Hands-On with macOS Mojave

Posted on September 29, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Mac and macOS with 41 Comments

Apple shipped the final version of macOS Mojave this past week. Here’s a quick look at this release and its most important new features.

“This year, we’ve made some striking changes to macOS,” Apple senior vice president Craig Federighi said during the product’s introduction at WWDC earlier this summer. “Our next release of macOS is macOS Mojave.”

Apple has come under fire in recent years for ignoring the Mac. And there’s some truth to that from a hardware perspective, where most Mac models have languished for years without a meaningful update, or without any update at all.

But when it comes to the operating system, now called macOS, Apple has settled into what I feel is the right groove. Its annual releases are evolutionary, as should be the case with such an established product. And they tend to include just a handful of major new features, plus tons of smaller refinements.

And so it is with macOS Mojave, as Apple calls it, or macOS version 10.14, which arrives 17 long years after the initial release of Mac OS X. I’ve been using Mojave since the first developer preview. And these are some of the most important features, along with notes about how they have—or haven’t—impacted me in regular use.

Dark mode and dynamic desktop

This is perhaps my favorite new feature: You can now enable a dark mode in System Preferences > General > Appearance that dramatically shifts the color palette of the entire system from the Mac’s traditional light grays to new, darker grays. Dark mode looks great, and it will appeal to developers, content creators, and average users alike. It also puts Windows 10’s blacker and more inconsistent dark mode to shame.

If there’s a downside to dark mode, and this isn’t Apple’s fault, it’s that third-party developers need to specifically support this feature. And many of the apps I use—like Google Chrome—do not, at least not yet.

Somewhat related is another new feature called Dynamic Desktop that lets macOS shift, over the course of the day, between full-on light mode (at mid-day) and full-on dark mode (at night) in graduated steps. It’s a cool idea, but I don’t use it because I like the new dark mode so much. And Apple only supplies two dynamic wallpapers, which limits its appeal.

Mac App Store

Modeled on the App Store in iOS, the new-look Mac App Store features the same basic navigation as its mobile cousin, the same Discover-based articles and stories, plus four theme-based tabs for different app types (Create, Work, Play, and Develop).

It’s prettier, but the Mac App Store currently still suffers from the same major issue as before. Fortunately, the next item in my list will likely solve this problem, albeit in about a year…

iPad apps

As Apple revealed at WWDC earlier this year, it is working to bring iPad apps to the Mac. Phase 1 of this effort is available in macOS Mojave: Four of the apps that Apple includes in iOS 12—News, Stocks, Home, and Voice Memos—are come with this OS update. And for the most part, they work well, though there are, of course, some weirdnesses. Keyboard navigation is either non-existent or inconsistent, for example, and text is often pretty small. I do use the News app fairly regularly and like it quite a bit.

Apple says that it will bring this capability to third-party developers next year, which I take to mean the next version of macOS. That will dramatically improve the availability of apps on the Mac. And should be a game changer for the system.

System updates back where they belong

I always thought it was goofy macOS system updates were installed through the App Store. (And you may recall that Microsoft tried to do the same with what was then called the Windows Store back in Windows 8.1, but quickly gave up.) In macOS Mojave, however, system updates are back where they belong, in System Preferences > Software Update.

Nicely done.

Desktop Stacks

Depending on how you use your Mac, the new Desktop Stacks feature may be the most dramatic change in Mojave. This feature builds on years of virtual folder functionality in macOS and is a weird throwback, for me, to Longhorn/Windows Vista. It lets you automatically keep the desktop, which many use as a sort of temporary container for in-progress work, into organized groups called stacks.

As you might imagine, these stacks are customizable. You can organize them by file type, date last opened, date added, date modified, date created, or by tags. And in a typical example of Apple panache, these stacks expand animatedly when you select one on the desktop.

I don’t typically keep tons of files on my Mac desktop, so I’ve only experimented with Stacks enough to know that it works, and works well. But I could see this one feature being a life-saver for those who do use the desktop extensively.

Finder improvements

I’m not a power user when it comes to the Mac, but I’ve always appreciated the stripped-down nature of the Finder, which is the Mac’s version of File Explorer. I take the time to customize this interface in various ways—for example, by adding the folders I use regularly to Favorites—and to learn the in’s and out’s of the changes that come in each macOS version.

And Apple has added a lot of new features to the Finder in macOS Mojave.

There’s a new Gallery view with side-bar that reminds me of a Windows XP Explorer view style, for example.

And there is an incredible array of Quick Look-based markup (editing) tools for images, videos, and various document types. Was I a Mac user primarily, I would spend the time to master those latter tools in particular.

Related to this is a new Screenshot app that provides an on-screen HUD so you can switch between various shot types, record a video of the screen, and more. And however you take a screenshot—the old keyboard shortcuts still work, of course—you’ll get a thumbnail at capture time which you can select for editing in the Quick Look window that appears. It’s very nicely done.

But wait, there’s more

There are many, many more small improvements in macOS Mojave, though most don’t impact me on a regular basis. You can configure Safari to display favicons in tabs, as other browsers already do by default. Safari also includes improved security and privacy features, an Apple strength. And there’s a neat Continuity Camera feature for integrating your iPhone’s photo taking and document scanning capabilities into your workflow. This is yet another benefit of sticking within the Apple ecosystem. Which, of course, I don’t do.

No matter. MacOS Mojave is an excellent and appropriate upgrade for this high-quality, mature desktop platform. And you can’t beat the price, as it’s free. I can’t think of a single reason why any Mac user wouldn’t just upgrade to Mojave immediately.

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