At a blockbuster keynote at WWDC 2020, Apple announced MacOS Big Sur, the latest version of its Mac operating system. This means a major overhaul of the overall experience and the relocation of the platform from version 10 after almost 20 years.

It's arriving in Fall 2020, but Mac owners can get Big Sur installed early through Apple's public beta program. Now, if you're really excited about the update, expect a few issues until Apple rolls out the final stable version later this year. Follow our guide to installing the beta.

Whether you're waiting for the official full version or just getting into beta, here are the best new features in MacOS Big Sur.

A brand new design

Kevin Parrish / Digital Trends

MacOS looked pretty, but MacOS Big Sur up the ante.

According to Apple, it's the biggest visual update in years that touches every element of the operating system in small ways. Icons, windows, fonts, toolbars, and more have been improved to give them a more modern look while keeping them connected to their heritage.

The menu bar supports color gradients that fit better into the background image. In the meantime, the curvy figure of the dock is more like the iPad and visually brings the two platforms closer together. The result is a subtle update, but one that looks absolutely gorgeous.

It's not just about looks, however.

MacOS Big Sur Updated FinderKevin Parrish / Digital Trends

Apple redesigned many features to make them easier to use. For example, many apps have toolbars compressed so they get out of the way and are organized more efficiently. Apps like Finder (see above) and Mail include new sidebars to get you where you need to go quickly.

MacOS Big Sur Photos appKevin Parrish / Digital Trends

The Photos app has taken on the look of its iPadOS cousin, with an emphasis on photos.

Easier controls on the screen

MacOS Big Sur Control PanelKevin Parrish / Digital Trends

The MacBook Pro's Touch Bar has received more than criticism, but one thing that it does really well is its quick access to controls. For example, if you want to adjust the system volume, you have a simple left-to-right slider at your fingertips.

That mindset is now built into macOS. On-screen controls, from volume to display brightness, now use a similar horizontal slider. It might seem like a minor change, but it brings the Mac in line with the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch – even the Touch Bar. Your muscle memory will be grateful.

The top right corner of the screen gives you an overview of the most important controls. Do you need to dive a little deeper? Just click on a setting for more options.

Even better, you can drag settings from the Control Center to the menu bar, making it even faster to customize the Mac to your liking.

MacOS Big Sur control centerKevin Parrish / Digital Trends

This method also applies to the Notification Center. The Mac's system preferences have always felt a bit disorganized, and finding settings has never been as quick and easy as we'd like. Notifications can now be combined.

MacOS Big Sur widget libraryKevin Parrish / Digital Trends

Widgets have also been upgraded. With the widget library you can discover new options. These are now available in different sizes. You can't just put them on your desktop like you did on the iPad, but it's a big change in how the Notification Center works.

Safari rises

MacOS Big Sur Safari RevisionKevin Parrish / Digital Trends

Safari plays a key role in the lives of most Mac users, and Apple has updated it significantly with MacOS Big Sur. It promises faster page load times, stricter data protection regulations, better extensions, and much more.

For example, if you have concerns about how a website is using (or abusing) your private information, you can view Safari's privacy report to see exactly what is happening. For example, this can show you how many trackers have been blocked on each website.

MacOS Big Sur Safari SecurityKevin Parrish / Digital Trends

A new category for Safari Extensions is in the Mac App Store. You can choose what data each extension accesses – and whether it can only be used for a day or on just one website. According to Apple, developers can easily take their extensions from other browsers such as Google Chrome.

MacOS Big Sur Safari ExtensionsKevin Parrish / Digital Trends

There are other great features too, including on-page translation, a redesigned home page with custom backgrounds, improved tabs with page previews, and under-the-hood changes that speed up page load times and battery life.

Messages are given feature parity

MacOS Big Sur Messaging updatedKevin Parrish / Digital Trends

The News app on Mac has always felt a little behind the iPhone and iPad brothers. MacOS Big Sur aims to fill the gap and bring many features that have been sorely lacking before.

As on iOS, you can pin conversations to the top of the app window for quicker access. You can create Memoji right on your Mac and share stickers and message effects just like you would on your mobile device. There's also a more powerful search bar and redesigned photo picker that brings some much-needed quality of life improvements to an app that has been feeling left out in the cold for a long time.

Editor's recommendations