, Apple’s computers in faraway California, or wherever the machines happen to be), so the same can be easily accessed by any of these devices. 10/12 “Sierra” simply makes it easier to do so (specifically, by letting you move everything your Mac’s Desktop and Documents folders to iCloud Drive, should you want). It’s handy if you use multiple Apple devices and want to easily share files among them.
  • Apple Pay: This is another feature brought over from Apple’s iPhone and Apple Watch. With 10.12 “Sierra”, you can shop online with some (not all, but a growing number) merchants, and, when it comes time to pay, do so quickly and easily using the Apple Pay already set up on your iPhone or Apple Watch, without having to enter credit card and other information on your Mac. The feature makes shopping via your Mac more convenient, if you have an iPhone set up to use Apple Pay.
  • Optimized storage: This feature is actually a handful of tools and options to help you free up more space if your Mac’s hard drive is getting full. It will help you find and delete duplicate or otherwise unnecessary files. It also offers the option of moving less-important files off of your Mac and onto Apple’s “iCloud” storage, from which you can download the files in the future should you need to. It’s a handy bunch of tools if your Mac’s hard drive is getting uncomfortably full.
  • Improved Photos app: 10.12 “Sierra” brings a number of features from the iPhone’s and iPad’s Photos app to your Mac’s Photos app:
    • Memories: The Photos app automatically creates little photo albums and slideshows based on “themes”, such as photos of a certain person, or photos from a given location, or photos taken on today’s date some number of years ago. If you have lots of pictures inside the Photos app on your Mac, it’s a great way to rediscover old photos you may have forgotten about.
    • Intelligent search: You can already search for photos within your Mac’s Photos app, based on information that photos can be expected to have: dates, recognized faces, or words you may have added to photos (key words like “vacation” or titles like “Fun in Jamaica”). The Photos app will now automatically recognize items in features, letting your search for “food” or “animals” or “cats” or hundreds of other things, with no effort on your part to “categorize” things. (Just be aware that this sort of technology is evolving fast but still imperfect; don’t be surprised if it fails to ferret out every “cat” photo in your collection, or even mis-recognizes the occasional dog, ferret, or librarian as a moggie.)
    • Places and People albums: The Photos app gains photo albums that automatically sort your photos by location and by the people appearing in them. (Note that the latter feature requires a little work on your part to “train” the Photos app to match names to faces, and to clean up a bit where the feature fails to catch a face, or mis-interprets Uncle Bob as Aunt Edna. Also note that while Apple is calling this a new feature of 10.12 “Sierra”, recognition and sorting of faces has actually been available on Macs for some time now. I guess “new” here should be read as “new and improved”.)
  • Improved Messages app: The Messages app gains jumbo-sized emoji characters, the ability to quickly respond to a message with a thumbs-up, heart, or acknowledgment, and the ability to play videos or preview web links inside the Messages window. It adds to Messages’ bag of tricks (though still doesn’t bring all of the latest iPhone and iPad Messages app features to the Mac).
  • Improved iTunes app: iTunes gains the ability to show song lyrics in its redesigned MiniPlayer. The Apple Music section of the app also gets a redesign, making it easier to use if you’re a subscriber to the Apple Music service.
  • Tabs for more apps: You may be familiar with tabs, the ability of some apps (most notably Safari) to collect several windows into one window. With 10.12 “Sierra”, many more apps become able to use tabs, helping you maintain a tidier screen. (And if none of that means anything to you… don’t worry about it, it’s not a major feature.)
  • Picture in Picture: This feature lets you a video out of iTunes or out of Safari, where it will hang about in a corner of your screen, “floating” on top of any other windows and thus always visible. It’s handy if you like watching videos while doing other things on the screen. (Note that the feature works for some, not all, video sources.)

Can my Mac take it?

Your Mac can use macOS Sierra if it meets these requirements. (If you’re unsure what any of these mean, ask!)

  • Mac modelOne of the following Macs:
    • iMac (Late 2009 or newer)
    • MacBook (Late 2009 or newer)
    • MacBook Pro (Mid 2010 or newer)
    • MacBook Air (Late 2010 or newer)
    • Mac mini (Mid 2010 or newer)
    • Mac Pro (Mid 2010 or newer)
  • Memory (RAM): At least 2GB
  • Available hard drive space: At least 8.8GB
  • Current OS version: OS X v10.7.5 Lion or later
  • Other: An Internet connection (required for download and installation)

Note that the above are the general requirements. Some specific features may have other specific requirements (such as a built-in or attached camera for video chat-related features); in particular, features for sharing files and tasks among devices (which are many of Sierra’s highlights!) are restricted to even more recent Macs and other Apple devices. 

What does it cost?

Nothing. Sierra is free!

 

If you upgrade to macOS 10.13 High Sierra

What’s in it for me?

macOS 10.13 (code name: High Sierra; released in 2017) is the fifth version of the OS with a code name taken from a location in California. The name is just an extra word tacked onto the previous version’s name, “Sierra”; so, not surprisingly, “High Sierra” doesn’t make a lot of big, noticeable changes from “Sierra”. It mainly focuses on under-the-hood features to make your Mac work better all around.

If you’re running macOS 10.12 Sierra (released in 2016) or an earlier version, here’s what upgrading to macOS 10.13 High Sierra will change on your Mac:

  • Apple File System: Hmm, “file system” is too big a topic to go into here… Let’s just summarize this by saying that High Sierra organizes and handles files, quietly and behind the scenes, using a new method called Apple File System. You won’t see or really feel anything different, but (in theory) things should just run more smoothly, with less chance of troubles that could cause loss of data. (Not too exciting, I know. But good to have all the same, like a car engine tune-up.)
  • HEVC video: High Sierra gains the ability to handle a new type of video file, called HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding, a.k,a. H.265). That’s another unexciting-sounding feature, but even if you don’t notice anything different, this is a good thing: videos of this type take up less space on your Mac.
  • Metal 2: Another dull-sounding technical name. (Well, not that dull. It’s metal.) Again, this isn’t something you’ll “do something” with, or even need to be aware of, but if you have a newer Mac, Metal 2 promises to make good use of the Mac’s inner parts (specifically a component called GPU, should you care to know) to speed up a number of special abilities, like machine learning and virtual reality apps.
  • Improvements to built-in apps: Okay, let’s brush away the above gear-head stuff. You can actually see and use the improvements that High Sierra makes to these apps:
    • Photos: High Sierra reworks the app’s sidebar (the listing of photo types and albums and stuff at the left of the app’s window) to make photos easier to find and organize. It also greatly revamps the tools for editing photos with serious tools that approach professional capabilities; adds new categories to the Memories feature (the feature that automatically creates themed albums for you); lets you add looping and other new effects to Live Photos (the iPhone photos that “move” for 3 seconds or so); collaborates with other photo editing apps like Photoshop (should you use any of those); and improves the automatic labeling and organization of faces in the People album. (A welcome related feature; your Mac and your iPhone can now share notes on what faces the devices have found and what corrections you’ve made (“that’s Uncle Bob, not Aunt Carol!”), instead of working separately.)
    • Safari: Continuing with High Sierra’s theme of understatement, Safari’s new features aren’t flashy but are welcome all the same. To shut up annoying sites that automatically play sound or video, you can tell Safari to never auto-play the video/sound for any specific site (or to always do so, if you prefer). You can also tell Safari to always use its nifty Reader feature (which makes web sites easier to read) for any web site that can use Reader, or to do so only for specific web sites. High Sierra also makes Safari more energy-efficient, a good thing for Macs running on battery power. Best of all, Safari now employs some tricky techniques to thwart advertisers that try to “track” your web browsing, learn your browsing behavior, and attack you with ads.
    • Siri: The “digital assistant” Siri on the Mac gets a new voice, as well as better “personal DJ” capabilities for playing song requests, suggesting music, offering info on artists and albums, etc.
    • Mail: When you search in Mail for email by sender, content, etc., Mail returns a list of matching messages, just as before – but now adds “Top Hits”, the messages it thinks best match your search, at the top of the list.
    • FaceTime: Like Mail above, FaceTime gains one little new feature: During a video call, Face-Time can now save a snapshot of the chat as a Live Photo (i.e., a photo that can “move” for about three seconds).
    • Notes: This note-taking app now lets you “pin” favorite notes to keep them at the top of your list of notes. It also lets you create simple tables (with columns and rows) within notes.
  • Other improvements: The Spotlight search feature can now look up flight information for you. High Sierra also enhances Apple’s iCloud service: your iCloud account can now store up to 2TB of data (that’s a lot, and as of the announcement date, the added cost  is reasonable too). That storage space and some other aspects of your iCloud account can be shared among family members (a real cost-saver), while individual files saved on your iCloud Drive can be shared with anybody you like.

Can my Mac take it?

Your Mac can use macOS 10.13 High Sierra if it meets these requirements. (If you’re unsure what any of these mean, ask!)

  • Mac modelOne of the following Macs:
    • iMac (Late 2009 or newer)
    • MacBook (Late 2009 or newer)
    • MacBook Pro (Mid 2010 or newer)
    • MacBook Air (Late 2010 or newer)
    • Mac mini (Mid 2010 or newer)
    • Mac Pro (Mid 2010 or newer)
  • Memory (RAM): At least 2GB
  • Available hard drive space: At least 14.3GB
  • Current OS version: OS X v10.8 Mountain Lion or later
  • Other: An Internet connection (required for download and installation)

Note that the above are the general requirements. Some specific features may have other specific requirements (such as a built-in or attached camera for video chat-related features); in particular, features for sharing files and tasks among devices may be restricted to even more recent Macs and other Apple devices. (The speed boost promised by the Metal 2 feature also requires a fairly recent Mac: Mid 2012 for MacBook Pro and and MacBook Air, Late 2012 for Mac mini and iMac, Late 2013 for Mac Pro, and Early 2015 for MacBook.) 

What does it cost?

Nothing. High Sierra is free!

 

If you upgrade to macOS 10.14 Mojave

What’s in it for me?

Mojave is yet another version of the OS with a code name taken from a location in California. This time around, the new version carries some changes you can actually see.

If you’re running macOS 10.13 High Sierra (released in 2017) or an earlier version, here’s what upgrading to macOS 10.14 Mojave will change on your Mac:

  • Dark Mode: With the flip of a switch, Mojave can change the entire look of your screen into a smoky noir “dark mode”, with black windows, a black menu bar at the top of the screen, and more. Why? Well, it seems a lot of people have been asking for this feature for years. (Some say dark screen elements are easier on the eyes and less distracting.)
  • Dynamic Desktop: Another bit of eye candy: Mojave offers a couple of new desktop pictures that change appearance over time, mimicking the shift from day to night. All righty.
  • Stacks: Now here’s something really useful. On their Macs, some people neatly file away their files and images and stuff in neat folders; other people toss a hundred things onto the Desktop. If you’re the latter, you’ll like this: turn on the Stacks feature, and your Desktop will automatically pile up those scattered icons into neat “stacks”. By default, it’ll make a stack out of each type of file (images, videos, documents, etc.), though you can tell it to make stacks using some other criteria. One click, and a stack will spread out so you can get at individual items; one more click, and it all jumps back into a neat stack. For the first time ever, you might find yourself with a clean Desktop!
  • More capable Finder: Finder, the app with the square blue smiley-face icon, is a “file manager”: you use it to see what files (documents, images, apps, whatever) are on your Mac, to organize them into folders, to move files from one folder to another, to delete or rename files or folders, and lots more. Mojave gives Finder some more powers. Using just Finder (and its Quick Look feature for checking out a file’s content without opening the file), you can rotate a wrong-side-up image file, trim extra length from a video or audio file, scribble on or otherwise annotate a PDF file, and perform other tricks, without having to open and work on the file using some other app. Finder can now also show more detailed information about a file (especially useful for photographers working with image files), and can display files in a new Gallery view (largely useful for quickly searching through image files or other visually distinctive files).
  • Easier screenshots: A screenshot is an image of your computer screen (or part of it), saved as a file – useful for, say, “taking a picture” of a cryptic error message on your screen (so you can send the picture to a helper). Macs have long been able to create screenshots, and even video files recording what’s happening on your screen, at the touch of a few keys – but those keys vary with the exact goal, and are nearly impossible to remember. Mojave simplifies this, making it easy to take snapshots or movies, of all or part of your screen, with just one keystroke combo to remember. (Mojave also makes it easy to then share these screenshots with others, without leaving a file behind on your Mac, to save clutter.)
  • Continuity Camera: Continuity is Apple’s general name for features that involve multiple Apple devices working together. Continuity Camera is a new feature that lets you use your iPhone as your Mac’s camera. Uses include tricks like using the iPhone to scan a paper receipt, which then appears on your Mac as a PDF file, or taking a photo that then appears automatically within the Mail message or the Pages document you’re creating. Pretty cool.
  • 32-way FaceTime conversations: That’s right: instead of 1-to-1 audio or video conversations using FaceTime, Mojave lets FaceTime wrangle 32 audio voices or talking video heads (or combination of both) into one conversation. Amazing. (The downside: You used to be able to say, “Ooh, sorry, Jim, our video conference app only accepts 4 people, and you’d be the 5th.” Now you’ll have to try getting away with, “Sorry, Jim, we’re using FaceTime, and you’d be the 33rd person…”)
  • New apps: New to the Mac, anyway. Mojave brings three iPhone apps to your computer: Stocks, an app for tracking stock prices and related business news; Home, an app for controlling newfangled “smart home” devices (like room lights, a garage door, security cameras, etc. that you can control from computers and phones), and Voice Memos, a simple app for recording voice memos (or other audio). Using your iCloud account, the latter can also share your voice memos between your Mac, iPhone, iPad, etc.
  • New Mac App Store: The Mac App store, the simplest way to get and install new apps for your Mac, isn’t new, but Mojave’s refreshed Mac App Store offers more pleasing organization, curated collections of apps, editorial recommendations and tutorials, videos to demonstrate apps before you buy, and more. In short, it’s a better Mac App Store.
  • Enhanced privacy and security: Mojave goes even further than past OS versions in blocking advertisers from “tracking” your activity online, and in forcing apps to request your permission before accessing your Mac’s microphone, camera, photos, emails, and more. (The extra notifications can be a little annoying, but security is a good thing.) Mojave can also suggest even stronger passwords than before, and let you know when you’re using the same password in too many places (not a safe thing to do!).
  • A few more small improvements: With Mojave, Safari now shows little web site icons in its tabs (a small but very welcome thing). Mail gains a button for easily adding emoji to your messages (cheer or boo as you like). Mail will also look at an incoming message and suggest the right mailbox for filing it away (based on where you’ve already filed similar messages away), so you can squirrel away already-read messages with one click. Finally, Mojave adds more foreign language options, and improved maps for China.

Can my Mac take it?

Your Mac can use macOS 10.14 Mojave if it meets these requirements. (If you’re unsure what any of these mean, ask!)

  • Mac modelOne of the following Macs:
    • iMac (Late 2012 or newer)
    • MacBook (Early 2015 2009 or newer)
    • MacBook Pro (Mid 2012 or newer)
    • MacBook Air (Mid 2012 or newer)
    • Mac mini (Late 2012 or newer)
    • Mac Pro (Late 2013; some Mid 2010 and Mid 2012 models with certain hardware requirements)
  • Memory (RAM): At least 2GB
  • Available hard drive space: At least 18.5GB
  • Current OS version: OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion or later
  • Other: An Internet connection (required for download and installation)

Note that the above are the general requirements. Some specific features may have other specific requirements (such as a built-in or attached camera for video chat-related features); in particular, features for sharing files and tasks among devices may be restricted to even more recent Macs and other Apple devices. (The speed boost promised by the Metal 2 feature also requires a fairly recent Mac: Mid 2012 for MacBook Pro and and MacBook Air, Late 2012 for Mac mini and iMac, Late 2013 for Mac Pro, and Early 2015 for MacBook.) 

What does it cost?

Nothing. Mojave is free!