The Only Monthly Mac Blog That Matters…

High Sierra (OS X.13): Should You Upgrade?

High Sierra (Mac OS X.13) has arrived! Actually, it’s been in circulation for a few months – and, of course, Apple is hectoring all of us to install it. Sure, it seems like only the day before yesterday that Sierra was introduced, and now there’s a new one? Should you update it? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

As is Apple’s (fairly recent) position, High Sierra is a free update, so there’s no cost (other than your time) to upgrade. The installer will download directly to your Applications folder, so there is no fussing around trying to locate the installer program.

So how will your world be different if you elect to upgrade to High Sierra?

Pros:

  • Improved Apple File System (APFS) – allows zippier access of file info (Command-I)
  • Safari 11 delivers subtle improvements over previous versions
  • Photos contains additional editing tools

Cons:

  • Some legacy versions of software don’t work (FileMaker Pro and QuickBooks, to name two)
  • Taking the time and effort of updating your OS
  • If you don’t have enough hard drive space, you won’t find out until after the installation has started (Danger, Will Robinson!)

It’s a Wash:

  • Different desktop picture (but then again, why would you stick with the default Apple picture?)
  • Again, Apple tries to bully you into using iCloud Drive
  • Notes – the new “Pinned Notes” feature allows you to access oft-used notes quicker

Bottom line: No problems with High Sierra, but check with developer if you have legacy versions of software. The hardware requirements for High Sierra are the same as Sierra, so if you have Sierra installed, you won’t have a problem with hardware compatibility.

 

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When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

All computers have built-in obsolescence. Even today’s Macs.

No, I’m not talking about sending your kids off to faraway schools – this is about how long you should hang on to your older Macintosh Computer.

First of all, understand that Apple has stopped supporting computers pre-2013 – meaning if you have anything older than that, you’re playing with house money. You’ve certainly gotten your money’s worth out of that computer. As long as it’s working well enough for your purposes, then all is good. But if it’s starting to inhibit your productivity, then it might be time to start thinking about moving on.

But, if there is a problem and you find yourself at the crossroads, deciding whether or not to perform any major repairs on it – a new motherboard, for example – chances are you should put that money towards a new computer. Having the motherboard replaced in an iMac from 2009 is analogous to putting a $2800 transmission in a car worth $2500. Definitely not the best use of your money.

Here are some tips that usually indicate that it’s time to move on:

  • If there’s some sort of expensive repair that stands between you and a functioning computer. This includes a dead battery in a laptop, bad motherboard or a cracked screen, among other maladies.
  • If you buy a new printer and the driver won’t work on your computer.
  • If you are unable to update the OS because your hardware is too old or not enough RAM is installed.
  • Things start malfunctioning – such as a trackpad or certain keys on a laptop, non-working USB ports, flickering screen, dead pixels or Wi-Fi that isn’t as functional as nearby computers.
  • Your computer is getting hotter by the day, and/or things degenerate into an all-time low in sluggishness.

Before buying – feel free to contact me for my thoughts and expertise on your situation!

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Solving The “I Have Multiple Photos Libraries” Issue

One thing I deal with a lot is the issue of photo organization on the Mac. By 2017, most users have migrated from the no-longer-supported iPhoto to Photos and, for the most part, everything is copacetic. But what I do see – a couple of issues.

The problem is when there are multiple Photos libraries on your hard drive. This issue can be easily rectified, but with the caveat that it’s going to take some time.

In most instances, the Photos Library resides in Home>Pictures and is cleverly named “Photos Library,” although it could have another name. These libraries are generally large, as they can be hundreds of gigabytes in size. The first step is to bring the two (or more) libraries into the same folder. (Which may necessitate renaming one of them.)

When you want to open the “second” library, you’ll be asked to confirm.

Then, open the SMALLER one and select PHOTOS in the left column. Select all the photos by typing Command-A on the keyboard; all the photos should have a blue outline. Select EXPORT>UNMODIFIED ORIGINALS from the FILE menu in Photos. Click the EXPORT button and when the second window appears, navigate to DESKTOP and click NEW FOLDER.

Name that folder EXPORTED PHOTOS (or something that makes sense to you) and click EXPORT. This will take some time, depending on how many photos you have in that library. Once that export process has completed, navigate back to your PICTURES folder and double click the other photo library.

Once you’ve opened the second library, select IMPORT from under the File menu. Navigate to the EXPORTED PHOTOS folder on your desktop, select it and your photos will be imported into that Photos Library. When trashing the OLD library confirm you’re getting rid of the correct one. Oh, and back up your Mac before doing any of this; if you make a catastrophic mistake, at least all it cost you was a little time.

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The Latest on the Reported iPhone Hack

There are currently some high-profile stories in the news about alleged foreign hackers who claim to have the ability to wipe out the contents of millions of iPhones and iPad worldwide.
While Apple has been quick to dismiss their ability to do so, that might not be enough to make you feel better about your own security. However, you can easily change your iCloud password if that makes you sleep better at night. The best (and safest) way to change your password is directly at Apple’s iCloud site.
Note: You have to enter your new password everywhere where it’s required, which includes on all your devices (computer, iPhone, iPad, AppleTV). In addition, in some places (FaceTime, iTunes, App Store), you will also have to sign in again on the same device.

Here are a few links that will help you understand the issue:
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The Long, Slow Demise of Microsoft Entourage

If you’re still using Microsoft Entourage, then you’re playing with fire. Entourage is the email program that was included as part of Microsoft’s 2008 Office suite. At one point, it was the best mail client for Mac, bar none. But because it was introduced in early 2008, it means you’re using software that was cutting edge nine years ago. So do you really want to trust an important part of your world – email – with an outdated product? It’s starting to show its age and give users all sorts of problems. Microsoft no longer supports Entourage. And because it’s been obsolete for almost seven years, it’s time to look elsewhere for your email program.

There are a few options to replace Entourage, but they all have their plusses and minuses.

Microsoft Outlook: This is the successor to Entourage. Yes, the Mac-compatible version of Microsoft’s mail program was called Outlook back in the dark ages, but the big brains there gave the Mac product a separate name to differentiate it from the Windows mail program.

There have been two versions of Outlook released since the Entourage days: Office 2011 and Office 365. Office 2011 (still available and not problematic – yet) is a standard “buy it” software package, while the Office 365 suite is a yearly subscription model. Both include updated versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and some other stuff nobody uses. There are a few different options for both.

BUT – a couple of important things to note. One, there are different versions of the Office 2011 suite, and some of them DO NOT include Outlook. So shop carefully. Also, if you use Entourage and want to retain all your old email when you upgrade to Office 365’s version of Outlook, you can’t do a direct import into Outlook. You have upgrade your mail to Outlook 2011 first, and THEN import it to Outlook 365. (Ugh.) But that’s what you call me for!

Web-based mail: More and more people are using Web-based mail. Sounds complex, but it isn’t. For example, if you’re a Gmail user, you open your browser of choice and use your email that way. That’s not quite as user-friendly as using a stand-alone mail program (Outlook, Apple Mail, etc.), but workable. Most of these also allow you to store your contacts as well. Another downside of this method is that it’s tough to do this on your iPhone.

But – if you’re using Gmail, there IS a Gmail program for Mac available in the App Store. (It’s called “Viewer For Gmail.”)  That’s a good way to get a little more user-friendliness from your email client.

Of course, the best bet (though that wasn’t always the case) is Apple’s mail client, cleverly called “Mail.” It’s in your APPLICATIONS folder and it’s designed to not only manage your mail, but to interact seamlessly with Contacts (Apple’s built-in address book), Calendar (Apple’s calendar) and your iPhone and iPad, using iCloud.

Apple mail used to have a reputation of being cranky, mostly when it came to the outgoing servers. And it still has issues with rinky-dink mail providers. But as long as you’re using the big boys for your email (Google, 1and1, etc.), you’ll be fine.

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And The Scams Just Keep Coming!

This scam just hit a client’s computer earlier this week. Don’t let a stranger tell you that there’s something wrong with your computer!

It’s something that has happened to everybody; you’re working, minding your own business, surfing the web, and suddenly your reverie is broken. A window alerts you that there’s a problem with your computer; your data is going to be corrupted; all your browsing history will be displayed for everybody to see; or simply there’s a virus and it need to be fixed NOW! And just for your utter convenience, there’s a number to call for these honest and helpful folks to solve the issue. All major credit cards accepted.

Sometimes it’s just a pop-up window; other times it hijacks your entire screen and there’s seemingly no escape. Either way, it’s a scam and should be aggressively ignored. Remember – no stranger should give you unsolicited advice that your computer has a problem that only they can fix.

Think about it; somebody you don’t know and has no access to your computer should NOT know anything about your computer (other than a few inconsequential technical details.) So, assuming they can detect a virus or other problem is wrong; those are scams that should be ignored.

If you DO call their number, you can easily tell you’re speaking to a call center located on the other side of the planet. The noise in the background is one dead giveaway; the accents of the agents is another. Most of these scammers are trying to sell you a solution to your “problem,” which just involves paying for a service you don’t need. But others are more devious; scouring your computer for sensitive information, including passwords to online accounts, Social Security numbers or financial data.

Bottom line; don’t fall for the scam. At the first sign of ANY funny business, quit your browser and clear your browsing history. If the problem persists, switch to another browser. (Some of these scams involve the scrubbing of the preference files of your browser to get things back to normal.) If necessary, employ the services of a trusted computer professional. NEVER call these companies (much less let them gain access to your computer); once they get your phone number in their database, the harassment will never end. And since they’re largely overseas, they laugh at the mention of the National Do Not Call Registry or any threats of lawsuits.

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Keeping Your Internal Hard Drive Lean & Clean

A message that requires action ASAP!

Funny thing, but digging through the archives, I found that I covered this very subject in the first blog post of 2016! But seeing that I’ve gotten three calls about the dreaded full hard drive warning in the past two weeks, I figure it’s a good time to revisit it. Besides maintaining a backup of your data as well as practicing good hard drive hygiene is one of the most important things I stress.

The implications of having a full hard drive are serious: There is a risk of crashing (and losing valuable data), which should be enough of a deterrent. Also, there’s sluggishness which is often accompanied by decreased functionality. Ignoring the problem by disabling the warning isn’t an option either. The problem of a nearly full drive can be easily solved by knowing exactly what data you can live without on your computer (or at least offload to an external device).

So what exactly takes up the most space?

Music, movies, photos and large graphic art files are the biggest culprits. Photo and music libraries of 100GB (or more) are extremely common. But unless these things are offloaded onto an external drive, they are what they are. Having them reside on an external drive isn’t a bad idea in theory, but a couple of things need be heeded.

For one, you must understand that the external drive must be connected if you want to access the files on it. Not a problem (for the most part) if you’re using a desktop Mac; if you’re a laptop user, then there’s that pesky little step of connecting the drive (and toting with you if you need to access them elsewhere). Not that convenient. Plus, you need to remember to back it up to your normal backup process. Which would mean connecting it to a computer. Life would stink if you lost your only copy of your music or (especially) your pictures.

But there ARE some ways to reduce the number of gigabytes clogging up your hard drive. These include deleting:

  • Files in the trash. Start by pulling down the FINDER menu and selecting EMPTY TRASH.
  • The contents of your DOWNLOADS folder. Many of these files, including space-hogging .dmg files can usually be trashed.
  • Your iPhoto Library, but only AFTER you’ve upgraded to Photos.
  • Any rebuilt Entourage or Outlook user files, which are found in HOME>DOCUMENTS>MICROSOFT USER DATA.
  • Backed up iOS devices (iPhones and iPads). These backups are found in the (hidden) LIBRARY folder. In Finder, pull down on the GO menu (while holding down the OPTION key) and selecting LIBRARY. The folder, called MOBILE SYNC is found inside of the APPLICATION SUPPORT folder.

But – run your back up process BEFORE trashing any files!

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Looking To Save A Few Bucks? (And Who Isn’t??!?)

refurb

Same warranty as a new Apple product!

One thing that Apple is never shy about; preventing prices from getting too low for its products. Today’s prices are never going to go down – you’re simply going to get a better computer for the same money. And forget about shopping around – Apple controls its pricing through its authorized dealers across the board with a heavy hand.

That’s not to say there aren’t ways to save a few bucks. And I’m not talking about buying used at estate sales, local tag sale groups (on Facebook, for example), eBay or craigslist. (I check the prices on these places, and there rarely seems to be any bargains there.) Besides, when buying from a stranger (either in person or online), you don’t know the history, problems, etc. with the computer or device you’re buying. There is no Carfax for electronic devices; unless you get some sort of money-back guarantee from the seller, you’ll probably be out of luck if things go sour and you want to make the deal null and void.

But don’t despair! There are a couple of options – one is through Apple itself, and its refurb store. The other involves third-party dealers – but it requires that you subscribe to sales emails from these companies. (Or check their sales pages when you’re looking to buy.)

refurb1

Where the refurb link is lurking – at the bottom of Apple.com.

First of all –  Apple’s “Refurbished” store. It’s a bit tough to find – the link is at the bottom of its homepage, almost an afterthought. Click on it and you’ll see a sampling of what’s available. The good news is that these computers and devices have the same Apple warranty as a new model. You can generally save $100 or more on this page; you can go to Apple’s homepage and look for it, or go straight to it here. But there are a couple of things you need to know.

For one, these deals are ONLY available online, so walking into the Apple Store isn’t going to help. And because of the mail-only limitations, it’s not going to work for a “need it today” type of situation. A little advance planning is required if you’re going this route. Check out this great article – The Top Six Places To Buy Refurbished Mac Laptops.

A second option is to subscribe to emails from some of the larger Apple dealers. These retailers often can discount recently discontinued models – giving around the same break as Apple and its refurbs. Of course, you must deal with a regular stream of email messages during the times you don’t plan on buying anything. Regardless, a couple of these are:

OWC
Mac Mall

 

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Another blog post, another Mac OS update.

enaglesirisierra

Do you really want to talk to your Mac?

In late September, Apple introduced Mac OS X.12, (Sierra) as a free upgrade, available (as usual) in the App Store. While there are some features that will have Apple fanboys and fangirls excited (Siri on the Mac, the ability to login to your computer via your Apple Watch), most of the action takes place behind the scenes. In other words, functional, but not all that exciting.

There have been a few small glitches with OS X.12. One is an incompatibility issue with Microsoft Office 2008. If you’re planning to upgrade to Sierra, then it’s time to move on from Office 2008, a software package that’s approaching its ninth birthday. Another is a strange pixilation of the print window in some programs (Adobe Acrobat, for example), but that appears to be only an aesthetic issue, not a functional one. And I’m reading of nightmares when mixing Sierra and QuickBooks, so if you’re a QB user, don’t even think of upgrading until you receive the “all clear.”

allfilesinicloud

Think before blindly syncing your files to the cloud!

But the biggest issue I have discovered with updating to Sierra is during the configuration process, post restart, after the software has been downloaded and installed. There is an option to enable Siri (see graphic above), but the next one that comes along – to move all your documents into iCloud Drive – is troubling. That’s because you potentially will be forced into upgrading (e.g. paying Apple for more storage capacity). Worse, your data will have been forcibly migrated into “your” iCloud Drive (which means it’s also stored on Apple’s servers somewhere out there).

iCloud Drive’s tagline is “All your files. On all your devices.” Which is fine and dandy – but that’s exactly what Google Drive, Dropbox and others do just as well. Doing something as rash as moving all your files out of their familiar homes and into the cloud is something you need to put a lot of thought into – not just go willy-nilly with the defaults of an OS update and hope for the best. Understanding exactly how iCloud Drive works and exactly why you would want to take such a large step with your valuable data are things best thought out beforehand.

It’s like deciding who to vote for after the curtain closes behind you in the voting booth. Not the best way to handle an important decision.

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Firefox – Maybe it’s Time to Move On

 

firefoxgraveOut of the three major web browsers, it seems (to me, anyway) that Firefox gives me most trouble. I find myself having to force quit Firefox more than all my other browsers combined. (I use Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Opera each for different tasks.) It could be that, because I use it primarily for Facebook, that Facebook is loading me up with cookies or other files.

But then again, the culprit might not be Facebook, because it seems to mostly occur when I click on a story that originates from Facebook. However, I am not sure whether that has anything to do with the browser I’m using, or I’m exposing my Mac to the dangers of cookies, adware and other sorts of nefarious stuff.

Firefox debuted in Fall 2002 – perfect timing it turns out, as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer for Mac was checking its parachute. The only other viable option at the time was Apple’s Safari; however, it had the (deservedly accurate) reputation as not being able to handle certain (mostly secure) websites. A third-party option was needed to keep the playing field level, and Firefox quickly became more popular than Safari in the Mac world.

Google certainly wasn’t going to miss out on that action; it debuted its Chrome browser five years later. Suddenly there was another contender in town and for whatever reason, Chrome was able to handle whatever website it threw itself at, something Firefox and Safari have proven unable to do. Plus, Google is making inroads in the educational world, and students of today are using Google Docs (which, of course, requires Google Chrome).

So this brings us (more or less) to today. Google Chrome is the best browser out there, giving users the least amount of trouble and crashes. I still use Firefox, strictly for Facebook (I don’t like to cross pollinate my web browsing; crashing on TeamRock.com stories are probably a sign that I should be clicking links less willy-nilly) and I use Safari for eBay. Opera I use for managing somebody else’s site, and there’s also TorBrowser, something I find unusable.

Further reading: Check out an early blog post I wrote, “How to Untangle Your Browser From the Grips of Facebook.”

 

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