In continuing with Apple’s yearly operating system release cycle, the latest entry in the series after OS X El Capitan is macOS Sierra. Version 10.12 of the OS brings more than just a name change (the company dropped OS X with this release)–it further delivers on the seamless user experience established in previous OSes by extending Continuity, Siri, and Apple Pay to name a few of the technologies shared between the desktop and mobile platforms. The release also offers advanced malware protection and optimized storage functionalities.

This primer details what you need to know about macOS Sierra. We’ll update this “living” guide about macOS Sierra periodically when Apple releases updates, important security fixes, and new information about the OS.

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Executive summary

  • What is macOS Sierra? macOS Sierra is Apple’s latest iteration of operating system in its desktop computing line; it’s the successor to OS X El Capitan.
  • Why does macOS Sierra matter? macOS Sierra includes new features to its core functionality, including advanced security capabilities to protect system integrity from malware threats, along with productivity enhancements to allow users to continue working when mobile.
  • Who does macOS Sierra affect? Consumers, business users, and IT pros that rely on Apple computers to power their business functions and empower themselves simply, securely, and efficiently.
  • When was macOS Sierra released? Apple released macOS Sierra (version 10.12) to all users on September 20, 2016. Build 10.12.5 was released on May 15, 2017 for download, deprecating the previously released builds 10.12.1, 10.12.2, 10.12.3, and 10.12.4.
  • How can I get macOS Sierra? macOS Sierra is available for download from Apple’s Mac App Store. In keeping with its licensing terms, the downloadable installer is available for free to all users on supported equipment.

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What is macOS Sierra?

macOS Sierra is the latest release of Apple’s operating system for its computing devices. On September 20, 2016, Apple made version 10.12 of its OS available for all to download from the Mac App Store.

Apple has merged the best features of its mobile OS to better integrate its services and make them seamless to the end user. Though not all of macOS Sierra is rooted in cross-platform features between it and iOS, macOS further expands security by protecting core system services from unauthorized access and malware infection, as well as eliminating less secure technologies.

SEE: Screenshots: A complete roundup of new macOS Sierra features (TechRepublic)

Alongside key changes to the core OS, new features have been introduced in an effort to simplify the use of products in the Apple ecosystem, ensuring a seamless transition between work being performed on one device and picking up where you left off on a second device without losing a step. New and upgraded features include the following.

  • Siri: “Just ask,” as Apple states, to get the most out of your Mac. Siri’s systemwide integration allows for voice recognition support throughout all common uses: finding your files, searching websites, or controlling multimedia playback.
  • Auto Unlock: Using a paired Apple Watch, macOS will automatically unlock the desktop or log in the user–the person doesn’t have to enter their password, making it quick and easy for users to access their Mac.
  • iCloud Drive: Leveraging the iCloud Drive’s available storage, users can synchronize their Desktop and Documents folders across all macOS-enabled devices for simpler, centralized file management.
  • Apple Pay: Using the biometric security of your iPhone, Apple Watch, or Touch Bar-enabled MacBook Pro, checking out for purchases on websites on your Mac ensures your personal details remain encrypted.
  • Optimized storage: By keeping track of your recently used files, macOS Sierra will monitor existing storage space and offload rarely used files to iCloud, thus freeing up space on your local drive for newer files.
  • Tabs: Working with multiple documents within the same application meant keeping multiple windows open at the same time. With macOS Sierra, multiple documents are stored within tabs, similar to how internet browsers store multiple pages within one window.
  • Picture in Picture: Similar to how TVs display one show in a small window within the larger screen, Apple has allowed for apps to run within smaller floating windows.
  • Universal Clipboard: Copy & paste expanded so that items copied on one device can be pasted on another device regardless of whether the device is running macOS or iOS.
  • Safari: Apple’s latest version of Safari–10.0–includes support for Apple Pay, enhanced Extensions support and securing the browser by turning off Legacy plug-ins by default as well as hiding the presence of installed legacy plug-ins.
  • Apple File System (APFS): This is Apple’s new file system and the still-in-development successor to the current HFS+. The solid-state optimized system seeks to correct existing issues with HFS+ while adding support for snapshots and clones, which copy files without using additional storage space. Data integrity takes a front seat with the use of checksums and multiple modes of disk encryption for volumes.

System requirements

  • RAM: 2 GB
  • Disk Space: 8.8 GB
  • Only these Macs are supported:
    iMac (late 2009 or newer)
    MacBook (late 2009 or newer)
    MacBook Pro (mid-2010 or newer)
    MacBook Air (late 2010 or newer)
    Mac Mini (mid-2010 or newer)
    Mac Pro (mid-2010 or newer)

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Why does macOS Sierra matter?

For this release, Apple opted to rebrand the OS X moniker and upgrade the OS feature set to include a number of productivity-enhancing features for business users and new features to its existing applications, such as Photos and Maps. Added security has been implemented to strengthen its UNIX-based system services, including additional refinements to Gatekeeper’s malware protection by way of implementing code signing for disk images and path randomization for applications.

Aesthetically, macOS Sierra is similar to previous versions of OS X, as Apple continues to work toward a more platform-unified design with further integration with iOS without fully merging the two.

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Who does macOS Sierra affect?

Apple users from all facets will be directly affected by this latest version of macOS, particularly users that rely on macOS and iOS to bridge the work-life balance and use Mac computers, iPhones, and iPads.

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When was macOS Sierra released?

Apple provided its first official glimpse of macOS Sierra to the world on June 13, 2016 at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Developers were provided with a beta version of the OS, followed by a public beta available to users who signed up for the Apple Beta Software Program on July 7, 2016.

The final release build (16A323) of macOS Sierra was made available on September 20, 2016 for download on the Mac App Store.

Build 10.12.4

Build 10.12.4 was released on March 27, 2017 for download, deprecating the previously released builds 10.12.1, 10.12.2, and 10.12.3. Previous point upgrade builds were minor in size and focus solely on providing fixes for the stability and reliability of known issues.

With it, 10.12.4 brings several enhancements to macOS Sierra for consumers and enterprise users. Night Shift will automatically shift your display’s color toward the warmer spectrum to aid while using devices in the evening. Support for Siri and dictation for additional sports and languages has been included, as well as more digital camera RAW format support.

Enterprise users have received several new updates to be used in conjunction with the newly released macOS Server 5.3, which includes added support for managing devices via Terminal, for Cache Server, Keychains and Profile Manager’s Mobile Device Management (MDM) enrollment.

This update improves the stability and compatibility of macOS Sierra client and server operating systems and addresses security issues based on Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) related to the hardening of these OSes.

Build 10.12.5

Apple made build 10.12.5 available for download on May 15, 2017 as an update in the Mac App Store and in the form of a stand-alone combo update for deployment across the enterprise.

This build is slightly larger than previous updates. The crux of the change log mainly highlights several bug fixes to correct issues affecting audio played back over USB headphones, compatibility enhancements with the Mac App Store and its delivery of future software updates and continues added support of RAW formats for digital cameras.

There are a couple of bug fixes for enterprise users. One is a known issue that would affect the system date to be set incorrectly. Another fix stems from the use of the NetInstall server service, which would result in a kernel panic when trying to deploy macOS to Apple computers.

One new feature is support for Microsoft’s latest version for Windows 10, aptly known as the Creators Update (or version 1703), for those looking to dual-boot using Boot Camp.

This update improves the stability and compatibility of macOS Sierra client and server operating systems and addresses security issues based on Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) related to the hardening of these OSes.

Build 10.12.6

Apple released update 10.12.6 to macOS Sierra on July 19, 2017. While the update does not add any new features or enhancements, it does include fixes to certain issues that lead to instability and/or compatibility concerns on your Mac. The update resolves issues that prevents users from making SMB connections, as well as, a bug that restarts your Apple computer which serves as an Xsan client. Additionally, a stability improvement has been included for the Terminal app.

Update 10.12.6 also includes 37 security updates to address Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) for a variety of vulnerabilities affecting Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and the system’s Kernel, just to name a few of the more pressing fixes in this important and highly recommended update.

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How can I get macOS Sierra?

The latest version of Apple’s operating system is available for download from the Mac App Store. Continuing the licensing structure established with OS X Mavericks (version 10.9), Apple has made the download available for free to all Apple users (consumers and business users).

Users will upgrade directly from the downloaded installer app. The upgrade process is identical to previous versions for supported devices–this means no specialized versions or multiple SKUs. All downloads have the same software features and functionality.

Regardless of the underlying version of OS X, the base system may be upgraded directly to macOS Sierra by running the installer app download. Performing a clean install is also possible, yet not necessary to make the jump to macOS Sierra. If you wish to perform a clean install, remember to back up your data prior to installing the new OS.

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