The 8 Biggest Changes in macOS Big Sur You Should Check Out

With macOS Big Sur taking the label of macOS 11.0, Apple has officially bid adieu to the OS X generation that started with Mac OS X 10.0 way back in 2001.

The latest version of macOS, launched in November 2020, features a complete design makeover with a wide array of upgrades across most of its native apps. We now see a prominent convergence of design and functionality across Apple's mobile iOS and its desktop macOS.

Let's look at the biggest changes in macOS Big Sur to see what you can expect from this major update.

Can I Upgrade to macOS Big Sur?

If you own any of the Mac models listed below, you can upgrade to macOS Big Sur:

  • 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)

Follow our guide to prepping for a new macOS update, then visit System Preferences > Software Update to download and install Big Sur.

1. The Much-Awaited macOS Redesign

The highlight of macOS 11 Big Sur is undoubtedly the redesigned interface. The operating system gets a major overhaul that's slick, modern, refreshing, and as Apple states, its "biggest design upgrade since the introduction of Mac OS X."

Apple's effort to make the macOS more akin to its iOS and iPadOS counterparts is much more evident in Big Sur. You'll immediately notice the familiarity with the Control Center and Notification Center, the Messages app, and Widgets.

Other subtle tweaks include a refreshed floating Dock, a translucent menu bar, better spacing between icons in the menu and sidebars, and even the curvature of window corners. Overall, the interface looks highly polished and elegant.

2. Control and Notification Center

Similar to iOS, you can now access a bunch of quick controls, settings, and toggle options in the Control Center. These include the volume, screen brightness, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and similar.

Like in iOS, you can expand some of these settings to view other options, like toggles for dark mode. You can also drag favorite controls to customize the menu bar. Open the Control Center by clicking the slider icon next to the clock on the menu bar.

The Notification Center is accessible by clicking the clock on the menu bar, or with a two-finger swipe from the right on your trackpad. The new design features stacked cards for notifications, as they appear in iOS.

You can choose to group or expand them, as opposed to browsing through a single feed. You can also respond to messages directly from the Notification Center without opening any of the apps.

3. Safari 14

Safari's competition with Chrome over the years has led Apple to refine the Mac browser so more people use it. Enter Safari 14, which brings a slew of enhancements and key features.

First off, there's the addition of a new start page that you can customize with wallpapers, along with sections such as Reading List, Bookmarks, Siri suggestions, and iCloud Tabs.

Two of the best new features of Safari 14 are Chrome-styled extensions and a new privacy report feature.

Clicking the shield icon in the address bar reveals all the trackers on any given website, letting you also see how many have monitored your activity around the web over the last 30 days.

You'll also notice favicon symbols visible on tabs by default, making it easier to see which site is open. Also helping with this are new popup previews that appear while hovering your pointer over a tab. This is extremely useful if you find yourself switching back and forth between multiple tabs all the time.

The company's translation service also debuts on Safari 14, with support for a handful of languages. Apple claims that the browser is now faster and more battery-efficient, too.

4. Messages

The Messages app goes beyond just sending and receiving functionality in Big Sur. It now has upgrades that put it on par with Messages on the iPhone and iPad. You can add inline replies to individual messages, pin conversations to the top of the sidebar, and reply directly to a person by typing their name or @-mentioning them in group chats.

There are more choices for adding message effects, the ability to customize your Memoji, and also the ability to share images, videos, and GIFs with a new photo picker. You can use #images to see and share what's trending. Any changes you make in the Messages app will sync across all your Apple devices.

5. Maps

Apple Maps has come a long way since it first launched to a lot of criticism. But Apple has gotten better at bringing much-needed improvements; the updated Maps in macOS Big Sur is a continuation of this.

The app now includes electric vehicle routing and cycling directions for better route planning on your Mac (though cycling directions are only available in a few major cities). You can send directions from a Mac to your iPhone for access on the go.

In some ways, the app now feels on par with Google Maps. This is due to features like Look Around, which gives a 360-degree view of destinations. Apple Maps now also populates roads and real-time traffic congestion.

The service now lets you save locations as Favorites, which previously was restricted to iOS. You can also explore places to visit, shop, or eat with the newly curated Guides feature, which can be customized based on places you visit. The indoor maps feature lets you browse details of indoor locations, such as airports and shopping centers.

6. Widgets

Launched with iOS 14, Widgets are another iOS favorite that have now been imported to macOS. They are pretty straightforward, allowing you to add various kinds of shortcuts like Clock, Notes, Calendar, Stocks, and Podcasts.

Access Widgets by clicking the clock in the menu bar. Click Edit Widgets at the bottom to perform various functions like adding and remove widgets, customizing the widget arrangement, and resizing them as small, medium, or large.

7. iPhone and iPad Apps

macOS Big Sur will be the first version designed to run on the new Apple M1 chip, which the company claims is the world's fastest CPU core. In theory, this means macOS can now run iOS and iPadOS apps.

That said, you'll need to own one of latest Macs to natively run mobile apps. There are several iOS apps that will be able to run on your Mac alongside normal macOS apps. Once you buy an app on iOS, you can then download it for macOS without having to pay an additional cost.

But there are app updates in Big Sur even if you don't have a brand-new Mac. The App Store now has links to summaries of each app’s privacy policy, likened to food nutrition labels (something you check before you buy). These include information on tracking and data collection like usage, contact information, and location—as well as whether or not these details are shared for third-party tracking.

This certainly gives you a better level of transparency while downloading apps.

8. Photos and Videos

A new Retouch tool "powered by machine learning" comes to Photos, letting you easily get rid of blemishes and other unwanted elements in your pictures. Now you can apply what Apple calls "the Vibrance effect" to photos for adjusting the intensity of filters and Portrait Lighting.

You can add and edit captions (previously called Descriptions) to your photos, which will sync across all devices if iCloud Photos is enabled.

Related: The iCloud Photos Master Guide

Some additional video-editing features have also made their way to the desktop app in Big Sur. You can tweak and play around with colors and white balance, crop your videos, and also apply different filters.

Other macOS Big Sur Enhancements

You can now closely monitor battery health by clicking the battery icon in the menu bar; accessing Battery Preferences lets you see usage (and screen time) over the past 24 hours or 10 days. Based on your usage, Big Sur learns your charging habits and accordingly adjusts the charging rate for improved battery life.

Spotlight has also received some improvements under the hood, allowing for faster search results when you start typing. It also comes with Quick Look support to allow viewing and editing certain files without opening up the app in question. Furthermore, other native apps like Pages and Keynotes are also fueled by the Spotlight engine.

FaceTime can now detect sign language, while Music has new Listen Now tab. Apple Arcade introduces game pages to view your achievement progress and offers a more seamless way of continuing a game from another Apple device via the Apple Arcade tab.

macOS Big Sur: Are You Ready for an Upgrade?

As we've seen, macOS Big Sur has plenty to offer for all Mac users. While this might make you want to upgrade right away, you should be cautious, since new OS versions often come with issues early on.

No matter when you upgrade, it's smart to back up your Mac so you don't lose important data if something goes wrong.

Image Credit: Apple


5 Windows Alternatives to Mac’s Alfred App | MakeUseOf

As a Windows user, you have probably struggled with the search tool and wondered if there's anything that compares with the Alfred application launcher on macOS.

While Microsoft is making efforts to improve the Windows search functionality, it still lacks the simplicity and necessary features in comparison to many third-party application launching apps made for productivity.

So, if you have exhausted your research ideas on third-party search tools and feel more confused than ever, then here's a brief list of Windows alternatives for Alfred to get you started.

1. Wox

Referred to as the "Alfred for Windows" by many, Wox displays quick real-time results. Once installed (which may not be a user-friendly experience for some), all you have to do is press Alt + Space to launch the app and begin searching. You can look for program files and perform web searches for IMDb, Wikipedia, Amazon and other popular sites.

The app has various built-in plugins that let you search for color hex codes, use a calculator, and even execute system commands.

To enable the commands, right click on Wox in the icon tray and choose Settings. Access the Plugin tab on top and choose Shell from the left column bar. Check the Replace Win + R box.

You can also customize the look-and-feel of the search bar by choosing from a range of Themes under Settings. For more value-added functionality, you can choose to download Everything as well (provided in the same link).

Download: Wox (Free)

2. Listary

Searching and launching applications with Listary is lightning fast. As soon as you complete the install and launch the app, it runs you through a quick tutorial highlighting basic search functionality. The default hotkey for the app is hitting the Ctrl key twice.

Once you start typing, you also see the options to search only files or jump into the Action menu with commands to cut, copy, paste, and more. The search bar goes a step further to offer access to favorites, recent items, and commands by expanding the ellipsis (three dots on the right of the bar) built into the bar itself.

The app has certain default keywords to choose from when you conduct a web search for popular sites including Gmail, Twitter, and eBay. To access Keywords and other settings, choose the Listary icon from the system tray and select Options.

The free version can do everything that you would typically expect from a search app and that's what makes it one of the best Windows file explorer extensions for file management. But if you feel the need to explore greater features, you do have the option to upgrade to a Pro version.

Download: Listary (Free) | Listary Pro ($27)

3. Keypirinha

The company calls it "A fast launcher for keyboard ninjas". That's what we experienced too. We recommend you have a zip file extractor handy prior to installation. You can bring up the Launch Box using the Windows default Ctrl + Win + K. With the app running in the background, you can launch it either using the hotkey or clicking the system tray icon.

You get results instantly on typing and can see the 'k' logo change to icons of popular websites or applications that you're searching for. You can do a couple of things like associate keywords with items, view bookmark suggestions, and extend system path locations by configuring the apps.ini file.

Compared to all the other apps on this list, Keypirinha settings have to be manually edited using a plain text editor as opposed to just accessing a built-in Settings or Options menu. Just right-click the Keypirinha icon in the system tray and choose Configure Keypirinha, which will open two notepad files side-by-side, one is a read-only file with a detailed 'how-to guide' and the second is for you to make changes.

This might be intimidating for you as a user if you're not comfortable playing around with a few lines of code. Although, there's nothing more to it than a simple copy-paste, which allows you to configure an extensible set of features.

The app also comes with a bunch of different packages that you can configure to your liking. For instance, the web search package allows you to run searches on supported search engines in the default system browser.

Begin by typing the name of a supported search engine or option like Yahoo, Twitter, or Wikipedia, and hit Tab. Now type the search query and hit enter again to open the search results page in your default browser.

Download: Keypirinha (Free)

4. Hain

Hain has a very clean and user-friendly interface with no bells and whistles. Upon launch, the app opens with a simple console highlighting its search bar and prompts you to try out a few things. Search results populate quickly and with ease. The app ignores some typos. For instance, you can get away with typing exel or wrd for Excel and Word respectively.

There are multiple plugins to search for popular websites, launch commands with cmd.exe, jot down simple notes, use the calculator, open URLs, and manage other tasks. You can also use the apps' built-in plugins for file search and file extension and either add or delete choices accordingly.

Hain also has a dedicated setting for the Window position, which could be set to a Draggable window or to Automatically remember window position. It can also be centered or set to a specific position on your desktop when you launch the app. Internal themes are limited to light and dark modes, but it offers external links for supported themes.

Download: Hain (Free)

5. Jarvis

Developed under the MIT license, Jarvis is by far the simplest Windows 10 search app. Alt + Space is the default hotkey and once you fire it up after installation, start searching for a query. The user interface is bare with a clean white search bar and has only two options under the Settings menu.

While one option is to check for updates and get update previews, the other is the File indexing option. You can choose to add access for folders and file extensions. It supports most of the extensions for various file types for audio, video, images, and documents.

There is no theme customization available for the app and the developers assert that it's built only for Windows 10. If you can use it on other versions of Windows, consider it a plus. The app is still under evolution and one can expect more features in the future.

Download: Jarvis (Free)

Which Windows Alfred Alternative Is Best for You?

While Windows has become more user-friendly overall, the search tool certainly has room for improvement. It's worth mentioning that while you can do more on Windows 10 with PowerToys, there's still a lot of ground to cover, especially in ease of use and functionality.

Just like Alfred, these third-party alternatives for Windows are minimal but offer better quality and faster searches. You could try them all and choose one that best suits your needs.