Late 2016 update
Since Apple delivered the latest overhaul of its MacOS operating system in September 2016, it's refreshed its lineup of. Considerably slimmer, faster and pricier than their predecessors, the new models feature some innovative flourishes -- most notably, Apple's dynamic Touch Bar. (There is also a less expensive .)
The common theme among the MacOS Sierra release and the new MacBook models is a greater emphasis on usability and productivity, rather than performance per se. Exhibit A: the Touch Bar -- a mini display that runs along the top of the keyboard that provides different icons and options for different apps; sliders, hot keys and function buttons emerge on the fly as needed. The newest version of MacOS (release 12.10.1), which comes factory-installed on the new MacBooks, leverages the new TouchBar functionality. Also, for the first time, it integrates Apple's voice-enabled assistant, Siri, with the Mac operating system; provides new ways to share across and synchronize Apple devices; and brings Apple Pay to the desktop.
Note that the new MacBooks also make some difficult trade-offs, the most significant of which is a dearth of ports. In fact, buying a new MacBook Pro will likely force you to invest in a variety of adapters for all your legacy devices. Though MacOS Sierra clearly demonstrates Apple's interest in extending the integration of Macs and iOS products, at the moment, it's imperfectly executed. The new , for example, equipped as they are with only USB-C ports, can't connect to the new iPhone 7 and its Lightning Connector, without an adapter.
Editors' note: The original MacOS Sierra review, first published in September 2016, follows.
Even without new hardware (yet), there are a lot of changes coming to Apple's Mac line of computers. The operating system that powers MacBooks and (as well as the and ) has gotten a big new refresh. So big, in fact, that it now has a whole new name.
Out is OS X (pronounced oh-ess-ten), followed by an ever-increasing version number, currently 10.11; in is MacOS, a new name that's much more in line with Apple's other operating systems, which include iOS (for iPhones and iPads), WatchOS (Apple Watch) and TVOS (Apple TV).
It's yet another step in a long path to a grand unified theory of Apple operating systems, and it highlights increasing cooperation between Macs and other Apple devices and services. The code name for the first version of MacOS is Sierra, and it's available starting today as a free update to current Mac owners (for all Macs from 2010 or later, and a handful of 2009 systems), and will come preinstalled on Mac systems going forward.
The last couple of Mac operating systems upgrades, 2015'sand 2014's , were less an overhaul and more a collection of handy features and enhancements. MacOS Sierra takes that a bit further, adding new features that are inspired by iOS or are designed to help Macs work better with iOS products, adding further incentive to keep your hardware inside Apple's walled garden, which includes the iPhone, Apple Watch and Mac computers.
Siri on Mac
It's still the same familiar Siri voice (depending on your region), and she does most of the same things as the iOS version. You activate Siri through a keyboard command, Cmd+Space, or by clicking the Siri icon in the dock, then simply speak your query.
All the standard things -- weather, news, local shops and landmarks -- work as expected. You can pin results, from sports scores to stock prices, to the notifications panel and see them anytime. That's a handy extra if you find yourself looking up the same info over and over again.
The most useful new trick with desktop Siri is for searching files, which you can do by type, by date, or by keyword. For example, you can easily call out all spreadsheets, or all image files from the last two weeks with the word "screenshot" in the title. It's a handy way to zero in on files, especially if, like me, you're not very good at keeping files organized.
New sharing and optimization in iCloud
Using iCloud for storing and sharing photos and files is well-established at this point, and people use Google Drive, Dropbox and other cloud services for similar purposes. But, by checking off a new checkbox in the iCloud settings menu, files on the desktop or in the documents folders of multiple Macs can now be automatically synced. That's handy if you have, for example, a work and home Mac that you need to jump between easily.
Drop a file or add a screenshot to the desktop of one MacOS system, and a few seconds later, it pops up on the other ones. The documents folder, the other place you're likely to store important files, works similarly, but each machine gets a named folder within the documents folder on its sister machines.