Apple macOS Catalina: A cheat sheet

Apple's latest entry to its operating system line is macOS Catalina. Read about the features, applications, and security updates that come with macOS 10.15.

Apple's macOS Catalina: The biggest new features macOS is getting a big upgrade. Here's what to expect in the latest version, which is called Catalina.

On June 3, 2019 at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), Apple provided a much anticipated first glimpse into the next iteration of its desktop operating system: macOS Catalina

Adopting the now familiar schedule of yearly releases across all its operating system lines, with macOS Catalina Apple further blurs the line between the traditional desktop environment and what is found in the mobile space by marrying stability and performance with lightweight efficiency, a familiar experience to those who use both Mac computers and iPad or iPhone devices regularly. Catalina also brings much deeper integration than has ever been seen before.

This macOS Catalina cheat sheet covers its features, applications, and security updates that further enhance performance while maintaining the desktop experience users know and like. This guide will be updated regularly to reflect the latest information about this Apple OS.

SEE: Top 20 Apple keyboard shortcuts for business users (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

What is macOS Catalina?

macOS Catalina is the 16th major release of macOS, Apple's desktop operating system for its computer lineup of devices. Officially deemed version 10.15, Apple continues to derive its core OS from Unix while adding many new features to augment the existing framework of services that users have come to know and love. This time out Apple has further experimented with the macOS DNA to inject iPad functionality, as well as extending the working environment for users of both device types.

Technical requirements:

  • OS X 10.8 or later
  • 2 GB of memory
  • 15 GB of available storage to perform upgrade
  • Some features require an Apple ID
  • Some features require internet access

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What features come with macOS Catalina?

macOS Catalina includes several new features and applications alongside updates that further enhance performance and optimize power consumption. This includes the shared DNA ecosystem that allows for tight integration with the iPad when simultaneously using both devices--a feat never before experienced like this until now.

Apple developed macOS Catalina with privacy in mind and implemented a system of controls whereby the OS will require that all apps get user approval before access to documents and data, alongside the previously introduced feature preventing access to system components. In an effort to keep macOS running smoothly, Catalina will run on a dedicated system volume all its own and separate from other apps and data in a read-only space so that system files remain secure and protected from overwriting.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's cheat sheets and smart person's guides

Apple is doubling-down on its T2 Security Chip, which is the secure enclave that allows Touch ID to authenticate, Apple Pay to authorize purchases, and now is leveraged to support Activation Lock on supported hardware, allowing users the capability to remotely erase and reactivate their Mac if it is lost or stolen, preventing unauthorized users from erasing the contents and setting the system up as new--just like on iOS.

Among the new applications that ship natively with macOS Catalina, one of the biggest that is no longer present in its previous incarnation is iTunes. Apple has done away with the media management app in favor of a subdivided set of three applications (a la iOS): Music, TV, and Podcasts. Each application handles its respective content, including purchasing, downloading, and syncing on its own. Another app transferred from iOS is Find My, the standalone application used to help you locate missing Mac equipment, even if your device is offline or asleep.

SEE: MacOS Catalina review: Apple lets the Mac be a pro, and makes the iPad a partner (CNET)

In addition to new applications, macOS Catalina offers updates to some of your favorite apps, such as dynamic views and organizational updates, along with larger previews of your photo collection in the Photos app. There are enhanced collaboration tools built in to Note and Reminders to facilitate sharing with individuals or groups by item or in a folder. Also, Safari's updated start page better organizes favorites, links, and feeds for faster browsing.

Among these features, arguably the most sought after by iPad users is the ability to extend a Mac's desktop by using an iPad as a secondary screen. This technology called Sidecar is officially baked in to macOS Catalina and will also provide screen mirroring capability, if desired, apps that are Sidecar-compatible and which support Apple Pencil will bring the popular input tool's functionality to macOS, affording users the ability to write, edit, and draw ideas on their iPad, transforming them onto their Mac.

Apple has developed a new platform called Catalyst that allows for software to target both macOS and iPadOS (another WWDC'19 announcement), allowing iPad developers to essentially port over their apps with few modifications to the macOS platform, opening up the possibilities for integrated app support across the Apple ecosystem.

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Which devices support macOS Catalina?

Apple has gone to great lengths to ensure that macOS Catalina works well with not only the latest hardware versions in its desktop and mobile computing line, but also that it performs just as admirably on older hardware with little to any loss of functionality between the two. This is a list of the Mac hardware requirements by model that officially supports Apple's latest operating system.

  • MacBook: 2015 and later
  • MacBook Pro: 2012 and later
  • MacBook Air: 2012 and later
  • Mac Mini: 2012 and later
  • iMac: 2012 and later
  • iMac Pro: 2017 and later
  • Mac Pro: 2013 and later, with a Metal-capable GPU

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Is macOS Catalina available?

Concluding the WWDC 2019 keynote, Apple began to seed the very first version of macOS Catalina. The final release of macOS Catalina was made available on Oct. 7, 2019.

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How can I get macOS Catalina?

You can get macOS Catalina as a free download on the Mac App Store.

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What are alternatives to macOS Catalina?

Apple tailors macOS to seemingly work hand-in-glove with its lineup of computers. Using macOS on Apple hardware is still the only method for using the operating system in a legally licensed capacity.

Some people insist on the solid build quality, engineering, and aesthetic that comes from Apple's hardware designs, but prefer to use an OS that is not macOS. There are several options available for those individuals.

Since Apple made the jump to Intel-based processors years ago, along with having introduced BootCamp drivers, Mac users gained the ability to install and run operating systems besides macOS--either virtualized using third-party host software installed alongside macOS for dual-boot capability or as a standalone OS. Here are some of the common OSes that may be installed on your Mac in lieu of macOS Catalina (this is not an exhaustive list).

Microsoft Windows: The Windows client OS is often seen as the direct competitor to Apple's macOS. Besides holding the largest user base market share, Windows is a common fixture in the business world, as it is used to run the computers and lead productivity for most sectors--from administrative to medical to education—and subsequently has the largest selection of software and support for centrally managing users and devices on enterprise-class networks.

VMware ESXi: The enterprise-class, type-1 Hypervisor that installs on bare-metal hardware developed by VMware consists of a proprietary Linux kernel that runs the underlying host system for managing resources utilized by guests as virtual machines that run off the host and made free to use through a GPL license. While the core hypervisor is free to use, enhanced management capabilities are optionally available, including 1:many, High Availability (HA), and live migration of VMs.

Ubuntu Linux: Considered the most popular Linux distribution, Ubuntu is open source and fully supported in client and server versions. Canonical, the developer, keeps Ubuntu updated with security patches released regularly and pledges continued support of certain releases for 3-5 years. A strong community is the primary source of support, backed by a forum of extremely talented, loyal supporters to aid requests made by users free of charge.

SEE: Video: WWDC 2019: Everything Apple announced and what really matters to business (TechRepublic)

Linux Mint: Similar to Ubuntu, Mint is a community-driven distro that offers full multimedia support and includes open-source applications for a complete desktop environment out-of-the-box. Depending on the version downloaded, Mint supports multiple different environments to choose from by default with additional support extended by way of its CLI or various package managers.

Microsoft Windows Server/Hyper-V Server: Similar to its desktop-focused sibling, Windows Server offers robust scaling and provides services that are used the world over to establish enterprise-class support for user and device management, network services like DHCP and DNS to configure IP addresses automatically and process internet lookups, and serves as the foundation for any number of host-based services, like Email, Web, and Failover clustering just to name a few. Support for virtualization is also available, allowing for shared hardware resources to run multiple virtual machines (VMs) without the need for additional physical devices.

Citrix XenServer: Another hypervisor with a Linux foundation, and based on the Xen Project that is free and open-source software supporting high-level scalability expanding to over 4,000 physical CPUs, 256 vCPUs per guest VM, 16 TB of RAM per host, and 1 TB of RAM per guest. The Citrix version of XenServer is released as a commercial distribution with proprietary additions to the core providing additional features and support from a major corporation as opposed to community-based support as is standard with most open-source Linux distros.

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Editor's note: This article was first published on June 4, 2019. It was most recently updated on Oct. 8, 2019.

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Image: Apple Inc.