With the announcement of macOS 11 Big Sur, you’re probably wondering if your Adobe software will work in this macOS upgrade.
Here’s the short version: As with most macOS major upgrades, it’s best to wait until all of the software you use is properly updated for it. If you decide to go ahead, you’ll want to run the most current version of Creative Cloud applications on the new system. Because of changes and tighter requirements by both Apple and Adobe, a much smaller number of old applications are going to run in macOS 11 Big Sur than in past upgrades. If you can’t or don’t want to upgrade your applications to current versions, you should delay upgrading to Big Sur.
With every macOS upgrade, full information about compatibility is typically not available on the day the new system is released or even shortly after. More information emerges over time, as Apple, Adobe, and other software developers test with the final public release and produce updates with fixes. I’ll update this article as new information comes out.
What’s covered in this article
I focus on information that’s direct from Adobe, and on verified reports. To make the best use of your time and mine, I don’t repeat rumors and random anecdotes. But I may mention my own experiences.
Here are the major sections of this article relating to Adobe applications and macOS 11 Big Sur:
Do not upgrade until everything you use is ready
Caution: For macOS 11 Big Sur, it is particularly important that you research which applications you have on your Mac before you click that Upgrade button. The longer you’ve been using a Mac, the trickier the macOS 11 Big Sur upgrade may be, because major changes will block a lot of older software from working.
There are principles that apply to almost any system upgrade, whether it’s for Macs, Windows PCs, or mobile devices. Those principles remain true for the macOS 11 Big Sur upgrade:
- Be prepared. If you use your Mac to run a business or another activity where you can’t afford to lose productivity, do not upgrade to macOS 11 Big Sur until you’ve made plans to fully recover your previous configuration if things don’t work out. For example, have a complete system backup that you know how to restore in as little time as possible.
- Check all of the hardware and software you rely on. Before you upgrade, remember to check compatibility for everything installed on or connected to your computer. Especially anything that depends on driver software being compatible. That could include printers, graphics tablets, scanners, cameras, networking equipment, calibration equipment, backup software, diagnostic software, adapters, hubs, docks, and so on.
- Test your complete workflow. Published compatibility reports may be on test systems that don’t have the same hardware and software you use. If you must ensure complete compatibility with everything you use, run your own tests with macOS 11 Big Sur on a separate system, such as an external drive with a Big Sur test system installed.
- Current versions will be the most compatible. You can expect that current versions of Mac software will be updated for full compatibility with macOS 11 Big Sur, but previous versions probably won’t. For Adobe applications, that means you can expect the most recent Creative Cloud (CC) versions to be either already compatible or will be updated eventually. But if you use an older version such as CS6 or earlier that Adobe no longer updates, any issues with macOS 11 Big Sur will not be fixed. We all want to avoid paying for software as much as possible, but even though a major OS update might be free, there are sometimes unavoidable associated costs when that OS upgrade makes it necessary to pay for software or hardware upgrades too.
Official statements for Creative Cloud versions
Adobe posted a general statement before the release of macOS 11 Big Sur: Can I run my Adobe apps in macOS Big Sur? It’s not very detailed at the moment, but it does lay down some best-practice advice such as:
We strongly recommend you wait until Big Sur is released and is no longer a beta version. In addition, do not upgrade if you are in the middle of a project. First run your Adobe apps in a test environment to ensure it works with your current hardware configuration and drivers (printing and other features).
On October 20, 2020, Adobe released the 2021 upgrades to its Creative Cloud applications, and with that came updated system requirements. Many of the Creative Cloud 2021 applications now list macOS 11 Big Sur as a supported operating system (see below). It appears that Adobe is actively working to ensure that many of their applications will be ready for the day Big Sur is released to the public. Note that macOS10.13 High Sierra and earlier are not supported by many Creative Cloud 2021 applications.
Expect this section to be updated over time as we find out more about Adobe applications and emerging issues. After Apple releases the next major version of macOS, Adobe typically posts macOS compatibility articles about specific applications such as Photoshop. Watch this space!
As of October 20, 2020, the system requirements page for Photoshop recommends macOS 10.15 Catalina, with a minimum requirement of macOS 10.14 Mojave “or later” although there is no word yet on whether that “later” includes macOS 10.11 Big Sur. If you read this after Big Sur is released, check those links to see if the requirements have been updated.
Note: If you visited this web page early in the day on October 20, 2020, you may have seen a screen shot of Photoshop system requirements showing Big Sur as a Recommended version of macOS. I removed the screen shot because the Photoshop system requirements web page changed later that day, and now Big Sur no longer appears on that page.
Lightroom Classic and Lightroom
As of October 20, 2020, the system requirements for Lightroom Classic and Lightroom both recommend macOS 10.15 Catalina, with a minimum requirement of macOS 10.14 Mojave “or later” although there is no word yet on whether that “later” includes macOS 10.11 Big Sur. If you read this after Big Sur is released, check those links to see if the requirements have been updated.
macOS 10.11 Big Sur is now listed as one of the supported systems for Illustrator 2021 (version 25), but not Illustrator 2020.
macOS 10.11 Big Sur is now listed as one of the supported systems for InDesign 2021 (version 16), but not InDesign 2020.
Getting ready to upgrade
If you’re upgrading from a stable macOS 10.15 Catalina system that you’ve gotten used to, chances are that the macOS 11 Big Sur upgrade will be relatively smooth and things will probably run more or less as you expect.
But if you’re upgrading from macOS 10.13 High Sierra or earlier, the macOS 11 Big Sur upgrade may be more challenging at first. The more major versions of macOS that you are jumping to get to macOS 11 Big Sur, the more I recommend that you:
- Make a complete backup of your current Mac system, and keep that unchanged until you are satisfied that macOS 11 Big Sur is working properly. Start your backups of macOS 11 Big Sur on new media. This is so that if you have to retrieve software, documents, or settings from your old system, or completely revert to it, it’s still possible.
- Plan and budget for software upgrades, because Apple has changed so much about how macOS works that fewer old applications will run properly, or run at all.
- Start over and install applications and files from scratch on Big Sur, to avoid unanticipated incompatibilities. Upgrading an older macOS version or using Apple Migration Assistant is likely to work, but older software may not migrate properly since so much has changed.
Only the most recent Adobe applications will be supported
Adobe supports only the current major version of its Creative Cloud applications plus one version back. For example, as I write this the current version of Photoshop is Photoshop 2021 (version 22), so Adobe supports that and Photoshop 2020 (version 21). This policy defines the versions you can install from the Creative Cloud desktop application, so currently you can install those two versions of Photoshop and the minor updates in between.
This is important if you need to stick with a version older than the last two. If you are a Creative Cloud member with a fresh installation of macOS 11 Big Sur and now need to install applications, you will be able to install the two most recent versions of Adobe applications, but nothing earlier. Also, if Adobe follows the pattern they’ve established for past recent macOS releases, only the most recent version will get compatibility updates for macOS 11 Big Sur. Therefore, for full Big Sur compatibility, expect to run only the most current version of the Adobe applications you use. (Links to installers for some older versions of Creative Cloud applications may be found on the Downloads page at ProDesignTools.com.)
macOS requires 64-bit compatibility
macOS 10.15 Catalina and later support only applications that run 64-bit code. This is no surprise, because Apple has been warning about the 32-bit cutoff for several years now. To be compatible, an application and all of the components installed with it must be 64-bit compliant. Adobe has been updating its applications over time, so most current applications run under macOS 10.15 Catalina and later. The Adobe article Why don’t my Adobe apps work in macOS Catalina? discusses 64-bit compatibility for Adobe applications on macOS. It also includes a table of some Adobe applications that are still 32-bit, whether they are going to be updated, and suggested alternatives if they not going to be updated.
Note: “64-bit application” has nothing to do with the bit depth of images or channels. Among other things, it’s about the amount of memory an application can address at once. 64-bit compliance doesn’t make any visible difference to the user, but aspects of it make it possible for an application to achieve much higher performance than a 32-bit application.
Catalina and later may quarantine old plug-ins
You might see an error that plug-ins cannot be found or verified. This is because of recent macOS security requirements, including that plug-ins need to be notarized and hardened. If you rely heavily on plug-ins in Photoshop or other Adobe software such as Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, or Adobe Audition, you must make sure your plug-ins are compatible with macOS 11 Big Sur. If they are not, macOS will quarantine them and they will not load.
Older versions of Adobe software (CS3–CS6)
Already officially unsupported, many Adobe Creative Suite 3 through 6 applications cannot be installed or used on macOS 11 Big Sur because they are not 64-bit code. Many of them already have significant issues running in macOS 10.14 Mojave. CS3–CS5 applications are now well over 10 years old. It is time to upgrade…or, if you must continue to use them, you can
- Keep an older Mac that can run an older versions of macOS/Mac OS X.
- Install an older version of macOS in a virtual machine (see below), and run that in Big Sur.
InDesign Secrets reports that Adobe InDesign CS6 and earlier are 32-bit code and will not run in Catalina and later (see macOS Catalina is Incompatible with InDesign CS6 and Earlier).
Adobe Creative Suite 2 (CS2) compatibility
There is no way to run Adobe CS2 Mac software on macOS 11 Big Sur. The only option is to use a current version of the software.
The question of CS2 compatibility comes up during every recent Mac system upgrade. Some users moving up from older Macs running 10.6.8 or earlier to new Macs with the latest OS version may still be using the Creative Suite 2 (CS2) version of Adobe software, such as Adobe Photoshop CS2.
As with the last several major Mac system upgrades, macOS 11 Big Sur requires that software be written for the Intel processors that have been running Macs for over 10 years. But CS2 applications were written for the PowerPC processors that ran older Macs. The last version of Mac OS X to run PowerPC software was OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard.
So, CS2 applications won’t run in macOS 11 Big Sur for two major, unfixable reasons: They can’t run on Intel CPUs, and as with many CS3–CS6 applications, they aren’t 64-bit code.
Potential workaround for 32-bit apps: Run them in a virtual machine
Although 32-bit applications won’t run in macOS 10.15 Catalina or later, one way around it is to run an older version of macOS or OS X in a virtual machine within Catalina. Mac expert Glenn Fleishman writes about this for TidBITS: Moving to Catalina: Keep Your 32-Bit Mac Apps Running with Parallels
This does involve its own complications. You’ll need virtualization software such as Parallels Desktop, and because this runs a second instance of the Mac system, for best performance it works best on Macs with more CPU cores and lots of RAM. Because you need enough power to smoothly run two systems on one computer.
Two potentially inexpensive ways to use macOS in a virtual machine are:
VMware Fusion Player Personal Use License. According to the VMWare web site, “Home users, Open Source contributors, students, and anyone else can use Fusion Player Free for Non-Commercial activity.”
Oracle VM Virtualbox. According to their website it is “the only professional solution that is freely available as Open Source Software.” However, compared to the more commercial solutions, Virtualbox may require some technical knowledge to set up properly.
There are also paid solutions such as Parallels Desktop or commercial VMWare Fusion software.
Looking ahead to Apple Silicon
Some may be disappointed at how much more difficult or impossible it is to run older software on the latest version of macOS. Many of the changes Apple has made were done to improve the security and privacy of macOS, some to improve its reliability, but other changes were made to get Mac applications lined up for the next major transition: From Intel CPUs to Apple Silicon processors custom-designed and optimized for higher performance and power efficiency. When Macs based on Apple Silicon are released, the applications that will run the best are those that have been fully modernized. Apple is planning to allow many older applications to run on Apple Silicon through translation, but you should not assume that will work for old applications you have kept going for 10 to 15 years or more. Again, if you must run those old applications, the best option may be to maintain an old Mac for them.
If you’re wondering about compatibility of current Adobe applications on the upcoming Macs based on Apple Silicon, Adobe published the article Will Adobe apps work on computers that use ARM processors? where they announced:
We are working to ensure that our apps are compatible with computers that run on these new processors, but don’t have a release date yet.
What I’m doing
I rely on my Mac to pay my bills, so I can’t afford for it to be out of service because of a major software problem. So, as with every major release of macOS, I won’t install macOS 11 Big Sur on my production Mac on the day it is released. I will wait for several months through the inevitable series of early bug-fix updates for macOS 11 to settle down and become more reliable, and I will also wait until fully Big Sur-compatible versions are released of Adobe software and all of the other applications and utilities that I rely on to get things done.
For the last two macOS upgrades, macOS 10.14 Mojave and 10.15 Catalina, I did not upgrade until 6 to 9 months after release. It is likely that I won’t upgrade my Mac to macOS 11 Big Sur until spring or summer of 2021.
This article was originally posted on October 6, 2020 and will be updated as new information emerges.