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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Upgrading to Sierra

I FINALLY got around to upgrading my 11-inch MacBook Air (circa 2014) from El Capitan to Sierra this weekend, crossing the symbolic line between OS X and macOS. It’s still basically the same operating system renamed; you can tell from the version numbers. El Capitan was version OS X 10.11 and Sierra is macOS 10.12.

The upgrade process was painless—I just downloaded Sierra from the Mac App Store and followed the on-screen instructions. From start to finish, the process took roughly 50 minutes.

The one blip in my installation was a suggestion that I upgrade my free Apple iCloud account to a paid subscription. Because Sierra can now save all your files from the Documents folder and the Desktop to your iCloud account ala Dropbox and synch them with your other devices, I would need storage beyond the free 5GB that comes with iCloud. Since I was not ready to pay for extra online storage, and since I am perfectly happy with what I have in Dropbox, I declined.

After the installation was complete, I was also told that I needed to install an earlier version of Java for OS X to run the old version of Photoshop I had installed on my machine. The dialog box came with a link to the download page, so this was no problem at all.

Checking the AppStore’s Updates tab, I also noticed there were updated versions of Keynote, Pages and Numbers, Apple’s built-in presentation, word processing and spreadsheet software. I downloaded and installed these as well.

On the surface, I could see no significant difference between Sierra and El Capitan; there are thankfully no drastic or disruptive changes to the user interface. This doesn’t mean there’s nothing new here.

The marquee addition to Sierra is Siri, the voice-activated natural-language assistant that has been on its iOS platform for iPhones and iPads for some time now.

You can activate Siri by clicking on its icon in the dock or on the menu bar. In my case, the Siri icon didn’t show on the menu bar, so I had to go to System Preferences > Siri, uncheck “Show Siri in menu bar” and check it again. In System Preferences, you can also designate a hotkey combination to call up Siri.

Note that Siri will not work without an Internet connection.

Not having used Siri before—I don’t use an iPhone or an iPad—I gave her a spin on my Mac.

On some questions or commands, Siri performed like a star. These included

“What’s the weather like?” (Produced a 10-day forecast from

“How hot will it get?) (Produced the same 10-day forecast with a comment: It should get to about 31 degrees. Hot enough for me!)

“Find a pizzeria nearby.” (Gave me a list of 15 pizzerias within 5.5 kilometers of me)

“Find doc files from today.” (Found only this file, that I was working on early Monday morning.)

 “How much free space do I have?” (You have 41.17GB storage available.)

“What time is it in Toronto?” (It’s 5:26 p.m. in Toronto, Canada. Something going on there I should know about?)

Siri stumbled on other questions:

“How is the Philippine Stock Exchange doing?” (Produced a list of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite—but not the PSEI)

Word recognition seemed slow, at first, but Siri picked up speed when I asked the same questions.

If you are not shy about talking to your computer, Siri could have some practical uses, even at work. For example, you could be working on a report and ask Siri to find the files or the data you need to complete it.

Lifehacker ( has a big list of Sierra-specific questions you can ask Siri.

Siri isn’t the only thing new on Sierra, but it’s certainly the most interesting. Other new features include:

Optimized storage and System Cleanup. When you’re low on disk space, Sierra can store files you rarely use in iCloud. It can also clean up duplicate downloads and junk files.

Apple Pay. This lets you shop online with Apple Pay, Apple’s a mobile payment and digital wallet service.

Improved Photos application. Photos now has smart image recognition that can figure out who’s in the picture, where and when it was taken, and even what’s in the picture itself. This lets you quickly see photos of a specific person or search photos by scenery or objects in them.

Watch unlock. You can use your Apple Watch to quickly unlock your Mac without typing your password.

Cross-device copy and pasting. Copy on your iPhone or iPad and paste on your Mac.

Cross-device desktop and documents. Your Mac’s Desktop and Documents folders are now available on iPhone and iPad through iCloud—but again, you might incur extra monthly costs if you need to upgrade your account. Chin Wong

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