As somebody whose responsibilities including looking after the work laptop fleet, I must occasionally risk boldly going forward to find out how well a brand new operating system fares within our ecosystem. In this case, I’m using my own MacBook Pro 16″ which shipped with macOS Catalina.

Catalina was a buggy mess, but it was well supported. It was the last of the macOS X line of operating systems. We’re now on macOS 11, and Big Sur is the first of its kind to support both Intel and Apple Silicon M1 processors. Which is just as well as I expect to use this Intel MacBook Pro for another three to four years at least. But with a major new operating system release comes a tonne of problems, and macOS Big Sur is no exception.

I had to fire my firewall, Little Snitch. It’s a very useful application for determining what network traffic is coming in and out of my Mac, as well as being able to block any suspicious traffic from potentially rogue applications. I had been using version 4, but because of architectural changes within Big Sur, it wouldn’t work. So it’s a paid upgrade to version 5. But there is no trial. I’d have liked to have had a trial to be able to get used to Big Sur and ensure the effectiveness of Little Snitch, but it’s an all or nothing approach. So I kicked Little Snitch to the curb, for now, and rely on Big Sur’s own internal firewall.

Then there was anti-virus software. As this is my own machine, I’ve been using Sophos Home Premium for a while. It’s very effective, doesn’t use up many system resources – though I thoroughly dislike the need for a web UI – makes it difficult to keep multiple users separate/private and a pain in the arse if you’ve offline. At work, we use the commercial Sophos Intercept-X product. In both cases, at the launch of Big Sur, they were not compatible. But at the time of installing Big Sur (a few weeks after the launch), Home Premium had announced a compatible, but feature-reduced version. Alas, I found problems with it and had to uninstall. Intercept-X has only just opened an Early Access Program, but I’m going to wait until they release a supported build which should be sometime early 2021.

I tried Norton 360 Premium, which seems good value for £50 to support 10 devices and has very good anti-virus test scores. It is Big Sur compatible, but (a) there is no Mac support for the 75Gb cloud storage that comes with the package (that I could see) and (b) the scanning component uses significant resources – it completely froze my machine several times and took up 90% of overall system resources, causing the fans on the MacBook Pro to spin up to full power. It also wanted to install 20 billion Chrome extensions which caused quite a few problems. So that had to go.

I have an active BitDefender Total Security subscription for Mac and PC, but my problem with BitDefender has been that the UI hasn’t been updated in years and still requires Chrome and Safari extensions to be effective when browsing the web – with the changes to Chrome, everything looks horrible when searching with Google. BitDefender is much better under Windows, and I often feel the Mac version is a bit of an afterthought.

I finally settled on a temporary solution until Sophos Home Premium is fully supported – Malwarebytes Premium for the Mac. It provides realtime malware and ransomware protection and doesn’t use any significant resources at all. It’s Big Sur compliant too. There’s a decent Chrome extension which helps stop trackers and adverts along with any other malicious web malarky. It’s definitely a step up from BitDefender’s extension, I must say. Best of all it cost me just £12.49 for a year of protection thanks to a Black Friday promotion.

Then we have VMWare Fusion Pro 12. I use this to run both Windows and Linux. Linux especially because we have a number of scripts which FreeBSD’s built-in shell commands decide to interpret a little differently. Things were running initially fine until I installed VMWare Fusion Pro 12.1, then I suffered a number of network-related issues with the NAT configuration. I could use the Linux VM just fine if I didn’t connect to the company VPN, but if I was connected, I was unable to do several things which are vital for my role. I had to switch to Parallels Desktop 16 which works flawlessly with or without the company VPN being connected. Networking architecture has changed with Big Sur, and it looks like Parallels managed to figure it out before VMware.

In more general areas, I’ve found macOS Big Sur to have problems with image thumbnails. Thumbnails from other images cropped up from time to time, confusing the heck out of me. It’s as if Big Sur is being too aggressive caching system files. I thought that one possible solution to this is would be to delete the .DS_Store file in the directory and let the OS regenerate the thumbnails again. But this doesn’t seem to last long before the problem comes back. This tends to occur when using encrypted APFS-formatted DMG files.

Bluetooth seems to be another problem. I tend to leave my Mac running throughout the day, and on the occasion when I leave it to nap, returning to the machine is fine – but randomly the £150 Apple wireless “Magic” keyboard will stop responding (and occasionally the Logitech MX Master 3 mouse too). The mouse tends to recover fairly quickly, but the keyboard doesn’t. It means that I have to restart the Mac to get the keyboard working again – turning the keyboard on and off doesn’t work, neither does the Bluetooth Control Centre controls.

I’ve also experienced major internet connectivity slowdowns. My MacBook Pro is wired up to the router directly and yesterday I found I was getting only 150Mbs max via the Mac, and 500Mbs with the iPhone 12 Pro Max. I restarted the Mac and everything was fine again.

I’m also not keen on the new menu bar fonts – and spacing between the menu bar icons either. It feels too much like a Linux distribution (I’ve always disliked Linux on the desktop, and fonts have always been a problem for me as part of that) rather than a high-scale Mac desktop.

Do I recommend people start using macOS Big Sur now? Absolutely not. Hold off for a month or two, because this is a very unpolished OS and is absolutely not ready for the prime time if you’re a sysadmin or developer.

Yesterday a friendly DPD driver dropped off this year’s new Apple flagship iPhone, the iPhone 12 Pro Max. As mentioned previously, I had intended on only going for the smaller iPhone 12 Pro, but while I was waiting I was thinking about if I really wanted a smaller phone given that for the past goodness knows how many years I’ve always gone big. That, and there was stock available during launch day, whereas the iPhone 12 Pro stock was still very much depleted. Still, I was prepared to wait even if there was a delay.

But now I have the phone in my hands (waiting on the MagSafe case to arrive today – despite how lovely this thing feels without a case, I want some kind of protection against potential knocks and drops), it is, of course, Apple’s best iPhone ever. And it will be until the iPhone 13 next year.

The new (yet old), iPhone 5-like design of the unit makes for a better grip, with the display sitting flush with the unit. This makes the display look even better than the previous generation, with an increased resolution and brightness (when viewing HDR content) over the iPhone 11 Pro Max giving it a much nicer display to work with than the previous model. The resolution to scale ratio is just right – with text clean and crisp and everything easy to read. The side buttons are clickier, providing better feedback than before.

The camera unit on the back of the phone is a little bigger than the 12 Pro. This is likely to accommodate the sensor-shift stabilisation unit along with the bigger image sensor. As many reviewers have noted, even with the bigger sensor and sensor-shift, there is a negligible improvement over the 12 Pro, but the differences are there. The biggest improvement over the 11 Pro Max is that, according to Apple’s claim, is that low-light photography is improved 87% over the previous generation iPhone. That certainly seems to be the case on photos that I’ve seen, but I need to do my own testing to really be sure. As for Dolby Vision video recording – that stays off since apart from the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the 2020 iPad Pro, I have no other compatible displays (my monitor can only handle HDR10 content).

Starting the iPhone 12 Pro Max, with its new A14 Bionic processor/SoC is considerably faster than than the previous generation. I was surprised how fast it was, actually, having switched the thing on and put the phone down to give it enough time to boot – I hadn’t bothered – it booted so fast that it had finished by the time I’d put the phone down. This generation of iPhone 12 Pro (and Max) come with 2Gb of extra RAM, bringing it up to 6Gb in total. This should help with app switching – which for me, whenever I start commuting again, is going to be a big help.

The Qualcomm X55 modem in this unit which replaces the Intel modems that Apple have been using up until this point is a nippy little bugger. I’ve definitely noticed improvements on home Wi-Fi (802.11ac) and some improvements to 4G. Alas, I’m not in an area where we have 5G coverage, but hopefully I should be able to test over the Christmas period. All I can say right now, is that even without 5G, thank goodness Apple and Qualcomm kissed and made up. Never fight again!

The only issues I’ve encountered with the phone at this time have been trying to sync up with Google Workspace account to use its contacts list. For some stupid reason – either Google or Apple let me authenticate and then it just throws me back to picking a service provider again. I suspect this may be an iOS 14.2 bug – but in the mean time, I’ve exported all my contacts from Google to iCloud and that works well enough – though if you have custom fields you may need to recreate the contact.

EE’s Full Works plan is rather nice – unlimited, full speed data each month including personal hotspot allowance which is unlimited, but fair use rules apply – for example, EE consider 1Tb to be beyond fair use, naturally, which is never going to be a problem for me – I only use hotspot when I can’t get a decent Wi-Fi signal and it’s only going to be into the two-digit figures at most. Additionally, I get Apple Music, Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade for free for 24 months. I’m still waiting to see if Apple gives me a free year Apple TV+ for “purchasing” the iPhone 12 Pro Max. They certainly extended the Apple Arcade subscription by an extra three months on top of the 24 month, so I’ve got a fair old amount of time with it.

So far so good with the new phone. Transferring authentication apps across has been better than it used to be, but was still a massive pain in the rear end. A more detailed report may follow, especially regarding the camera system.

If there is one thing that can be said about the modern internet is that it’s really reduced people’s tolerance levels. Once, long ago, these people had the patience of saints. Now? “Offence, offence, offence! Cancel this, cancel that! I am truly offended by what you say!” Or, “I want this thing yesterday, and I want you to tell me exactly where it is at all times, down to the microsecond, or I’ll cancel the order and will go elsewhere! You’re a bunch of useless bastards, I hate all of you, you incompetent Schweinehunds!” (Said person subsequently orders elsewhere and the same problem occurs – repeats outrage until they get a heart attack or achieve spontaneous human combustion).


To put it simply – people have about as much tolerance as a poodle has for a cement mixer.

The latest outrage is people buying iPhone 12 (Pro)s. Given that we’re still in a global pandemic and that manufacturing has been affected as a result – it’s not any great surprise to anyone that there are maybe fewer units available at launch day/week/month than usual. A supply constraint. Add to that fewer stores open, add to that fewer employees working (both online and in-store), and add to that we’re about to enter a second national lockdown.

And yet people are raging about delivery times, orders going wrong and being sent back to the DPD/EE warehouse and having to wait again as their phone is allocated to somebody else.

There’s me, trying to arrange a delivery slot with a major supermarket for basics such as food and toiletries, and finding practically all the slots full for the coming week.

I too have ordered an iPhone 12 Pro from EE, but unlike most people, I am waiting patiently – occasionally checking the order, but otherwise willing to wait however long it takes to receive the phone ( a week, two weeks, a month – whatever). I already have a terrifically decent phone to be getting on with until it does. If I find it gets sent back – no problem, mistakes are made – just you try working out logistics at this scale in this challenging environment – and we can resolve it and carry on. Patiently.

If we’re going to have any more World Wars (or more even deadlier global pandemics), it’ll be thanks to the internet, social media companies and the press that gets people killed. Maybe it’s about time that we disconnect a little more and spend more time looking at what’s more important than TikToks, YouTubes and what Kayne West is saying now on Twitter.

Introducing the iPhone 12.5 – a brick. It’s quite literally a brick (but in multiple colours). Can be used with other iPhone 12.5’s to make a house, or any other kind of building. Can’t be used to make calls, take photographs or video, connect to the internet or even play music or video. It’s a brick. Environmentally friendly because it doesn’t need charging. (Cue 20,000 YouTube videos covering the iPhone 12.5, determining how strong a brick actually is – and building houses with it.)