macOS High Sierra a good upgrade but look before you leap

As is always the case with a major upgrade, a lot of what goes into High Sierra won’t be immediately obvious when you make the change, because there’s typically a lot of optimisation and security work that happens in the background. While High Sierra features new photo apps, a more streamlined desktop Siri and an updated Safari browser with inbuilt blocking of those autoplay videos that infest so many sites these days, one particular new feature makes it quite vital that you backup your system before even starting to download the new upgrade.

That’s the switch in file systems, from the older HFS+ to Apple’s new file system, AFPS. Apple states that its new file system is more space efficient and secure than HFS+, but the switch isn’t one that will happen to every High Sierra user, at least at first. At first, if you’re using a Mac with a solid-state drive (the standard for more recent laptops, but not some older Macs or those using hybrid “Fusion” drives that mix solid state and traditional mechanical drives), you’ll automatically switch to AFPS as part of the High Sierra upgrade. Apple has indicated that it will release an upgrade for Fusion drive users in the future, but there’s no timeframe for when that might happen.

File systems don’t typically impact you as an end user, except that they are the DNA of your computer, so changing things around can be a tricky procedure. That’s why it’s vital that you back up your important files before you start the upgrade, because while it’s a very small risk, if something goes wrong during the upgrade, the switch in file systems could put files in a state where neither HFS+ or AFPS can properly read them. Broken files and lost data in other words, whether it’s due to a sudden power outage or some kind of hardware-level glitch.

Realistically you should be backing up your data on a regular basis anyway, and Apple’s own inbuilt Time Machine application makes this task simple. Many people regard this as a boring chore, and so they avoid it. This is true, it can be tedious but a little dull beats the heartache of realising that your important files, whether they’re business documents or otherwise unsaved pictures of the kids are gone forever.

I’ve had a few computers running High Sierra in production, and so far it’s a reasonably stable upgrade, but not without its quirks. If you’re using Macs for business it would be sensible to check if there are any known issues for your vital business software in relation to the upgrade, because it’s feasible some apps may not work identically after upgrade. That’s not unusual for any major software upgrade though, although at least at launch there don’t appear to be too many major offenders in that category.

High Sierra stretches back quite far in Mac chronology, with some Macs built in 2009 still eligible for the upgrade. Those systems are more likely to drag their feet when trying some of High Sierra’s heavier functions, but they’re at least technically capable. If you’re not sure if you qualify for High Sierra, Apple has a comprehensive upgrade site that walks you through the process which you can find online right here.

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