As a long-time Apple fangirl, I was excited to finally get my hands on macOS Big Sur, especially given how much later it came out than this year’s iOS/iPadOS updates and, perhaps even more excitingly, represents their first software-side step towards an ARM future for the Mac.
I don’t have an ARM Mac, but rather an Intel 16” MacBook Pro — by far my favorite piece of electronics. After getting everything set up on it just how I wanted it, shaking up so much was a little anxiety-inducing. But totally worth it.
The upgrade, at least for me, was far less painless than Catalina, which introduced all sorts of compatibility issues. After about forty minutes, I was back up and running, and everything continued to work as expected. Much as Big Sur represents the beginning of the big wave of change towards ARMs, removing 32-bit support caused far more headaches than adding ARM support. For now, at least, nothing new is broken, which, for many folks, will surely be the most important factor when deciding to upgrade.
Over the past several years, it’s become blatantly obvious that Apple seeks to make the Mac experience more smartphone-like whenever it streamlines the experience. In many ways, Big Sur feels like the culmination of this undertaking — and not just because it is the first version to support ARM. Some of it is aesthetic: new iOS-esque standard for app icons makes the redesigned dock look almost exactly it does on the iPad, provided you’re willing to seek out custom icons for the many stragglers who have not yet made the switch. Fonts and styles throughout the OS were refreshed and modernized. System-level sound effects left untouched for over a decade were updated with new sounds.
Though Apple has tried a number of variations on widgets through the years on the Mac, they only just recently brought them to iOS and iPadOS. Big Sur brings that style of widgets to Notification Center on the Mac. At this point, few Mac apps support the standard, which will hopefully change in the coming months, as its Apple’s best stab at widget’s thus far.
Safari’s added support for the WebExtensions API is reassuring, as frustrations with extensions is historically my biggest barrier to using the browser. Now that they are using the same standard as Firefox and Chrome, things should be more smooth — though, much like with the new widgets, this depends on developers doing at least a little legwork.
Spotlight was updated and more powerful than ever, though it still lacks the kind of extensibility that makes apps like Alfred popular. With Apple’s renewed focus on extensions, perhaps they could finally give serious thought to the idea of Spotlight plugins.
Apple also touts how Game Center is redesigned and more powerful, but it’s still nowhere near what Windows is offering — though Windows is obviously much more popular of an OS with gamers. Given it can only be accessed inside of certain apps following the discontinuation of the dedicated Game Center app years ago, it hardly feels like a core system-level feature.
Still, I can only complain so much about such shortcomings when Big Sur represents both such a considerable upgrade to functionality with little risk of breaking existing apps you rely on. This is a great release that is worthy of finally, after two decades, reaching version eleven, following Apple’s long-standing tradition after the release of “Mac OS X” of simply putting bigger and bigger numbers after the ten.
In a time when laptop sales are in overall decline and desktops increasingly move towards custom-built gaming rigs, it’s nice to see Apple building a future for the Mac — both in hardware and software — that will keep Macs to be an exciting and important part of the tech landscape for quite some time. I’m eager to see what the future holds.