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Posts tagged with "macOS Reviews"

macOS Ventura: The MacStories Review

macOS Ventura is a hard release to pin down. I’ve been running it for months, and it’s been running well for all my everyday work and personal tasks. Features like Continuity Camera, iCloud Shared Photo Library, and the many system app updates have, on the whole, been stable, worked as advertised, and helped me do more with my Mac. So, from an everyday workflow standpoint, Ventura is an excellent release that delivers on the promise of an OS that moves in step with Apple’s other OSes and erases artificial barriers to users coming from iOS and iPadOS. And yet, I worry about the clouds on the horizon.

The release of Ventura is just one moment in time along macOS’s evolutionary path, but it’s an important one. Each fall release is a marker laid down by Apple that says something about where the Mac has been and where it’s going.

The story of macOS Ventura didn’t begin at WWDC in June. As I wrote in last year’s macOS Monterey review, it started five years ago:

For the past few years, no narrative thread has been more important to the Mac and its operating system than their realignment within Apple’s product lineup. It’s a fundamental transformation of both hardware and software that has taken shape over years, beginning publicly with Craig Federighi’s WWDC Sneak Peek in 2018.

Before Mac Catalyst, there was Craig Federighi's 2018 Sneak Peek.

Before Mac Catalyst, there was Craig Federighi’s 2018 Sneak Peek.

Last year’s release of Monterey went a long way toward validating what came before with Catalina and Big Sur:

Monterey is one of the most tangible, user-facing payoffs of the past three years of transition. More than ever before, Apple is advancing system apps across all of its platforms at the same time. Finally, everything is everywhere.

Ventura is, in many ways, a continuation of Monterey’s storyline. Apple has delivered a second year of parallel development across its system apps, with the notable exception of Shortcuts, which I’ll cover later. That’s a big win for Mac users who, in previous years, waited multiple releases for apps like Maps and Books to catch up with their iOS and iPadOS counterparts.

The familiar interface and feature set across multiple platforms are one of the biggest and most tangible achievements of the past few years.

The familiar interface and feature set across multiple platforms are one of the biggest and most tangible achievements of the past few years.

So, with Monterey’s success of moving system apps forward in unison across all OSes looking more like a trend than a one-off novelty, what are the clouds I’m seeing on the horizon? There are three:

  • Stage Manager: Stage Manager is in far better technical shape on the Mac than on the iPad. In fact, I’ve been using it every day since WWDC and will continue to do so. There’s lots of room for improvement, which I’ll cover below, but my concern extends beyond the Mac-specific issues to what the feature’s problems on the iPad mean for Mac users long-term, which is something I covered last month for Club MacStories members and will expand on below.
  • Shortcuts: Shortcuts was in rough shape when it launched on the Mac last year. The app is in a much better place today, although bugs continue to be a problem. More concerning to me, though, is the lack of new system-level actions on the Mac. A lot of resources undoubtedly went into stabilizing Shortcuts on the Mac over the past year, which is understandable, but unfortunately, those efforts seem to have been at the expense of introducing new system-level actions or maintaining parity with new actions on iOS and iPadOS.
  • System Settings: So much of the design work we saw introduced with Big Sur was so carefully considered to harmonize macOS with iPadOS while retaining its Mac nature that System Settings is a shock to, well, the system. System Preferences was long overdue for a refresh, but System Settings isn’t the redesign we needed. Instead, it’s a clear example of why you can’t just graft iOS or iPadOS design onto macOS and call it quits.

Although each of the items above concerns me, it’s equally important to put them in context. For most users, macOS is in a very good place. My day-to-day work on the Mac isn’t affected by whether the iPadOS version of Stage Manager is buggy. I may feel constrained by the lack of some actions in Shortcuts on my Mac, but at the same time, I’ve got Shortcuts on the Mac, something I’d hoped for for years. And Systems Settings are, after all, just settings that may not be great to look at, but they still work.

However, while the issues with Ventura may not be immediate, they’re still important because they threaten the viability of the Mac in the midst of its hardware renaissance. I want to see the Mac continue to grow and flourish, and I’m convinced more than ever that aligning it and the iPad is one of the ways to accomplish that. Unfortunately, Ventura doesn’t move that ball forward in a meaningful way.

With Apple firing on all cylinders when it comes to hardware, now is no time to let macOS stall. Source: Apple.

With Apple firing on all cylinders when it comes to hardware, now is no time to let macOS stall. Source: Apple.

By tying the two together, Apple has set the stage for a healthier third-party app ecosystem that benefits both platforms by making it more economical for developers to create apps for both. I’m sent a lot of apps to try, and I can tell you that this is absolutely happening already. The vast majority of the apps I’m sent today aren’t Mac-only or iPad-only – they’re universal apps that work on both and usually the iPhone and Apple Watch too.

However, the work and the story that started with Federighi’s Sneak Peek aren’t finished. For the Mac and iPad to thrive, now is not the time for Apple to take its foot off the gas. Yet, that’s what Ventura feels like after several years of foundational changes to macOS. It’s not a bad update. There’s a lot to like among the system apps and other changes, but I can’t shake the nagging sense that Apple has taken its eye off the long-term vision for macOS with Ventura. That won’t affect your day-to-day use of the OS, but it’s certainly something worth keeping a close eye on as Ventura is updated and WWDC rolls around again next summer.

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macOS Big Sur: The MacStories Review

Big Sur is a big deal. The OS picks up where Catalina left off, further rationalizing Apple’s product lineup through design, new ways to bring apps to the Mac, and updates to existing system apps. The approach realigns functionality across Apple’s platforms after years of divergence from their common foundation: Mac OS X. The result is an OS that walks a perilous line between breaking with the past and honoring it, acknowledging the ways computing has changed while aiming for a bold future.

macOS, which OS X has been called since 2016, is a mature operating system, so more often than not its annual updates are incremental affairs that don’t turn many heads. Big Sur is different. It’s an update that promises a future that’s connected to its past yet acknowledges today’s mobile-first computing landscape and harmonizing user experiences across devices.

Big Sur also clarifies Apple’s Mac strategy, the contours of which began to emerge with Catalina. It’s a vision of a continuum of computing devices that offer a consistent, familiar environment no matter which you choose while remaining true to what makes them unique. In practical terms, that means a carefully coordinated design language and a greater emphasis on feature parity across OSes. Conceptually, it’s also an opportunity for macOS to shed the perception that it’s a legacy OS overshadowed by iOS and reclaim a meaningful place in Apple’s lineup for years to come.

Together, the changes to macOS set the table for Apple’s M1 Macs, the next big step in the Mac’s modernization, and easily earn Big Sur its designation of version 11.0.

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macOS Catalina: The MacStories Review

Ironically, Apple chose to name this year’s update to macOS after an island. Since the iPhone and iOS took off, macOS has sometimes felt like an island isolated from the rest of the company’s OSes, but the goal articulated by the company at WWDC this year was quite the opposite. Apple clearly telegraphed that change is coming to the Mac and it’s designed to bridge the user experiences between each of its platforms.

To developers, that message came in the form of Catalyst and SwiftUI. Catalyst, which was previewed as an unnamed ‘Sneak Peek’ in 2018, is meant to make it easier for iPadOS developers to bring their apps to the Mac. SwiftUI has a similar longer-term goal of unifying and streamlining how developers build the interfaces for their apps across a range of devices, for everything from the Apple Watch to the Mac.

The efforts to draw macOS in closer with Apple’s other operating systems run deeper than just developer tools though. macOS may have been the foundation on which iOS was built, but in the years that followed iOS’s introduction, the two OSes grew apart. Identically-named apps were developed on different schedules, which meant they rarely included the same features. Also, system-level functionality like System Preferences, which serves the same purpose as iOS’s Settings app, was unfamiliar, making Mac adoption unnecessarily hard for newcomers. Catalina is an attempt to address those kinds of inconsistent user experiences.

With Catalina, Apple has taken clear, though not always successful, steps to bridge the divide between the Mac and iOS. App functionality has been realigned, System Preferences has been rearranged, and new features have been added to make it easier to move from one platform to the other.

As with other transitional periods in the Mac’s history, this one isn’t going to be easy. However, because the change is driven by a fundamental change in computing, it’s also necessary. We live in a new climate where computing is now dominated by mobile devices. For many people, a smartphone is all the computing power they need day-to-day. That doesn’t mean there’s no longer a place for the Mac, but it’s clearly what’s driving the changes in Catalina.

Apple could have chosen to ignore the shift of the ground beneath its feet and merely maintained macOS, making the kind of small incremental changes we’ve become accustomed to in recent years. However, not adapting is as deliberate a choice as change is, and it carries just as much or more uncertainty for the Mac as a platform because it risks irrelevance.

The Mac isn’t in crisis, but it isn’t healthy either. Waiting until the Mac is on life support isn’t viable. Instead, Apple has opted to reimagine the Mac in the context of today’s computing landscape before its survival is threatened. The solution is to tie macOS more closely to iOS and iPadOS, making it an integrated point on the continuum of Apple’s devices that respects the hardware differences of the platform but isn’t different simply for the sake of difference.

Transitions are inherently messy, and so is Catalina in places. It’s a work in process that represents the first steps down a new path, not the destination itself. The destination isn’t clear yet, but Catalina’s purpose is: it’s a bridge, not an island.

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macOS Mojave: The MacStories Review

I went to San Jose this June not expecting much from macOS. After all, it’s a mature OS that already did what I need. My expectations were reinforced by rumors and leaks that Apple would introduce a Dark Mode and the fact that High Sierra introduced several significant foundational changes to macOS. I concluded that Mojave would focus primarily on a design refresh.

I was wrong. Dark Mode is the most visible and one of the most significant changes to macOS, but Mojave is much more than a UI refresh. Dark Mode and Mojave’s other system updates include productivity enhancements that have made meaningful improvements to the way I work on my Mac.

It took some time to acclimate to Dark Mode, but now I prefer it. As much as I like Dark Mode though, the most important changes to macOS have been those that surface existing functionality in new places making them more useful than in the past.

Mojave adds a collection of Desktop, Finder, and screenshot tools that are notable for the way they meet users where and how they work. It’s a functional approach to computing that has had a bigger impact on my day-to-day workflow than other recent updates to macOS, even where the Mojave updates provide new ways to do things I could already do before.

There’s a lot to cover in Mojave, so I’m going to dive right in and dispense with explaining how to set it up. Apple has a whole page devoted to the topic that you can explore if you’d like. Instead, let’s start by considering how Mojave’s Dark Mode.

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macOS High Sierra: The MacStories Review

Since Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard was released in 2007, Apple has periodically paused to release updates to what is now known as macOS that are more a refinement of their predecessors than major upgrades. Apple signals each refinement release by picking a name that relates to the one immediately before it. In 2009, that meant Leopard was followed by Snow Leopard; in 2012, Mountain Lion followed Lion. It’s been a while, and Apple has moved from big cats to California landmarks and adopted the macOS moniker, but the company is back with another operating system update that predominantly focuses on under-the-hood features by following last year’s macOS 10.12 Sierra with macOS 10.13 High Sierra.

For a foundational release, High Sierra goes about as low as you can go by introducing an entirely new filesystem for the first time in almost twenty years. Apple File System, also known as APFS, is a modern filesystem developed by Apple to accommodate the needs of each of its platforms in ways that HFS+ couldn’t manage. If there’s a theme to each of the core technologies introduced with High Sierra, it’s laying the groundwork for the future across Apple’s product line. New video compression technology, Metal 2, and VR are all part of a new bedrock being laid to prepare for the future.

That’s not to say that there are no goodies in High Sierra though. Photos has received several new features, and although not individually as significant, changes to Mail, Notes, Safari, Siri, Spotlight, and other apps all add up to a solid collection of refinements that make the Mac more efficient than before. Even so, High Sierra won’t be remembered for revolutionary user-facing features. Instead, along with new iMac Pros and Mac Pros on the horizon, it shows that Apple still cares about the Mac, but is also taking a broader view, building the infrastructure for the next chapter in computing across all of its present and future products.

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