What you need to know about macOS High Sierra

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One of the things you can bank on from Apple’s annual WWDC event is that its operating systems will get an update. This year is no different, and there are a slew of changes coming to the company’s desktop and laptop OS. The new version is called macOS High Sierra, and if you’re a developer (or a keen enthusiast) you can download it today from Apple’s Developer website. The fully baked version will land for the rest of us come spring.

These are the key things that have us looking forward its arrival.

Safari cleans up the web

Autoplaying video is the bane of our online lives. You know the feeling, you load a webpage and out of nowhere a video you didn’t consent to starts playing, usually with an annoying intro tune or someone in a loud, American accent yammering on about something inane. It’s particularly annoying when you’ve not got your headphones plugged in and you’re meant to be “working” and now the jig is up and the rest of your office is looking at your accusingly. Well, no more.

The updated version of Safari on macOS High Sierra will put an end to this misery, because autoplay detection is built in, stopping any nasty video in its tracks… until you hit the play button. There’s also something called “intelligent tracking prevention” which should stop adverts for the product you just shopped for online showing up everywhere else you go on the web. Online retailers aren’t going to like that one, but us? We’re delighted.

A new file system

Look, a “new file system” wasn’t exactly top of our wish list, but given we all spend a large amount of time wrangling files it’s probably not something we should be disappointed to see.

Apple File System (APFS) on macOS High Sierra is modern, 64-bit, and looks set to be blisteringly speedy. Apple showed off the new system at WWDC by duplicating a handful of large, video files. In Sierra it took forever. In High Sierra it was almost instant. It’s the sort of change many of us won’t notice, until we find ourselves wondering why we’ve done all of the things we usually do by lunch and it’s only 11:30am.

Photos get an upgrade, too

With macOS High Sierra, Apple’s revamped its photo manager to include smarter organisation, an iPhoto-like persistent sidebar, and improved support for facial recognition that’ll sync across all of you Apple devices. Which is all good and well, but what we’re really impressed by is the app’s new editing chops. You get a curves tool (which looks like it came straight out of Photoshop) and selective colour, and if you edit with third-party apps (like, you know, Photoshop) any edits you make in one will be present in the other one, too, which is pretty snazzy.

Email gets smarter

We’re big fans of going full-screen on our Macs, but we hate the way a compose window in Mail insists on covering everything. We’ve moaned and Apple’s listened. In Mail on macOS High Sierra, the compose window is a split-screen view, which let us keep a lookout for new email coming in and no longer insists on our attention. Apple says the new Mail app is also way better and efficiently storing that to-do list made for us by other people that is our inbox. Expect email to use up to 35% less space than it does now, if Apple’s claims are correct.

iCloud, you cloud, we all cloud

During the WWDC presentation, Apple casually mentioned that Messages content in macOS High Sierra (and in iOS 11) lives in iCloud, which means conversations will sync across devices and only the recent ones will need to be stored locally.

Also, when Apple briefly displayed its “Refinements” slide, we caught a glimpse of the phrase “iCloud file sharing”, which we’re hoping means a Dropbox-like ability to share files by sending someone a link. We’ll have to wait and see whether that’s the case, or if it turns out to be something less pleasing, and less useful.

Video

Today most video is compressed using the H.264 codec, but High Sierra thinks that’s old news and instead uses H.265 (HEVC). What does that mean for you and me? Smaller video files that look just as good as current, larger ones.

As if that wasn’t enough high geekery, Apple’s also equipped High Sierra with the new version of its Metal gaming framework, the unimaginatively named “Metal 2”. Why should we care? Because it adds VR support from Steam, Unreal and Unity and a 10x performance boost over the first gen of Metal.

All of which means that no matter what you’re looking at on your MacBook, iMac, iMac Pro or Mac Pro, it should be easier on the eyes, and closer to what they see in real life.

We tend to wait for the consumer release of new operating systems, but if you’re less patient than we are you can head over here to start fiddling with macOS High Sierra today.

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