10 things you should know about Apple's OS X Mavericks

Apple officially took the wraps off Mac OS X Mavericks, the next operating system for Mac users, at its Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this week. If you've been wondering what the new OS has in store for you – and when all this is coming – here are 10 things you need to know, starting with some basic questions on pricing and the new name...

1. When will OS X Mavericks be available?

Apple says the new operating system, OS X Mavericks, will be out "this fall" – which one might guess, based on Apple's history of releases, really means mid-September. Currently, only developers have access to an early release of the operating system.

2. How much will OS X Mavericks cost?

As yet, there's no official word on what Apple will charge for OS X Mavericks, but it's not hard to make a ballpark guess after considering Apple's last few operating system releases:

2012 Mountain Lion: £13.99 at release ($19.99, 15.99 Euros)

2011 Lion: £20.99 at release ($29.99, upgrade from Snow Leopard)

2009 Snow Leopard: £20.99 at release ($29.99, upgrade from Leopard)

As of Lion, users who wanted to upgrade from an older version than the most recent one simply had to buy the intermediate OS. In other words, to get from Snow Leopard to Mountain Lion, the user first had to pay for Lion, and then pay the extra £14 on top of that for Mountain Lion, which at the time was still a huge bargain, as the total cost was still significantly less than the average cost of operating systems in general in years past.

In short, it's hard to imagine Apple would charge more for the new Mavericks operating system considering the price has gone down over the years.

3. What's with the name?

The last nine computer operating systems from Apple had cat names (Cheetah, Puma, Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion, and Mountain Lion). "Mavericks" is the first name to break the pattern.

Mavericks is the name of a surfers' beach in California, and word is the new theme for Apple OS names going forward will be California locations. (Feel free to name some of your favourite ideas in this theme in the comments section below.)

OS X Mavericks: Noteworthy features

Predictably, you can summarise what's new in Mavericks in four words: New design, improved performance. In all seriousness, there are at least six enhancements that I think are worth noting.

4. Tags

Tags may not sound very interesting, but they represent a huge shift that has been creeping up on computer users for a few years now. We're moving away from tree structures, as a way of organising and finding data, and into an era of "search."

With the addition of tags in the new Mac operating system, users will be able to add metadata to all kinds of files on their computers, from application files to Word docs. Say you have a bunch of files that are part of Project X. You can create a Project X tag and add it to all the affiliated files. Then, when you need to see all your Project X files, you can click the tag name from the Finder.

What makes tags different from folders (as all Gmail and Evernote users know) is a file can have multiple tags, but it can only be in one folder. Some computer users are resistant to this change, as they've grown accustomed to the nested folder structure and in fact often build them to mirror their workflow. The good news for future Mavericks users is tags are an addition to the operating system, not a replacement for folders (yet). But mark my words, they are the future.

5. Calendar

Was the Calendar app in need of a refresh or what? I can't say anything about the new Calendar program bundled in OS X Mavericks strikes me as truly novel, but it looks nicer and promises to have some usability improvements.

For example, the updated Calendar will be scrollable month to month, so you won't have to click to page through it anymore. There's also a new feature called "event inspector" that pops up a preview of an appointment, complete with suggested addresses and points of interest if you enter information into its location field. Calendar will also integrate more with map information, providing travel times and weather forecasts when appropriate, which sounds a whole lot like Google Now, eh?

6. Tabbed Finder

Simple changes can often be the most welcome. Such is the new tabbed Finder. Until now, if you wanted more than one Finder space open at a time, you had to use multiple windows… unless you bought the TotalFinder Mac app, which transformed the Finder into a tabbed window. Apple must have picked up on how much users liked that little app because it's now going to be available to Mac users across the board.

7. iCloud Keychain: A password manager?

For those Mac users who have never adopted a password manager, a new feature in Mavericks might goad you into using one without you having to do much at all. The feature is iCloud Keychain, which saves your website username and password combinations and auto-fills them for you on Safari.

With Mavericks, it will also be able to generate unique and secure passwords so you don't reuse the same one over and over again. For anyone who's a bit too lackadaisical about their passwords, Mavericks will really make it convenient for you to correct your ways. iCloud Keychain will do the same thing with your credit card details, which, just like passwords, are more secure the less frequently you type them.

iCloud Keychain will sync across different Apple devices, and while the company says it will use AES 256-bit encryption, we're not entirely clear yet on all the details of how it will be implemented, so all you serious security buffs can keep using your password manager of choice.

8. App Nap

This little behind-the-scenes improvement is sure to make mobile Macbook owners happy: App Nap is an automatic function that conserves battery life by pausing apps that aren't currently in view and aren't actively providing service, such as playing music or downloading a file. In other words, when you clutter up your screen with a ton of windows, Mavericks will know which apps to keep active and which ones to temporarily snooze to save battery life. I'm curious to see this feature in action with services like Gmail chat versus web pages that constantly request to refresh automatically. If it works well in differentiating between "active" and useless windows, it could be a wonderful change.

9. Safari Power Saver

Another battery saver I'm curious to see working first-hand is Safari's new Power Saver in OS X Mavericks. Apple claims that Mavericks (or really, the new Safari web browser that will be included in Mavericks) will essentially be able to tell the difference between a video you want to watch on a web page and one that's playing an annoying video ad. Here's how Apple puts it: "If the content is front and centre it plays as usual. But if it's off in the margins, Safari Power Saver pauses it. You'll see a static preview, and it won't run until you click to play it." The idea is to maximise battery life for laptop users, although I'd love for my desktop to have this ability, too. A browser that automatically pauses video ads? Yes please.

10. Multi-display improvements

Graphic designers and other artists have long been Mac users, and they've also been known to need multiple screens. A couple of simple changes in the OS allows these professionals to work with greater ease. Mavericks won't ask you to choose a "primary" and "secondary" display – they're both important. And every connected screen will have a menu bar and dock. Another simple change: You'll be able to run apps in full-screen mode on either display, or both at the same time.