Review: Apple macOS High Sierra

Apple releases a new operating system every year. Sometimes the company makes massive changes. Other times it’s bug fixing and performance tweaking with only a handful of changes. macOS High Sierra is the latter. At least, that’s what Apple would have you believe. The fact is, that there are significant changes under the hood that make this worth installing.

The first reason to install macOS High Sierra is the new APFS (Apple File System) file system. It replaces the 20 or so year old HFS+ (Hierarchical File System) file system by bringing the following to the table:

  • Built-in encryption and support for full disk encryption
  • Snapshots, which used to record the state of your storage device based on points in time, helpful for backups
  • Space sharing, which makes it easier to resize and mange different partitions
  • Faster performance
  • The ability to better manage very large storage capacities and files

Here’s the catch. At present you need an SSD installed to leverage this feature (though support for Fusion Drives and spinning disks will be coming at some point in the future). And as I have noted previously, you’re going to get this new filesystem on your SSD whether you want it or not. Apple also says that the time to convert to APFS may vary based on the size and speed of your disk, the speed of your Mac, how much free space you have, and whether the volume is encrypted or not. In my case the total time to upgrade to High Sierra took almost five hours. Now I did check to see if I had any pre-existing issues with the SSD in my MacBook Pro which had about 230GB of data on it, or the OS, and there were none. Thus I am unable to explain this result. I will be running an upgrade on my wife’s MacBook Pro this weekend so I will get a chance to see if this was a fluke and I will update this post with the results. Once it was installed, here’s what I noticed:

  • I got 2.1GB in disk space back.
  • Opening applications felt a touch faster

So on the surface it seems that APFS does make a difference. Your mileage may vary.

The next difference that you’ll see is in Apple’s Safari web browser. It now stops videos from auto playing. Something I know that annoys a lot of you who are reading this. Second, is Intelligent Tracking Prevention. This stops sites from tracking you and displaying ads based on where you’ve been on the web. While advertisers won’t like this, you will. There’s a bunch of performance and functionality improvements that are along for the ride as well that make this a better browser overall.

Photos is the one app in High Sierra that gets the most changes. For starters it’s a better organization tool via tweaks to the sidebar and toolbar, drag-and-drop organization, imports history, improved accuracy with the People album, and more. The Edit mode is redesigned with better access to tools, Live Photo support, and there are also new filters. Photos also has new Project Extensions, so you can use third-party services to create websites, books, etc. There’s so many changes with Photos that I could do a separate review on Photos alone. So I will simply say that you should try it and I think you’ll love it.

There are other features that make this a worthwhile upgrade:

  • High Sierra now has support for VR headsets
  • Apple’s new Metal 2 API has support for external GPU hardware, which could mean you can boost your MacBook’s graphics performance by using Thunderbolt to hook up an external box with a top-end graphics card. Something that’s popular on the PC side of the fence. There’s also support for machine learning which should help Siri be a better virtual assistant.
  • Two new file formats that are now supported in High Sierra are High Efficiency Video Encoding (HEVC) for video and High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF) for photos. In fact, an iPhone that is on the same iCloud account as a Mac running High Sierra will automatically use the latter by default.
  • Siri gets a new voice and some more intelligence.
  • There are tweaks to iCloud to support the new Family Sharing feature as well as sharing files to non-iCloud users. Something that iCloud desperately needed to compete against services like DropBox.

So is there a reason that you shouldn’t upgrade to High Sierra? Frankly, other than this security hole, if your Mac support High Sierra (which any Mac that ran Sierra will), then this is a worthwhile upgrade. Just take my advice on what to do before you upgrade and you too can leverage the performance tweaks that High Sierra brings to the table.

UPDATE: I installed macOS Sierra on my wife’s MacBook Pro which also has a Samsung SSD in it. While I did get it to install, it took three hours and the installer crashed right at the very end. That forced me to reboot it a couple of times to bring it back to life. That’s not something that I recommend, but I was left with very little choice. Everything worked properly and I will keep an eye on it over the next few days.

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