OS X 10.9 Mavericks, the latest Apple Mac operating system, received its first major update yesterday (Dec. 16). The update brings a number of bug fixes for Mail and the voice-command user interface VoiceOver, but the big surprise is the accompanying Safari browser update, which includes unexpected support for older versions of Mac OS X.
Apple outlined the Mavericks update's features on the company's support site, and while the changes are mild, they should prove fairly useful. The Mail app now has better support for Gmail, and fixes some issues users reported with customized Gmail settings. Mail's search and contact-groups features should also run a little more smoothly now.
VoiceOver also got a small fix. Previously, the text-reading feature of the program would stumble over sentences that contained emoji (fancy emoticons). Now, VoiceOver can simply bypass the offending characters.
A handful of other improvements went into the Mavericks update: iLife and iWork will now update properly on non-English systems; the "Local items" keychain is now more stable, and users with Japanese keyboards no longer have to worry about accidentally typing in other languages.
The real meat and potatoes of Apple's new updates come in the Safari 7.0.1 fixes, which can be applied either with the Mavericks update or separately. The Safari patch repairs unresponsive forms on sites such as FedEx.com, makes the credit-card autofill easier to use, streamlines VoiceOver with Facebook and keeps Safari Sidebar links updated.
These are relatively minor fixes on their own, but the browser update is not only for Mavericks systems. Apple also released the Safari 6.1.1 update, which fixes the same issues on OS X 10.7 Lion and OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, the two previous versions of Mac OS X.
When Mavericks first launched, there was some concern that Apple would no longer provide support for Lion and Mountain Lion. Although an update to Safari does not necessarily mean that further updates are forthcoming for those OS versions, it does indicate that Apple has not completely turned its back on users with older systems.
If Lion and Mountain Lion are at the end of their life cycles, it could be bad news for Mac users who have yet to update. Although Macs are not as big a target for viruses and malware as their Windows counterparts, there are still plenty of ways to compromise a Mac, and system updates are some of the best defenses against those vulnerabilities.
Furthermore, many older Macs do not have the processing power required to run Mavericks. The choice for those Mac users is a stark one: Run an insecure system, or dish out a great deal of money on a new computer. (Most users of Lion and Mountain Lion can upgrade to Mavericks for free, if their systems are able to support it.)
If you have Mavericks and an Internet connection, simply click on the Apple menu and select Software Update to download and install the patch. Alternatively, you can also download the installer manually from Apple's downloads section. (MacBook Pros with Retina Display will have slightly different updates than other Macs.)
Lion and Mountain Lion users can update Safari by itself in the same way, although they'll have to keep their fingers crossed for a more comprehensive system patch.