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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 13 Issue 11
October 2019
Do Not Upgrade Your Macintosh to macOS 10.15 Catalina Now, Wait 6-12 Months

The problem

Apple released its latest Macintosh operating system macOS 10.15 "Catalina" earlier this month on October 7, 2019. It's named after Santa Catalina Island off the coast of southern California.

If your current Macintosh is compatible, should you upgrade to it? What are the pros and cons?

My advice: Don't upgrade now

As I tell my clients when any operating system upgrade gets released, there is no need to upgrade right away.

Even if your Mac can run macOS 10.15 Catalina (see http://support.apple.com/kb/SP803 for compatible models), I strongly recommend that you wait at least 6 months, and 12 months would be even better.

Why? In my experience, new operating system releases can have all kinds of problems. Unless there is a compelling need for you to upgrade, don't be a volunteer troubleshooter and risk have your productivity disrupted. Let other people discover those problems and report them to Apple.

I also recommend that you prevent your Mac from potentially upgrading to Catalina without asking you:
  • macOS 10.14 Mojave: Click the Apple menu -> System Preferences -> Software Update -> Advanced, and then turn the "Download new updates when available" and "Install macOS updates" options OFF. Note that even with those options turned on, Mac laptops will only download updates automatically if they are plugged into a power source.
  • macOS 10.13 (as well as a few previous versions): Click the Apple menu -> App Store -> Preferences, and then turn the "Automatic Updates" option OFF.
However, since these options are a bit complicated (and I can't guarantee that they do exactly what they sound like they do), make sure that your backup (Time Machine, Carbon Copy Cloner, etc.) is up-to-date in case your Mac gets upgraded to Catalina by accident.

The biggest issue with macOS 10.15

Catalina is the first Mac operating system to require that all programs be 64-bit. This means that all older, 32-bit applications will no longer work after you upgrade.

Even if your Mac is compatible with Catalina, there is no guarantee that all of your programs and hardware devices will be, even if they run 64-bit software.

So, even after waiting 6-12 months to avoid early problems, before upgrading your current Mac to macOS 10.15 (or moving to a new Mac with 10.15 pre-installed), I strongly advise that you take the following careful approach:
  • Backup: Do a complete system backup, in case something goes wrong with the upgrade.
  • Survey: Make a list of all of the programs, plug-ins, extensions, and hardware devices that you currently use.
  • Research: Then, for each item on that list, look for any potential Catalina compatibility issues, and then find out how to solve them. I suggest a combination of checking each company's website, contacting them directly, and searching online. Your goal is to answer the following questions: If the current version of the program is 32-bit, is there a newer 64-bit version? If so, is it compatible with Catalina, and is it free or does it cost something?
  • Switch: If there is no 64-bit version available, or there is one but it's not compatible with Catalina, is there some other, similar program that you could switch to?
Only then will you be prepared for this upgrade, but if you discover that one or more of your critically-important programs or devices are not compatible, you should definitely postpone upgrading.

For example, here are a handful of the many Macintosh programs that are not compatible with macOS 10.15 Catalina, but that do work on systems up through 10.14 Mojave:
  • Quicken 2007 (in my opinion, a far better program than the current Quicken for Macintosh)
  • QuickBooks Desktop for Mac 2016 and earlier
  • Adobe Photoshop CS5, Illustrator CS5, and other programs in that software suite.
  • Microsoft Office 2011 and earlier versions, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook for Mac
  • Microsoft Office 2016 before version 15.25, which was released in August 2016.
  • iWork '09, including Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.
This is similar to the issue back in 2011 when Mac OS X 10.7 "Lion" was released. As part of that upgrade Apple removed the built-in "Rosetta" software that for many years had permitted Macintosh programs written for older PowerPC CPU chips to run on newer Intel Macs. This meant that if you upgraded to 10.7, all of your older PowerPC programs would stop working, so it was important to do a similar level of research and preparation first.

Other visible changes under macOS 10.15

Here are three visible changes, among many others:
  • iTunes: The iTunes program is gone, replaced by separate Music, Podcasts, and TV apps. (Apple has also announced that iTunes for Windows will continue, for now.)
  • iPhones, iPads, and iPods: The Finder now manages iOS devices.
  • Relocated Items: Catalina does not permit you to store your files anywhere you want on your hard drive, nor certain low-level modifications to system settings. While most users may not experience these issues, after upgrading to Catalina you may find an alias to a folder called "Relocated Items" on your Desktop containing two types of items: Folders and documents that you stored on your internal hard drive in areas that were outside of your user's "Home" folder, and (this is somewhat technical) any system-level configuration files that were modified in ways that made them incompatible with Catalina. Regardless of how they got there, you should carefully review the contents of the Relocated Items folder, and move any important folders and documents into more appropriate places.
Where to go from here

General info on 10.15 Catalina:
Researching hardware and software compatibility:
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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Copyright (C) 2019 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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