What isn’t changing in macOS Monterey

Apple’s annual WWDC drew to a close yesterday, and as expected brought the announcement of the next major version of macOS, numbered 12 in sequence with macOS 11 Big Sur. Over the last few years, major versions of macOS have brought huge changes which many users are still wrestling with: a brand new file system (APFS in 10.13), privacy controls (10.14 onwards), loss of support for 32-bit code (10.15), notarization (10.15), startup volume groups (10.15), and sealed system volumes (11), for example. This year there don’t appear to have been any such shocks coming in the new.

Apple has confirmed that basic security and volume architecture aren’t changing in macOS 12. Intel Macs will continue to run completely unsigned code, and Apple Silicon Macs still require all executable code to be signed, but don’t require any Apple certificate to be used. Developers choose between delivering their software through the App Store, or notarizing it for independent supply. There is a significant improvement for those developers using notarization, with the introduction of a better command tool replacing the current altool.

Monterey’s bootable disk layout apparently remains essentially the same as that in Big Sur, with a paired volume group consisting of a protected System volume and a user-writeable Data volume. The System volume remains sealed, and accessed as a mounted snapshot. There has been speculation that macOS updaters will be streamlined to reduce the size of updates, particularly for M1 Macs, but Apple hasn’t detailed any changes to come in Monterey’s updating processes.

Most noticeable changes coming in Monterey don’t appear to have significant impact on what we’ve been adjusting to in Big Sur. Although I’m sure that you’ll have your own favourites, two of the most impressive new features for me will be Shortcuts and Universal Control.

Shortcuts is an automation system, which has already been part of iOS and iPadOS where it has proved valuable and popular, comparable to that provided in Automator. Apple intends that it will ultimately replace Automator over the course of a multi-year transition. Users can opt to use both AppleScript and shell scripts within it, and it can also import existing Automator workflows. Provided that Apple maintains AppleScript, I can’t see any downsides to this.

Universal Control was one of the great sleights of Mac displayed in the Keynote. It takes the idea behind AirDrop and Sidecar, already invaluable features which saved me the cost of a Wacom Cintiq and any pain from its drivers, and both extends and simplifies them so there’s no setup required. All you do is bring your iPad close to your Mac, and from the Mac’s screen drag the pointer offscreen so it appears on the iPad. You can then not only control the iPad from your Mac’s trackpad or mouse, but can drag and drop files between the two.

The snag with Universal Control is that support is by no means universal, but is confined to a shortlist of models among those which can be upgraded to Monterey, specifically:

  • iMac 2017 onwards, and 5K Retina 27-inch Late 2015,
  • iMac Pro,
  • MacBook Early 2016 onwards,
  • MacBook Air 2018 onwards,
  • MacBook Pro 2016 onwards,
  • Mac mini 2018 onwards,
  • Mac Pro 2019.

Monterey continues to pursue more rigorous privacy for users, but unlike some of the more intrusive changes that came with Mojave and Catalina, it doesn’t appear to get in the way any more with legitimate access, and may actually smooth some of the rougher edges remaining in Big Sur. Apple has also announced that it’s starting to move away from passwords, although that’s going to be a gradual transition starting mainly with external authentication.

For those managing more Macs, particularly in corporate and institutional settings, Monterey brings more major changes. If you already use MDM or could have used it, I strongly recommend that you watch each of the sessions devoted to the changes coming later this year.

For Mac users, Monterey promises consolidation and improvement, and perhaps some truth and reconciliation at last. If you’re considering taking part in the developer or public beta-testing programmes, provided that you keep it well away from production systems, I don’t think that you’ll be disappointed.