Should You Upgrade to macOS Big Sur?

[ Update: On March 21, 2021, I finally upgraded to Big Sur. Here’s what I learned in the process. ]

That’s a good question – but it’s also the wrong question. It is better to ask: “When should I upgrade to Big Sur?”

That answer is trickier.

TAKE THE PRESSURE OFF

The two most important things to keep in mind when deciding when to upgrade to ANY operating system is that there are no “hidden” new features in any Apple or Adobe application that suddenly get turned on when you upgrade.

In other words, everything your NLE does in Catalina, it will do in Big Sur. So you aren’t missing any features by waiting to upgrade.

Second, never upgrade in the middle of a project. Facing a deadline is a terrible time for a significant upgrade. Something always goes wrong, which takes time to fix. Wait until you complete a project – or have time to chase problems – before upgrading.

If you are lucky, everything will work perfectly. And, if not, you’ll have time to figure out what broke and get it fixed.

WILL YOUR APPS WORK?

First, like Catalina, Big Sur is a 64-bit operating system. Any apps that didn’t work in Catalina won’t work in Big Sur. This includes older 32-bit media. (Link)

If you haven’t upgraded to Catalina, here’s how to find out which apps on your system are 32-bit:

NOTE: This column does not appear in Catalina, because all apps in Catalina must be 64-bit.

9to5 Mac writes: “macOS 11 Big Sur has been widely seen as the least stable of the major new Apple software releases this year during the beta period from June until this fall.”

NOTE: Here’s a link to 9to5’s comprehensive look at upgrading to Big Sur.

Aaron, in the comments, highlights https://isapplesiliconready.com. “This website is more comprehensive and notes which apps work natively on Apple Silicon M1 and which work (or don’t work) using Rosetta 2.” I like the layout of this website – there are more than 700 applications listed.

As well, RoaringApps.com has compiled a crowd-sourced list (Link) of app compatibility. There are many other compatibility resources on the web. If you rely on 3rd-party software for your daily work, be sure to check out what works and what doesn’t. Be careful to type the name of your application carefully – this list is poorly curated.

As well, most audio applications have problems with Big Sur. Sweetwater.com has also compiled a list focused on audio apps. (Link)

WHAT SHOULD YOU UPGRADE

While Big Sur will run on most Macs manufactured from 2015 on, Big Sur is required for all M1 Macs; that is, those running Apple silicon CPUs.

NOTE: Here are Apple specs for supported hardware for Big Sur.

My general feeling is that if you have older hardware, don’t upgrade. Older gear is designed to run on older versions of macOS. You’ll probably get better performance by not upgrading. Also keep in mind that if you upgrade and decide you don’t like the new version on your older system, falling back to an earlier version of the macOS is a major pain.

If you have reasonably current hardware, upgrading makes a lot of sense – it simply becomes a question of “when.”

NOTE: Here are Apple’s instructions on how to upgrade to Big Sur.

WHEN SHOULD YOU UPGRADE

I am a fan of waiting. Clients want us to get their work done – on time and on budget. Reliability is more important that bleeding edge. If you have a system you can spare for testing, upgrade that now. See what works and what doesn’t. However, don’t feel under pressure to immediately rush to upgrade production systems.

That being said, I also want to stay reasonably current because developers are creating new software for the new OS, not upgrading older versions. At some point, the latest versions of software won’t support older operating systems. (Final Cut Pro 7 is a classic example of this. It is a 32-bit application. It will never run on current versions of the macOS.)

SUMMARY

So, should you upgrade? Yes.

When should you upgrade?

Last week, Apple released the 11.1 maintenance update to Big Sur, with a beta release of 11.2 to developers for testing. These maintenance upgrades are significant and needed.

For myself, I plan to upgrade my main production system after the first of the year, when the 11.2 update is released. And I’m keeping two older computers on older versions of the macOS – just in case.


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44 Responses to Should You Upgrade to macOS Big Sur?

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  1. KenP says:

    Thanks Larry, you have saved me a lot of grief. Running a 2015 MacBook Air on Mojave and everything works great. Now I know to ignore the constant reminders to upgrade to Big Sur. What a great article this is, supplemented by the comments from people who are in same scenario. Good work and thanks again!

    • Larry says:

      Ken:

      Happy to help. Your computer is old enough that I would recommend not upgrading. If you have a smoothly running system, you are able to get your work done, meet deadlines and keep your clients happy, then there is no great need to upgrade until you buy new hardware.

      Sometimes, chasing the latest OS with older gear is just too much pain.

      Larry

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