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Tech Talk

Don’t Upgrade to MacOS Big Sur

Big Sur? More like Big Mess.

ave you ever had that feeling of regret for doing something spontaneously out of boredom?

Just like when you decided to go out for a walk because it’s a sunny day outside. Then, once you are outside, you realised that you actually liked being inside better because it’s cool and doesn’t make you sweaty?

I just had that experience by upgrading to Big Sur.

It was 9 p.m., I just started a retraining for a model that would take at least 30 minutes, and a notification popped up on the top right corner.

An update is available for your Mac.

Damn, it’s the Big Sur update that I had put off for so long.

But then I thought to myself, “They already removed the support for 32-bit apps, what’s the worst that can happen this time?”

Fast forward 30 minutes later, I had the Big Sur installed in my Macbook.

At first glance, everything felt normal. Sure, the dock looks different, and all the applications have more-rounded edges, but I can still live with it.

However, as I fumbled around further with Big Sur, I realised that it feels like a setback from Catalina.

The problem is, it took quite an effort to undo the changes, unlike when someone went for a walk.

The Big Mess

I have held off upgrading to Big Sur since it was released on November 2020 because of its first impression during Apple Event.

The Big Sur seems to make the Macbook seems more iPad-y with all the rounded corners and widgets replacing the old notification center.

Apple wants to ultimately merge the MacOS and iOS and make it possible for a Macbook to run an application designed for iPad and vice versa. This has started since Catalina, where Apple dropped support for 32-bit application.

However, Big Sur feels more like an unfinished product compared to other MacOS versions.

Big Sur is like Apple’s Windows 8

Remember when Windows 8 first came out? It replaces the start menu with application tiles, and have bugs for a lot of programs at first launch. Windows 8 was Microsoft’s move to make an operating system that is tablet-user friendly.

Big Sur is a bit different because Apple already had a separate operating system for iPad. However, it feels unfinished, just like Windows 8 when it was first released.

Here are the things I have done to “fix” the problems without downgrading to Catalina.

Notification Center

One of my biggest gripe is the removal of notification center.

I have been using the two-finger swipe from the right-most trackpad to open the notification center and glance at the current stock prices. It’s quick, it’s smooth, and it’s much faster than opening the Stocks app.

I used to be able to glance at 20 stock prices with this method in Catalina.

However, in Big Sur, they limited the number of stocks to 6. And that’s the largest size they offered. The small and medium ones only show you 3.

Screenshot by Author

An idea popped to my head, I can stack multiple of these Stocks widgets and then I can stack them together to display more stocks, right?

Wrong, they don’t let you customise what Stocks to display on the multiple stocks widget. They will always show the top 6 tickers inside your Stocks app.

Fortunately, we can change the displayed stock ticker using the individual stock widget. This is what I managed to do after configuring the widget for a good minute.

Screenshot by Author

I can only fit 10 stocks this way, which is 50% less than the usual 20 stocks I used to have in Catalina, but it’s better than just 6 using the larger widgets.

The same story happens to the World Clock. Right now it is limited to only 4 time, compared to Catalina that allows a lot more than that.

I didn’t really use it that much, but this could be a problem for someone who works a lot with people or has family members in a lot of different time zones.

On top of that, the notification center used to have 2 tabs, “Today”, and “Notification”, which separates the widgets and the notifications.

Now, even with my workaround, my list of stocks will get reduced to 8 or 6 when I have a lot of notifications because they will pop up on the top and push down the widgets.

Yes, they are grouped by apps, but if you have multiple apps sending you notification, it will create quite a stack anyway.

I had to manually clear all the notifications or scroll down the widgets just to perform the same task that used to work with a simple swipe.

When something that used to take one action requires two or more actions, it’s a worse User Experience in my opinion.

Hidden Night Shift & Do Not Disturb

Another missing thing from the old notification center is the easy access to Night Shift and DND. It used to be very easy to turn it on and off from the notification center, but now it’s missing.

There are two ways to mitigate this, if your Macbook has a Touch Bar, you can add Night Shift and/or Do Not Disturb \to it through System Preferences > Extensions > Touch Bar > Customise Control Strip

Screenshot by Author

The other way is through the new Control Center that is located in the top right of the Menu bar, near the date and time.

When you click on it, the DND option will be shown right there, but what about the Night Shift?

You would need to click on the Display menu to open up a new submenu and it would show something like this.

It’s not that bad considering it takes only one more steps than before, but I found it disturbing that I have to find out about this through a Reddit post and not through Apple.

Lags & Freezes

It might just be me being harsher than normal towards Big Sur because of the bad impression, but I felt like it lags and freezes a lot more than Catalina.

Opening and hiding Notification Center doesn’t feel as smooth as before. It kind of stuttered halfway through as if it’s loading something.

On top of that, the widgets, especially the Stock widgets, will often freeze for some reason. When the market opens, 6 out of 10 will correctly display the current price and reset the graph to start from the left side, but the rest of them will freeze on last close price.

I think they silently fixed the freezing problem in Big Sur 11.2.2, because I never encountered it yet since that update. However, the lags are definitely still there.

Final Thoughts

Every time Apple releases a new MacOS, they listed all the changes in their website. However, there will only be one or two changes that left a lasting impression for me.

For Mojave, I will always remember it as “Dark mode, cool!”

Catalina? “Goodbye 32-bit applications.”

What about Big Sur? I’d have to say “It makes my Macbook feels like an iPad, but not in a good way.”

They could have added a shortcut for the Control Center, just like a two-finger drag from the right side of the trackpad to open Notification Center. Maybe a two-finger drag from the top side for Control Center?\

In my opinion, Apple tried too hard to make a MacOS that feels like an iOS. Sure, it would be great if my Macbook can run an iPad app, but it doesn’t mean I want my Macbook to feel like an iPad.

Is it a move to the right direction? Maybe, I can see why Apple created Big Sur this way, but I personally prefer it the other way around where the iOS feels more like a MacOS.

If I can have the same coding experience I had in my Macbook through an iPad, my next laptop replacement might be an iPad.

At the very least it will make me feel less guilty spending that much for an iPad anyway.

Data Scientist. I write about DS & ML. Sometimes.

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