Should you upgrade to macOS Sierra?

macOS Sierra (Pic: Macworld.com)

After seven public betas and eight developer previews, Apple has outed the final version of macOS Sierra. We have been playing with it over the weekend, and apart from the name change — goodbye OS X, hello macOS — you will be hard-pressed to spot the changes from El Capitan. MacOS Sierra is more of an incremental update that brings a bunch of under-the-hood improvements and a few new features. Is that enough for you to go ahead and upgrade?

First off, if you were hoping for a marriage between Apple’s mobile iOS and desktop OS X operating systems leading to a cute baby called macOS, perish the thought. Apple is unlikely to ever merge the two. However, expect some of the headline features to be ported over from the iPhone side of things.

This time, you have Siri hopping over to chat with you about life and stuff. She sits in the dock by default and all you have to do is click on the icon. Apart from fetching info from the web, you can command Siri to play music, set-up meetings and calendar events, or search for files. in fact, if you have used the digital assistant on the iPhone, you will feel right at home here.

MacOS Sierra also brings tighter integration with the Apple Watch. You can now use the watch to unlock the Mac — similar to the way Android phones can unlock a Chromebook. However, you will need to upgrade your Apple Watch to WatchOS 3 to make auto-unlock work. That is assuming you have or are interested in buying an Apple Watch.

Meanwhile, the clipboard is now universal, and you can copy/paste not only text but also images, videos and other files from one device to another — for example, an email attachment from the iPhone to the Mac.

Elsewhere, the Photos app has been overhauled, and includes the Memories tab, along with the intelligence to recognise people and places in your photos. Yes, as with the iOS version, the desktop Photos app taps into Apple’s “advanced computer vision”.

iCloud, too, has made inroads to your desktop and documents folders, and can now automatically backup local files to the cloud. This is done seamlessly in the background and is a boon if you work on multiple Macs — the documents will automatically appear on your other computers. Another interesting feature — especially for those using low-capacity SSDs — is the optimised storage option. You can let Sierra move rarely-used files to the cloud, freeing up local storage. Of course, those file are just a click away and can be downloaded whenever you need them.

And those who love to span their browsing across a zillion browser tabs will be happy to hear that you can do the same with almost every app on your Mac. So go ahead and binge on Cmd + T to spawn an endless row of tabs. Other smaller changes include a simplified version of Apple Music inside iTunes, making it easier to find new songs. However, iTunes itself remains mostly unchanged, and if you are an Apple Music user who has a love-hate relationship with the program, macOS Sierra unfortunately brings you no respite.

Finally, Apple has introduced a new file system called Apple File System (so much for creative naming!). While you won’t directly interact with it, you should feel its effects in everything you do on your Mac. Apple claims AFS is optimised for flash storage, improves on encryption, file and directory cloning, space sharing and fast directory sizing, among other things.

Now, a bit of bad news and good news: Apple has dropped support for older Macs. So if you are on anything that dates back to 2008 or earlier — or even some of the models from 2009 — you won’t be able to run macOS Sierra. Officially, that is. The good news is that the resourceful community over at Macrumors has figured out a workaround that will let you install the shiny new Sierra update even on ancient Intel-powered Macs. But be aware that you might lose Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in the process and will have to invest in a supported dongle for these functions. Additionally, you might need to upgrade the RAM and hard drive to a SSD if you want macOS Sierra to purr rather than whine.