Apple's macOS High Sierra, the newest version of its Mac and MacBook operating system, is available now. The operating system software, which launched to the public on 25 September 2017, brings new core technologies, including an entirely new file system, opportunities for developers looking to jump on the VR bandwagon, and refinements to apps such as Safari, Photos and Mail.
In this article we've got everything you need to know about High Sierra: interface changes, new features and which Macs are compatible with the macOS High Sierra.
We also have the details about the latest updates to High Sierra, the beta versions, and the new features Apple is adding to the operating system that all users will eventually see in the next update to High Sierra.
What's the latest version of MacOS?
macOS High Sierra was made available to download on 25 September. If you want to decide whether or not the upgrade is worth it, check out our Sierra vs High Sierra comparison review.
Below we will run through the various version of High Sierra that are available, and the beta and public beta versions that have been issued so far.
Find out if your Mac can run High Sierra here: Which Macs are compatible with macOS High Sierra?
macOS High Sierra 10.13.3 beta
The 10.13.3 beta is now with public testers and developers.
Beta testers have discovered it addresses an issue where an incorrect password could be used to unlock App Store preferences.
That vulnerability exists in macOS High Sierra version 10.13.2, and allows someone with an administrator-level account to gain access to App Store settings in System Preferences. It won't work if you arent already logged in as an administrator though.
The issue was flagged by Open Radar. MacRumors says it was unable to reproduce the issue on macOS Sierra, so it seems that the flaw is limited to High Sierra.
The vulnerability could allow someone to enable App Store settings that would automatically install app updates.
The 10.13.3 update will also offer additional fixes for the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities mentioned below.
Apple has also confirmed that a fix for the ChaiOS text crash bug will come in the next version of High Sierra. Find out more about the malicious link that is capable of crashing iOS and macOS if you click on it from the Messages app here.
macOS 10.13.2 Supplemental Update
To protect against ‘Spectre’ Apple issued a Supplemental Update to macOS 10.13.2 which includes a Spectre fix for Safari and WebKit.
Installing mac OS 10.13.2 Supplemental Update will update Safari to version 11.0.2 (13604.4.7.1.6) or version 11.0.2 (13604.4.7.10.6). If the update isn't installed on your Mac automatically, visit the App Store and click on Updates.
In early January 2018 Apple confirmed that Macs, iPhones and iPads were affected by flaws in Intel chips known as Meltdown and Spectre.
Apple confirmed that Meltdown had already been addressed in macOS 10.13.2 and this is discussed in the next section. For more information about Meltdown and Spectre read: List of Mac viruses, malware and security flaws.
macOS High Sierra 10.13.2
On Tuesday 28 November a new beta version of High Sierra became available for developers and public beta testers to download. This version was then issued to all High Sierra users on 6 December 2017.
Apple says that this update improves the stability, compatibility and security of your Mac, and is recommended for all users.
According to the company the update
- Improves compatibility with certain third-party USB audio devices
- Improves VoiceOver navigation when viewing PDF documents in Preview
- Improves compatibility of Braille displays with Mail
In January 2018 Apple confirmed that macOS 10.13.2 also protects users from the Meltdown bug associated with flaws in Intel chips. The company issued a statment saying: "Apple released mitigations for Meltdown in iOS 11.2, macOS 10.13.2, and tvOS 11.2. watchOS did not require mitigation." Read more about Meltdown and Spectre and other Mac security flaws and malware in our list here.
Following the revelations about Intel's chips being affected by the Meltdown and Spectre flaws, Microsoft confirmed that its own update that protects PCs from the vulnerabilities could slow older PCs down. Luckily it doesn't appear that macOS 10.13.2 has a detrimental effect on Macs. We ran Geekbench and Cinebench before and after installing the update on a 2013 iMac and saw slightly lower Geekbench - 11213 before, 11142 after, while Cinebench seemed to be better scoring 67.98fbs & 410cb CPU before, and 69.89 fps, 456 cb CPU after. We don't think there is any reason to be concerned about these slight differences in test results.
High Sierra 10.13.2 came in conjunction with Security Update 2017-002 for Sierra and Security Update 2017-005 for El Capitan. This Security Update addresses 22 security issues across the three versions of the operating system.
According to Intego: "Apache, Directory Utility, Intel Graphics Driver and Kernel all received some attention. Mail received a fix for an issue that could cause S/MIME encrypted emails to be sent out unencrypted. Directory Utility and Screen Sharing Server had some work done to it to fix what was left of the root vulnerability. The Kernel received the most attention with 8 issues addressed that could lead to an application reading restricted memory contents and execute arbitrary code with kernel privileges."
All in all November was rather a bad month for Apple security-wise, with the root access bug gaining a lot of media attention (more here, plus you can read about how to fix the MacOS Root Bug here). There have even been suggestions that High Sierra is Apple's worst release yet in terms of bugs and missing functionality (on the basis that Apple has been forced to make quick updates due to issues with the software).
You can download macOS High Sierra 10.12.2 here, or visit the App Store on your Mac and choose Updates.
Security Update 2017-001
Apple issued Security Update 2017-001 for macOS High Sierra 10.13 and macOS High Sierra 10.13.1 on 29 November.
The security update addressed the root bug issue where an attacker could bypass administrator authentication without supplying the administrator’s password, according to Apple's accompanying notes.
The flaw in macOS High Sierra (discovered on Tuesday 28 November 2017) allowed root access to a Mac without the need for a password. A malicious user could access your Security & Privacy settings in System Preferences, enter root as User Name, and, without any need for a password, gain all the administrator rights. Allowing them to change the user password, change your settings for downloading applications, and more.
Apple notes that if you recently updated from macOS High Sierra 10.13 to 10.13.1, you should reboot your Mac to make sure the Security Update is applied properly.
Apple offers this guide for those who wish to confirm that their Mac has Security Update 2017-001:
- Open the Terminal app, which is in the Utilities folder of your Applications folder.
- Type what /usr/libexec/opendirectoryd and press Return.
- If Security Update 2017-001 was installed successfully, you will see one of these project version numbers:
- opendirectoryd-483.1.5 on macOS High Sierra 10.13
- opendirectoryd-483.20.7 on macOS High Sierra 10.13.1
macOS High Sierra 10.13.1
The newest update to High Sierra (High Sierra 10.13.1) was issued on 31 October 2017 and brings performance improvements, security enhancements and bug fixes, along with new emoji.
That update became available to those on Apple's developer beta program Monday 23 October and the Public Beta program a day later.
- The update fixes a vulnerability in the WPA2 Wi-Fi standard that could allow attackers to exploit weaknesses in the WPA2 protocol to decrypt network traffic.
- It also includes new emoji including t-rex, vampire, brain, zebra, giraffe hedgehog, a gender neutral face and more. (The inclusion of Halloween related emoji was a good indication that the update would arrive by 31 October).
macOS High Sierra 'Supplemental Update'
Apple issued a 'Supplemental Update' on 5 October. The update fixes the following:
- A vulnerability that could expose the passwords of encrypted Apple File System volumes.
- A vulnerability that could allow a hacker to steal usernames and passwords of accounts stored in Keychain using a third-party app.
- A cursor bug in Adobe InDesign.
- An issue where Yahoo messages couldn't be deleted in Mail.
High Sierra problems & fixes
With every new version of the Mac operating system there tend to be a few issues, despite the fact that Apple runs an intense beta testing program. Below you will see any details we have of problems with High Sierra, and where available the fix for them
Your Mac can be hacked into thanks to a MacOS High Sierra root access flaw that allows administrative access to your Mac without a password.
All a malicious user would need to do is enter root as a User Name, allowing them to change settings in System Preferences.
You would have to have already logged onto your Mac and left it unattended for the flaw to be implemented.
We have information on how to protect yourself from the issue here: How to fix macOS High Sierra root bug - stop strangers accessing your Mac.
Apple issued Security Update 2017-001 at the end of November, and then macOS 10.13.2 on 5 December, to address the security issue, so if you haven't yet updated you should do so now via the App Store on your Mac.
Fusion Drives and APFS
If you have a Fusion Drive you might want to hold of updating to High Sierra, although it should work fine, it just won’t be able to take advantage of one of the new features in High Sierra, the new Apple File System (APFS). More on APFS below,
APFS is limited to Macs with Flash storage (or SSDs). Excluding Fusion Drives, which combine Flash with a Hard Drive, and older Hard Drive equipped models.
Apple’s head of software engineering Craig Federighi has confirmed that APFS will be coming to those models soon, however.
Federighi emailed a member of the public with the news, according to a Macrumors report, saying: "Yes, we plan to add support in a future update."
The press release accompanying the High Sierra release also stated that Apple plans to introduce APFS support for Fusion Drives, and standard hard drives, in the future.
The support for APFS on Fusion Drives was pulled from the beta in June, Macrumours speculates that this was likely to be due to stability problems and bugs.
Because APFS was included in the early beta, anyone who was running the beta on a Fusion Drive equipped Mac may have issues if they try to update to the final version of High Sierra.
This shouldn't affect anyone who hasn't been running the beta version of High Sierra, but if you have been running High Sierra beta on your Fusion Drive equipped iMac then beware that you will need to follow Apple's advice to convert your Fusion Drive back to the previous HFS+ format before installing High Sierra.
Apple's instructions, which you can read here suggest that you should first make a Time Machine back up, then create a bootable installer of High Sierra, and reformat the drive before recovering your data from the Time Machine backup.
Apple also outlines how to overcome this particular challenge using Internet Recovery, but advises that it is only for advanced users.
Security issues in High Sierra
A security researcher has already claimed that he has discovered a way to extract passwords from the keychain in High Sierra.
Synack head of research Patrick Wardle has demonstrated code that is said to extract passwords from the Keychain without requiring a master password.
However, while concerning, this security vulnerability isn't limited to High Sierra. It is also present in older versions of the MacOS - and Apple has reassured users that: "MacOS is designed to be secure by default, and Gatekeeper warns users against installing unsigned apps, like the one shown in this proof of concept, and prevents them from launching the app without explicit approval. We encourage users to download software only from trusted sources like the Mac App Store, and to pay careful attention to security dialogs that macOS presents," according to Gizmodo.
While it hasn't confirmed this, it seems likely that the Supplemental Update issued by Apple on 5 October addresses this vulnerability.
Compatibility with Apps
There may also be issues with apps you use not working properly in macOS High Sierra. To find out if you are likely to encounter issues read: Which Apps won't work in High Sierra?
New features in macOS High Sierra
Sierra brought some big new features to the Mac, such as Siri and Apple Pay - so what's new in High Sierra?
MacOS High Sierra brings changes with it that you might be unaware of because they are all happening 'under the hood'.
These changes to the core technologies include:
- A new Apple File System that will change the way the Mac stores your data, as well as make copying files faster.
- Improvements that will enhance 4K video playback (and reduce the space taken up by those videos).
- The graphics capabilities will be improved, bringing VR to supported Macs.
High Sierra reminds us of Mac OS X Mountain Lion and Mac OS X Snow Leopard - two updates that built on the OS changes introduced in the previous year's versions (Lion and Leopard respectively), and focused more on the underlying technologies, with fewer changes to the outside. Keeping Sierra as part of the name certainly seems to back this up.
However, there are ways in which these core technologies will improve your Mac experience in a way you will notice. Speaking on 1 August, Tim Cook talked briefly about the "immersive gaming, 3D and virtual reality experiences made possible with the upcoming release of macOS High Sierra".
There are also some new features coming to some of the apps Apple ships with macOS, such as the ability to turn off autoplaying video in Safari, and new advanced editing tools in Photos.
You can also expect to see updates to:
We'll discuss the changes coming to all of those apps below, addressing the 'core technologies' later on in this article.
Note Safari 11 is available for earlier versions of the macOS too.
New features in Safari 11 will help you personalise your experience when surfing the web. You can refine your settings for particular websites - making the text bigger for example on one site, or adjusting your location settings for another.
Apple is determined to make surfing the web a more pleasant experience, much to the dismay of advertisers as a result there will be no more auto-playing videos and no more cookies tracking your surfing habits and aiding advertisers who want to target ads to your interests.
Apple sells this as Intelligent Tracking Prevention which identifies trackers and keeps your browsing history between you and your internet provider rather than third parties.
What this means to users is that in macOS High Sierra, Safari automatically blocks audio and video on every site visited unless you specifically tell Safari that you want to hear the audio/video playback. Once you’ve ‘told’ Safari that a certain website can play audio and video, it should remember that the next time you visit the site (because who wants to enable it for every YouTube video they watch?).
As a final nail in the advertiser's coffin, Apple will make all pages that support Safari Reader appear thus in your browser - with ads stripped out. For more information read How to use the new features in High Sierra.
The Photos app for Mac is gaining some new organisation tools including an always-on side bar (like we had in iPhoto). This new side bar will make it easier to find things, or at least that's Apple's aim.
There will be a redesigned Edit view along with new editing tools including Curves for fine-tuning and Selective Color for making adjustments within a defined colour range. You'll also find new professionally inspired filters.
Speaking of editing, Live Photos will gain a new Loop effect, so you can create a looping video, as well as a Bounce effect, which will play the action forward and backward.
There's also a Long Exposure effect coming which will use Live Photos to blur water or extend light trails for a slow-shutterspeed-like effect. You'll also be able to capture Live Photos from within FaceTime.
Your People Album will gets larger thumbnails and more accurate grouping of the 'Faces' (and this will stay in sync across all your devices if you use iCloud Photo Library.
Apple's also introducing lots of new Memories categories - including pets, babies, outdoor activities, performances, weddings, birthdays and sporting events, and you'll be able to easily filter photo collections by your favourite criteria.
Other handy changes in Photos include:
- Viewing past imports in chronological order
- The ability to do various functions right from the toolbar, such as rotate and favourite batches of images
- The selection counter will tell you how many things you have selected
- Filtering photo collections according to criteria
- Photos will supports external editors, e.g. Photoshop can launch within Photos and save edits to the Photos library
- Third-party projects extensions that let you order framed prints, create web pages and more
Apple has also tinkered with the Mail app for MacOS High Sierra.
Updates will include improvements to search to make it easier to find what you are looking for amid our ever growing inboxes.
Top Hits adds a section at the top of your search results that includes the messages deemed to be most relevant to your search. These Top Hits are based on the the mail you've read, the senders you reply to most often and people you have designated VIP status. According to Apple, the more you search, the smarter it gets.
Mail will also offer a long-requested feature; split-screen view when running the app full-screen.
Essentially, if you’ve got the Mail app open full-screen in macOS High Sierra and you want to send a new email, the composition window will open on the right-hand side of the screen instead of a new window, as currently it does in macOS Sierra.
Apple remains the only major AI player to offer the choice between a male and female voice, and these voices are going to get even more natural in macOS High Sierra.
Siri's voice will be much more expressive and less robotic. You can expect more changes in expression and intonation.
Siri is more than just a pretty voice, though. It will be taking on the role of DJ, learning your preferences based on what you listen to (if you're an Apple Music subscriber) and making recommendations, as well as helpfully putting together playlists for you.
The main addition to Spotlight appears to be integration with flight information. You'll be able to enter your flight number to see arrival and departure times, terminals, gates, delays, and more.
Spotlight results will also include multiple Wikipedia pages when there is more than one answer to your query.
We think this one is a great addition - you'll be able to Pin your most frequently used notes to the top so you can easily find them. This sure beats having to re-save a Note every time we access it so that it doesn't get buried.
You'll also be able to add tables to Notes.
This is perhaps one of the most exciting elements of the new Mac and iOS operating systems.
Your Messages are going to be stored in iCloud, so if you ever lose your phone you won't lose all your messages, and more importantly, your Messages will be in sync across all your devices, so you won't see alerts on your Mac for messages you have already read on your iPhone.
Because Messages will be stored in the cloud they won't take up space on your Mac or iPhone either.
Now we've covered the fun stuff (i.e. the apps we use every day). Onto the under the hood changes that will hopefully enhance our overall experience on our Macs come this autumn.
First up is the introduction of the Apple File System (APFS) on the Mac. APFS arrived on our iPhones earlier this year in an update to iOS 10, and when it arrived the first thing we all noticed was that we got gigabytes of space back following the update. This is because Apple has rearchitected the way it stores data on its devices.
But APFS will do more than reduce the amount of space our data takes up. It will also make duplicating a file and finding the size of a folder instantaneous.
It also keeps files safe with built-in encryption, helps protect data from power outages and system crashes, and offers simplified data backup, according to Apple.
And perhaps most importantly, it is compatible with HFS drives and data, so you shouldn't lose any data (although we'd always recommend that you back up!), and is designed with future advancements in storage technology in mind.
Why is this so exciting for Mac users? In addition to offering increased security when compared to the standard HPF system and built-in drive encryption, it offers a dramatic speed bump in file transfer speeds – ideal for those that move/copy/duplicate large files.
The introduction of APFS may even free up a bit of storage like it did for iOS users when Apple introduced it in iOS 10.3!
High Sierra will also see Apple move to the H.265 video standard to support better 4K playback. H.265, also known as HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) compresses video 40% more than H.264, and means high-def videos will take up less space on your Mac. High-quality video streaming will be possible too.
It's not just about watching videos, though. The hardware accelerations on the new iMac and MacBook Pros will make HEVC encoding and editing possible.
(H.265 will also be arriving in iOS 11 for iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, and the next iPhone.)
The Metal technology built into macOS makes it possible for apps to use the full power of the graphics processors. The incoming Metal 2 update brings new capabilities in machine learning, virtual reality and external GPU support.
The API has also been refined, and Apple claims it offers improved performance.
In conjunction with Thunderbolt 3, Apple will offer external GPU support on supported Macs (although this is expected to be a later addition, coming in Spring 2018).
Apple is offering an External Graphics Developer Kit to developers of apps that use Metal, OpenCL, and OpenGL. It costs £749 and will furnish them with all the hardware and software they need to optimise their app, it includes:
- Sonnet external GPU chassis with Thunderbolt 3 and 350W power supply
- AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB graphics card
- Belkin USB-C to 4-port USB-A hub
- Promo code for $100 towards the purchase of HTC Vive VR headset
Find out more about this here.
Apple will be offering support for VR content creation for the first time in High Sierra and as a result developers will be able to create immersive gaming, 3D and VR content on the Mac.
These capabilities are limited to the new 2017 iMac with Retina 5K display, the new iMac Pro coming in late 2017 and any supported Mac paired with an external GPU (although the latter will be delayed until Spring 2018).
Developers will be able to use peripherals like the HTC Vive VR headset and apps like Final Cut Pro X, SteamVR, Epic Unreal 4 Editor and Unity Editor to create immersive new worlds, says Apple.
Regarding its own video suite - Apple says that Final Cut Pro X will add support for professional 360-degree workflows with the ability to import, edit and export 360-degree video, "later this year".
Already, Steam is optimising their SteamVR platform for macOS and enabling connection of the HTC Vive headset, according to Apple.
This is in part thanks to the new Metal 2 technology introduced as part of the update that’ll give the existing Mac range a hefty boost in terms of graphical power, and signifies a huge step in the VR world; only months ago, Oculus claimed its Mac support was on hold due to the power required to use the headset.
Will this change now? Only time will tell, but we imagine it will be the case.
Read next: Can you use Oculus Rift with Mac?
Read about how macOS High Sierra compares to Windows 10.