Wednesday, 21 September 2016 12:33

New OS for Macs arrives: macOS Sierra a free update

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Unlike Microsoft which gives free OS updates and takes them away, Apple’s newest Mac OS update, macOS Sierra, is free and ready to download. But a back-up is necessary first!

As I type this article, I’ve made a back-up of my system, and I’m now downloading macOS Sierra.

It finally includes access to Siri, among other "all-new capabilities", and it will be installed by many multiple millions of users far more willingly than was ever the case with Windows 10.

Apple says that "macOS Sierra brings Siri to the Mac with intelligent and helpful features users know and love from iPhone and iPad, along with all-new capabilities designed specifically for use on the desktop", all of which I’m very much looking forward to using later today once my free update has downloaded and installed.

Apple touts features such as "Universal Clipboard, iCloud Desktop and Documents, Auto Unlock and Apple Pay on the Web", all of which "help your Mac work even better with other Apple devices".

There is also an update to the Photos app, which gets you "a new Memories feature that automatically creates curated collections of your favourite photos and videos". More detail on that below. 

Apple’s macOS Sierra page has plenty of additional detail on what the new OS can do, with several examples of how you can use Siri on the desktop to make your life easier. 

But what are some examples of that without having to dash off to Apple’s site?

Luckily, Apple has provided us a few examples. Siri on the Mac can:

  • help send messages and email;
  • find documents;
  • look up information;
  • search a user’s photo library;
  • adjust system preferences and more.

We are also told that "users can drag and drop Siri results into documents or pin them into their Today view for later reference".

Another nifty feature that once needed separate apps to achieve is the new "Universal Clipboard". This lets you copy content from an app on one Apple device and paste it into another app on a different Apple device.

The iCloud Desktop and Documents feature lets you access files on the Desktop from your iPhone and/or iPad.

Another feature that I’ve used "Knock to Unlock" to achieve, without being as fast or as seamless as I’d have liked, is the new "Auto Unlock" feature. This lets you automatically log into your Mac when you are wearing an authenticated Apple Watch. Can’t wait to try it out!

I don’t belong to a bank that, as yet, supports Apple Pay, which is highly annoying (thank you, useless Australian banks).

However, for those lucky enough to be with a bank that supports Apple Pay, you can now also use Apple Pay on the Web, which Apple naturally bills as making the "online shopping experience in Safari more convenient and secure than ever".

Apple explains it as letting shoppers click the Apple Pay button at checkout on participating websites, so you can then complete your purchase using Touch ID on iPhone 6 or later, or with Apple Watch.

This way, your credit or debit card information "is not shared with online merchants and strong encryption protects all communication between a user’s device and Apple Pay servers".

Sounds like Apple’s alternative to PayPal, and as such, is serious competition to all other payment methods.

The aforementioned upgraded Photos app introduces the aforementioned Memories feature. This "highlights favourite and forgotten moments in your photo libraries by automatically creating curated collections of occasions like birthday parties or family holidays".

I’ve read online that people are impressed by the Photos app and its ability to use "advanced computer vision to identify faces, objects and scenes in your images, so photos can be searched by who and what is in them".

There’s also "an all-new Brilliance editing tool" which sounds like an auto-fix or magic-fix setting on steroids, as it "brightens dark areas and pulls in highlights to make photos look richer and more vibrant".

Here’s a range of other macOS Sierra features that Apple is highlighting:

  • Messages makes conversations more interesting, allowing users to preview web links and play video clips from right within the app; respond to messages with a Tapback like a heart, thumbs up and more directly onto a message bubble; and send bigger emojis for more message impact.
  • Tabs are now available across Mac apps that support multiple windows, including Maps, Mail, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, TextEdit, and even third-party apps.
  • Picture in Picture floats video from Safari or iTunes in a window over the desktop. The window can be resized, dragged and pinned to any corner of the screen so you can watch video while you work.
  • Optimised Storage frees up space when a Mac starts getting full by storing infrequently used items in the cloud and helping you remove apps and files you no longer need.
  • Apple Music in iTunes makes it even easier to discover new music and browse exclusives and new releases.

So, if you’re a Mac user, and have a compatible Mac, which is a MacBook (late 2009 or newer), MacBook Pro (mid-2010 or newer), MacBook Air (late 2010 or newer), Mac mini (mid-2010 or newer), iMac (late 2009 or newer) or Mac Pro (mid-2010 or newer), then MAKE SURE YOU MAKE A BACK-UP FIRST and then upgrade away!

That said, there is an excellent guide at MacKungFu called “Help! macOS Sierra won’t install on my Mac!” with plenty of must-read advice BEFORE you undertake the upgrade. I’m going through this guide now and won’t install until I’ve finished reading it and doing anything I’m supposed to do first.

Probably the only thing left to say is: MAKE A BACK-UP BEFORE YOU INSTALL! Time Machine is free and already installed on your Mac! Plug in a hard disk and BACK UP!

If you’re really paranoid, use Acronis True Image or Super Duper or any other backup software to ensure more than one backup of your files BEFORE UPGRADING.

More information from Apple on macOS Sierra here.

macOS Sierra

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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