OS X Mavericks Technology Brief

OS X 10.9 Mavericks, formally announced on June 10, 2013, is the ninth significant update to OS X, Apple's desktop operating system. It became available exclusively from the Mac App Store on October 22, 2013. Information Systems & Computing (ISC) and other groups across campus have tested OS X Mavericks and found that it works as expected with many Penn systems and services, including AirPennNet, Exchange, Penn+Box, and Zimbra.

ISC recommendation

ISC supports OS X Mavericks for its clients, including off-campus students. ISC recommends OS X Mavericks only for Macs that have at least 4.0 GB of RAM, though there is hope that the compressed memory capabilities will extend the lives of some 2.0 GB systems. The full OS X Mavericks installation uses approximately 8.0 GB of disk space for the download and installation, depending on the type of Mac and choices made during the installation.

Consult Apple's OS X Mavericks technical specifications page for precise details on what hardware is supported.


OS X Mavericks is available from the Mac App Store as an upgrade for OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and above at no charge. Apple's continued use of the Mac App Store as the primary OS X distribution channel complicates how providers upgrade OS X computers at the University. The Mac App Store was released with the OS X 10.6.6 update and is only available on Macs with at least that version of Snow Leopard, Lion, or Mountain Lion. Also, the scarcity of physical media sometimes complicates the OS reinstallation process, requiring manual creation of operating system installation media from the Mavericks download.


There are some known issues with OS X Mavericks, some of which are especially relevant to Penn's Mac users.

  • While OS X Mavericks installs on any currently supported Mac, older computers near their end of life cycle may encounter problems, particularly those constrained by low hard disk space or minimum RAM. Be sure to have a current backup (using local or network means) before installing OS X Mavericks in case there is a need to back out of the installation.
  • Some supported applications (including FileMaker Pro, Flip4Mac, and Symantec Endpoint Protection) require an update to be compatible with OS X Mavericks (SEP 12.1.4 is compatible and available for download). Other applications that require an update include Adobe's Creative Cloud synchronization application. ISC suggests upgrading applications purchased through the Mac App Store before upgrading to Mavericks.
  • Symantec Drive Encryption/PGP is incompatible and as of mid November 2013 no update is available (Apple’s FileVault 2 functions as expected).
  • The installation of OS X Mavericks completely removes any previous Java installation. Java may need to be reinstalled in order for applications such as Symantec Endpoint Protection and MatLab to install and/or run correctly. MatLab workaround steps have been developed for OS X Mavericks by the School of Engineering and Applied Science's CETS group.
  • There have been extensive but inconsistent reports of problems using Gmail with Apple Mail. Apple has released a fix for this issue.
  • OS X Mavericks includes a new version of the Safari web browser (7.0.x) which has some compatibility issues with various web sites.
  • Generally, any operating system upgrade (including OS X Mavericks) may cause compatibility issues with applications that are one or two generations old.
  • In late February 2014, a serious SSL vulnerability was discovered in OS X Mavericks. Apple released OS X Mavericks version 10.9.2 to address this issue. ISC strongly recommends that all users of OS X Mavericks upgrade to version 10.9.2 immediately.


OS X Mavericks is a significant release with over 200 new features. Many of these features are based on similar or equivalent features from iOS. Below are some changes that may be interesting to the Penn community.

  • Visual redesign: Many Apple core applications, particularly iCal and Contacts, have been reworked visually to remove much or all of the skeumorphic elements (such as leather stitching, wood textures, etc.), leaving a very flat, abstract design.
  • Maps: Apple has integrated a maps application into Mavericks built on the technology developed for its Maps iOS app. Maps for OS X is visually beautiful and the rendering of map images is quite good, but it still relies on the much-maligned back end used for the iOS version.
  • Advanced multiple displays: Multiple display support has been improved with each display receiving its own menu bar and full-screen operation being allowed on a per-display basis. This allows one application to run full screen on a display while multiple applications are running on another display, or multiple displays each displaying one full screen application. Via AirPlay streaming to Apple TVs, HDTVs can be used as fully featured displays as well.
  • Notifications: Another feature brought in from iOS and similar to the longstanding notification program Growl, Mavericks now displays notifications of messages, new emails, FaceTime calls and more as popups on the side of the screen and in an expandable sidebar.
  • Finder tabs and tagging: Multiple new features are available in Finder, notably the ability to have tabbed Finder windows, with each tab displaying a different folder or file, and the ability to tag files and folders. The tags are then searchable, allowing more robust file organization without subjecting them to a deep folder hierarchy.
  • Improved speed and efficiency: A number of features (Timer Coalescing, App Nap, Safari Power Saver, and Compressed Memory) designed to improve speed and power consumption have been implemented: the result is that CPU usage is significantly reduced and thus battery life is significantly extended.


The flat design of OS X Mavericks is at once appealing to some users and off-putting to others; regardless, it follows the direction Apple established in iOS 7 following the departure of Scott Forstall, the last major proponent of skeumorphic design at Apple.

Given the prevalence of Mac notebooks at Penn, and the improvements already seen in the Haswell architecture released in 2013, the performance increase and battery life extension afforded by OS X Mavericks arguably might be its most important "under the hood" feature.

The free release of OS X Mavericks may obviate the need for a Penn licensing model for any modern OS X: any currently supported Mac computer can run Mavericks. Current data indicates that this is encouraging quicker adoption of OS X Mavericks within Penn's installed base of OS X users, and ISC believes that many (if not most) users will move to OS X Mavericks some time in FY2014.

-- Michael McLaughlin, John Mulhern III, & Vern Yoneyama, ISC Technology Support Services (October 22, 2013, last updated on February 26, 2014)

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Date Posted: October 7, 2013 Tags: Technical Info, Supported Product, Apple, OS X, Mavericks, Essentials

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