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MacOs Big Sur (11.3.1): Initial Impressions after a month

Published by marco on

 I finally upgraded to MacOS Big Sur[1] after waiting over nine months. I’d grown quite comfortable with Catalina. My only complaint was an occasionally flaky wireless connection, which seems to be better in Big Sur.

As for Big Sur, there are a lot of smaller improvements. The control panel is nice. The Bluetooth menu is better. The notification center is better, overall.

I thought I’d hate the more rounded look, but I really don’t. I like it. I find the new style more immediately legible and usable. I mocked it as “Windows XP” based only on screenshots, but, in practice, it’s more effective than previous versions.

As noted above, my wireless hasn’t cut out mysteriously for a while—something that used to happen once a day or so, just for a second or two, but the hiccup threw video calls and other services into a tizzy.

However, there are some worrisome bits.

General Performance

The menus in both the Notes and Podcasts application are slow, taking over a second to drop down initially. It’s very strange. I just had seven windows open in the Finder and it, along with the Window Manager, was using about 70% of one CPU. The AppleSpell process sometimes pops up with 35%—even when I’m not typing anything.


The CPU usage for this relatively simple cloud-synced note-taking app is terrible. Typing in the Notes application is laggy AF. The lag in notes has nothing to do with the size of the note. It just sucks CPU while you’re typing. It’s like no-one has tested it or is even using this app to take notes. If you try to write a single sentence, it sometimes takes half a second for letters to appear. This is ridiculous. Over a month and an upgrade from 11.3.1 to 11.4 later and it’s no better.


The Podcasts app now also crashes every once in a while. Maybe once per day, just playing a podcast.

The Podcasts application has a default view of only 1 week. The available options are 1 Week, 2 Weeks, and 1 Month. Why isn’t there an option for All? Am I not capable of deciding when my list is getting too long? Was Apple worried that its UI wasn’t capable of handling an unrestricted list? On top of this limitation, the app resets to 1 week on each restart. Because of all of the crashing, this happens all the time.

If you re-open the Podcasts app from the crash dialog, it opens accompanied by a Terminal window that shows debug output. Running in this mode seems to fix the crashing, but the play/pause is laggy. This is not acceptable for a 2-trillion-dollar company with dozens of thousands of the world’s best software engineers.


In Apple Photos, they made a lot of improvements. But they, once again, made it more difficult to edit photo titles.

  1. Use + to show the editor for the photo title.
  2. Once you start typing, it sometimes just erases most of what you’ve typed with the filename of the photo—while you’re typing
  3. Once you hit to save changes, the focus is now nowhere instead of on the photo you’ve just edited.
  4. Hitting the right arrow to go to the next photo very helpfully jumps to the first photo in the entire list. What is that?

In the 11.4 version, it looks like the focus problem might be fixed, but the random overwrite of what you’ve typed still occurs.


The notification badges are now sticky and have little close buttons on them. These close buttons, however, disappear when you hover the first time, so you have to move the cursor off of the notification and hover on it again in order to make the button show up for realz and then you can click it.

Now Playing

The OS now keeps track of “playable” apps so that when you press play/pause on the keyboard, it activates the most recent app. Except that it doesn’t. It relatively accurately keeps track of playable tabs in a browser as well as the Music and Podcasts app.

It’s a welcome change to have a list of those queues in a central location and easily accessible. It’s just that sometimes the key combination just applies to a random application rather than to the last application you’ve interacted with—or even with the app that is currently playing something. Instead of pausing the playing podcast, it will just start playing a YouTube tab from the browser. This doesn’t seem like it should be that difficult.


This is all pretty basic stuff, using the basic productivity apps that Apple touts for their platform. In all cases, these are regressions from things that were working just fine in Catalina. Overall, it’s a solid release, but there are enough problems like those listed above to make you wonder who’s testing this OS? It’s been out for nearly a year and has gone through 4 minor revisions—and it still has quite a few rough edges.

[1] I was kind of forced into the upgrade because I’m teaching a class in Mobile Application Development using Xaramin and .NET. Since I’m on a Mac, I installed Microsoft Visual Studio for Mac—and that had just become dependent on a version of XCode that only runs on Big Sur. Instead of trying to figure out how to get around that, I bit the bullet and upgraded.