macOS Big Sur arrives, ushering in huge changes for Macs

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macOS Big Sur public release ushers in huge design changes
The wait is over. You can install macOS Big Sur today.
Photo: Apple

Apple released the final version of macOS Big Sur on Thursday. The new operating system offers the biggest design overhaul to the Mac user interface in nearly two decades. Plus, it brings big improvements to Apple’s bundled applications like Messages, Maps and Safari.

The wraps first came off this major update at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June 2020. Months of beta testing followed, but all that is in the past now. The new version is available to all.

macOS Big Sur is a real Mac face-lift

Apple’s designers retooled the look of the Dock, the Finder and other essential aspects of the Mac experience in the upgrade. And they brought in the iOS Control Center. In addition, the Notification Center now offers grouped notifications and the redesigned, resizable widgets that are central to iOS 14.

Apple didn’t miss a trick. There are redesigned icons for many Apple applications, including Podcasts, Mail, Messages and Music.

Enhancements for Messages, Maps and Safari

With macOS Big Sur, Apple went beyond just tinkering with the icons of some of its applications.

The Messages app comes closer to parity with the iOS version, with Message effects coming to the Mac for the first time. Users also can pin conversations, and make and manage Memojis on the Mac now, too. Everyone can take advantage of new search tools as well.

The macOS version of Maps now brings access to Look Around, which provides a 360-degree view of a destination. And new, highly detailed indoor maps will help users navigate major airports and shopping centers. For the first time, cycling and electric vehicle trips can be routed on a Mac and sent directly to iPhone to have when on the go. And Maps gives laptop and desktop users access to Guides with info about parks, restaurants and the like.

Apple says macOS Big Sur includes “the biggest update to Safari since its original launch in 2003.” There’s a new customizable start page, and the web browser can detect and translate entire web pages from seven languages. Both YouTube and Netflix can stream video in 4K HDR. There are promises of speed increases as well, without effecting battery life.

Dawn of M1-powered Macs

macOS Big Sur is the first version to run on Macs powered by the new Apple M1 processor. Apple recently unveiled a MacBook Pro, a MacBook Air and a Mac mini with this processor, which replaces Intel chips.

Apple Silicon promises significant performance increases without extra power drain. And these computers will come running Big Sur when they reach customer’s hands in mid-November.

Say goodbye to macOS 10

A milestone not to be overlooked is that Apple finally gave up on macOS version 10 after almost two decades. Starting with Mac OS X Cheetah back in 2001, every Mac operating system was version 10.1, 10.2, etc. Last year’s macOS Mojave was 10.14, for example.

No more. Today marks the beginning of macOS 11. Specifically, Apple introduced version 11.0.1 on Thursday.

How to install macOS Big Sur

Upgrading to Big Sur requires a compatible Mac. This new upgrade can be installed on:

  • MacBook introduced in 2015 or later
  • MacBook Air introduced in 2013 or later
  • MacBook Pro introduced in late 2013 or later
  • Mac mini introduced in 2014 or later
  • iMac introduced in 2014 or later
  • iMac Pro
  • Mac Pro introduced in 2013 or later

Anyone running macOS Mojave or later can get macOS Big Sur via Software Update: Go to the Apple menu  > System Preferences, then click Software Update. Another option is to install the new version from the App Store.