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.
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.