Apple supercharges the Mac with macOS High Sierra

 In End-User Devices, Software

Another year, another update for macOS. But don’t assume the process will be typical. While most of the changes to the system are under the hood—the OS will look nearly identical to previous iterations—they have huge implications for the Apple universe.

All the updates are aimed at making the Mac faster and better, but there are a few that should stand out for businesses that deploy Apple machines.

High Sierra, goodbye traditional imaging

The biggest, and most important change, comes in the elimination of classic imaging.

If you’ve been relying on classic imaging to deploy your Macs, it’s officially time to move to a modular image or use a management solution. The introduction of Apple File System (APFS), optimized for flash storage, is the first major overhaul of Apple’s filing system in 30 years. APFS becomes mandatory on all SSD drives with this update, and brings changes to classic imaging tools, so imaging a Mac with a single disk image will likely prove difficult and problematic moving forward.

APFS, which already rolled out to iPhones and iPads with iOS 10.3, is part of a greater move at Apple to streamline its filing system, making for more efficient SSD operation, better integration, and faster processes. Functions like copying files will be nearly instantaneous, rather than incurring a delay of a few seconds or minutes, and users will benefit from many other invisible enhancements, such as greater reliability of file system integrity.

It’s a big trade off, but one that shouldn’t be difficult for customers who have been following Apple best practices for the past few years. If you haven’t, now’s the time to start.

Development tools you’ve been waiting for

The other big changes coming through High Sierra are a boost to the Mac’s graphics and a leg up for developers. With Metal 2, Apple’s updated graphics framework, external video cards can finally be supported over Thunderbolt, turning the Mac into a powerhouse for graphics, AR/VR creation, and more, by simply plugging in a peripheral. Video compression will also see a change, with High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) format improving compression of videos by 40 percent over the old standard, H.264. As the first update in almost eight years for video compression, expect to see a noticeable boost in speed and quality.

For developers, the introduction of Swift 4, Apple’s newest programming language, and CoreML, which allows for local machine learning, will be especially helpful. Swift 4 includes a version of the language similar to Swift 3, but with shortened build times, additions to the standard library, and a reduced app size in the final product. CoreML can also help with efficiency by harnessing the power of the Mac itself to power machine learning, rather than sending it out to another server.

The evolution of an OS

Overall, the transition from Sierra to High Sierra should be a smooth one, reminiscent of the update from Leopard to Snow Leopard. The process is as smooth as past macOS updates, albeit with a delay as your SSD gets converted to APFS. Everything will look familiar once you log back on—it will just be faster, more efficient, and able to support a little bit more.

To ensure you’re prepared, there are only a couple of things you need to do. First, if you’re using an Apple File Protocol (AFP) server, make sure to switch to Server Message Block (SMB) before upgrading—it should be as easy as checking off a box in the settings app, and will make the transition even smoother.

More importantly, make sure you’re ready to get rid of traditional imaging. Most companies have made the move to a management solution in recent years, so the switch won’t be too much of a shock. If you’re one of the few that haven’t, take some time to familiarize yourself with the new process, and determine how you’ll be deploying your machines from here on out.

A stronger foundation to build to greater heights

High Sierra is a small but important step toward a more streamlined, connected, and faster Apple.

Its updates aren’t particularly flashy, but they’ll still have a big effect on the overall Apple ecosystem, with more consistency between iOS and macOS overall. APFS alone is a huge step toward the future Apple sees for itself, even though you’ll hardly notice it from the surface, and the other updates just make for a better environment for users and developers alike.

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