Big Sur: The most interesting macOS beta in a generation

But the introduction of support for Apple Silicon for future Macs means beta testers this year should expect the unexpected.

Apple, Mac, MacOS, OS X, WWDC, Big Sur, Apple Silicon

Apple’s macOS 11 Big Sur is the most exciting Mac beta for a generation, because the steady introduction of support for Apple Silicon means early testers may encounter unexpected challenges as development accelerates.

Friends don’t let friends install betas on primary Macs

This is also why no one should install either the developer or public beta (when it appears) of the new Mac OS on their primary machine – doing so is a risk every year, but this year could deliver even more than the usual surprises.

Apple is now working through the beta release cycle. As such it's virtually certain we’ll see new editions of the developer and any subsequent public beta (if and when) they appear. (Public betas are typically the same as the preceding developer beta, with any identified wrinkles removed.)

The bottom line remains the same – no one should ever install beta software on their main system, particularly if their income depends on that system.

So, why might this year’s beta series pose fresh challenges?

It’s all about the Apple Silicon

Apple has made Developer Transition Kit Macs running Apple Silicon available to developers, but most people will be running the latest Mac beta on Intel-based Macs.

The thing is, under the hood these systems also implement support for Apple Silicon, which could pose additional levels of complexity. But as anyone who has ever engaged in even the simplest home decorating project knows, every task always reveals an unexpected challenge somewhere down the line.

Sometimes, things get broken. And things could get broken during the Big Sur beta cycle -- which is why it should not be installed on a primary Mac.

That’s understandable. After all, Apple isn’t just improving and enhancing its operating system for Intel-based processors; it is doing so while also building feature and OS parity for future Macs running on Apple Silicon. This almost inevitably means we can look forward to a few unexpected problems down the line.

More importantly for Computerworld readers, this also means enterprise users should prioritize testing the new OS. Just as they really should move to migrate any of their proprietary apps that use kext to employ Apple’s more stable and secure Extensions architecture.

The first betas have been stable

For all the dire warnings, anecdotal reports from multiple sources suggest Apple has done really well with the first developer betas of macOS 11.

No one seems to have struck against any egregious problems as yet and the new Mac features (such as the new Safari start page, privacy improvements, Messages and the new Control Center) are so far working with few hitches.

Beyond exciting claims around performance, we’ve not heard much concerning use of those Developer Transition kits – likely because developers must agree to maintain confidentiality. But the lack of even muffled screaming from those quarters suggests they’ve been doing OK so far.

As the beta testing cycle rolls forward, keep this in mind: finding and solving these challenges is what beta testing is all about.

The bottom line? As those Apple Silicon code nuggets emerge, we will become more able to deduce Apple’s vision for the future of its PC platform. That emerging vision is what makes this transition the most interesting Mac upgrade for a generation, one that history tells us will define the next decade of the PC.

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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