Some Thoughts on Big Sur

This week Apple launched the latest Mac operating system, macOS Big Sur, representing the most significant visual change to macOS arguably since the inception of Mac OS X. I’ve been using the beta for months and have a few thoughts, tips, compliments, and complaints:

  • Space is nice.
    There is a lot of controversy among the nerd class about the additional whit space in menu bar and menu bar items. It’s a significant difference. I wasn’t sure what I thought about it until I found myself going back to Catalina for some production work. Everything on Catalina now looks scrunched together to me. I like the extra space.

  • Space does not equal touch screens, yet.
    I’d hoped that all this space meant we were also imminently going to get touch screen Macs. I didn’t expect them to make drastic changes to macOS but instead treat the touch interface as something in addition to the standard mouse/trackpad interface, just as pencil support on iPad is in addition to touch support. No luck so far. Craig Federighi poured cold water on the idea this week, but I haven’t given up hope yet. The Apple Silicon transition is still early.

  • Rounded corners, everywhere.
    I’m ambivalent to all the Big Sur rounded corners. They definitely make sense with the new look, but I can’t get excited about them.

  • Square Icons.
    I don’t care for them. I think I understand what Apple was going for but I prefer the anarchy of the prior system.

  • Notification / Widget Slide Over
    I like the new notification system a lot better than the prior one. Notifications are grouped better. Both notifications and widgets are on the same screen. Widgets also feel more intentional with the new iOS influenced widget system. This has been a win, and I’m using Notification Center now more than ever.

  • Control Center
    Here’s another win. I set up a menu bar to control my Mac exactly how I wanted before, but for a non-power user, the prior system was too complicated. This puts everything under one click. Moreover, it gives users a very similar interface across iPhone / iPad / and Mac.

  • Proxy Icon Madness
    My biggest gripe with Big Sur is the way it renders proxy icons in the Finder. Those are those icons at the top of a Finder window that lets you save, rename, and copy a file right from the icon. The proxy icon is not displayed unless you park the mouse in exactly the right spot (to the left of the file name). Most people will think the feature just went away. For those of us that realize it is still there, we must look at our Macs and wait a few seconds every time we want the proxy icon to appear. This regression frustrates me daily.

Overall, I generally like the new look, and I’m already used to it. It doesn’t just look different to me but also looks modern. It seems to be working fine with my apps, but I’d not recommend installing it until you can confirm from other users that your critical apps are working. If you’d like to learn a lot more about Big Sur, Jason Snell and John Voorhees wrote in-depth reviews.