macOS Big Sur vs. Catalina: Is it worth upgrading?

Apple announced the new version of macOS, called Big Sur, at its virtual WWDC in June. And ever since then, Mac users have been wondering whether they should upgrade when it ships. So, let’s take a look at Big Sur macOS Catalina to find out what improvements it brings.

Tip:

Big Sur has more demanding system requirements than Catalina and you may also need to free up space on your Mac to install it. CleanMyMac X can help with both of those by running scripts to optimize your Mac’s performance and highlighting files you can safely remove, potentially freeing up several gigabytes of space.


Big Sur vs. Catalina: user interface

In Big Sur, Apple redesigned the interface for its built-in apps like Photos and Mail. They now have sidebars that stretch the full height of the window and toolbars with sleeker, simplified icons.

Finder windows now have more curved corners and plain white (or dark) backgrounds on title bars and toolbars.

The Dock has also been redesigned. The corners of the Dock are more rounded, and app icons are all the same shape, giving it a tidier look. Icons also have enhanced shading and shadows that make them appear less flat than in Catalina.

Control Center appears on the Mac for the first time in Big Sur, accessible from a menu bar item. Like on iOS, it allows you to control things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and AirDrop and volume and display brightness. You can drag your favorite items to the menu bar.

The Notification Center in Big Sur now puts notifications and widgets in a single view and it groups notifications by app. Some notifications are interactive, so, for example, you can play a podcast episode directly from Notification Center.

Sheets, the alerts that dropdown from the top of windows to request you take action, now scale to the center of the window, are accompanied by the rest of the screen dimming, but also are less obtrusive than previously.

Symbols for things like Share or Undo are now more consistent, all taken from one library of symbols.

macOS Big Sur vs. macOS Catalina: Safari

Apple says that the update to Safari in Big Sur is the biggest ever. It boosts performance, reduces energy consumption, and adds features to improve privacy. Big Sur Safari also allows you to customize your homepage by adding a background image. Then you can add elements like your reading list, iCloud tabs, and even a Privacy Report.

Tabs have been re-designed to allow you to see more of them at once, and hovering over a tab brings up a preview of the page. Safari can also translate pages between seven languages with one click, tell you if any of your saved passwords have been compromised, and show a report of all the cross-site trackers it is blocking to protect your privacy.

macOS Catalina vs. Big Sur: Messages

Messages in Big Sur gets lots of new features, many of them similar to those that have been in other messaging apps for years, but better late than never. In Big Sur Messages, you can pin up to nine conversations to the top of the message list, reply directly to messages in group conversations and “mention” others, and add an image to identify a conversation.

Messages also allow you to search for and add GIFs and trending images, create and add Memoji on the Mac, and search messages more quickly. Early reports from Big Sur users suggest that searching in Big Sur is much faster than in Catalina and that Messages on the Mac is finally on a par with the iOS version, which is great news.

macOS Big Sur vs Catalina: Maps

Maps is another app that has lagged behind its iOS version. However, in Big Sur, that looks to have changed. Maps now allows you to create guides to locations, as well as access guides created by others.

It also has cycling routes, charging points for electric vehicles, and indoor maps for some locations. And then there’s Look Around, Apple’s version of Google Street View, also in Big Sur Maps. Look Around allows you to get a street-level 3D view of locations. Apple hasn’t yet said which areas will be covered, but it’s likely to be very limited initially.

Big Sur vs. Catalina: App Store

Privacy has been a key theme of the last couple of macOS releases, and Big Sur is no different. As well as the privacy report in Safari, Apple now displays privacy information in the App Store. For each app, types of data collected by the app are split into three categories: data used to track you, data linked to you, and data not linked to you. That makes it very easy to see at a glance how a specific app is using, say, your location data, or your financial information.

Big Sur vs. Catalina: More changes

There are lots of smaller improvements in Big Sur. Photos gets a refreshed interface, improved retouch tool that is driven by a machine-learning algorithm, new editing options, and better Memories with new soundtracks.

  • The Music and Podcasts apps, which replaced iTunes in Catalina, have new For You recommendations and new layouts. Podcasts also gets a Listen Now feature and a more focused Up Next to make it easier to find the next episode of the podcasts you’re listening to. There’s a new section to help you find the latest episodes of podcasts you subscribe to, and there are hand-picked episode recommendations. The startup chime that disappeared from some Macs has been restored, at least in beta versions of Big Sur. And system sounds have been updated to make them easier on the ear. Apparently, this has been done using snippets of the original sounds. So the new sounds should be familiar, yet more pleasing to listen to.
  • Spotlight has been beefed up in Big Sur and is now faster than ever. And it presents results in a more streamlined format to make them easier to browse. It also has Quick Look features that allow you to preview the whole of a document or web page by scrolling through it. It has the same markup tools that were added to the Finder in Catalina, allowing you to do things like rotating an image, cropping it, or signing a PDF, all within Spotlight. Spotlight also powers Find in Safari, Keynote, Pages, and other Apple apps.
  • Siri can now answer questions you ask by searching the web then telling you what it has found.
  • Voice memos, introduced in Catalina, gets the ability to organize recordings in folders and smart folders. It can also remove background noise automatically and room reverb with a click. And you can mark recordings as favorites.
  • The weather widget in Notification Center gets some of the features Apple acquired when it bought Dark Sky. In the US, it will display a minute-by-minute chart showing the intensity of rain or snow over the coming hour. In the US, Europe, Japan, Canada, and Australia, it will display government alerts about severe weather. And all users will be able to see when the weather will be much warmer, colder, or wetter the next day.

How to improve your Mac’s performance with Big Sur

  1. Download CleanMyMac X if you haven’t done so already, and follow the instructions to install it.
  2. Launch it from your Applications folder.
  3. Choose the Optimization module and click View All Items.
  4. Review each category and check the boxes next to those you want to remove.
  5. Press Perform.
  6. If an item can’t be removed independently of its host app, click ‘Enabled’ next to its name to disable it.

There are many differences between the macOS Big Sur and Catalina. Some of the most obvious ones are the addition of Control Center, the change to Notifications, and the improvements in Safari. But there are many other changes too. Before you upgrade, it’s worth running CleanMyMac X to optimize the performance of your Mac and clear space.

macOS Big Sur vs. Catalina: The sumup

Big Sur

Catalina

Compatibility:

MacBook models from early 2015 or later

MacBook Air models from 2013 or later

MacBook Pro models from 2013 or later

Mac mini models from 2014 or later

iMac models from 2014 or later

iMac Pro (all models)

Mac Pro models from 2013 or later

2012 and Early 2013 MacBook Pro

2012 MacBook Air

2012 and 2013 iMac

2012 Mac mini

MacBook models from early 2015 or later

MacBook Air models from 2013 or later

MacBook Pro models from 2013 or later

Mac mini models from 2014 or later

iMac models from 2014 or later

iMac Pro (all models)

Mac Pro models from 2013 or later

Control Center:

Yes

No

Notification Center:

One tab

Two tabs

Designed for:

Intel and ARM-powered Macs

Intel Macs

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