Gene Steinberg's Mac Radio Newsletter — Issue #1009

Gene Steinberg

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Gene Steinberg's Mac Radio Newsletter
Issue #1009
November 8, 2020

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THE BIG SUR REPORT: BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

Before I get started, let me tell you about 2000, when I first installed a Public Beta of Mac OS X. The Aqua interface sure looked different, but as I wrote in one of my books on the new OS at the time, a Mac was still a Mac, and my normal workflow never changed, despite the huge change in the user interface. And, yes, people complained, as they will when macOS Big Sur is released (probably in the next few days).

But my response will be the same: It may look iOS-like in many respects, but the macOS is still the macOS, and nothing in my daily workflow has changed since installing Big Sur.

Now over the years, I’ve always been among the first to install a beta version of a new macOS or iOS. As soon as I got news that they were out, I’d install them on one of my devices. Indeed, I actually started dealing with betas when the original Mac OS 7 was being developed back in 1991. I had encountered some serious bugs, and was working with an Apple engineer to help him diagnose and resolve the problems.

Of course, today’s Apple is quite different, and you are not apt to find yourself having lengthy conversations with a single developer to deal with a system glitch. More than likely, you’ll have no idea whatever who might be handling your problem, if you’re even lucky enough to get them to pay attention.

In those days, I also had more Apple gear than I do now, and even when it was just one desktop and one notebook, I could install the beta on one and keep the other on a release OS to get real work done.

That too is long ago and far away. I still have a 17-inch MacBook Pro, circa 2010, which is stuck with macOS 10.13, code-named High Sierra, released in 2017. Now having a Mac officially supported for seven years is quote a good thing, and despite being relegated to vintage status, it still runs well, and I’m lucky that the apps I need to run remain compatible.

My desktop is a Late 2014 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina Display, which is fully compatible with macOS Big Sur, version 11. Thus it would seem reasonable to begin to run the public betas as soon as they became reasonably stable. After all, I do have three backups.

But Big Sur is a sea change. Apple signified that development by ditching macOS X and embracing macOS 11. It’s time for a new generation some 20 years after the original 10.0 Public Beta became available. That’s a pretty good lifetime.

It also meant that more third-party apps would be incompatible. So Bombich Software’s Carbon Copy Cloner is not yet able to create a bootable backup without jumping through a big hoop. That’s evidently because Big Sir is placed on what Apple calls “a cryptographically signed system volume that protects against malicious tampering.” Thus making a bootable clone evidently requires an Apple tool that doesn’t work — yet. Bombich’s solution is for you to install Big Sur manually on your backup drive, and have it clone the rest of your startup drive’s data until the fix is done.

It’s important because a bootable clone is critical if something happens to your internal drive. Sure, if it’s not SSD or Fusion, and it’ll run dead slow, but at least you can get back to work until your drive issues are resolved.

All well and good, but there was one deal breaker that kept me from trying Big Sur, an app that’s critical to producing my syndicated radio show, The Paracast, and that’s Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack. Its audio capture engine, which allows you to grab audio from different apps, required a major update to function.

As I watched Apple release newer and newer beta versions of Big Sur, I kept in touch with the folks at Rogue Amoeba on the progress of their upgrade, which has long been promised on their site. Well, on Thursday, November 5th — the same day Apple posted an RC version of Big Sur 11.0.1 to developers and public beta testers — I was notified that a development version of Audio Hijack 3.7.6 was available, and I had my first exposure to the consequences of the enhanced macOS security.

First, of course, I made certain I had a current backup — just in case — and downloaded and installed the Big Sur RC.

Now I didn’t monitor the installation process except in passing, and the system progress bars didn’t appear any different. Instead, I joined Barbara for dinner and let the installer do its thing.

Before retiring for the night, I briefly checked the lay of the land and, other than the new interface and feature set — more about that later — I didn’t see anything that would change my usual workflow in any way. I set up the Audio Hijack development release, which, under Big Sur, requires allowing the ACE audio capture engine to run in the Security & Privacy preference pane. This procedure also meant a restart.

The next morning, I began to check things out.

If you’ve checked out Apple’s description of Big Sur feature set, as you should, there’s no reason for me to repeat much of it. The major change you’ll see is the under interface. Shadows and shades are minimized and 3D buttons are flat but more distinct. The windows and dialogues essentially follow the iOS style.

While OS X purists might object — as Classic Mac OS fans did 20 years ago — it’s gives the Mac a close family resemblance to the iPhone and iPad. Since new Mac users these days are largely coming from the mobile platform, this makes sense. There are minor preferences you can change to bring it even closer, such as scroll bars and a Dock that only appear with a mouseover — nothing you can’t change to the Mac way of doing things.

But as I said at the start of this column, I can’t think of any key usability functions that have changed. On Friday and Saturday, I continued to edit my radio show, The Paracast, in Sound Studio, Amadeus Pro and The Levelator. I wrote my weekly newsletter in Pages, and, as usual I managed communications with Mail and Safari.

Indeed, Safari 14 can be downloaded and installed by those of you who aren’t ready for Big Sur.

Mail is somewhat different, closer to the iOS version, as is Messages. Maps also inherits improvements from the mobile versions. More and more Apple apps are developed using Catalyst technology, so they share source code with the iPhone and iPad. A new Control Center descends from iOS, as do Notifications that include matching widgets.

Interesting, too, that these widgets are somewhat reminiscent of Apple’s late and, to some, lamented Dashboard.

In the scheme of things, Big Sur seems a pretty stable release with the 11.0.1 RC. The only oddity I encountered was an occasional Safari freeze when I brought up the Bookmarks menu. I would presume things might settle down with the final release, or perhaps with another maintenance update or two. Remember, too, that this version of macOS is also designed to support both Intel and the Apple Silicon gear that will be announced on November 10th.

If you’d rather not take chances as I do, you might want to wait. There is no compelling reason to upgrade your macOS right now. But if you do decide to take the plunge, just be sure your data is backed up — well, just in case.

THE FINAL WORD

The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.

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