As with past years, Apple's WWDC 2016 keynote showcased the upcoming updates to Apple's operating systems and developer tools. It's hard to believe that iOS is now on its tenth major version, which put Apple in an interesting position since their desktop operating system has been called OS X for many years now. Given that Apple's other operating systems are named iOS, watchOS, and tvOS, the name OS X has become a bit of an outlier. This year's release comes with a new name in the typical manner that OS X releases each had a specific name, but also a new name for the operating system itself. The 2016 version of Apple's operating system for Macs is named macOS Sierra.

While macOS adopts a new name, it retains the existing versioning system, with macOS Sierra being version 10.12. This makes sense when you consider the progression from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X, which then treated each release as a point update on top of ten and only dropped the Mac in the name in 2012. This kind of versioning is somewhat awkward, and will be more so when it gets to the point where the OS is version 10.20. It will be interesting to see if the next truly large update to macOS brings it to major version eleven, and it could be that Apple plans to keep it in sync with iOS with a new major version number each year, but only time will tell.

Like all updates to macOS, Sierra comes with a number of new features. With the bulk of Apple's device sales being mobile devices, there have been a number of features in recent versions of macOS that work to leverage how devices running macOS, iOS, and watchOS can work together. Having cloud sync across devices is one thing, but building and properly executing Apple's continuity features really requires control over the hardware and software stacks across all devices. Unfortunately it's difficult to test these features during Apple's beta period, but that just gives Apple's users things to look forward to later in the year.

More important than new features is whether or not a Mac can even be upgraded to macOS Sierra from OS X El Capitan. Apple has announced the compatibility list for Sierra, and there are some older Macs that have dropped off the list. I've put together a chart comparing the compatibility of Macs with El Captain and compatibility with Sierra.

  OS X El Capitan macOS Sierra
MacBook Pro Mid 2007 and newer 2010 and newer
MacBook Air Late 2008 and newer 2010 and newer
Old MacBook Late 2008 aluminum and newer Late 2009 and newer
New MacBook 2015 and newer
iMac Mid 2007 and newer Late 2009 and newer
Mac Mini Early 2009 and newer 2010 and newer
Mac Pro Early 2008 and newer 2010 and newer

As you can see, it looks like Apple has put the cutoff point right around the start of this decade. The old MacBook and iMac that released in late 2009 make the cut, but everything else has to be a model from 2010. The uniformity of the cutoff makes it fairly likely that this was a somewhat arbitary decision, although it's difficult to say exactly how many older Macs could have been put on the list because Apple offers many SKUs and CTO options that could make one version of an older Mac fast enough and another from the same line too slow. In any case, the easy rule with Sierra is that if your Mac is from before 2010 it's probably not supported, and if you're in that group you're probably overdue for an upgrade anyway.

With Apple having just released their public beta of macOS Sierra, it's worth going over the major features that are currently available for users to try before the OS is officially launched later this year. Features like Auto Unlock and Apple Pay on the web can't really be shown right now, but it is possible to show other features that work between iOS and macOS devices like the additions to Messages and Photos. While I think the smaller and more subtle features in software updates can be some of the most useful, It's probably best to start off with the biggest feature in Sierra, which is Siri coming to the Mac.

Siri Comes To The Mac
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  • WaitingForNehalem - Wednesday, July 13, 2016 - link

    It would have been nice to cover improvements to the kernel and the new file system...you know the important parts of an operating system. Reply
  • Brandon Chester - Wednesday, July 13, 2016 - link

    APFS isnt even shipping until 2017, it's not a Sierra feature. Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Wednesday, July 13, 2016 - link

    Whatever you do Apple... DO NOT give this update away for free as the entire internet, or a selection of loud mouthed people, will slam it and refuse to update. /s (Windows 10 anyone?) Reply
  • theduckofdeath - Thursday, July 14, 2016 - link

    Yup, with a rate outpacing the previous fastest ever adopted operating system-release by around 145% is a massive failure, amirite?!...
    I know a small but loud group wanted to create the impression that no one updated to Windows 10, but that attempt failed miserably, like most internet trolling attempts tends to do.
    Reply
  • Ascaris - Sunday, July 17, 2016 - link

    145% for one month, when no other version of Windows has been a free upgrade before, so all of the early adopters that might have had to wait to afford it don't have to wait-- yeah, that's quite an accomplishment. What about the heaps of people who resent MS for what they've done, and are more likely than ever before to jump ship to Apple or Linux? I remember the browser wars, the introduction of WGA, Windows Vista, Windows 8... but I don't remember there ever being this level of contempt for MS and the product in question than there is now. Is alienating all of their customers part of some kind of grand plan? If I were a MS competitor secretly plotting to destroy them, I don't think I would do anything different than MS has.

    But yeah, plenty of people upgraded to Windows 10-- though their target of a billion devices by ($date) won't happen, as they've admitted, but there have been a bunch. Many of them are people who were not tech-savvy enough to know how to block 10, and they're not happy about it. So much for people using Windows because they want to and not because they have to!

    There's a difference between giving something away and essentially forcing people to take it even as they tell you they don't want it. I've never liked Apple, but they've never stooped to using malware techniques and dark pattern trickery to get people to upgrade to something free. They stick to that old-fashioned method of trying to produce products people want so that they'll buy them. Microsoft has a different idea-- make something no one wants, then force them to upgrade with dirty tricks.

    Oh, and the growth rate of Linux last month (as reported by Netmarketshare.com) was 30% higher than that of Windows 10. Another Microsoft achievement!
    Reply
  • Commodus - Tuesday, July 19, 2016 - link

    You're being a bit hyperbolic. It's not that no one wanted to upgrade to Windows 10, it's that there's a significant minority that doesn't... and isn't happy that Microsoft used underhanded tactics to upgrade some people without their explicit consent.

    There are very real stories of people who didn't realize that Windows was set to auto-upgrade and came back to see their PC running Windows 10. I'm sorry, but that's just not cool -- even Apple with its relatively aggressive upgrade strategy won't automatically install the latest version of macOS.

    It's a classic example of letting business goals override what the user wants.
    Reply
  • ex2bot - Friday, July 15, 2016 - link

    Mac OS updates have been free for years now. And there is a vocal minority who refuses to update past 10.6. Reply
  • Hyper72 - Monday, July 18, 2016 - link

    Not that it have much relevance; but the app store always suggests me to install latest free version of OS X. It's too bad it immediately fails as my 2006 MacBook Pro C2D doesn't run anything more recent than Lion. That means I can't run latest X Code, so only way I can try out Swift is in a Linux VM which doesn't target iOS or macOS - sigh. Reply
  • Meteor2 - Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - link

    It might be time to replace your ten year old computer. Reply
  • wsjudd - Wednesday, July 13, 2016 - link

    For anyone curious what the YouTube link spotted in the Messages screenshot was: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETfiUYij5UE Reply

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