Although Apple launched all of its “mobile” operating systems to the public this week (if you consider the Apple TV to be a mobile device), the latest major release of the operating system for Apple’s Macs — macOS Big Sur — wasn’t even really mentioned during Tuesday’s keynote event.
Of course, this isn’t really surprising — Apple has almost always pushed out major macOS releases in October, or even sometimes in November, so we weren’t really expected Big Sur to make a debut this week, and in fact today Apple has pushed out the seventh beta of its venerable desktop operating system, suggesting that it probably still has at least a couple of weeks to go before the paint is dry.
However, there’s at least one piece of Big Sur that you can get your hands on right now in the form of Apple’s newest Safari browser; Apple released Safari 14 as a standalone download this week, bringing with it a taste of what you’ll be experiencing when you’re finally able to pull the trigger on Big Sur later this fall.
To be clear, you’ll need to be running a somewhat recent version of macOS already to take advantage of it, but with support for not only the currently shipping macOS Catalina but also the 2018 macOS Mojave, that shouldn’t be a huge problem; if you’re on anything older than that, you probably don’t care about the latest and greatest version of Safari anyway.
What’s New in Safari 14
If you’ve already upgraded to iOS 14 and/or iPadOS 14, the Safari 14 update will make a great Mac companion to the mobile version of Safari, although it’s not strictly necessary to upgrade to it, as older versions remain fully compatible with cross-platform features like reading list, bookmarks, history, iCloud tabs, passwords, and more. In short, nothing is going to break if you keep on using an older version of Safari on your Mac.
However, what you’ll gain with Safari 14 is much better performance, better security, and better privacy, and the really cool ability to now customize your start page layout, even to the point of adding a custom wallpaper — a feature that many Safari users have long envied in other browsers.
You’ll also be able to customize the sections that appear on your start page, so you can omit things like Siri Suggestions or Frequently Visited pages, or even take out your Favourites that normal appear at the very top or move them further down.
The tab bar is also now capable of showing many more tabs than before, reducing them to only their favicons once they get too narrow. You can also now get a pop-up preview of the page that’s open in any given tab simply by hovering your mouse over it. If you’re one of those users who normally keeps a ton of stuff waiting in the wings to look at later, you’re definitely going to like this one.
On the privacy and security side, Safari 14 drives the final nail in the coffin of Adobe Flash, ending Apple’s decade-long battle to deprecate the technology. While Safari hasn’t ever had native support for Flash, with Safari 14 you won’t even be able to add the plug-in manually. Flash is finally dead.
Since Apple is all about the privacy these days, there’s also a new Privacy Report that will show you exactly how much Safari is doing behind the scenes to keep you safe online, right down to listing all of the cross-site trackers that are trying to follow you around the web, but are actually being blocked by Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention.
Note that there are still a couple of Safari features that require macOS Big Sur as their foundation, such as 4K HDR video playback and the built-in translation features, so don’t expect to see these working until you’ve actually upgraded to Big Sur later this fall.
You can download the new Safari update by visiting Software Update in your macOS System Preferences. Safari 14 should automatically be offered to you if you’re using at least macOS Mojave.