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High on Sierra

Posted on Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Dave!Another year, another macOS X release. And it's called "High Sierra."

This new operating system is one of those infamous "under the hood" releases where there's few actual changes you'll notice (nothing like the "hundreds of new features" Apple unleashed with "Sierra" back in September, 2016). And, while these are always disappointing releases on the surface, there is definite gold to be found in upgrading. Maybe. Rather than review the release (plenty of more capable sites than mine will be doing that), I thought I'd just write down my thoughts and comments.

Away we go...

INSTALL ME, YOU FOOLS... Installation, which used to be a major event back in the day, has been pretty much automated by modern operating systems. Apple, in particular, has made strides to have their OS upgrades be as painless as possible. The worst part about it is the waiting (well, unless your install goes wrong, in which case the worst part is having to recover your computer... please back up first!). Depending on your internet connection speed, the download and install can take around 25 minutes (at my office on fiber with a Fusion Drive) or 45 (at home on cable with an SSD). Both times it was a piece of cake. Bravo, Apple.

EXPRESS YOURSELF... Apple added a bunch of "emoji" to High Sierra. Most of them are charming, but useless to me. Others I'll probably actually use. Like these...

Apple New Emoji!

Emoji are actually a big help when trying to convey the sentiment behind your words. Not that they can always avoid a confusing message... absolutely they can just make things harder to understand depending on how you use them... but society is always evolving, and perhaps this will help move non-verbal non-visual communication to a better space. Because something has to.

   
A BOLD NEW FILE SYSTEM... Arguably the most critical and vital Big New Thing about High Sierra is the switch from HFS+ to APFS. For the non-geek set among you, that's changing the way your Mac handles data on it's storage devices. Apple created their own new thang (Apple File System) instead of hanging on to the antiquated old thang they had been using (Hierarchical File System Plus). It is a much-improved way of handling data, according to Apple. And this time, that is not marketing hype. First of all, cloning files (which used to be slow... and even risky... with large files or a lot of files) is now almost instantaneous. To test, I duplicated a folder filled with 3.6 GB of photos. I barely had time to blink and it was done. Amazing. Really amazing. That alone makes High Sierra worth the price of admission (which is FREE, by the way). But let's not stop there...

  • The reason that duplicating my massive folder of photos in the example I gave above was so quick is because the files weren't actually duplicated. Since they were on the same drive, APFS just duplicated pointers to the same files. Which means not only was it instantaneous, the duplicate didn't take up much additional space at all! The only way this changes is if you change a file. Then the file is actually duplicated with the original still safely in its original location. This kind of stuff is so clever... yet so obvious... that it kind of seems like magic and a long-time coming at the same time.
  • Getting the size of a folder used to be agonizing. The Finder would take forever to calculate all the internal file sizes, add them up, then give you an answer. With APFS, it's much faster. With the size of storage drives now-a-days, I don't pay attention to this like I used to, but it's nice to know I won't be screaming "HURRY UP!" at my screen when I need this information.
  • Like to divide your storage drive into multiple volumes, but hate having to decide how much space to allocate to each partition? APFS doesn't make you decide. You can add a bunch of different volumes and, since they all now share the same space, sizing is automatic.
  • I never bother with encrypting my drives because the way Apple does it isn't very effective. APFS changes that. Data now can be fully encrypted on a file-by-file basis, which means it's more secure, more capable, and less obtrusive to the user. I encrypted my MacBook drive (it took two days in the background) and don't notice any difference in speed or how I was accessing my data. So okay then.
  • APFS is kinda "self-correcting" now, in that it fights file corruption by keeping tabs on file checksums to make sure the files themselves haven't been inadvertently changed. To be honest, I don't quite understand how this works when it comes to actually solving a data correction problem (maybe it only works when you have the file backed up somewhere so APFS can pull the original if the one it has is found faulty?) but if it makes my data safer, I'll take it.
  • Something really intriguing is the idea of "snapshots" which is something I use when working in Photoshop. What happens is that, as you work, you take a "snapshot" when you reach some kind of milestone in your project so you can go back to that if future changes end up being something you don't like. APFS does this for your files, writing out all the little changes (and changes only, to be space-efficient), which I'm guessing will be integrated into Apple's "Time Machine" backup strategy. This allows you to go back in time on your files and retrieve old versions. I can't tell you how many times I've done this. Once while working on an issue of Thrice Fiction I accidentally deleted half the magazine and didn't notice until the next day. Ordinarily, I'd have to start all over. But, thanks to Time Machine, I just went back and retrieved the old file so I could copy the pages back into my document. Simple. If APFS is going to make this faster/easier, hooray.
  • My work Mac has an Apple "Fusion Drive" which is a SSD/Hard Drive hybrid. As of this writing, Apple Fusion Drives are not supported by APFS (WTF?). Apparently this is coming soon, but it's really silly that Apple couldn't get any problems solved by launch.

Obviously, my experience with APFS is limited right now, but I like what I read about it. Time will tell whether it's a blessing or a curse.

   
TIME WON'T GIVE ME TIME... I was surprised to find that the date and time were not in my menu bar. Installing High Sierra turned them off, so I had to go into prefs to turn them back on.

   
SPOTLIGHT NOT SO SHINY... I fucking hate "Spotlight," which is Apple's whole-system search tool. The menu bar "Spotlight Search" is so shitty and incapable that I don't even use it. Instead I use an ACTUAL TOOL TO GET THE JOB DONE, namely "Alfred," an app that makes search act exactly as one would expect search to act. What's weird is that when you use Apple's search box in a Finder window, it's actually not bad. For some reason, they save the shittiness for hot-key menu-bar-enabled Spotlight, where you inevitably always end up scrolling down to "Show All In Finder" because the results are so fucking worthless. Spotlight can also launch apps and do other shit... including the new shit of tracking a flight for you... but ultimately it's a system that's long overdue for a complete overhaul to become a serious tool instead of a toy add-on. Maybe now that there's a Core Framework in place in High Sierra, developers will make Spotlight something worth looking at but, for now, I couldn't care less and don't use it unless Siri uses it to answer one of my questions.

   
SIRI? WHEREFORE ART THOU, SIRI?... Apple's automated assistant, Siri, sounds like an all new gal (or guy, if that's how you've preferenced it) thanks to an improved speech synthesizer. To me the improvement is noticeable but not revolutionary (Siri takes a back seat to Alexa's speech quality, in my humble opinion). I also think that Siri is grossly minimalistic when it comes to being a smart and friendly part of the macOS. For example? She's not HomeKit integrated. You can't tell Siri on your Mac to unlock the front door when your hooker arrives, you have to grab your iPhone and tell that Siri to do it. Why? This is some amateur hour bullshit (though that's what I've been saying about HomeKit since day one... talk about an AppleFAIL). Still, the number of things you can ask Siri to look up for you and do for you are not insignificant, and she seems to be getting more capable all the time (especially with your music). I just wish Siri felt as much a part of macOS operations as she does to iOS operations (though even that isn't as stupendous as it should be)... and stop being treated as a happy afterthought on the desktop. Microsoft's Cortana and Amazon's Alexa are eating Apple's lunch here. Sink some of those billions of dollars into giving us the next-generation AI we can all love. And fear.

   
HEAVY METAL DREAMS, PART TWO... Apple's graphics display technology is divvied up into several pieces, all of which handle different parts of drawing out the information you see on your computer display. One of those display technologies is "Metal" which is (simplistically speaking) an application programming interface (API) which you can use to pass off intensive graphics chores to macOS for hardware-accelerated rendering. It's actually a very impressive technology which has been greatly improved in High Sierra with "Metal 2." The tech is pretty great at doing a lot of things well... so much so that Apple has actually taken things like drawing windows in the Finder and started passing them to Metal 2 to take care of. In addition, Apple has developed new stuff for Metal 2, like a virtual reality API, which should(?) make for some interesting new apps (though iOS is waaayyyy ahead of macOS in this area). I'm not sure exactly how compatible Metal 2 is with third-party graphic cards (none of my Apple stuff can even add a graphics card) but, if your card or Mac's internal graphics is compatible, you should see some display improvements... particularly with things like intense games written to take advantage of what Metal 2 has to offer... even over other technologies like OpenGL.

   
OH HOW I LOVE YOUR HIGH-EFFICIENCY CODEC... Computers today are vastly superior in capabilities to those ten years ago. Hell, even five years ago. I've been around personal computers since the beginning, so I know full well how far we've come... I've seen it happen. The one area that continues to surprise me is video. Back in the day you had to buy a Mac costing thousands, add a graphics card that cost thousands, then add a video board that cost thousands... just to be able to edit video. And even then it wasn't that great in ease of use, quality, or capabilities. Contrast and compare that with being able to capture and edit full-HD video on your frickin' smartphone with absolute ease today and you can see where I'm coming from. The problem is that, as photo and video quality gets better and better, you have to have more and more space to store it. High Sierra makes a quantum leap in addressing that problem. High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC) and High Efficiency Image Format (HEIF) are built into the OS now, and will give you much smaller file sizes at the same quality (or even give you better quality photo and video at the same size). The samples I've seen of still photos with HEIF are jaw-dropping. Fantastic quality at half (yes, HALF) the file size? Yes! Video files that are half-the size but don't look it? Sign me up! Except... not really. My iMac is relatively new, but doesn't have the ability to encode HEVC. You have to have a special hardware processor onboard which my Mac does not. Nor does my MacBook. All I can do is decode the new video formats. And, bummer of bummers, the video is a bit choppy when I look at it. Oh well. While it may not be something I can currently take advantage of, the pieces are in place for a very bright future when it comes to photos and videos on the Mac.

   
MACHINE LEARNING FOR FUN AND PROFIT... While actually kind of a hard mix of exciting and scary all in one, "machine learning" is a technology that's going to revolutionize our lives. Or doom all humanity to extinction. One of those two things. Apple is buying into the former by introducing the CoreML API, which allows complex data analysis and categorization. From that, it can extrapolate the data to make "intelligent guesses" as to how the data should be interpreted and acted upon. Or something like that. The end-result is smarter software (some of which is going to happen in ways we can't even dream of) and more capable tools. At least that's the goal. The one thing that Apple got right in their version of "machine learning" is that it's not an internet-enabled technology. It all happens on your Mac or iPhone out of privacy concerns. Time will tell how much use Apple or third-party developers get out of CoreML, but it certainly makes for some exciting future prospects.

   
GOING ON A SAFARI... I have mixed feelings about Apple's web browser, Safari. On one hand, it's blazingly fast... and even faster now in High Sierra (seriously, you'll notice!). On the other hand, it fucks up way too much. Take for instance Facebook. Holy shit... everybody is on facebook, so you'd think that Apple could get it right for that one particularly critical site. Nope. You get everything from input errors to zoom display errors and everything in-between. Now, admittedly, this may be Facebook's fault for the way they code their site... but should that matter? Apple's job is to make their browser display sites the way they need to be displayed and they are not doing that. That's entirely on Apple. New to Safari with High Sierra are features like "enhanced pop-up blocker" which is supposed to do a better job of blocking annoying windows that sites love to generate with ads and shit. Which would be great... if it actually worked. Try to make a reservation at Hilton.com and they still manage to have a fucking "Room Key" pop-up window appear behind your fucking browser window so when you've made your fucking reservation you have to close another fucking window that you didn't fucking want. Yeah, it's fucking Hilton's fucking fault... but fuck Apple anyway for getting my hopes up that they could stop this fucking bullshit. Apparently Apple has also made privacy improvements in the way websites can track you, which is nice I suppose, but I wanted the pop-up window-blocking they fucking promised me. I mean, holy fucking shit... macOS has to be told to generate a window, and you're telling me that there's no way to stop this shit?!? Get the fuck out of here.

   
TAKING NOTES... Notepad can now make tables. Wheeee. It can also pin notes to the top so that it doesn't get dropped in the newness list when you write/modify a different note. About damn time.

   
MAIL CALL! ARE YOU THERE MAIL?... If I had to pick one thing that makes me crazy about Apple, it's that they just don't seem to give a fuck about what the end user wants. THEY decide what you want... and how you'll use it. Nowhere is this more apparent than their email app, Apple Mail. It used to be that you were able to select the mail server to use for sending your email within the message itself. Now? You have to go into prefs and turn servers off and on. And even that doesn't always work, despite being a huge time-waster and a fucking horror show of an inconvenience. Sending attachments as "Windows Friendly Attachments" was an option for a while, but never fucking worked, so now it looks like Apple abandoned it (apparently you can command-line a way of not sending embedded attachments, but sometimes I want embedded attachments, so that's useless to me). The list goes on and on. Apple Mail is a steaming pile of shit that's almost impossible to use in a way that makes sense or is in any way capable. And yet... despite a dozen alternatives... it's the one that works best with the Mac, and so I am stuck with it. Needless to say, Apple doesn't give a flying fuck about professionals who need a capable email app, so Mail still gets fuck-all in High Sierra. I mean, yeah, it gets better compression of your email archives... and I think it's supposed to have better search or something... but things that matter? Nope. And don't hold your breath that it will ever fucking happen. That's Apple in a nutshell. For fuck's sake... I know you want to keep things simple, Apple, but at least give power-users a fucking option to have options in the prefs, otherwise you're never going to be taken seriously. Meanwhile over at Microsoft, Outlook is embarrassing the fuck out of pitiful Apple Mail in countless ways.

   
MESSING WITH MY PHOTOS... Apple used to produce a sweet piece of software called "Aperture." It was a wonderfully intuitive and capable photo editing tool that also maintained a photo library for you. No, it wasn't Photoshop but, for photographers, it was a powerful way to manage and improve your photos. But then Apple dumped it, leaving their thousands of dedicated users to switch to Adobe Lightroom or some other tool that wasn't Aperture. I was incensed at the time. I was so mad that I started seriously thinking about moving to Windows and giving up on Apple the way that Apple had given up on me. Cooler heads prevailed and I stuck around, but I'm still pretty pissed about it. Apple's replacement "Photos" was a meager cataloging tool that didn't impress me in the least. With High Sierra, Apple has finally added basic editing tools like the iOS version has... and even added some tools that iOS doesn't have yet. Like a "healing brush" which allows you to edit out unwanted bits of a photo and have it magically fill in. Like taking a beach shot and erasing those tiny people spoiling your beautiful image. Photos is much slower than Photoshop as you add more and more edits, but at least you can do it... and do it fairly well as long as you're not asking too much. Overall, it's nothing that's going to make me switch from Adobe LightRoom (and a pale, pathetic shadow of Aperture) but for the casual photographer that just wants to make their photos look pretty, these are some welcome additions.

   
THOU SHALT NOT HAVE ANY OTHER APPS THAN 64 BIT... Any of your apps still 32-bit? Well, unless they get upgraded to 64-bit apps, High Sierra is as far as you go, since 32-bit will be unsupported after this. If you're clutching some old app you love that's been discontinued, you may want to buy an extra Mac now that you can keep in perpetual High Sierra Land to run in.

   
And so... here we are. The end.

Well, at least we're at the end of all the things I want to comment on when it comes to High Sierra.

Ultimately, I don't know whether to recommend an immediate upgrade. Given that the showpiece of this macOS update is file system changes that are massive and incomplete, it may be worth it to wait a while. At least until Apple gets APFS working on Fusion drives. Your data... especially if you don't have a good backup strategy... is the most endangered thing about your Mac, and dicking around with the system which controls all that is dangerous territory. And it's an update you really don't have to take. At least not yet. Partly because there are no absolute must-have features that make the risk worth the reward... but mostly because the biggest benefits aren't even available to all Macs, only those with hardware new enough to take advantage of it. Heaven only knows I don't want to end my comments on High Sierra with a "meh," but that's pretty much where I am.

What's not so "meh" is what happens in future OS releases that build upon the under-the-hood technologies that Apple is banking on now. APFS? Metal 2? CoreML? HEVC and HEIF? All things that could have big, big payoffs in the years ahead.

Assuming Apple will still give a fuck about the Mac by then. The way things are going, they could just abandon it and go all iPhone/iPad all the time.

What a shame.

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Categories: Apple Stuff 2017Click To It: Permalink
   

Comments

  1. Christopher Stogdill says:

    I little TLDR (because I don’t use Mac OS), but on the file duplication being so fast….are you being facetious? It sound like the files aren’t being duplicated at all, just a new set of shortcuts to said files are being made.

  2. Marc says:

    The problem with Emoji is how different they can look depending on the device used. I wasn’t very aware of that until when my wife got a Samsung tablet instead of the previous primarily pure Android ones with Google’s Emoji. Samsung’s design often doesn’t seem to convey the message very well. The only benefit in using them on this device is Google’s keyboard that lets you pick them by writing a keyword that the Emoji are internally tagged with so that you don’t accidentally pick a totally wrong one. Or at least you can attempt to avoid confusion as much as possible.

    • Daver says:

      I use Google Keyboard on my iPhone, so I get that too. Emojis are can be complicated outside the most simplistic ones because they differ between cultures as well. The most common error I see is the “High Five” emoji which absolutely everybody uses as “Pray,” for example. That being said, there are many emoji that are pretty much beyond confusing like “sad” or “happy”… and fruits, vegetables, vehicles, and other objects translate fairly easily (albeit with some secondary meanings being socially known… like eggplant) so I think, in general, emoji can help a conversation more than they hinder it… especially if you know the person you’re communicating with.

  3. martymankins says:

    Great overview and detail on the new features and functions in High Sierra. My 2015 iMac 27-inch 5k has a 2gb Fusion drive. While I recently upgraded to Sierra 10.12 (I had some apps that were stuck at El Capitan until updates happened for them), I’m surprised that Apple didn’t have Fusion drives supported for APFS. You can install High Sierra, but it leaves the file system at HFS+.

    I didn’t realize the new Photos app adds basic editing features. I will have to start using that on some of my photos.

    I don’t use Outlook 2016, so Apple Mail has been my main account for the 4 email accounts I use. Mail under El Capitan worked pretty well. Since then, Mail has become flawed in several ways for me, like the way it used to display emails in a thread. I want the El Capitan way back.

    Final Cut Express 4 doesn’t work under High Sierra anymore, which means I need to move my remaining projects to Final Cut X 10.3.4 before I move to High Sierra on my iMac.

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