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macOS 11 Big Sur Arrives Thursday, Delay Upgrades

At its “One More Thing” event, Apple announced that macOS 11 Big Sur would arrive Thursday, 12 November 2020. Big Sur is the most significant change to the Mac operating system in years, as signified by the abandonment of the 10.X versioning scheme that has been with us since Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah in 2001. (We can hope that Big Sur marks a switch to a sensible major/minor/patch numbering scheme for macOS—see David Shayer’s “How to Decode Apple Version and Build Numbers,” 8 July 2020.) It brings compatibility with Apple’s new M1 chip and completely overhauls the visual interface.

Big Sur on a MacBook Pro

We recommend delaying upgrades for your production Macs. We’ve heard similar stories from many beta testers and TidBITS readers: Big Sur is not finished cooking. We’ve heard about crashes, Wi-Fi problems, Bluetooth issues, display glitches, user interface quirks, and other oddities. Apple shouldn’t be criticized for any of that—these were betas, after all—but just because Apple has decided that Big Sur is solid enough for prime time doesn’t mean that it’s fully polished.

Besides those beta issues, changes in Big Sur’s security scheme for the System volume may cause headaches for some users—if nothing else, reverting to Catalina will require reformatting your drive. Bootable backups will be more challenging to create and use for a while, and Apple has made it so some of its own app traffic cannot be managed by the likes of Little Snitch or TripMode (see “Apple Hides Traffic of Some Its Own Apps in Big Sur,” 22 October 2020). These backend changes may require some adjustments, so it’s best to let people who are excited about diving into the dark waters go first.

So our advice is to stick with your current version of macOS for now, while Apple, Mac developers, and the Mac community figure out how to sand down the rough edges in everyday Big Sur use.

But remember: you shouldn’t put off the upgrade forever—the longer you wait, the harder it gets and the more vulnerable you may be to security vulnerabilities (see “Why You Should Upgrade (On Your Own Terms),” 4 September 2015.) If nothing else, all Macs with Apple silicon will require Big Sur, so you’ll likely be forced to upgrade when you purchase a new Mac in the next few years. And honestly, a new version of macOS is exciting—if we wanted boring, we would have stuck with PCs running DOS back in the day and pooh-poohed the Mac.

In the meantime, you can familiarize yourself with everything new in Big Sur by reading Joe Kissell’s Take Control of Big Sur.

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Comments About macOS 11 Big Sur Arrives Thursday, Delay Upgrades

Notable Replies

  1. Thanks for the straight talk about holding off upgrading to Big Sur. It’s much appreciated! I’ve been very happy in Catalina and I can definitely wait. Keep up the good work, and I look forward to further reports on Big Sur stability as it develops.

  2. Still waiting to hear if it’s safe to leave Mojave without chance of losing Mail.

  3. While I’m not upgrading my production system from Catalina yet, I have to report that Big Sur running from an external SSD startup has been very solid.

  4. This 2017 MacBook Pro is sticking with Mojave forever…

    Upgrade to Big Sur will occur with a purchase of Apple Silicon, likely 2nd generation and beyond.

    Not even sad. Not complaining. The downsides to me of my 2017 MacBook Pro going beyond Mojave is (to me) immense. Mainly surrounding losing 32-bit apps.

  5. I usually wait until a “point” version or two.

    Howard Oakley, and many others, have been writing about what is under the “Big Sur” hood. Here is an overview page. With a lot of links to Howard’s writing about this.

  6. My 2014 5k 27” iMac is still going strong but is on the limit for Big Sur. It probably won’t run the next MacOS. But the screen is still magnificent! Can someone find a way for me to use it as an external monitor with the new M1 Mac Mini?

  7. Unfortunately, your iMac is too new to use Target Display Mode. You could attempt to use screen forwarding software although if that yields sufficient performance depends a lot on what you do. You definitely don’t want to use it for games or video display.

    If I were you I’d see that I can get a few bucks off of selling that old iMac and put that towards a new monitor. There are good large monitors for few hundred Dollars these days (Dell 4k for $315 or same with P3 for $245 more). I’m afraid your case once again illustrates what some people say is an inherent problem with the iMac. Why throw away a perfectly good screen just because you need to upgrade the computer?

  8. I just started downloading Big Sur. Although I already have 11.0.1 public beta installed, I’m downloading the full installer which is over 12 GB in size. And it is very, very slow. Everyone must be trying to get to it. An estimated download time? About 2 days!

  9. I finally did about six months ago. My main concern was likewise Apple mail. I have had absolutely no problems of the sort others have reported.

  10. I was able to load Big Sur onto my MacBook Pro Thursday evening. So far, so good, although the appearance is different (good? bad?–I need to play more).

    Note that Apple does supply a dynamic desktop of the Big Sur coastline for those who don’t want to stare a cartoon colors.

  11. I wish I had taken your advice. I’m now using Big Sur, but have run into one aggravating, time-wasting problem immediately: My mouse freezes every few seconds for a brief time until I can shake it into action again. I’ve tried two mice and have the same problem with both! Ugh!

  12. Have you updated the mouse driver if you’re using any? Just a thought.

  13. I forgot to mention, there’s of course also hardware-assisted solutions. The Luna dongle is such an option. IIRC there’s a Mini DisplayPort version that would work with your older iMac. Not sure if it would work well though.

  14. I’ve done better than that. I reinstalled Mac OS 10.15.7 (Catalina) and not only do I not have mouse problems, but also my laptop fan is now quiet again. With Big Sur, it was audible all the time, which was no good because I make voice recordings on it for various announcing activities.

  15. That’s good advice. I didn’t hold off and encountered some problems on my late 2013 MacBook Pro— my mouse froze frequently at first, but improved after a day, and my laptop fan ran audibly even when no apps were activated, interfering with voice recordings I make professionally. I have reinstalled Catalina from a Time Machine backup and things are back to normal. This is the first time in 25 years as a Mac user that I’ve done this.

    I’m not a fan of Big Sur for other reasons: I don’t like the new alert sounds (the trash sound is overdone) and the system font is not as legible as before.

  16. @demcalary that last statement about the system font is a major flaw to me. Apple has been so enchanted with fonts that are difficult to read, and my aging eyes are having enough troubles without computer help!! Thanks for the warning. I will delay until all is stable and then will require serious adjustments to the system font size and thickness! Thank you.

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