(When) should you upgrade to macOS Sierra?


Most early adopters who (like me) installed macOS Sierra 10.12 on 20 September seem to have settled into it without any major problems or disasters. Those issues which became apparent in the first couple of days – incompatibility with Fujitsu ScanSnap software, Adobe CC apps, and others – are now either resolved or solutions are rolling out as I write. So should you upgrade to Sierra now, or when?

Whenever you intend to upgrade, you must check that all your major apps and other software are now compatible with Sierra. Over the last few weeks, there have been many App Store updates, QuarkXPress has been incremented to version, and several other important fixes have been pushed out. My summary of known problems is a start, and should help you understand continuing concerns over Dropbox, ScanSnap, and the ‘cloudsteal’ phenomenon. If you use Dropbox, follow the link given and read the precautions advised for its use in Sierra – they probably won’t affect you, but there is a risk of data loss.

Important recent news (detailed in that article) is that Adobe CC is now apparently fully compatible with Sierra, and fully supported on it. That alone should allow a large number of Mac users to upgrade to Sierra at last.

Some older hardware does not yet have support, and some may never have. There is interesting and helpful discussion after that article which anyone using Roland or other MIDI or music devices should read carefully.

When you are happy that you can safely upgrade without losing major apps or peripherals, the next question is whether it is worthwhile.

If you are currently running El Capitan 10.11.6 without any significant problems (such as occasional kernel panics, freezes, or Bluetooth dropouts), then you do not need to rush. Sierra will be updated in the near future, and I expect 10.12.1 to be released towards the end of this month. There don’t seem to be any major fixes required in that, although hopefully Apple will improve the iCloud Drive and Optimize Storage interfaces to make them clearer in use, and provide a revised version of Console which actually does something useful.

Sometimes the first update also rolls out features which had been intended for the major release, but weren’t ready in time. I wonder if those might include some further security improvements too.

For the moment, El Capitan will enjoy security updates, and any critical fixes. But if it is not good on your Mac, you should look to upgrading to Sierra at your earliest opportunity. As my list of bugs in Sierra shows, it doesn’t address many of those known in El Capitan. Those that it does fix are major ones, and the major reasons for users finding El Capitan a bad experience.

The Sierra kernel and most of the drivers appear to have been rewritten, and Sierra seems to keep running in conditions in which El Capitan was all too ready to freeze and panic.

It is still possible to have some strange experiences in Sierra – again, something which will probably improve when 10.12.1 is released. If you’re really unkind to it, you can get the system clock to stop ticking for a minute at a time, for example, which should never happen in any version of OS X or macOS. But the kernel still keeps plodding along, and eventually your Mac will catch up with the progress of time.

If you’re still running Yosemite, on a Mac which can run Sierra, now is the time to get all the added security protection and updates that Sierra makes possible. You don’t have to run the risk of El Capitan any more, although upgrading two major releases in one step is always more serious than upgrading just the one. So you’ll need to be thorough in your preparations, as explained here.

The other thing to bear in mind is that, although it is possible to roll back to an earlier version of OS X, it is often extremely time-consuming and very messy, and carries real risks of data loss. Don’t ever con yourself into thinking that you can try Sierra for a while, and if you don’t like it, you can just drop back to El Capitan or Yosemite. Yes, it’s possible, but without making specific preparations, downgrading will hurt.

Sierra still has some rough edges, some of which will get a bit smoother in the first update, but for many users it is already far more stable and dependable that El Capitan has been, at least since 10.11.4 back in March. I am absolutely delighted to have been an early adopter, and wouldn’t dream of going back.