Today Apple released their latest iteration of macOS, dubbed High Sierra, version 10.13. As always, Apple’s system upgrades are free. Here is just about everything you need to know. For those of you who are adventurous go ahead and install it. However, there aren’t many features that are really groundbreaking so if you prefer to wait til the .1 or .2 update there is nothing wrong with that.
The new feature list is short, but there are some welcome changes. Most development this year has been spent on under-the-hood technologies that will define the direction macOS is headed in the coming years.
- Apple File System (APFS) replaces HFS+, the file system we have been using on Mac since 1998. This is the layout of files on your drive. So when someone says a drive is “formatted for Mac” that is what they are talking about. This change makes your computer run faster and (hopefully) more reliably, and is more futureproof. File systems are entirely transparent to the user, so you will not notice any concrete differences unless you are a programmer or power user. Our iPhones and iPads were already converted to APFS with iOS 10.3 and most of us didn’t even notice, but it’s largely the reason iOS 10 got much faster toward the end.
- Metal 2, a graphics programming language, allows graphics to be drawn on your computer much faster, and has a few extra perks like the ability to have an external graphics card. In other words, with the proper hardware you can plug a desktop graphics card into a laptop for gaming or other high-end uses. This doesn’t just improve game performance, however; regular programs are using this new graphics language, too.
- HEVC (a.k.a. H.265) and HEIF (High Efficiency Video Coding and High Efficiency Image File) are new file formats that reduce file size by about 40%. Your old media won’t be converted though, this is just for new media taken on new hardware (iPhone 7 or later).
- Siri is smarter and has a more natural sounding voice.
- Safari gets more privacy controls such as tracking blocking (which is making ad companies unhappy) and video autoplay blocking.
- Photos face recognition now syncs across devices when using iCloud Photo Library, has more professional-level color correction.
- Photos gains the option to “Edit with” another app. Changes made in the third-party app (such as Photoshop) are automatically synced back into Photos.
- Notes gets lots more features, making it far more competitive with Evernote. Including pinned notes, document scanning, tables, and more.
- Mail search gets smarter.
- iCloud Drive gets the ability to share documents with others, much like Dropbox.
- iCloud Storage plans over 200 GB can be shared with family members.
How to prepare
- Check that your computer is compatible. The system requirements are identical to last year’s 10.12. Sierra. Apple publishes full system requirements, but I would like to add that you should have at least 8 GB of RAM, or 16 if you do professional media work. If you have a computer with an SSD you can scrape by with 4 GB, but you should really consider upgrading if you have a computer with removable RAM.
- Check that your apps are compatible. You can search RoaringApps database or check the websites, Twitter, and Facebook feeds of the software developers. Some might just need an update to become compatible, some might be compatible right out of the gate, and others (such as Microsoft Office 2011) will not be compatible at all.
- Back up your computer. Really. Don’t have a Time Machine backup? Get that set up. Things aren’t likely to go wrong, but in case they do would you really want to risk losing your stuff?
- Get your Apple password handy. This is the same as your iCloud/Apple ID/iTunes/App Store password. You will need this to finish the installation. If you don’t have multiple Apple devices you may not use iCloud at all and that’s fine. iCloud is just the magic glue that keeps your Apple devices synced with each other.
- Set aside some time. The upgrade can take about an hour, during which you cannot use the computer. And don’t start the install when you’ve got an impending deadline; if you run into an issue with the upgrade being without a computer when you need it would not be good.
- If your computer has a tendency to connect to the xfinitywifi network you should disable that first. Captive networks that ask you to agree to terms or log in before you can use the internet can interfere with the installation process at the end.
Download the Installer
To download the upgrade visit the Mac App Store. The download time can range from 10 minutes if you have cable or fiber, to 12 hours or more if you have DSL. While it downloads you can continue to use your computer as you normally do, but if you have a slow internet connection it will be even slower.
Save the installer (optional)
If you have to install the update on multiple computers or if your internet connection is slow you may wish to save a copy of the installer before you actually start the installation. You can find it in your Applications folder as “Install macOS High Sierra”. You can either move it to another folder or copy it to an external drive. If you leave it in the Applications folder it will delete itself after installation.
Start the Installation
Once the download has finished the installer will launch automatically. If you had previously quit the installer you can launch it by going to the Applications folder or by going back to the App store. Once the install starts your Mac will reboot and you won’t be able to use it for about an hour.
After your computer reboots you will be asked several questions to complete the installation. Depending on your configuration you may not see all of these steps, and that’s just fine.
- Log into your Apple account. If you have an iCloud account already connected to your computer you will be prompted for your password again. If you don’t remember it you can skip the step, but you will need to log back into all of the different iCloud components again after installation. This step will do all of them at once. Those different components are iCloud System Preferences, iMessage, FaceTime, Mac App Store, iTunes, and iBooks. If you don’t have any other Apple devices you may just want to skip this step. iCloud is the system that keeps your Apple products in sync, so if you have no other Apple products this has a rather limited function.
- Enable Two-Factor Authentication? I highly recommend this. It adds an additional layer of security to keep hackers from getting into your iCloud account. For more information read my article.
- Enable Siri? This is optional. There isn’t really any good reason to not enable Siri unless your computer is just too slow to use it. It doesn’t listen in the background or anything.
- Enable FileVault? FileVault is Apple’s encryption system. If you don’t enable it anyone who knows what they are doing could pick up your computer and easily extract all of your files. With FileVault enabled that becomes virtually impossible. The disadvantage is that if you forgot your login password or something happened to you there might not be any way for your files to be retrieved. It’s extremely secure, and I recommend that anyone who has confidential info on their computer enables it, but beware of the consequences of a forgotten password. If you do enable it make sure that someone you trust know or has a copy of your password.
- App Analytics? If you choose these options it allows your computer to send usage data to Apple and, if you wish, third party app developers. This is entirely up to your own preference with how comfortable you are with Apple getting your anonymized data, but it does give them information that may help to them to better understand how people use their software.
- Enable Desktop & Documents in iCloud Drive? This is Apple’s system for automatically syncing your Desktop and Document files with all of your Apple devices. It’s pretty magical, though it does require you to rent storage space from Apple if you have lots of files. If you only have one computer and if you don’t do heavy work on your iPhone or iPad I recommend not enabling this feature.
- Incompatible Apps. This isn’t a question screen, just an informational screen. If you see an app on this list that you need you should try to find an updated version or an alternative. If you don’t recognize the apps on this list you can probably ignore it. Common entries are Gutenprint (legacy print drivers that your computer should have automatically replaced), Flip4Mac (plays Windows Media Files, but I recommend VLC instead these days), and Dropbox (just go to Dropbox’s website and download the new version for free).
That’s it! Of course, if this article only covers what to do when everything goes right. If you have trouble with your upgrade you may wish to contact Apple Support or to book an appointment with me if you are in the Washington DC area.