The most enjoyable and productive OS there is
Ventura is a worthy upgrade to Apple's fast, reliable, and elegant macOS, with improvements that help you focus, use your phone as a webcam, find things more easily in email, and much more.
Just about every Mac user will be happy with macOS Ventura, the latest version of Apple’s desktop and laptop operating system, available as a free download for any compatible Mac. Happy, yes, but no one will be especially excited, which is why Ventura is exactly the kind of upgrade a smooth, elegant operating system like macOS should get. The most visible new feature is Stage Manager, which lets you focus on one or two apps with fewer distractions. Apple adds dozens of smaller changes and improvements, plus a few interface changes that make macOS more consistent with iPhones and iPads. There’s still room for improvement, but Ventura makes the case that macOS is the most enjoyable and productive OS overall, as well as a PCMag Editors’ Choice winner.
Since our initial review, the OS has received two point updates, 13.1 and 13.2. The first added a completely new collaborative whiteboard-style app called Freeform. The second’s major contribution is support for hardware security keys like the YubiKey, something that’s been available in Windows for several years.
Unlike last year’s macOS Monterey, Ventura doesn’t confront you with a major overhaul to the interface. Instead, it improves the operating system’s look, feel, and security, and it adds flexible new features like a family-shared photo library in Photos. Ventura continues Apple’s push to integrate iOS and macOS. For example, you can now use your iPhone as your Mac’s webcam, a feature called Continuity Camera. To make it work effortlessly, Apple is selling a $29.95 mounting bracket by Belkin that snaps onto your laptop, though it’s not required. You also get new security features like passkeys, a secure login method that’s an alternative to passwords.
Now that we’re at the second point release, version 13.2, it’s probably safe to go ahead and update your Mac to the new OS version, though there’s always the possibility that something won’t work after updating (as you’ll see if you peruse Apple’s support forums). If you want to try out Ventura without risking any changes to the system you use daily, use the macOS Disk Utility app to create a new volume on your hard disk and call it Ventura—or anything else you’ll remember. (Note that you need about 50GB of disk space.) Next, download macOS Ventura from the App Store and run it. Be extremely careful when clicking on the prompts to avoid upgrading your existing system! When the installer prompts you to install Ventura on your current system, which is probably named Macintosh HD, click the button that says Show All Disks (don’t skip this essential step). Then carefully choose to install Ventura on your new volume instead of one with your existing system.
When Ventura starts up for the first time, you can choose the option to transfer your settings, and—if you have room for them—your applications, from your existing disk. If you don’t have room to copy your apps, you can probably run them from the Applications folder in your old system. While you’re trying out Ventura, you can switch back to Monterey by selecting its volume in the System Preference’s Startup Disk pane. (I explain in a moment how to find that pane in Ventura’s revamped System Preferences app.)
Later, when you’re ready to upgrade your existing system, choose Software Update on your Monterey system, and let it update your Monterey setup to Ventura. When you no longer need the Ventura volume you were using for testing, use the Disk Utility app to delete its partition—but only after you’ve made sure you’ve safely copied any documents you created in that test partition.
Ventura runs on almost any Mac released in the past five years. It works on both Intel and Apple Silicon Macs. Ventura supports:
iMac 2017 and later
Mac Pro 2019 and later
iMac Pro 2017
Mac Studio 2022
MacBook Air 2018 and later
Mac mini 2018 and later
MacBook Pro 2017 and later
A simple way to tell is that if your MacBook Pro or MacBook Air dates back to 2015 and uses the old MagSafe connector, it won’t run Ventura. Similarly, the 2017 MacBook Air with the old connector can’t run Ventura. If you’re in doubt, check Apple’s Ventura support page(Opens in a new window).
Ventura has two visually spectacular enhancements, but you’ll only see them if you look for them. One is the new Stage Manager feature, which helps you focus on one app (adding one or more other apps if you want them) while moving everything else out of the way. The other is the Continuity Camera feature, which lets you use your iPhone’s high-tech camera as a webcam instead of the low-tech camera in your Mac.
Let’s start with Stage Manager. This feature, which is also available on many iPad models, is a clever addition to the anti-distraction features already in the Focus feature in macOS and iOS that limits interruptions while you’re working or sleeping. When you click on the Stage Manager icon in the Control Center, the app you’re working in moves to the center of the screen. Any other open apps shrink to a stack of icons on the left and apps and folders on your desktop disappear entirely, though you can set an option that keeps them visible. Drag the current app to the left, and the stack of icons for your other open apps disappears also—or you can make the other app icons disappear by default. If you drag one of the open app icons into the window with the current app, you can keep both open, with everything else remaining invisible or icon-ized.
Apple has been improving focus in recent macOS and iOS versions, and Stage Manager is the best improvement yet. It extends the existing subtle feature that grays out the main window of an app when you open a sub-window to print or set preferences. Like other interface features, you can start Stage Manager either by clicking its menu bar icon or by setting a hotkey that toggles it on and off. You can’t start it from a desktop Hot Corner, but you can hope Apple will add that option someday. Stage Manager isn’t perfect. I wish Apple hadn’t indulged its taste for razzle-dazzle graphics by reducing inactive apps to icons with a distracting perspective effect so that they look as if they’ve been turned 45 degrees to the left and seem to recede into the background. When it comes to windows arrangement, Apple still has some catching up to do with Windows.
Continuity Camera is Ventura’s other dazzling interface feature. Last year, Apple introduced the Sidecar feature that lets you use an iPad as a second display for your Mac and move the mouse or files between the two devices. This year, with Continuity Camera, your iPhone running iOS 16 works effortlessly as a superior alternative to your Mac’s webcam, and wirelessly.
It helps to have a stand to prop up your phone, so you may want to buy the aforementioned Belkin clip that attaches to the top of your screen and grips your phone magnetically (though it’s not required). The stand also works as a kickstand for your phone. Belkin says it will release a similar stand for desktops and standalone monitors soon. If you buy one of these stands, don’t make the beginner mistake I did when I tried to attach my phone without removing its protective case; the magnet only grips the stand when it makes direct contact with the phone’s surface. When your phone is on the stand, your Mac automatically switches from its built-in camera to the phone’s camera, but drop-down menus in apps with camera support let you choose the built-in camera if you prefer. This feature worked seamlessly in Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime, and it’s an excellent example of how macOS at its best just works.
The Continuity Camera feature includes video effects like Center Stage, which tries to keep you in the frame as you move around the room. Portrait Mode blurs the room behind you while keeping your face in focus, a feature familiar to anyone who has used video conferencing tools in the last two years. Studio Light dims the background and highlights your face. This feature also supports Desk View, which uses your phone’s ultrawide camera feed to split the window horizontally, showing your face on the left and your desk on the right. I wasn’t able to make Desk View work smoothly, but that may be because my phone is a low-end iPhone 12 mini.
Each of these features requires recent phones—some requiring an iPhone 11, some an iPhone 12. Also, it took me a while to figure out that you turn on these features by clicking on the little green light that appears in the Control Center in the top-line menu when the camera is running. Once you figure that out, you won’t forget it.
One last continuity enhancement is the ability to hand off a FaceTime call from a Mac to an iOS device, and vice versa.
FaceTime also gets a Live Captioning feature (labeled beta as of this writing) in the preferences pane where you can turn it on. After turning it on, wait for the OS to download a large language pack, and then you may or may not be happy with the results. In my informal tests, the feature ignored many words and misinterpreted others. The friend I was talking with hadn’t enabled captioning on her iPhone (it’s available in both Ventura and iOS 16) and said, “I don’t see any captions here.” My Mac rendered that as “I don’t see any cats in here.” Like many newly-introduced Apple features, you can expect this one to get a lot better in the future.
A surprising but less spectacular interface change is Ventura’s redesigned System Preferences. Instead of a grid of icons, as in all previous versions, you get a sidebar menu on the left, with each item on the menu opening to a preferences pane on the right. The general idea is to make System Settings have a similar menu structure to Settings in iOS.
Your iCloud and Apple ID settings are at the top, and then you work your way down through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Network, Notifications, and more than 20 additional items, more or less as in iOS. The change that takes the most getting used to is having to use a new menu item named General that leads to controls like Software Update, Time Machine, and Startup Disk, which used to be instantly available in the main window of the old System Preferences app. This new system makes sense, as you’re likely to use these controls a lot less often than others, though tinkerers and advanced users will probably mourn the old layout where you didn’t need to hunt through a menu for those controls.
In the old System Preferences app, you could go to the Sound panel to find the option to show the volume control in the menu bar, or go to the Bluetooth panel to find the option to show Bluetooth in the menu bar. In a move to make System Preferences more logical, all these options have moved to the panel that manages the Control Center. You can find them easily by typing “volume” or “Bluetooth” in the app’s search field, but I wish Apple had prioritized convenience here.
Apple made a similar interface change to the system-wide Print dialog, but here it’s entirely welcome. Previously, if you wanted to scroll through the thumbnail preview images, you had to view them one at a time. The new dialog displays a preview of multiple pages in a thumbnail sidebar like the one in the Preview app. And the options in the main panel of the dialog are easier to manage. Third-party apps like Microsoft Office still use Print dialogs that look like the old macOS dialog, but they will probably change as third-party developers update their apps for Ventura.
Arriving in the 13.1 update to Ventura, Freeform is a digital whiteboard app that lets you brainstorm and collaborate with others. To the borderless whiteboard, you can add drawings, shapes, images, links, stickers, videos, and even files. Everything you do in the app syncs among all invited users on Macs, iPhones, and iPads.
For collaboration to work, you need to enable iCloud syncing. It’s a flexible and interesting app that competes with Google Jamboard and Microsoft Whiteboard, both of which are collaborative and cross-platform.
The big usability enhancements in Ventura are in Mail, Messages, and FaceTime. Mail’s search feature gets a major overhaul and is more reliable than in earlier versions, though still not as powerful as it should be. When you click in the search field, a drop-down shows you a list of links and attached documents found in recent messages, because those are the things you’re most likely to look for. Searches for names and words are faster than before, and searches now include Google-style synonym searching and autocorrect for mistyped words.
If you have multiple mailboxes, and you probably do, you’ll be grateful for one subtle change: When you start typing a search string, the search goes through all mailboxes by default, so you no longer need to click an option for each. Also, Ventura’s mail search seems far more thorough than earlier versions. I used to keep a copy of the Thunderbird mail client on my Mac because Thunderbird’s search always found messages macOS Mail couldn’t.
Mail finally gets an Undo Send feature that lets you second-guess yourself after going forth with an angry message or wondering if you left a typo in an important email. For 10 seconds after you click Send, an Undo Send button appears at the foot of the Mail sidebar. If you click it, the message-editing window opens so you can either delete your message entirely, or edit it and resend it.
By clicking and dragging right on a received message, you can click a clock icon that sets a reminder that puts the message back into your inbox on the reminder date. For messages in English, a Follow Up feature detects messages that specifically ask for a response and pushes them to the top of the inbox. Also, as in Thunderbird and other mail clients, Mail finally prompts you if you mention an attachment in your message and then forget to include it.
The Messages app now lets you mark a conversation as unread by right-clicking the conversation or from the top-line menu, although you won’t find the option by right-clicking on an individual message. The app continues to add collaboration features, such as the ability to share a document or presentation directly from Messages. When someone joins a Messages thread, you can add them to the collaboration with a click. Deleted messages are now retained for 30 days in case you need to retrieve them, so you no longer need to scour your phone in the hope of finding a message you’ve deleted from your Mac.
The Messages app plays catch-up with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger by giving you two minutes to unsend a message. You also get 15 minutes to edit it. What seems wrong with this feature is that earlier versions of an edited message remain visible to the recipient, so if you send a message that says “I quit,” and then revise it to say “I look forward to working with you forever,” the recipient can click a button and see the original version. So, if you’ve said something you think you might have regretted, you’ll definitely want to unsend the message and start over.
This doesn’t happen with WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. And unlike in those two apps, you can’t hide a message only on your side of the conversation, leaving it visible to the recipient, so that anyone looking over your shoulder won’t see your message, but the recipient can.
Photos now gets a Shared Library feature you can set up from the app’s Preferences and share with family members or anyone else. Members of the sharing group can edit or delete photos in the shared library.
You can set up your phone to save photos directly to the Shared Library instead of to your private library. You can also click on a drop-down in the Photos app to display either your personal library or your shared library, or both at the same time.
It’s a potentially terrific feature, but I have mixed feelings about the way Ventura implements it. In the similar Shared Album feature introduced in earlier versions of macOS and still available, only the user who contributed a photo has the ability to delete or modify it. In the new Shared Library, everyone has equal control, so your little brother can draw a mustache on your selfies, and there’s nothing you can do to stop him. Also, the Photos app only lets you move a photo from one library to the other, not copy from one library to another, so if you want to keep a backup copy before you move a photo to a shared library, make sure to choose Duplicate Photo from the context menu.
The Photos app now stores your recently deleted photos in a separate library, accessible only with a password or Touch ID. And an impressively well-executed Copy Subject feature reminiscent of recent Photoshop capabilities automatically copies the person (or people) in a photo to the clipboard without the background. This means you can paste the resulting image into a message or document. When you select Copy Subject from a photo’s pop-up menu, Photos shows you what will be copied by drawing a white outline around the section it selects.
As it does in each new version of the OS, Safari gets improvements to its organizing features, and, as always, Apple adds more ways to share almost everything with almost everyone.
Earlier macOS versions added Tab Groups—sets of tabs you can open with a click on the name of the group. Ventura adds shared Tab Groups, so you can send a Tab Group via Messages and then, in real time, see which of your colleagues is viewing which of your tabs. Each Tab Group can get its own start page. If you click on the controls icon at the lower right of the page, you can choose which sections of Safari’s default start page will appear on the group’s start page. You can apply a background image either chosen from a gallery provided by Apple or by selecting an image of your own; a plus sign button makes it possible. None of these features is especially intuitive to figure out, but you only have to try it once to get the idea.
The biggest security enhancement involves passkeys, a new kind of credential that combines a biometric identification like Touch ID or Face ID with an encrypted digital key that’s stored, in this case, on your Mac and propagated to all your other devices via your iCloud Keychain. Passkeys are touted as a much safer alternative to the standard username and password combos for logins. Passkey isn’t exclusive to Apple, but Ventura marks the first release of it on macOS.
Passkeys only work on websites that support them, but they should make digital life far more secure than it is now, partly because passkeys can’t be phished and they only work from your own devices. If you log in to a supported website from a Windows or Android device, the site displays a QR code that, when scanned, lets you log in from your iPhone.
Other password improvements include the ability to edit Safari’s suggested strong passwords to match a website’s login requirements and easy access to Wi-Fi passwords via the Network Settings panel, where you can click to copy a password to share it.
At PCMag, we often stress the importance of enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA), and hardware keys like those in the YubiKey line are some of the strongest forms of MFA available. With the 13.2 update to Ventura, you can now require a hardware security key to log in to your Apple ID account on your Mac. You need two FIDO-certified keys for this to work, according to Apple’s documentation(Opens in a new window)—read our roundup of hardware security keys for help selecting one.
Ventura brings to the Mac features you take for granted on your phone. For example, a new Clock app works like a spacious version of the iOS equivalent. You can create alarms and set a time or stopwatch. A new Weather app is an equally spacious version of the iOS app and opens all the locations you’ve added on your phone. The existing Reminders app gets the ability to pin lists in the same way you can pin conversations in the Messages app. You can also create templates for new lists and see all your completed tasks in a single list.
Ventura, like Monterey, lets you install many apps designed for the iPad but, as the App Store warns, “not verified for macOS.” I am disappointed Ventura doesn’t let me resize these apps, but it seems that Apple is respecting the settings made by the app developers for the iOS and iPadOS versions. If, like me, you’ve been reaching for your phone for apps that you don’t have on your Mac, search for those apps in the macOS App Store, because you may find them there.
Speaking of the apps, I’m still waiting for Apple to improve the App Store so I can search in my list of purchased apps, or at least display that list in alphabetical order instead of in reverse order of purchase date, which makes it impossible to find the app I’m looking for.
The Spotlight search feature gets an unusually hefty set of enhancements. You can finally open a Quick Look preview simply by pressing the spacebar, just as you could already do from the Finder. Spotlight now returns a more extensive set of search hits; for example, search for “clock” and the result list includes “create timer.”
A Rich Results feature displays a screen of information about performers, artists, businesses, and more, and also about your contacts, so you can enter a contact’s name and see their birthday and other information without opening the Contacts app. When a Rich Result is available, the Spotlight search field says Show More, and you simply press Enter to see the information. If you search for something like “house photos,” Apple claims you’ll find photos of your house in the Photos app, but I had very mixed success with this feature, which found only a few of the dozens of house photos in my library.
As in previous versions, some Ventura features won’t be ready at the first release, and Apple says only that they’re coming “later this year.” The most notable one is Freeform, an infinite-canvas collaboration app along the lines of Miro, Microsoft Whiteboard, Google’s JamBoard, Zoom’s built-in Whiteboard, and others. It isn’t available for testing, but it looks as if its major advantage will be its integration into the Apple ecosystem, so you’ll be able to start a collaboration from FaceTime or see updates in Messages.
Apple says everything in Ventura runs on both Intel and Apple Silicon Macs, with the one exception of the above-mentioned Live Captions feature, which provides real-time transcriptions of calls and FaceTime calls and runs only on Apple Silicon. By contrast, Live Captions in Windows 11 work on all PCs. Earlier macOS versions had larger lists of features that required Apple Silicon, and my guess is that Apple’s decision to support Ventura only on post-2015-era Macs means all Intel Macs that can support Ventura are powerful enough to run almost all its features. Apple reports that its Metal 3 graphics technology will enhance speed and visual detail in games, but I haven’t tested it.
That doesn’t mean Ventura gives me everything I want from macOS. I’ve been begging Apple for years to provide an option to use darker folder icons than the glaringly bright blue ones. If you switch the interface to Dark Mode, the edges of the folder darken slightly, but the folders are still too bright. Until a few years ago, I was able to change the default icons by hand, but security updates in recent versions make it impossible.
I still can’t find a way to drag a System Preferences pane to the desktop or a folder to create a shortcut, and I wish macOS, like Windows, would let me compare creation dates and other details when I copy a file into a folder where another version of the same file already exists.
I also wish every macOS dialog box would let me navigate its buttons and options from the keyboard, instead of leaving me guessing whether I’ll need to use the mouse to select the button I want. All these are minor long-standing complaints about macOS, not specifically about Ventura.
I’m writing this review while traveling with two laptops, a MacBook Air running Ventura and a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon running Windows 11, and Ventura helps me to focus and relax in ways Windows 11 doesn’t. Of course, some of my PCMag colleagues have exactly the opposite opinion, and I’ll continue to rely on Windows for running apps that aren’t as feature-rich or convenient in their Mac versions. But except when I need those few apps, I’ll always reach for my Mac first.
In our testing, Ventura has consistently proven itself to be swift, reliable, and elegant, with deep security features no other OS can match. Ventura is a smooth, straightforward upgrade, and a clear Editors’ Choice winner that confirms macOS is the most polished operating system overall.
Ventura is a worthy upgrade to Apple's fast, reliable, and elegant macOS, with improvements that help you focus, use your phone as a webcam, find things more easily in email, and much more.
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Edward Mendelson has been a contributing editor at PC Magazine since 1988, and writes extensively on Windows and Mac software, especially about office, internet, and utility applications.
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