My Big Sur Upgrade was Painless

Last month I dedicated an entire column to the myriad reasons to avoid the first (and possibly second and third) releases of operating system upgrades. More specifically, I urged you not to install the first release of Big Sur, which became available last week.

Do As I Say, Not as I Do

If I weren’t a tech writer, I would have waited a few weeks before installing Big Sur, scouring the Internet for news and information on potential issues until it felt safe to upgrade. But, since my first obligation is to you, gentle reader, I ignored my own advice and installed Big Sur on my primary Mac a couple of days ago.

Of course, I made a Time Machine backup and a Carbon Copy Cloner clone of my Catalina drive and then tested both backups before pulling the trigger. Still, I’ve been running Big Sur for a couple of days, and I’m pleased to report that everything seems to work as well as or better than it did under Catalina.

Installation took around an hour. After my Mac restarted into Big Sur, I found a handful of onscreen notifications directing me to upgrade apps that included Microsoft Office, Turbo Boost Switcher Pro, Bartender, and SoundSource. I upgraded them and have had no real issues using Big Sur or any of the apps and utilities I rely upon every day.

But Wait…

Even so, I still urge you to wait a while before you install Big Sur. While I’ve had no issues personally, if you search the web for “Big Sur Installation Issues,” you’ll see plenty of reports of problems experienced by others. For example, former USA Today columnist Ed Baig, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of co-writing nearly two dozen books, had his first two Big Sur installation attempts fail. And, The Verge (and many other sources) have reported that some older MacBook Pros are being “bricked” during installation, getting stuck on a black screen of death and no known way to fix it.

Fix the Translucency Issue

I like the way Big Sur looks and feels for the most part, with one big exception: I don’t care for its super-translucent menu bar and Dock. Fortunately, the annoying transparency can easily be disabled by enabling Reduce Transparency in the Accessibility System Preferences pane’s Display tab.

If you prefer even more control over the menu bar’s appearance, such as separate settings for Light and Dark mode and a choice of solid background colors, check out Boring Old Menu Bar (BOMB) ($9.95 from

B.O.M.B. gives you more control over Big Sur's annoying translucency.
B.O.M.B. gives you more control over Big Sur’s annoying translucency.

Despite my having no trouble with Big Sur so far, my advice remains the same: Unless Big Sur offers a feature you can’t live without (which I consider unlikely), I recommend you wait for one or two bug-fix releases before you pull the trigger.

11 thoughts on “My Big Sur Upgrade was Painless

  • I decided to jump a Mojave install on a 2015 MBP and it went flawlessly as well.
    Super simple so I feel a bit luckier than some people I have been reading about.

    It is an older machine and I didn’t really care that much to backup but everything went flawlessly so no loss of anything and it all went relatively quickly.

    Been doing the same thing on my Win10Pro Gaming Machine. Things were much slower and getting everything set on it took quite a bit longer. Love the mac. But love my speedy Win10 gaming ROG Strix. Fine machine too.

    Can’t stand the login screen on Big Sur though. Brash and to me ugly. Replaced the blue cloud thingy I had put on from the iMac Pro’s which looked great on the retina screen.

  • I see that they still haven’t fixed the poor design in Messages where pressing Return sends the message instead of adding a new line which is how it should work.

    Yes, I know how add a line in Messages, does Apple know how to program a Send button?

  • Bob:
    Nice update. Indeed, your experience mirrors that of others I’ve encountered online, with most appearing to award a higher painless score to Big Sur than to Catalina, which seems to have been the most painful and buggy OS update since Lion. 
    I enjoyed playing with macOS 11 on my wife’s new M1-powered MBA, and love both the look and feel, which is reminiscent of that of iPadOS on my iPad Pro. Even though the so-called ‘bricked’ MBPs have all been older machines (I believe the newest of these was a 2015, if memory serves), as most of the problems with with Big Sur have occurred on that device, it’s given me pause. Given that nothing on my Catalina – enabled 2017 MBP is ‘broken’, I’m in no hurry to ‘fix it’ with Big Sur; but will likely wait until I’ve purchased my own Apple Silicon-powered Mac before attempting the upgrade on my MBP. Notably, I’m awaiting one specific app update, Endnote for macOS, my preferred reference manager on which I depend for scientific writing, before pulling the trigger (they’ve come out with the Windows upgrade, inexplicably, which has not undergone a substantial re-write, rather than on macOS, which has). 
    As for CCC, agreed; the updates have come swiftly with each updated version of macOS. CCC has been one the best software investments I’ve ever made. 

  • Turns out Carbon Copy Cloner didn’t work in Big Sur to clone the drive. But now the latest update brings back that functionality, but not on M1 Macs, But it’s coming. Love this software.

  • Great! Is Time Machine in Big Sur making its backup into an APFS disk? Is it much faster, taking much less space than before? I ask because such version of Time Machine saves just block(s) of changed data inside files into APFS disks, instead of saving the whole item. That is particularly relevant for big files like virtual machines. Thanks.

    1. Well… all of my TM disks are HFS+, but they were all created before Big Sur…

      I wonder if initializing a disk as APFS before choosing it as a TM destination would speed things up. It’s on my “to do” list; I’ll let you know.

      1. Thanks! That will be much appreciated. Actually, you do not need to initialize the Time Machine disk as APFS, but to make sure that is has any format except HFS+ (in the future, only APFS format will be allowed for Time Machine, when HFS is completely abandoned by Apple). Then, Time Machine will format it as APFS for you. BTW, it is recommended to start Big Sur Time Machine backups from scratch, as shown here:

        Preparing to upgrade to Big Sur
        I also strongly recommend that, whether using HFS+ or APFS to store your Time Machine backups in future, you start making a fresh backup set with Big Sur. You’ll have to do that if you switch to using APFS anyway, but following the problems which occurred with Catalina, you’ll be much better off if you archive your old backup set and start afresh.

      2. So… It didn’t seem faster for the initial backup (4.5 hours to copy a little under 300GB). But it does seem faster for updates. The last one I saw took about 5 minutes for 1.04GB. It also seems to spend less time preparing and finalizing the APFS disk. Overall it feels noticeably faster than the other two (HFS+) disks.

        I hope that helps.

  • My recent upgrade from Mojave was painless also but then after a few days all went downhill. Especially just trying to use fast user switching to my other user, whole Mac would freeze on the switch screen. I’m using a 2018 Mac mini yet still had so many problems. Podcasts would never play in the podcast app also. Mail was still crashing on launch like it was in Catalina. Sad stupid things still not fixed even in new OS. So went back to my time machine of Mojave. I have a real problem with Catalina and Big Sur mainly due to the iTunes changes. I can’t stand all they did when they broke apart the apps. Its still so broken and a mess. Mainly for people like me who use our library. I guess if you just use apple services and buy all your media from apple, you are fine.

    1. I haven’t had trouble with the iTunes/Finder switch in Catalina or Big Sur. I am currently having an issue with Photos, but I am not sure its Big Sur related. Watch this space for details soon.

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