The new Notification Center in Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite should be a lot more useful than before with the additions of both the Today view and widgets. In fact, after using it for the past couple of weeks, the upgrades to the Notification Center in Yosemite move the OS even further ahead of Windows, unless you count the Windows 8 live tiles as a good way to check notifications (news flash: I don't).
It's true that Mac OS X Mavericks already had a notification center, with a slide out window from the right you could access with a swipe or by touching a button in the upper right. In Yosemite you'll have the same functionality with all the usual updates, but with the addition of the new Today view and widgets from both Apple's core apps (and eventually from third-party software), you'll have more information at your fingertips.
Notifications in Mavericks
In Mac OS X Mavericks, the notification center performs admirably with toast notifications (floating popup bubbles) in the upper right part of your screen and a sidebar to track the latest notifications. The toast notifications let you answer an iMessage directly, for example, or you could field an incoming FaceTime call and reply with an iMessage all from within the Toast notification.
Those are helpful tools, but when it comes to the sidebar section that tracks all my notifications in Mavericks, it's a little less useful. I like that I can get the latest messages, unread emails, and other information from apps, but I have to admit the list-like design made opening the sidebar a rarity.
Yosemite is a change for the better
Fortunately, in Yosemite, the notification center gets much more useful. Along with being able use the Toast notifications and to review missed messages in the sidebar, Yosemite adds another tab at the top to look at the Today view.
The Today view connects with your calendar, social networks, reminders, and more to give you a quick overview of your day. You can see meetings and appointments, any reminders you've set up in the Reminders app, the current weather in your location, and today's birthdays so you know who to send a message to. It's all done with a clean design that divides up each category sensibly so it's easy to read at a glance.
What makes the sidebar notification center more useful is the addition of widgets. Formerly relegated to the Dashboard, you'll now be able to add core Apple widgets such as your calendar, weather, stocks, world clocks, social networks, a calculator, and reminders so you can interact with them directly without leaving the notification center. All of these come included with Yosemite at launch.
Apple says you'll also be able to add widgets from third-party app developers from the Mac App Store beginning when Yosemite launches this fall.
It's important to note that the new widget support in the today view will not replace the Dashboard. People who have become accustomed to using the Dashboard will still be able to do so like before, but now you can keep up-to-the minute widgets (like Stocks, for example) right where you need them -- as part of your Today view.
In a league by itself
There are already notification systems set up for both iPhone and Android (swipe down from the top) and both are strong options for reviewing incoming notifications and you can even open other apps and services straight out of each respective system to interact with messages you receive.
On the major desktop operating systems it's a different story. Apple's desktop Notification Center debuted on Mac with Mountain Lion and has continued to improve with each release, adding the features I mentioned above in Yosemite.
But Windows 8 doesn't do notifications the same way. Instead, you get pop up Toaster notifications (similar to Mac OS X) in the upper right corner that eventually disappear if you don't see them in time. But here's the problem: There is no sidebar or any other interface for reviewing past notifications, so if you're away from your computer when a toaster notification pops up and you didn't see it, you'll never knew it was there.
Your other option in Windows 8 is to view the live tiles in the Start menu interface, which show you updates from the various apps you have pinned there. But the problem here is that the tiles themselves aren't interactive, so you can't click a specific update to interact with it, and instead your click will only open the app where the update originated.
There has been a lot of talk in forums about how Windows can implement a notification center, but for now using a design similar to the Mac sidebar option is out. As you may already know, a swipe from the right side of a Windows 8 computer brings up the charms bar. There are rumors that Windows 9 will remove the Charms bar for desktop setups, but until Microsoft figures out an elegant way to look at your past notifications, Mac OS X Yosemite is in a league by itself.
Promising, but developer support is key
The notification center in Mac OS X continues to get better in Yosemite, but it still remains to be seen how people will actually use it. Right now we know that a few core Apple widgets will come included in Yosemite and more are on the way on launch day from third-party developers, but its hard to say if it will become a regular habit to swipe from the right for actual users.
We also don't know how many or which developers will embrace widgets in the notification center. If the major players jump on board it could become very useful for interacting with apps and services on several fronts. If not, it might just be window dressing.
One thing is for sure however. Mac OS X Yosemite continues to improve these features while Windows is still figuring out what to do.