So, as promised, the newly minted macOS, Sierra, launched on Tuesday. With heavy loads on Apple’s servers, you may have had to wait a while for it to arrive. The downside of the free Internet service I’m getting in this place is that it’s not super-fast. So it took a grand total of six hours for it to arrive. But it’s not that I wasn’t using it already, having installed the first Golden Master candidate. Apple has released two for developers, one for public beta testers, who now have to download a full installer to be up to date.
I had hopes that that some of the minor glitches I found in Sierra might be resolved with the release version, which bears the same build number as the second Golden Master, 16A323, but that’s not quite true. So I still have that occasional temporary freeze with Mail, in which it becomes unresponsive for 30 seconds or so, before it resumes normal operation. I had the identical problem in El Capitan from the earliest betas through the final maintenance update, 10.11.6.
But now that Sierra is officially released, I’ll take this up with Apple support and see what they suggest.
Now as regular readers know, I am not above taking a few chances, not because I want to damage my data or make my Macs unstable. I want to be up to date as much as possible for the radio show and this blog. But I take my chances with a backup plan, or rather three of them.
So I first installed Sierra on a second partition on my iMac’s internal drive. With the ability to create “live” partitions, this is no big deal. It’s just a matter of waiting till the resizing process is complete.
Now in the past, I’ve moved the new OS to my main partition after a month or so. Usually it was stable enough, but not so with Sierra. I waited until the first Golden Master to install it on my work partition. But, as I said, I have backups that consist of a clone backup and a Time Machine backup on a pair of external drives, plus a cloud backup via CrashPlan. So I might have been foolhardy, but I knew I could return to my previous configuration in a couple of hours or so. In the meantime, I had my MacBook Pro at hand to manage the radio shows and writing and editing chores — just in case.
Indeed, this is the most important caution when it comes to doing a major OS upgrade. You want to have a full backup. While most installations ought to proceed satisfactorily, a tiny percentage of users will encounter troubles. They will blame Apple, usually, even if the cause is some form of corruption in their own setup. But the blame game doesn’t resolve the problem. Having a full backup may be the best solution. But you have to allow enough time for things to settle down.
At the very start, indexing in Mail and for Spotlight will make the new system seem slow for a while. So give it a day before you test for possible performance issues.
Now if you really want to be cautious, you might prefer to hold off for a few days or a few weeks before you consider installing Sierra. No doubt there are early so-called version point-zero defects that may require fixing, and if you check the online chatter to see what loads of users report, you can decide if it’s a deal breaker or not. But it’s also true that recent OS X versions haven’t received such great reviews from Mac users at the App Store. Both El Capitan and Yosemite garnered three stars. Let’s see how Sierra fares.
In any case, the installation was, to me, a non-issue. Just about everything worked, although I had to switch Facebook messaging apps. So FreeChat for Facebook Messenger wouldn’t load messages. I found another app, Chatty, for $1.99 at the App Store, which seems perfectly functional. Everything else I’ve tried so far, including my Brother and Epson printers, appears to function normally, but I haven’t put all my apps through their paces yet.
That said, a tentpole feature of Sierra is the desktop version of Siri. As you know, I have expressed my skepticism about it on a number of occasions. I find little in the release version to change my tune. It doesn’t work effectively in my workflow, which includes recording and editing audio files for my radio shows. When I’m not editing, I keep the radio on in the background, and I don’t want to compete with other voices to ask Siri to do something. So it’s just not for me.
Siri is also not suited to an office environment where you have people sitting in cubicles. Can you imagine the din as dozens fight to order Siri to do one thing or another? That said, it should work well enough for people at home or in a private office, so I’m not going to say it was a waste of time for Apple to add Siri. At the very least, they need to keep up with Microsoft, who added the Cortana virtual assistant to Windows 10 last year.
And, no, I haven’t used Cortana either on a Parallels virtual machine after briefly putting it through its paces.
There are a modest number of other Sierra improvements, including the Universal Clipboard, the ability to store your Desktop and Documents folders in the cloud, and the Optimized Storage feature that will help those with space-challenged drives to maximize space. I suspect my son, Grayson, will cherish that one, since he just bought a new MacBook Air that has a drive that’s a fraction of the size of the one in his now-dead 2008 MacBook.
Other features include fancy formatting enhancements to Messages, similar to iOS 10, which will largely appeal to younger users, the ability to use Apple Pay via the web, and support for auto unlocking your Mac via an Apple Watch. But the latter is no reason, by itself, to buy Apple’s smartwatch.
Overall, Sierra is a decent though not essential upgrade. But observe the usual cautions before you decide to go for it.