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Don’t Store Confidential Files in Online File Sharing Services

Given their integration into the Mac’s Finder, it can be easy to forget that online file sharing services like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive can be accessed using a Web browser by anyone with your username and password. Obviously, you should always have strong, unique passwords, but to be safe, it’s best not to use services designed for public file sharing to store unencrypted files containing sensitive information like credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, passport scans, privileged legal documents, financial data, and so on. Keep such data secure on your Mac—outside of any synced folders—where accessing it requires physical access to the machine.

(Featured image based on an original by Kenaz Nepomuceno from Pexels)

Not a Fan of Big Sur’s Translucent Menu Bar? Here’s How to Disable It

In macOS 11 Big Sur, Apple went back to a design direction from the earliest days of Mac OS X: a translucent menu bar. Since its color changes depending on the desktop picture, many people aren’t enamored of it (left, below). Luckily, reverting to the traditional opaque menu bar is simple. Open System Preferences > Accessibility > Display and select Reduce Transparency. That will turn the menu bar gray again and make other windows and menus opaque, too (right, below). Simple gray might not be as whizzy as fancy transparency, but it’s more predictable and easier to see.

(Featured image by aung nyi on Unsplash)

Apple Hid the Proxy Icon in Big Sur’s Finder. Here’s How to Reveal It

This is a twofer tip. You may not have known that every document window in macOS has long had a proxy icon in the title bar, next to the filename. The proxy icon is not just cosmetic. You can drag it to Mail to attach the document to a message, to a Web browser to upload it, or to any other location you can drag a document’s icon in the Finder (top screenshot, below, showing Preview in Catalina). You can also drag proxy icons from Finder windows to Open and Save dialogs to navigate to the location of the proxy icon and even pre-fill the filename when saving. Alas, in macOS 11 Big Sur, in at least the Finder and Preview, Apple chose to hide the proxy icon and the drop-down menu that lets you rename, tag, or move files using controls on the title bar (middle screenshot, below). Plus, the new title bar design tends to truncate file names. Happily, mousing over the filename expands the name and reveals both the proxy icon and the drop-down menu (bottom screenshot, below). Apple’s desire to reduce onscreen clutter makes usage more cumbersome than before, but all the functionality is still present.

(Featured image by Harrison Haines from Pexels)

Having Trouble Finding Files on Your Mac? Here’s How to Reset Spotlight

For the most part, Spotlight works well. Press Command-Space or use the Search field in a Finder window, and it finds everything that matches your search term. Sometimes, however, Spotlight fails to turn up a file that you know is present, likely due to index corruption. To fix the problem, you can force Spotlight to rebuild its index. (Don’t do this unless it’s necessary since reindexing can take a long time and may impact the performance of your Mac while it’s happening.) Open System Preferences > Spotlight > Privacy, and then drag your drive (or the drive on which Spotlight isn’t finding files) into the list of locations that Spotlight shouldn’t search. That deletes the old Spotlight index. Still working in the Spotlight Privacy list, select the drive and click the – button below the list. Spotlight now reindexes the contents of the drive and should find your files properly in the future.

(Featured image by cottonbro from Pexels)

It’s Time to Consider Upgrading to macOS 11 Big Sur

We’re cautious when it comes to recommending upgrades to new versions of macOS. Apple makes the upgrade process easy—though it can be time-consuming—but upgrading can create workflow interruptions, render favorite apps inoperable, and have other consequences. At the same time, it’s important to stay in sight of the cutting edge for security reasons and to take advantage of advances from Apple and other developers. Upgrading is not an if question; it’s a when question.

We’re not saying that everyone needs to upgrade to macOS 11 Big Sur now, but if you want to, it should be safe now that Apple has released several bug-fix updates. However, there are still a few caveats, and preparation is essential.

Reasons Not to Upgrade

Some people should continue to delay upgrades to Big Sur due to software incompatibilities. Most software under steady development will have been updated for Big Sur by now, but some workflows rely on older versions of apps where an upgrade isn’t practical or possible (ancient versions of Adobe Creative Suite, for instance), or on obsolete apps that will never be updated. You may be able to learn more at RoaringApps, but those who haven’t yet upgraded past 10.14 Mojave may have to upgrade or replace 32-bit apps that ceased working starting with 10.15 Catalina.

The other app category that continues to have trouble with Big Sur are backup apps that make bootable duplicates. Catalina moved macOS to its own read-only volume, and Big Sur goes a step further by applying cryptographic signatures that make it even harder for an attacker to compromise the operating system. Unfortunately, that also makes creating a bootable duplicate difficult. Carbon Copy Cloner and ChronoSync have developed workarounds; SuperDuper remains incompatible at this point, although an older version can create data-only backups. If you rely on one of these apps for critical backups, make sure you know what you’re getting into before upgrading or reassess your backup strategy.

Before You Upgrade

Once you’ve decided to upgrade to Big Sur, you have three main tasks:

  • Update apps: Make sure all your apps are as up-to-date as possible. If you regularly put off updates, now’s the time to let them complete so you have Big Sur-compatible versions.
  • Clear space: Big Sur needs a minimum of 35.5 GB to upgrade, and as of macOS 11.2.1, the installer won’t proceed unless there’s enough space. Don’t cut this close—you should always have at least 10–20% free space for virtual memory, cache files, and breathing room.
  • Make a backup: Never, ever install a major upgrade to macOS without ensuring that you have at least one current backup first. In an ideal world, you’d have an updated Time Machine backup, a bootable duplicate, and an Internet backup. That way, if something goes wrong as thousands of files are moved around on your drive, you can easily restore.

After those tasks are complete, make sure you don’t need your Mac for a few hours. There’s no telling exactly how long the upgrade will take, especially if it has to convert your drive to APFS, so never start an upgrade if you need the Mac soon.

Initiating the upgrade is just a matter of opening System Preferences > Software Update, clicking the Upgrade Now button, and following the instructions.

After You Upgrade

Part of the reason to set aside plenty of time for your Big Sur upgrade is that there are always clean-up tasks afterward. We can’t predict precisely what you’ll run into, but here are a few situations we’ve noticed:

  • macOS will probably need to update its authentication situation by asking for your Apple ID password, your Mac’s password, and if you have another Mac, its password too. Don’t worry that this is a security breach—it’s fine.
  • Some apps may have to ask for permission to access your contacts and calendar even though you previously granted permission. Again, that’s fine.
  • If you use your Apple Watch to unlock your Mac and apps (and you should, it’s great!), you’ll need to re-enable that in System Preferences > Security & Privacy > General.
  • If you use Gmail or Google Calendar or other Google services, you may need to log in to your Google account again.
  • Websites that usually remember your login state will likely require that you log in again. If you’re using a password manager like 1Password, that’s easy.
  • You may have to re-enable text-message forwarding to your Mac on your iPhone in Settings > Messages > Text Message Forwarding.
  • Those who use Backblaze for Internet backups will find their backups have been “safety frozen.” Follow these instructions for thawing your account.

Finally, Time Machine in Big Sur now supports and prefers APFS-formatted drives, and all of Apple’s development is going in that direction now. You can keep using your existing Time Machine backup in Big Sur, but after you’re confident that everything is working well—and you have another backup—it’s worth removing your Time Machine backup drive in System Preferences > Time Machine > Select Disk, reformatting the drive as APFS in Disk Utility, and restarting the backup in the Time Machine preference pane.

With all that housekeeping done, it’s time to check out all the new features in Big Sur!

(Featured image based on originals by Apple)


Social Media: Should you upgrade to macOS 11 Big Sur? There’s no need to do so yet, but it should be safe for most people, so if you’re excited about the new look and the new features, this is a good time to upgrade. Read on for our pre- and post-upgrade tasks.

Reclaim Local Storage Space by Removing iCloud Drive Downloads

With iCloud Drive, Apple provides an Optimize Mac Storage checkbox that, when checked, stores the full contents of iCloud Drive on the Mac only if there’s enough space. However, you may wish to recover local storage space without selecting that option—luckily, that’s easy to do. Open iCloud Drive in the Finder, Control-click a file, and choose Remove Download. The file remains in iCloud Drive, and if you need it locally, you can click the cloud icon next to its name to download it. If you’re not sure which files in the iCloud Drive window occupy the most space, choose View > As List, and then click the Size column so the largest files sort to the top (click again if they’re sorting to the bottom).

(Featured image based on originals by Denny Müller on Unsplash and Mahir Uysal on Unsplash)

Keep Your Mac Quiet at Night and During Presentations with Do Not Disturb

We’re all accustomed to the Do Not Disturb feature on our iPhones since they’re with us for most of the day and often spend the night next to the bed. But Apple long ago added Do Not Disturb to the Mac as well, and it’s useful for muting your Mac at night to eliminate unnecessary noises and for preventing unwanted notifications during presentations. In System Preferences > Notifications > Do Not Disturb, you can tell macOS to turn the feature on during specific times, when the display is sleeping or locked, and when mirroring to another screen. Or, you can turn on Do Not Disturb manually—you might want to do this when giving a presentation with Zoom or another videoconferencing app. In macOS 10.15 Catalina and earlier, do this in Notification Center by clicking it at the far right of the menu bar, scrolling up, and enabling the Do Not Disturb switch. In macOS 11 Big Sur, you find Do Not Disturb in Control Center.

(Featured image by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels)

Forget Adobe Acrobat: Preview May Be All You Need to Work with PDFs

We regularly hear from people who think they need Adobe Acrobat DC to manipulate PDFs. Don’t misunderstand: Adobe Acrobat is the gold standard, but it’s complicated and expensive—$14.99 per month or as part of Creative Cloud for $52.99 per month. In contrast, Apple’s Preview is easy and free with macOS. Here are six tasks that people may think require Acrobat but can easily be accomplished in Preview.

Remove and Rearrange or Export Pages

Have a PDF with unnecessary pages? You can delete them in Preview. First, make sure page thumbnails are showing in the sidebar by choosing View > Thumbnails. Then select the pages you want to remove and press Delete. Choose File > Save when you’re done—you’ll need to do that after all the rest of these tasks too.

Rearranging pages also happens in the sidebar—just drag the thumbnails as needed. If you drag a thumbnail to the Finder, Preview exports the page as its own PDF file.

Merge and Add Pages

What about putting pages from one PDF into another? Preview has your back there too. Open both PDFs, make sure their sidebars are showing page thumbnails, and then drag one or more thumbnails from one sidebar to the other, dropping them between the desired pages in the destination.

You can also drag a PDF from the Finder into the sidebar to add all its pages. Or, to take a photo or scan a document and insert it into the document, Control-click in the sidebar and choose Import from iPhone or iPad.

Annotate Text

Let’s say someone asks for edits or comments on a PDF. Although you can’t change the text with Preview, you can mark up the document.

  • Highlight text: They may give you flashbacks to high school, but Preview provides a handful of colored highlighters, along with underline and strikethrough styles. Choose one from the Highlight menu in the toolbar and then select the desired text.
  • Add highlight notes: To ensure that your highlights make sense to others, add notes to them. Control-click the highlighted text and choose Add Note. Then enter your note in the colored box that appears. It shrinks when you click away from it and expands when you click it again.
  • Add general notes: You can also place faux sticky notes anywhere on a PDF page. Reveal the Markup toolbar by clicking the Markup button, and then click the Note button. Dag the closed note box to position it on the page. See all your notes in the sidebar by choosing View > Highlights and Notes.
  • Add shapes and text boxes: The Markup toolbar also contains controls for creating various shapes (including lines with arrows) and text boxes. At times, the best way to show what you mean is to put a box, line, or text directly on the page. Click a shape to add it—text you type while it’s selected sticks with the shape, like the speech balloon below and the arrows above.

If you do need to edit the text of a PDF, that’s a job for Adobe Acrobat or another PDF tool like Smile’s PDFpen.

Redact Text

Sometimes, when you’re sharing a PDF, you want to redact sensitive information so it can’t be read. macOS 11 Big Sur’s version of Preview can permanently obscure and delete selected text from the document. Choose Tools > Redact and select the text you want to hide.

In earlier versions of macOS, you can simulate redaction by covering text with a colored rectangle. Unfortunately, recipients could delete your rectangle or copy the text underneath it. Don’t depend on this workaround to protect confidential information. For true redaction in older versions of macOS, use Acrobat or PDFpen.

Fill PDF Forms

Although Preview cannot create fillable PDF forms (again, turn to Acrobat or Smile’s PDFpenPro), it works fine for entering information into such forms. If you have to fill out an IRS form for your employer, for instance, Preview should work fine. Just click in a field and type, or click a checkbox to select it.

One warning. We’ve heard occasional reports that Windows users reading PDFs with forms filled out in Preview sometimes don’t see the entered text. When returning an important form, it’s always best to ask the recipient to confirm that it worked. If it doesn’t, fall back on the free Adobe Acrobat Reader DC.

Sign Documents

Now that so much paperwork has gone digital, we often need to sign PDFs. The most important documents will probably use a service like SignEasy that’s designed for collecting legally binding, secure signatures. But for something like a simple permit application, you can add your signature in Preview by clicking the Signature button in the Markup toolbar and choosing it.

Inserting (and resizing) an already created signature is easy, as is the one-time process of making one. Click the Signature button, and then click Create Signature. If your Mac has a trackpad, write on it with your finger or a rubber-tipped iPad stylus. Or use a marker to write your signature on paper and take a picture of it with the camera. In macOS 10.15 Catalina and later, you can also create a signature on an iPhone or iPad. Once created, the signature sticks around in Preview and even syncs to your other Macs through iCloud.

Note that Preview’s signature is just a graphic that could be copied, so it’s no more protected than a handwritten signature that could be scanned or photocopied.

Useful as all these features are, they’re just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what Preview can do, particularly with graphics. For a complete look at Preview’s features, check out the 178-page ebook Take Control of Preview.

(Featured image by Cytonn Photography from Pexels)


Social Media: If you think you have to pay for a pricey copy of Adobe Acrobat DC just to add and remove pages from PDFs, annotate documents, redact text, fill PDF forms, and sign documents, think again. Preview can do all that and more for free.

M1-Based Macs Have New Startup Modes: Here’s What You Need to Know

For many years, Macs have relied on sets of keys held at startup to enable specific modes. Most notably, pressing Option displays the Startup Manager and lets you pick a boot drive, Command-R starts up from macOS Recovery, Command-Option-P-R resets the NVRAM, Shift starts up in Safe mode, D opens Apple Diagnostics to check the hardware, and T starts up in Target Disk Mode. Needless to say, obscure key combinations aren’t the friendliest way to help someone who may already be stressed out about their Mac not working, so Apple improved things for the new M1-based Macs.

The most important part is that you no longer have to press a key combination during startup. Instead, press and hold the power button until the screen shows “Loading startup options…” and displays the Startup Manager.

Unfortunately, Apple is still a little fast and loose with terms, so we’ve tried to list all of the ones you might see.

Startup Manager / Startup Disk

If you have multiple boot drives and wish to switch among them, you’ll want to use Startup Manager. Immediately after you see “Loading startup options…,” the Mac displays the new Startup Manager, which shows icons for all the bootable drives, along with buttons for Options, Shut Down, and Restart. To boot from a particular drive, select it and click Continue under it.

If you work your way into macOS Recovery but then want to back out in order to select a startup drive, look in the Apple menu for a Startup Disk command, which provides similar functionality with a slightly different look.

Startup Manager (but not Startup Disk) also lets you start up in Safe mode and set a drive as the default to use for booting. First, select a drive. Then, for Safe mode, press the Shift key and click the Continue in Safe Mode button below it. To set a selected drive as the default, press the Control or Option key and click the Always Use button underneath it.

Note that M1-based Macs can’t boot from just any external drive. We’re all still learning about the new platform, but it seems that you need a Thunderbolt 3 SSD that has been freshly formatted with APFS and set up with a new installation of macOS 11.1 Big Sur. See Howard Oakley’s writeup for details.

macOS Recovery / Recovery

When you need to reinstall macOS or restore from a Time Machine backup, head to macOS Recovery. From the Startup Manager screen, select Options and click Continue underneath it. After you choose a language, an initial macOS Recovery screen appears. Note that you have access to the Apple menu, which lets you choose Startup Disk, Restart, or Shut Down, and to the Recovery Assistant menu, which includes a potentially useful Erase Mac command.

macOS Recovery presents you with a list of users. Select one for which you know the login password, click Next, and enter the password when prompted. Now, in the Recovery app, you can restore from Time Machine, reinstall Big Sur, launch Safari to browse the Web and get online help from Apple, and open Disk Utility to manage drives.

The Recovery app has a full set of menus, and notice Utilities in particular. It lets you launch the Startup Security Utility, to reduce the macOS security level, or Terminal, if you want to run command-line tools before startup. (The old macOS single-user mode accessible by holding down S at startup has disappeared.) To return to the Recovery app from any other app, quit the current app. Finally, note that the Recovery app’s Window menu has an option for Recovery Log. As is often the case with logs, it may be inscrutable to all but high-level support experts.

Oddly, once you’re in macOS Recovery, there’s no way to return to the Startup Manager.

Target Disk Mode / Share Disk

If you ever want to access one Mac’s drives from another, you can connect the two Macs via a USB or Thunderbolt cable and use Target Disk Mode. On M1-based Macs, you initiate Target Disk Mode using a command in the Recovery app’s Utilities menu: Share Disk.

Choose Utilities > Share Disk to start sharing one of the M1-based Mac’s drives via Target Disk Mode. Select the drive and click Start Sharing. When you’re done using it, click Stop Sharing before disconnecting the cable.

Apple Diagnostics / Diagnostics Loader

If you’re worried that your M1-based Mac is suffering from a hardware failure, running Apple Diagnostics may shed some light on the problem. Oddly, getting to Apple Diagnostics still requires a hidden keystroke.

Once you’re in the Startup Manager screen, press and hold Command-D to reboot the Mac into the Diagnostics Loader app. You can choose to run the diagnostics offline or to share the information with Apple.

After you pick one, the diagnostics run right away and report back when they’re done. If you have an M1-based MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, make sure to plug it in first, or you’ll get an error telling you that the power adapter couldn’t be found.

The troubleshooting approaches that no longer seem to be available in any way are to reset the NVRAM (Non-Volatile RAM) or the SMC (System Management Controller). Apparently, the NVRAM tests itself at startup and resets automatically if necessary. M1-based Macs reportedly don’t have an SMC in the same way as Intel-based Macs, so there’s no option to reset it.

(Featured image by Apple)


Social Media: Apple’s M1-based Macs change how you switch drives and access troubleshooting tools at startup. Read on to learn the new techniques.

Flash Is Dead—Uninstall Flash Player to Keep Your Mac Secure

In July 2017, Adobe announced that it would stop distributing and updating Flash Player on December 31st, 2020. Web standards like HTML5 provide a viable alternative to Flash content, and organizations that relied on Flash have had three years to replace it. Because Adobe will no longer be addressing security vulnerabilities in Flash with updates, Flash Player now prompts users to uninstall. We strongly recommend doing so—just click the Uninstall button if you get this alert. If you don’t, a Flash Player Install Manager app in your Utilities folder should be able to remove Flash Player as well. Adobe also provides instructions to uninstall manually.

(Featured image based on an original by Gary Meulemans on Unsplash)