macOS 10.12 Sierra Upgrade Guide

By | September 20th, 2016

macOS Sierra

Apple on Tuesday released macOS Sierra 10.12. It’s a free upgrade, and many Mac users around the world will rush to install it. If you plan to join the crowd, please make sure to back up your computer before you do. Your data should be safe no matter what happens. Backblaze is here to help with this upgrade guide!

With this release Apple rebranded the Mac operating system “macOS” instead of “OS X.” But the new name and number isn’t the only big change. There are lots of changes under the hood. These changes bring new system requirements. There’s always the possibility that stuff you depend on will stop working, at least until it’s updated. So there’s a lot to know before you get started.

Why Upgrade to Sierra?

Sierra’s tentpole features include Siri, Universal Clipboard, security unlock using your Apple Watch, better integration with iCloud Drive, Apple Pay support, optimized storage and more. We won’t get to all the new features, but here’s a rundown of some of the tentpole stuff:


For the first time, Apple’s intelligent assistant is available on the Mac. Siri’s been a feature of the iPhone and iPad for a while, but it’s never been on the Mac before. Now you can use Siri on the Mac to schedule appointments, play music, set up reminders, find files and do lots more.

Universal Clipboard

This new feature lets you copy on one device and paste on another. You can copy images, video and text from your iPhone or iPad and paste it on your Mac (or the reverse). That makes it easier than ever to do your work without worrying about what device you’re using.

Apple Watch Unlock

If you’re wearing an Apple Watch running watchOS 3, you can now unlock your Mac automatically once you start using it. No more typing in passwords when you wake your Mac from sleep or turn it on. A nice convenience feature!

iCloud Drive

iCloud Drive helps you share files between multiple Macs or iOS devices signed into the same iCloud account. iCloud Drive isn’t a cloud backup solution like Backblaze – it’s a great sync tool, however. Changes to iCloud Drive in Sierra include the ability to automatically sync the contents of both your Mac’s Desktop and its Documents folder, the two locations most of us keep most of our files. That makes it easier to find those files between devices.

Apple Pay

More merchants than ever accept Apple Pay, Apple’s contactless payment system, including many online stores. If you have an Apple Pay-compatible iPhone or Apple Watch, you can now use it with your Mac to complete online Apple Pay transactions.

Optimized Storage

Apple’s penchant for Solid State Drives – SSDs – in most Macs mean faster storage but far less of it than before, which means it’s easier to run out of space as you put more apps and data on your Mac. Now Sierra can automatically move infrequently-used files to iCloud instead, freeing up space on your Mac’s drive.

You can still find the file right where you left it. When you open it, Sierra downloads the original from iCloud so you can keep working. Sierra can also prompt you to remove duplicate files and remove clutter – app installers you don’t need, for example, or installer cache files. Things that can take up a lot of space, things you just don’t need.

Can My Mac Run macOS Sierra 10.12?

In general, any Mac built since late 2009 can run Sierra. That’s a bit more than El Capitan, which supported Macs built since 2008. You’ll need OS X 10.7.5 “Lion” or later installed, along with at least 2 GB RAM and 8.8 GB of available storage to manage the upgrade.

Some features of Sierra – Apple Pay and Apple Watch unlock, for example – require other compatible devices running up to date software. Siri needs an internal or external microphone and an Internet connection. Other features require new Mac models in order to work. You can check to see if your Mac is compatible with Sierra on Apple’s web site.

What Do I Do Before I Upgrade?

Back That Mac Up

Back up before you upgrade the operating system or make any other crucial changes to your Mac. Upgrading your OS is a major change to your computer, and this is where the rubber meets the road. If there’s going to be a problem, you’ll likely see it here.

We recommend the 3-2-1 Backup Strategy to make sure your data is safe. What does that mean? Have three copies of your data. There’s the “live” version on your Mac, a local backup (Time Machine, clone software, whatever you prefer), and an offsite backup (like Backblaze). No matter what happens to your computer, you’ll have a way to restore the files if anything goes wrong. Need help understanding how to back up your Mac? We have you covered with a handy Mac backup guide!

Check for App and Driver Updates

Avoid finding out crucial software or devices you need to do your job don’t work before it’s too late. Check first with app developers and vendors of any third-party products you rely on to make sure they’re ready for Sierra. Visit their web sites or use the “Check for Updates” feature built into most apps (often found in the File or Help menus).

If you’ve downloaded apps through the Mac App Store, make sure to open it and click on the Updates button to download the latest updates. Devs have had months to incorporate the changes Apple made in Sierra. Many apps and driver software have already been updated to work. But there are still a few holdouts.

We’ve taken care to ensure that Backblaze works with Sierra. Of course, we’ll watch Apple’s release carefully for any last minute surprises. We’ll officially offer support for Sierra once we’ve had a chance to thoroughly test the release version.

Updating can be hit or miss when you’ve installed apps which didn’t come from the Mac App Store. To make it easier, visit the MacUpdate web site. MacUpdate tracks changes to thousands of Mac apps. The site also makes a companion Mac updating app for subscribers.

Set Aside Time for the Upgrade

Depending on the speed of your Internet connection and your computer, upgrading to Sierra will take a few hours. You’ll be able to use your Mac straightaway after answering a few questions at the end of the upgrade process. If you notice fans are kicking on or if the Mac acts sluggish, give it some time to catch up with all the changes.

If you’re going to install Sierra on multiple Macs, one great time- and bandwidth-saving tip came from our customer Stefan in the comments below. After downloading Sierra, make sure to copy the installer from your Mac’s Applications folder to a USB thumbstick (or an external drive) before using it. As part of the upgrade process the installer routinely deletes itself once it’s completed. This will save you from having to re-download it on each computer you plan to upgrade.

Where Do I get Sierra?

Like other Mac operating system releases, Apple offers macOS 10.12 Sierra for download from the Mac App Store, which is included on the Mac. As long as your Mac is supported and running OS X Lion 10.7.5 or later, you can download and run the installer. It’s free, too.

An Ounce of Prevention…

Back up your Mac before doing anything to it, and make Backblaze part of your 3-2-1 backup strategy. That way your data is secure. Even if you have to roll back after an upgrade or if you run into problems, you’ll know that you can restore to where you were before all the problems started.

Getting ready to install Sierra? Still have questions? Let me know in the comments.

Peter Cohen
Peter will never give you up, never let you down, never run around or desert you. He also manages the Backblaze blog.

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Category:  Backblaze Bits
  • Peter, please excuse me if this sounds picky but I believe that you have a misleading sentence within your guide. Under, “Check for App and Driver Updates”, you say,

    “Avoid finding out crucial software or devices you need to do your job don’t work before it’s too late”

    Surely your intent is meant to be the opposite of what you’ve said, i.e “Avoid finding out crucial software or devices you need to do your job *DO* work before it’s too late” ?

  • Ali Akbari

    Hello everyone, I have installed macOS Sierra on my MacBook Pro. Now I can’t find my data. I know its there, because my hard disk is full. And I have not got buck up. What can i do to get my fills back?

  • Paul s

    i need to do a clean install – apple themselves determined something is deeply wrong with my system, and a standard re-install over top didn’t fix it. what happens if i change my username on the new install? will backblaze just continue backing up even though the HD is the same name? or, will it make a whole new copy of my machine? is it smart enough to see the same files, and just “relocate” them within the file tree of my backup? i don’t want to go through days of backblaze backup for this. hope not!

    (btw, for some reason your site and blog load CRAZY slow right now – otherwise, i’d look at the FAQ. like we’re talking minutes of wait ( loads just fine, btw))

  • Adam Wood

    iCloud Drive in macOS has the ability to store Desktop/Documents files in the cloud to preserve HD space. If this happens, will those files be backed up by Backblaze? I’m trying to decide to use that feature to reduce my SSD space, but I want to ensure that the files are backed up safely, not just rely on iCloud Drive. Any help?

  • Just upgraded to Sierra. Had 2 external hard drives connected to my mac for 2 days straight. Computer on. They were already backed up and just needed to trigger my 30 day timer, but after two days, still showing on my account page as FIX THIS. App says backed up, checked 4 times and each time had a new time as latest backup. What’s the deal? Sierra break something? Running latest Bb software.

    • also submitted a ticket. Really don’t want to have to do these 2 x 2tb uploads all over again.

  • Carlos Smith

    Hey Peter, just so I’m clear: I’ve installed Sierra and I’ve enabled the iCloud Drive sync for my desktop and documents folders. So even though these folders are now being synced across my devices via iCloud, they are still being backed up by Backblaze. Is that correct? Just want to make sure because I have some really important documents that I want to make sure are secure.

  • FYI, MacUpdate’s installers (if you don’t pay for it) have auto-installing crapware in them. So make sure to check the installers or get it directly from the developer’s site.

  • Mr_Coldharbour

    Hey Peter, great writeup! I’m currently on the latest update of El Capitan (10.11.6) on my mid-2015 15″ rMBP. Would you recommend a fresh clean install or a straight update from my current El Capitan setup? Thanks.

    • I was able to upgrade without any ill effects, which I prefer to do because I don’t want to have to reinstall essential software and tools. I did, of course, do a Time Machine backup (and make sure Backblaze backed up) before installing, just in case anything went pear-shaped. So far, so good.

      Some people swear by clean installs, though. If you’re interested and you want to make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row, the folks at iMore have prepared this handy guide to doing a clean install.

  • Nick

    you failed to mention the implications of having Sierra store all your data on iCloud. Would Backblaze be able to back it up? if not, you really should have pointed that out in your article. either way, people need to know precisely how these new Apple storage management features affect our backups with Backblaze

    • Thanks for your input! This isn’t a review of Sierra, it’s simply an upgrade guide. We’ll leave it to our users to make informed decisions about what features they want to use in the new release, and we’ll certainly be examining how Storage Optimization affects things like backups in future blog posts.

      • Nick

        this is a worthless reply. we users need Backblaze to inform us what it does. we cannot make decisions without understanding how you handle iCloud usage in Sierra. This is your job, not ours. there are other backup services that may be better prepared for Sierra.

        • All right, let’s try a different tack here:

          The Backblaze client backs up what’s on the hard drive, minus the exclusions list, and that includes files in your Documents folder and your Desktop. We keep 30 days of backups on our servers. If files are removed from your local hard drive either through an automatic process or because you drag them into the trash, that starts the 30 day clock.

          That hasn’t changed with Sierra. Backblaze works the same way on a Sierra-equipped Mac that it worked on that same Mac running El Capitan last week.

          Our developers and support teams have done preliminary testing with Sierra and we know our current software works with it. We’ll certainly keep blog readers in the loop with any new developments as they come up.

          If you have concerns about how Backblaze works with Sierra or if you notice behavior you think is wrong, my best suggestion to you is to talk to open a support ticket. Our support team is ready to help.

          • Andrew Swift

            The implications are that a) if I use optimized storage, some files will not be present on my hard drive (because they’re in the cloud), and b) if they are in the cloud for more than 30 days, they will no longer be backed up to Backblaze. This seems logical and fair.

            The question then becomes: do you/can you back up the local placeholders?

            All I really care about is being able to restore my computer in the event of catastrophic failure.

            If I ask Backblaze for a copy of all my files, to restore my computer, will the files that are in iCloud be missing, or will the local placeholders still be there?

            It’s a problem if I ask Backblaze for a copy of all my files and half of them aren’t there… at that point, I’d be better off just wiping my Mac and getting everything back from iCloud.

            I understand that you would prefer I open a support ticket, but this page is one of the first results in Google for this question. A support ticket is only useful for one person.

          • John McGuire

            This is so true. Why post a huge article yet refuse to explain how BACKBLAZE actually handles these new features (like optimized storage on iCloud, etc.) Why would I turn on such a feature if I’m not ensured my files are all fully backed up? The same goes for the article on Photos Library – they don’t mention Backblaze once. How about we get some technical details on how Backblaze actually handles these things?

  • Stefan

    Tip to readers for speeding up the installation process on multiple computers: once you’ve downloaded the Install macOS Sierra file (located in the Application folder), copy the file to a USB memory stick (8 GB) before installing it (the file will disappear after updating the system). Then copy the file to the other(s) computer(s) and double click to install. Saves a lot of downloading time!

    • Great tip! Thanks for sharing! Hope you don’t mind that I’ve added it to the guide. :)

    • Jainesh Patel

      Hey, I have tried your steps but it is giving me error like “Installer macOS sierra” can;t be opened” on another mac. what should i do?

      • Stefan

        Sounds odd. I have used this method several times, also on earlier updates and it works just fine. Have you checked that this other Mac of yours is suitable for updating to Sierra? Some older Macs can’t be updated.

        • Jainesh Patel

          yes the mac from which I downloaded installer is 2015 iMac running El capitan

          • Stefan

            Yes, I understand. But what about the other Mac you’re trying to install it on, the one that won’t install?