Sorry, Windows Users — macOS 11 Big Sur Is the Best Operating System to Date

macOS 11

Republican or Democrat. Brexit or remaining in the EU. Pepsi or Coke.

There are some things that people just can’t agree on.

These debates all pale in comparison to the one argument that is so vitriolic, so polemic, and so bitter that it’s infamous the world over: The Mac vs Windows debate.

The heated rivalry has brought out the worst in people, with message boards, forums, and social media threads being the digital battlegrounds for these two factions to clash. The primary method of attack for Windows supporters is to scoff at the price of Apple’s Mac products. Mac aficionados — while they only make up 9-13% of all operating system users — go for the throat by ridiculing how error-prone Windows is.

But I’m glad to say that the operating system war has finally come to an end with a clear victor.

Mac.

With their trojan horse — Big Sur — they’ve created an OS that’s so streamlined, easy to use, and downright fast — all while tying it in with the interface of iPadOS and iOS — that Windows 10’s defeat was inevitable.

But what’s changed, exactly? What are Big Sur’s most exciting features? And, more importantly, when is macOS 11 being released?

Make your way through the following sections in this Process Street post to find out:

Hey, Siri?

Scroll down so the reader can continue on with the post.

Introducing Big Sur, Apple’s 11th macOS

Big Sur is Apple’s next-generation operating system for its Mac products (MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iMac, iMac Pro, Mac Pro, and Mac mini.) It was announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in June 2020 and has a release date of November 12th 2020.

Apple’s 11th macOS provides a major visual overhaul, with a lot of features, programs, and designs getting a loving refresh in how they look, how they sound, and how they act. This includes the Notification Center, the Control Center, the Dock, Messages, the windows for apps and browsers, and much, much more. It’s all still recognizably Mac, but it’s also all completely new at the same time.

Speaking of browsers, many will be happy to hear that Safari’s had its biggest update to date. It’s faster, more battery-efficient, more customizable, and you can now even port Firefox and Chrome extensions over.

To boot, Spotlight fans will be delighted to hear that it’s been upgraded, now reacting far more quickly and its results being better presented, meaning that third-party Mac tools like Alfred may be facing some stiff competition from Apple themselves.

Check out Apple’s official trailer for macOS 11 Big Sur below.

With the high-level explanation of Big Sur over, let’s take a look at the nitty-gritty of what’s changed since Catalina, how, and why.

Everything that’s changed since Catalina

The changes that Big Sur brings revolutionizes the macOS.

So much so, it’s hard to believe the team went straight from Catalina to designing Big Sur. It’s as if there should have been multiple operating system releases in between; the visual and performance changes really are that stark. I’m personally not complaining, though — it means all the good stuff comes quicker!

Starting from the top, these are all the Catalina to Big Sur changes.

macOS 11 Big Sur: The menu

macos 11 big sur menu
Screenshot taken on the macOS 11 Big Sur public beta.

The Mac menu bar — which you’ll find at the top of the operating system — has had some pretty nifty quality of life updates.

For instance, the menu blends in with your desktop background better, rather than being a harsh, different colored line that separates the two.

What’s particularly cool, though, is that there’s now also an option to hide the menu. Similar to how you can hide the Dock when it’s not in use, the same can happen with the menu bar! This is especially nifty for those with smaller screen sizes such as the 13-inch MacBook monitors. You’re able to truly maximize your screen real estate now.

Then there are the menu icons. They’ve been radically redesigned to be in-line with how iPadOS and iOS icons appear, so expect to see variation after you download Big Sur and log on for the first time — it’s not your eyes deceiving you.

There’s also an all-new Control Center which can be immediately accessed from the menu bar.

macOS 11 Big Sur: The Control Center

macOS 11 big sur control center
Screenshot taken on the macOS 11 Big Sur public beta.

With the introduction of Big Sur’s Control Center, you’ll be able to connect or disconnect from a network, turn Bluetooth on or off, change AirDrop settings, change display brightness, change keyboard brightness, and turn Do Not Disturb mode on or off — all in one place.

Basically, it’s a center for settings you’d want quick control over… a Control Center, if you will!

If you use an iPhone or iPad, you’ll notice that Big Sur’s Control Center is very, very similar. Considering Mac products are capable of more, though, there are a few extra knobs to twist and buttons to press here.

The Control Center is certainly a welcome addition to the Mac operating system, as it ultimately means not having to navigate to different areas of the Mac (i.e. the menu bar for one thing, system settings for another) just to change or turn on/off a setting.

macOS 11 Big Sur: The Notification Center

macos 11 big sur notification center
Screenshot taken on the macOS 11 Big Sur public beta.

In Catalina, the Notifications Center is split into two: A “Today” panel that comes with the day’s date, an embedded Calendar widget, an embedded Stocks widget, and an embedded Weather widget — plus whatever else you decide to add (or remove). Additionally, there’s a “Notifications” panel that does what it says on the tin by displaying notifications from Messages, Music, and more.

Big Sur changes that — for the better.

Instead of having two panels, everything’s combined in one single view. Notifications are handily grouped by app, so if you receive a ton of notifications on any given day, the Notification Center doesn’t become a ceaseless stream of notifications to respond to. The Notification Center is also customizable, allowing you to change the size of notifications and widgets between three different sizes, so you can pick the one that’s right for you.

macOS 11 Big Sur: The Dock

macos 11 big sur dock
Screenshot taken on the macOS 11 Big Sur public beta.

The Dock is one of the most iconic features of the macOS. Luckily, it’s not gone anywhere — although it has been altered.

Similar to the menu bar, the Dock has become more translucent, also blending in better with the rest of your desktop background. The Dock’s curvature has changed to a more rounded look which, again, is in-line with Apple’s iPad and iPhone products and their operating systems. To boot, there’s now uniformity when it comes to app icons — they’re all the same shape and size as small, rounded squares.

I’m a stickler for having things consistent and neat, so while this uniformity change in particular is small in the grand scheme of things, it has a big impact for people like me (read: those with an unhealthy obsession with aesthetic). I can already hear the eagle-eyed product designers rejoicing!

macOS 11 Big Sur: Faster updates

Let’s take a break from the massive visual overhaul for a second and talk about how Big Sur has changed software updates.

After a Mac user has downloaded and installed Big Sur, software updates will begin in the background. Apple also claims that software updates will download faster (in the background), too, making it easier for users of all skill levels to keep up-to-date and secure when using their Mac.

This isn’t something I tested myself on the beta, but if what they’re saying is true, it certainly beats having annoying software update notifications forcibly pop up!

Damn you, forcibly popped-up software update notifications…

macOS 11 Big Sur: Safari

big sur macos 11 safari
Screenshot taken on the macOS 11 Big Sur public beta.

While the visual re-do is the largest change to come in Big Sur, it’s fair to say that the Safari adjustments come in at a close second.

Here’s what’s different with Safari in Big Sur:

  • The start page. 🚀
  • Safari’s start page (the default page that appears when you open Safari or a new Safari tab) has a whole new look. On top of choosing a specific background for your Safari start page, you can also choose what’s on it. Options include a “Favorites” section, a “Frequently Visited” section, a “Privacy Report” section, a “Siri Suggestions” section, a “Reading List” section, and an “iCloud Tabs” section. If you’re not sure which Safari start page background to choose, Apple has preloaded several cool options, like a pink and green butterfly background, a blue and orange bear background, and a handful of geometric backgrounds, too.

  • Tabs. 🗂
  • If you’re a serial tab-collector, then good news: You can now see more tabs at once! You can also see favicons for each tab. Additionally, simply by hovering over a tab with your mouse, you’re given a preview box of what’s on the page.

  • Privacy Report. 🔒
  • On Safari’s start page, you’ll see “Privacy Report.” It explicitly tells you how many trackers Safari has blocked from tracking you. By clicking on either the Privacy Report section on the start page or the icon in the browser menu bar, you can see which sites had trackers and what kind of tracker, exactly. This is a neat feature, in my opinion, as it boosts the level of security you get when not using other extensions or addons like Ghostery.

  • Translation. 🇫🇷
  • With Safari’s new in-browser translation feature, reading content in other languages is now a breeze. While the number of languages is limited to 7 — English, Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Russian, and Brazilian Portuguese — it means you don’t have to rely on other extensions — or even Google Translate — to do the work for you.

  • Extensions. 🌐
  • Ever been disappointed that a really interesting-sounding extension wasn’t available for Safari, but was for Chrome or Firefox? With the Big Sur update, the Mac App Store supports the WebExtensions API. Simply put, this means apps originally designed for one browser can be converted and used with Safari!

  • Speed. ⚡️
  • I’ll let you in on a little secret: I use both Safari and Chrome. Chrome is for work, while Safari is for play. In my opinion, they were both on equal footing when it came to speed. But, with Big Sur, Apple claims that Safari has become “+50% faster on average at loading frequently visited websites than Chrome”. Could this be the point where we all stop using multiple browsers and only use Safari?

big sur macos 11 safari tabs
Screenshot taken on the macOS 11 Big Sur public beta.

That’s it for Safari. (For now.)

Want to try the new Safari yourself?

You can!

The Safari update came out way before Big Sur, so it’s available immediately.

macOS 11 Big Sur: Maps

Maps on iOS, for some reason, had more features than on macOS — such as the ability to choose a cycling route and see what the temperature (difference) is in a specific area. Small things, really, but it seemed strange that the Mac version wouldn’t be on the same level.

But now it is.

Maps adds the aforementioned cycling route and weather feature, a “Guides” feature that displays content by the likes of Lonely Planet, and an “indoor maps” feature to help you navigate interiors as well as exteriors. Essentially, the Map app has become more robust for Mac users now — not only iOS users.

macOS 11 Big Sur: Messages

Using the Messages app on Catalina is a joy. Instead of having to FaceID unlock my iPhone, swipe up, press the Messages app button, type with my thumbs (and inadvertently make mistakes along the way) just to send a text reply, I can click on the Messages icon in my Dock and tippity tap away on my keyboard at super speed.

After trying out Big Sur’s version of messages, I’m going to love Mac Messages a whole lot more.

Here’s what’s different.

Firstly, you can pin your favorite contacts — or, at least, the ones you frequently need to reply to — at the top of your conversation list.

There’s also inline replies. You know how you can reply to a specific message on Slack and start a thread that way? Inline messages work the same way. No more wires getting crossed. No more confusion.

Another Slack-like feature is mentions. Let’s say you’re in a group chat and need to write a specific message for somebody in the group. Mention them in that message and their name will be highlighted! Other group members won’t get confused that way, as they’ll see the message is for somebody else.

In my opinion, the most exciting Messages addition is that it’s now possible to create and customize memojis straight from your Mac!

macos 11 big sur messages
Screenshot taken on the macOS 11 Big Sur public beta.

macOS 11 Big Sur: Music

macos 11 big sur music
Screenshot taken on the macOS 11 Big Sur public beta.

The Music app isn’t something that needed a ton of changes. After all, the app formerly known as iTunes has had many a facelift over the years.

That being said, there’s a new Listen Now property that’s replaced For You. Listen Now makes the recommendations even more personalized, which is a welcomed change as For You wasn’t as tailored as it could’ve been. Just because I listened to that Spice Girls track once doesn’t mean I need an entire Spice Girls compilation recommended to me every day, Apple.

macOS 11 Big Sur: Photos

Move over, Photoshop. It’s time for the Photos app to steal the limelight.

Finally, the Photos app has been given a tool that it’s been in dire need of for a long time now — retouching capabilities! If you’ve been chomping at the bit to get rid of blemishes, smoothen things out, or make everything a little more uniform, it’s now possible.

What’s also possible is the ability to add vibrance to photos, as well as being able to use all of Mac’s photo editing tools when editing videos, too.

macOS 11 Big Sur: App Store

The world has become more and more reliant on tech.

But as Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal — and all the others — have taught us, we need to be wary of privacy when downloading, using, and interacting with tech.

Handily enough, the App Store now provides more transparency by showing users the privacy practices of the app and the app’s company. This makes deciding whether or not to download that possibly dodgy-sounding app much clearer.

N.B.: The App Store update will happen during a later Big Sur update, not on launch. But here’s how it’ll look.

macos 11 big sur app store
(Source)

macOS 11 Big Sur: AirPods

“Oh no, he can’t hear you, he’s got AirPods in!” – Many an internet meme

AirPods are great. They’re portable, easy to use, and provide stellar sound quality.

What’s annoying, though, is having to manually switch which device your AirPods are connected to. It should just change, magically. Luckily, that magic has been added to Big Sur, meaning AirPods seamlessly switch from one iCloud-connected device to another!

Phew.

That’s all the important aspects of Big Sur covered.

How does this update in particular solidify Apple as the company with the best operating system, though?

Why Big Sur is such a big success — particularly for productivity

macos 11 big sur productivity
Image taken with Messages memoji customization.

Big Sur’s comprehensive visual overhaul, its major Safari update, and its behind-the-scenes upgrades mean that Big Sur isn’t only aesthetically stunning; it does wonders for the productivity of Mac users, too.

While it may not initially seem like it, the visual overhaul of macOS means the user experience is much more streamlined, thereby helping users to get more done and in a shorter amount of time.

For instance, let’s say you’ve got your nose in your laptop screen, writing an academic paper on the future of biodiversity. You can set the top menu bar to disappear for more screen real estate, you can use the Control Center to fiddle with writing-impacting settings such as keyboard brightness without having to go here, there, and everywhere to shape your settings how you need them, and you can navigate from installed app to installed app with ease now that they’re all the same size in the Dock. Again, they’re all by and large small changes, but they make the world of difference.

Similarly, Safari’s updates will bolster Mac users’ productivity by an incredible degree — not least because on Apple’s macOS Big Sur Preview page, they boast that performance is so good now, that it’s 50% faster when compared to Chrome. With better tab management and site previews when hovering over tabs, the ability to port in Firefox and Chrome extensions to Safari, and being able to translate other languages in-browser, it’s clear that Safari is asserting itself as a leading browser for those who want to get good work done.

Big Sur?

It’s a big success if you ask me.

macOS is well-known as a fantastic plug-and-play operating system from those who’ve gotten their first computer all the way to developers who create brilliant software for computers. And it’s Big Sur that’s built on this legacy, making the operating system stronger, better, and faster than it’s ever been. Great for working from home. Great for enjoying at home.

If you’re looking to maximize your productivity, then stick to your Mac products. Simply put, Windows can’t compare right now.

When is the Big Sur release date?

I know, I know.

Big Sur is now the gold standard when it comes to operating systems, and naturally, you want to get your hands on it quickly.

Luckily, you can. It’s available from November 12th 2020 onwards.

Productivity tools to enhance Big Sur even further

As mentioned in my “Why Big Sur is a big success — particularly for productivity” section, Big Sur really does put the ‘pro’ in ‘productivity’. Its baseline overhauls, updates, and changes make it the best operating system around.

But perhaps you want more.

Perhaps you want to push your productivity to its peak by using a collection of nifty apps alongside Big Sur.

I can help with that.

As a full-time content writer at Process Street and somebody who also writes for other publications such as G2, Atlassian, Content Marketing Institute, and Insider on occasion, I’m glued to my computer screen pretty much 24/7. And the tools in my digital toolkit need to help me navigate the web masterfully and safely, complete recurring tasks quickly, and make sure I’m hitting all of my deadlines. Stat.

After years and years of trial-and-error with countless apps, there are 5 apps that enhance my productivity to no end, and these apps I think would make the perfect accompaniments to Big Sur.

Here they are.

Enhancing Big Sur further with Alfred

First up is Alfred.

Alfred is a productivity app exclusively made for macOS, which aims to boost users’ efficiency with hotkeys, keywords, text expansions, snippets, clipboards, and incredible search abilities. It’s an app that definitely requires a bit of research and testing to use it to its full capability.

I’ve been using Alfred for about a year after Blake Bailey made a Loom video and posted it in the Process Street Slack. After watching his video, I bought a “Powerpack” — aka a user license — for myself. I’ve mainly been using it for its snippets feature, but I dived in recently and explored its other nifty features and have established them in my workflow, too. It’s a shame that I hadn’t made use of these earlier, but at least they’re being used now!

For an in-depth explanation of hotkeys, keywords, text expansion, snippets, clipboards, and its search functions, check out this video from Paul Minors.

Enhancing Big Sur further with Ghostery

Those ads and trackers following you without you knowing?

They’re ghosts.

And if you’ve seen Ghostbusters, you understand that ghosts aren’t something you want following you around.

Luckily, there’s Ghostery — a company that increases your privacy when browsing online via a range of products.

Specifically, their products include:

  • Ghostery Browser Extension: For blocking ads, stopping trackers, and speeding up websites. (It’s available to download on Safari, Opera, Edge, Firefox, and Chrome — for free!)
  • Ghostery Midnight: An all-in-one suite for Mac and Windows with advanced privacy protection tools. It even includes a VPN, though this product comes with a subscription fee.
  • Ghostery Insights: A Chrome-only tracker analyzer. Free.

I’ve been using Ghostery’s browser extensions on both Safari and Chrome, and I’ve recently started using Ghostery Midnight. It’s somewhat a shame that the VPN is limited to 5 global locations, but it’s an amazingly handy tool that I’ll be sticking with in the future. And while Safari’s new “Privacy Report” is a great foundation for keeping secure online, Ghostery’s products take protection and security one step further.

Enhancing Big Sur further with NewsGuard

The world-damaging impact of fake news is old news.

But fake news is often hard to spot. Especially with the sheer amount of information that’s generated on the internet daily, it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s real.

That’s why I use NewsGuard.

While I’d say that I’m pretty adept at figuring out what’s fake and what’s true, it doesn’t hurt to have a browser extension tell me if the site I’m on is a reliable news source or not.

The NewsGuard browser extension is available on Safari, Chrome, Edge, and Firefox. The NewsGuard mobile app is available for iOS and Android users, too.

Enhancing Big Sur further with Dark Reader

When burning the midnight oil, I don’t want bright, white lights shining on my face and straining my eyes. And while macOS’ dark mode certainly helps, it doesn’t stop webpages and many other apps from being super bright.

Luckily, with Dark Reader, I can turn almost everything I want to dark mode, too.

Not only is the browser extension useful at night, but it’s also soothing when you’re working and have a headache, not feeling that great, or tired.

It’s a one-payment extension and it costs only a few dollars. A win-win.

Enhancing Big Sur further with Magnet

Windows are beautiful in macOS Big Sur (I’m talking about app and browser windows, here — not the other operating system).

I often have multiple windows up at one time — mainly Chrome so I can have WordPress open when writing a post, Notes next to it so I can paste any sentences I’ve deleted, and Music in a minimized view so I can skip songs in my playlists.

But it gets a little annoying having to constantly reposition and realign these windows.

Magnet keeps windows organized and allows you neatly partition windows off to certain sections of your screen with shortcuts.

And it’s a life-saver.

Again, this is a one-off payment which is more than worth it.

There you have it!

Hopefully you’ve learned a lot about and are excited to use Big Sur, as well as finding out about stellar apps to use with this new, magnificent beast of an operating system.

Have you used Big Sur yet? If so, what are your thoughts? Love? Hate? Let me know in the comment section below. 👇

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Thom James Carter

Thom is one of Process Street’s content writers. He’s also contributed tech-related writing to The New Statesman, Insider, Atlassian, G2, The Content Marketing Institute, and more. Follow him on Twitter @thomjamescarter.


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