Apple's El Capitan OS to bring natural language search, other enhancements

The next version of Apple’s desktop operating system will forgo any revolutionary changes and instead introduce a number of small, evolutionary improvements when it debuts later this year.

Named El Capitan, after the rock formation in Yosemite National Park, OS X 10.11 was demoed Monday at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco.

One of the biggest new features is the addition of natural language search to Spotlight, Apple’s local and Internet search app.

Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering Craig Federighi showed the system responding to queries such as “mail I ignored from Phil” and “documents i worked on last june.”

The OS will also add the ability to pin favorite websites in Safari’s window bar, to quickly silence windows that are playing audio and to use the trackpad to swipe messages deleted or replied to in much the same way as a smartphone mail app. New windows management techniques will help tame a desktop full of open windows from different software programs.

Apple is also introducing Metal to OS X. The system provides graphics software with direct access to the graphics processor and should lead to an increase in performance for graphics intensive applications. Adobe has said that Metal brought an 8X increase in rendering performance on its Creative Cloud software apps, according to Apple.

A beta of El Capitan is available to developers from Monday with a public beta from July. The finished software will be available later this year as a free upgrade.

Since Apple started offering its updates at no cost, the company has seen an increase in the adoption rate of new operating systems. Yosemite, its current desktop OS, is now in use on 55 percent of Macs, it said. Apple doesn’t rely on the software for revenue but a continuing stream of new features is vital in its race against Microsoft’s Windows, the dominant desktop operating system.

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