Mavericks, the latest Mac OS release from Apple, has been out for a little over 2 weeks now, and the general consensus is: go for the upgrade. Many users upgraded right away (especially since the the upgrade is free), but when you use your Mac at the office, or for professional purposes, it’s always best to exercise caution. Free upgrades sound enticing, but it’s still best to be sure you won’t pay for it later, especially if you’re coming from an older system (10.6 or 10.7). Here’s a few things to keep in mind before taking the leap to the latest and greatest Apple release.

Check Compatibility

Before any upgrade, it’s always important to review any 3rd party software you depend on, and check with the developer to be sure it will work in Mavericks. Also, check your plugins (the little things that work inside of web browsers, Outlook and other client software). They often get overlooked, and sometimes forgotten about even by their own developers. Thankfully, if a paid upgrade is required, most software companies will offer upgrade discounts to go with the latest release. VMWare Fusion, for instance, offers a $10 discount on upgrades up to 3 versions back.

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Email Here

If you’ve been reading the early complaints about Mavericks, you’ve likely seen Gmail mentioned quite a bit. Even before the public release, testers and developers were pointing out the not-so-great interaction between Apple’s software and Google’s email service. In reality, most of us have been dealing with these kinds of problems for awhile, and have learned to either accept them, or work around them.

Truth is, the world of email has changed dramatically since Apple first introduced it’s email client, Mail, and it’s companion apps Contacts and Calendar (formerly AddressBook and iCal respectively). Unfortunately, Apple Mail has not changed much as the services it supports have. Sure, it now features a central account management panel in System Preferences, so you only have to setup your accounts in a single location, and it does automatically recognize popular providers like Yahoo, Gmail, and Exchange. Apple even released an update post Mavericks release, to specifically improve interaction with Gmail. But, the more important things going on behind the scenes, have failed to match up with the ever changing world of services.

Here’s the good news: other developers have stepped up to fill the void. There are some fantastic apps out there for managing your email, each with their own unique take on managing the seemingly endless stream of daily messages, all in the hopes of achieving that legendary status: Inbox Zero (AirMail, Unibox, Microsoft Outlook and the now defunct but still fantastic Sparrow to name a few). Even better, most providers have gone to great lengths to make their web interface easy to use, customizable, and very full featured (Microsoft and Google especially, though even Yahoo recently released an overhaul).

Bottom line, if you find yourself needing to learn a new interface, going straight to the source and diving into the web client is probably your best bet. That being said, Contacts and Calendars have seen some great improvements, and you can easily use those tools to manage and view your data, regardless of whether Apple Mail is handling your email needs.

Backup Everything

While I have personally never seen an Apple upgrade cause data loss, I have heard of first hand accounts where it did. You don’t have to go to extremes here, just running a simple Time Machine backup before upgrading will suffice, but make sure you do something to ensure your data is safely somewhere else should the worst case scenario happen. Also, this especially matters if you’re coming from an older system, make sure you disable any encryption software that might be running on your Mac. That includes Apple’s little known (and in my opinion very dangerous) built in encryption program, FileVault.

Printers and Accessories

Printers, scanners, and even some higher end mice and keyboards, depend on drivers to help them communicate with your computer. It’s always best to check the manufacturers website to see if they’ve released new drivers for the latest Mac OS. In some cases, it might be worth keeping the older OS so you can continue using the accessories you depend on. This is especially important with third party adapter cables, often used to connect older devices to your Mac, or devices you might use through Windows in a VM or Bootcamp.

Post Upgrade Woes

There are some great new features in Mavericks, particularly in the areas of multiple displays and file management. However, with each new feature comes the likelihood of disruption. Thankfully, Apple also makes it very easy to revert or disable the flashy new features that often leave us, the users, scratching our heads at how such things could possibly be considered innovative (take the Natural Scrolling of Mac OS 10.7 as example).

If the new look and feel leaves you reeling and unsure of how to do all the great things you did before, have no fear, there’s usually a way to get things back the way they belong.

In Conclusion

Thankfully, Mavericks is not a big upgrade. It fixes some issues users have long complained about, brings current certain background technologies, and confirms the trend of moving the feel and function of your Mac more and more in line with your iOS devices. This makes it a pretty safe bet for most people.

If you’re not sure where you stand, and are a bit hesitant, just give your friendly neighborhood Brightworks consultant a call, and we’ll be happy to get things going. If you’ve already upgraded and are facing some tough choices about alternatives to applications that no longer work, or strange issues that keep slowing you down from doing the things you need to, we can help with that too.