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Issue #711: March 7-13, 2021

Looks like it’s Mac Week at It’s Geek To Me, as two viable Mac-related questions just happened to show up in my queue within a few days of each other.   As my regular readers know, I’m not much of a Mac user, so as I tend to do in cases like these, I rely heavily on my local resident Mac expert, Brian Walton, owner of Birddawg Computers, online at  Brian sells and repairs a full line of both PC and Mac hardware.  Much of the information in this column was supplied by him.  In addition to being my go-to guy for Mac-related issues, Brian is also a key person in my annual light show build.

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Q: I have a new 2020 iMac. Is it save to download the new iOS Big Sur?

– Jim D.
Destin, Florida

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Q: How much space do I need to download Mac Big Sur operating system on my MacBook Air? Supposedly, I have 37.63 GB available. But, when I try to install Big Sur, it begins the installation and after some time, tells me I have insufficient space.

I goggled the issue and found that Big Sur requires 12.18 GB for the update file and 34.83 GB “to be able to deploy and perform the macOS 11.0.1 installation” (whatever that means). Appears I need 46.01GB of available storage space!! Kind of hard to handle when my Mac has a total of 125 Gigs. I am running Mac OS Catalina and have no issues.

So, I really have two questions. One: is there a “workaround” that will allow me to download Big Sur? Two: if there is no “workaround” is there a downside to sticking with Mac OS Catalina (I have no issues with Catalina)?

– Bert P.
Niceville, Florida

A:  First to you, Jim.  You won’t find any version of “iOS” that will work on your computer.  iOS runs on the iPhone platform.  What you’re looking for is a version of the Mac operating system, or macOS.  You were correct in stating that Big Sur is (as of this writing) the latest version.  Also known as macOS version 11.0, Big Sur is the sixteenth major release of the Mac operating system, and replaces macOS 10.15, aka Catalina.

The answer to your question is of course it’s safe to download and install.  I’m not quite sure why you would think otherwise.  For virtually any software, a new release serves several purposes.  It patches security vulnerabilities, it fixes bugs, and adds new features.  Unfortunately, it is also an opportunity for new bugs and vulnerabilities to be inadvertently introduced, which will probably drive the next release. 

Manufacturers often use software releases to implement a schedule of planned obsolescence of their hardware.  To accomplish that, support for older hardware that they no longer wish to support is dropped in new releases.  For any non-supported hardware, the new OS will simply refuse to install, so even that is not an issue of it being “safe”.  Regardless, since you are running a very new Mac, you have nothing to worry about.

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Your issue is a bit more complicated, Bert.  If you’re happy running Catalina, you can keep right on doing so.  There are no current compelling issues that would cause you to urgently need to upgrade.  Since your Mac is getting up there in age, it’s possible, even likely, that Big Sur will be one of the last updates that will support your hardware.  You’re already having space issues trying to install Big Sur, and it’s only going to get worse with each subsequent release.

The problem you’re having with space is that everything needs to be present on your computer simultaneously for the update to occur.  That statement that you quoted means that in order to perform the upgrade, you must have one version of macOS already installed and running (in your case, Catalina).  You must also have the new update files on hand.  And finally, you need to have enough free space (34.83 GB) for the update to be unpacked and made operable without interfering with the existing OS (“something” has to be running the computer at all times).  Apparently that magic number is around 46 gigabytes.

The only workaround is to try to find more space.  The first thing I would do is to place the Big Sur update files onto an external drive, so they’re not taking up that extra 12+ gigabytes on your hard drive.  Then take a good hard look at your system, and see if you can delete, or back-up enough of your personal files to free up the 46 gigabytes that are needed for the update.  You know what’s required – it’s just a matter of getting there.  If you can’t make it, I’m afraid you’ll have to resign yourself to allowing your aged iMac live out its golden years under macOS Catalina.  When the time is right, go out and get yourself a brand-new system with the latest of everything, and hopefully a lot more space.

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