macOS High Sierra: You’ll Hardly Notice

October 5th, 2017

At one time, a new version of macOS might have been a huge deal. Apple would announce over 200 new features, and you could always depend on having lots of changes. Some visual, some under the hood. With OS X, Apple would deliver major changes in each release before adopting a tick-tock pattern.

So a recent example is OS X Snow Leopard, which refined OS X Leopard, and OS X Mountain Lion, which refined OS X Lion. You expect, then, that macOS High Sierra is the refinement of macOS Sierra.

What this means is that, on the surface, they really resemble each other so closely that you will be hard pressed to detect any difference at all, except in a few ways. It’s not that there are no changes, but it will convey a quick level of familiarity that will allow you to upgrade without much to be concerned about.

Well, with a few concerns since, as usual, some apps require updates to be compatible with High Sierra, and perhaps some, such as Microsoft Office 2011, will never be compatible. I can still use Adobe Photoshop 12.1, from Creative Suite 5.5, and it does most of what I want. But it freezes sometimes when I quit the application.

Overall, then, I’d probably recommend the move to High Sierra, although there may be issues with the new Apple File System (APFS). Now a file system is a big thing. It reflects how files are managed and stored on your machine’s drive and thus, if something untoward occurs, you may find yourself having problems. So the Unity gaming engine, which powers such “Civilization V” and other apps, is apparently not compatible with APFS.

Other apps, including Adobe CC, may also have issues with APFS, according to an AppleInsider article. Unless or until there’s an update, you’d be well advised to avoid APFS.

Except that the installation of High Sierra on a Mac with an SSD converts to APFS automatically. You can’t stop the process, although there was a checkbox that allowed you to skip the conversion during the beta process. So if there are any concerns at all, don’t do it. Or prepare to backup and reformat your drive as HFS+ after installation.

At the same time, regular hard drives and Fusion drives aren’t being converted during the installation. Apple promises that a “future update” will offer compatibility, particularly for the latter. The former can be converted successfully with a lone exception. Backup drives using Time Machine may be formatted as APFS, but end up as HFS+ when you actually begin to use them.

At least that’s what happened to me. After Time Machine did it’s thing, it reverted. So obviously Apple has some work to do. There’s no reason to be surprised, because the file system is a huge deal, and there are so many system variations on the Mac that APFS will have to be refined.

That isn’t true on iPhones and iPads. With the iOS 10.3 upgrade, they were seamlessly converted, and I haven’t heard of any widespread issues, or any issues for that matter. It just happened.

Safari for High Sierra gains a few things in the upgrade. Autoplay videos no longer autoplay, which makes certain sites, including Macworld, CNN and USA Today, much more tolerable. I would hope web developers will get the message and stop this dreadful practice. As with other browsers, you can also customize some other settings, including whether to activate Adobe Flash (just say no!).

Apple also claims that Safari is much faster now, faster than any other Mac browser. Those who might have preferred Chrome or Firefox ought to give Apple’s browser a try. I speak as someone who has used Safari for years, and hasn’t gone the other way. So the new features are quite helpful.

Another app with major changes is Photos. After arriving with fewer features than iPhoto, Photos has been fleshed out with neat sidebar and far more powerful tools with which to edit your photos. Some suggest that many people can thus avoid Photoshop and other apps as a result. But you can also pass photos onto such apps and bring them in with the mods intact.

Metal 2 provides better graphics performance with more recent Macs. There’s support for VR, which will expand opportunities for developers to build 3D and VR games and other apps. You won’t see anything until those apps appear, and then you’ll see the benefits.

As with all maOS upgrades since the late 1980s, I’ve almost always updated my Macs early on, often with access to betas (with ready backups). So High Sierra was no exception, although I was more careful than usual. So I upgraded my aging 17-inch MacBook Pro, from 2010, first. It has an SSD, so I got to see APFS in action. Once I was convinced High Serra was stable enough to deploy on my work iMac, near the end of the beta process, I went all the way with it.

With three full backups in fact.

Overall, I’ll give macOS High Sierra a qualified recommendation with the condition that you check your apps for compatibility first. The issue with Unity is a wakeup call, because APFS is forced upon you if your Mac has an SSD.

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6 Responses to “macOS High Sierra: You’ll Hardly Notice”

  1. dfs says:

    As somebody with a SSD installed in his iMac, I can report that at least this one user has experienced nothing bad about the new filing system. The upgrade has been entirely problem-free. On the other hand, I can report nothing good about it either. On the basis of what I had read beforehand I was expecting to see some kind of speed bump. I’ve noticed nothing of the kind. Strictly business as usual.

    • gene says:

      There are some areas where you’ll see speedups, such as duplicating files on your drive, nearly an instantaneous process. You may also gain a little space. But don’t expect much apparent change otherwise.


  2. DaveD says:

    Thank you for the review of macOS High Sierra and its features. Appreciate reading your experience with the macOS.

  3. Jim G says:

    If you run Terminal, sudo su, you can then Show the Package contents of the Installer and drag the starttoinstall item to the Terminal window, adding this option to prevent converting the drive to APFS:

    /Applications/Install\ macOS\ High\ –converttoapfs NO

    It will attempt to Reboot, and Terminal will ask you to Terminate the window. Do so, the computer restarts, proceeds with the install, and when done you have High Sierra with HFS+ still intact. Useful for all that software that still isn’t APFS compatible.

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