Apple launches public beta of macOS Big Sur, its biggest desktop OS update in years

Technology

The public beta of macOS Big Sur, the next major release of Apple’s Mac operating system, is now available. The new update brings a big visual overhaul to macOS while also adding a number of brand-new enhancements.

If you’re thinking about installing the macOS Big Sur public beta, be warned that it’s still, well, a beta. That means you could experience some unexpected bugs, and software you rely on may not work with the new OS just yet. Before you install Big Sur, make sure all of your important documents are backed up somewhere safe, and if at all possible, you should only install this on a secondary Mac.

But if you do roll the dice and install the Big Sur beta, you’ll immediately see that it looks much different than previous versions of macOS, as Apple has made significant design changes across the entire operating system. Windows have a whole lot more white, for example (unless you’re using dark mode, in which case, there’s still a lot of black). Apple’s app icons have received a major facelift and are now rounded squares, like iOS’s app icons. And the menu bar is now translucent, blending into your wallpaper.

In Big Sur, Apple has added a dedicated Control Center, like what iOS has had for years, making it easy to manage items like your Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections and the display brightness and volume of your Mac, all in one place. And Notification Center is no longer two separate panels for notifications and widgets; it’s now combined into one.

If you’re a Safari user, you’ll notice some big changes, too. You can now set a customized start page, letting you add things like your favorites, frequently visited websites, and even a background image of your choice. Tabs get some improvements as well: favicons are turned on by default, and when you hover your mouse over a tab, it shows a preview of that webpage. And like iOS 14, Safari in macOS Big Sur offers what Apple calls a Privacy Report, which shows you what trackers the browser has blocked for you.

Messages is also getting some much-needed improvements in Big Sur. You can finally send the message effects like the ones on iOS, meaning you can send virtual confetti, balloons, lasers, and more to your contacts (though only if they’re also on iMessage). Some of the new updates to Messages on iOS 14 are coming to Big Sur, too, such as pinned conversations and inline replies.

There’s a bunch more packed into Big Sur that I didn’t touch on here, such as improvements to Maps, a suite of new system sounds, and the return of the Mac’s iconic startup chime. So if you do install the Big Sur public beta, there’s a fair amount to dig into.

I’ve been running the Big Sur developer betas on my personal MacBook Air purchased in 2014 without too many issues, and I like a lot of the changes, especially to Messages. But I pretty much only use Apple-made apps on that computer, so I can’t really speak to how other apps you might rely on will run. If you decide to install the public beta, just know that things may not work like you expect them to just yet.

Apple says macOS Big Sur will be released sometime this fall and will work with all of these computers:

  • MacBook (2015 and later)
  • MacBook Air (2013 and later)
  • MacBook Pro (late 2013 and later)
  • Mac mini (2014 and later)
  • iMac (2014 and later)
  • iMac Pro (2017 and later)
  • Mac Pro (2013 and later)