Fixing things Apple broke

Every time Apple updates the OS they break things that I rely on. Sometimes it’s simple things like pinning the dock to the bottom of the screen. Other times it is things like making the menubar translucent. People usually figure out fixes and they are usually command-line switches. My Mac Mini is getting older, and recent updates to Xcode seem to have made the process of compiling apps much slower, so I’m probably going to upgrade my computer in the near future. This post will be a collection of things that I can apply to my next Mac.

Apps no longer appear in the tab switcher.
I noticed a while ago that if I close all of the windows in Safari after a while it does not appear in the app switcher list. According to Michael Tsai Safari and other apps are going into a new state called App Nap. You can prevent this with this line:

defaults write -g NSDisableAutomaticTermination -bool TRUE

Display File Extensions

defaults write NSGlobalDomain AppleShowAllExtensions -bool true

Show the Library Folder

chflags nohidden ~/Library/

Show Hidden Files
This is useful for finding things like git repositories.

defaults write AppleShowAllFiles -bool true

Restart Finder
For some of these you need to restart the Finder. You can do it with the Force Quit menubar item or the command line.

killall Finder

Use Xcode’s Font in BBEdit

cp -R /Applications/Utilities/ /Library/Fonts/

Apple Mail Preferences Pane

When updating to the Mac OS High Sierra Beta my computer hung. I let it run for a long time, but was unable to get it to continue. I restored from a backup, but it did not have all of the files for my email. I had to re-enter my email accounts and restore messages manually. Somewhere in the process, Mail app stopped being able to display the Preferences Pane. I added a new user to my Mac and the Preferences Pane showed up fine, so it looked like something in my user preferences was either missing or corrupted. I removed various things from ~/Library/Preferences/ but nothing fixed the problem. Then I stumbled on a StackExchange mentioning that some things are stored in ~/Containers.

Sure enough, removing Container.plist from caused Mail to regenerate whatever is in that file. I now get all of my preferences back and they appear to be the same as before the crash.

Improving legibility of OSX Yosemite

The latest update to OSX incorporates design elements from iOS7. If you hate iOS7, you’re going to really hate Yosemite.

However, there are a couple of things you can do to restore screen legibility. Open up the Accessibility preference pane in System Preferences. Click on the checkbox labelled increase contrast. It automatically checks the box for Reduce Transparency. This does two things. First, it stops background colors from bleeding through menu bars and option panels. Second, it darkens the text so it is more legible.

That still isn’t enough for my non-retina displays, so I also move the Display Contrast up to the first tick mark. Finally, on the physical monitor controls I reduced the brightness a bit. I’ve been using it all morning and the text is readable. Unfortunately, there is no way to fix the contrast on buttons so that they are more readily identifiable, but I suppose I’ll get used to it.

I like to see the entire URL when maintaining my websites, so in the Advanced Safari preferences I check, “Show full website address”. In the security section I turned off “Autofill web forms using: Credit cards”. Then under the View menu item, I turned on “Show Tab Bar” and “Show Status Bar”.

In the Dock preference pane, I disable “Double-click a window’s title bar to minimize”. Prevents you from accidentally disappearing windows. This isn’t a new feature, but I just found out how to disable it.

My usual method for pinning the dock the bottom RHS corner doesn’t work, so if anyone figures out how to do it, pls let me know.

In the General preference pane, change “Sidebar icon size” to large. Improves legibility.

Lots of other annoying things I’ll probably get used to, though it would be nice if someone figures out how to change the folder color in the Finder from the garish blue. The good news is that everything I’ve tried so far works just as before—including all the software I wrote.

Upgrading from Windows to a Mac

The last time I used Windows for more than a half-hour at a time was Windows 3.1, so temper what I say about Windows with your own experience. There are lots of superficial differences between Mac and Windows and one major difference. And that’s the way they handle the menubar. The first screen you see on your Mac has a menubar at the top of the monitor. There is an Apple and a bunch of menu commands. The stuff under the Apple never changes when you open new programs, but the stuff to the right of it does. The Apple is similar to the Start button on Windows. You can access the System Preferences and Sleep/Shut Down/Log Out there. There is also an item called Recent Items that is very handy for opening files that you recently worked on or Applications that you recently had open.

When you open a new program, the menubar at the top of the screen changes. It has the commands associated with the current program. All of the menubars start with File and Edit and all end with Help. In between, they differ but most have a View option. Programs that do text editing usually have a Format option. Here’s the big difference between Mac and Windows. When you open multiple documents on the Mac you don’t get new menubars, you get new document windows. Most programs lots of other little windows that they use for palettes. Sometimes they open automatically. Other times they don’t open until you select them from the menubar. You can move these around on the screen to wherever they make the most sense for you. Most of the time, when you quit an application, the next time it opens it will remember where you put the palettes and which ones were open.

One thing that I have heard is much different on Macs than on Windows is the way that folders are copied. On the Mac, if you drag a folder from one location to another and there is already a folder with the same name in that location, all of the contents of the existing folder will be replaced with the contents of the new folder. Same thing if you drag a file into a folder that has a folder with the name of the file. You will be prompted to replace it, but if you say yes, the folder no longer exists and there is a file there instead. I have been told that on Windows individual files are replaced if they have the same name. Existing files are not erased.

Don’t waste your money on anti-virus. Do keep vigilant about phishing attacks. They seem to have increased lately. My Windows guy recommends using the Microsoft anti-virus if you run Parallels for Windows.

I don’t do much fancy word processing, and when I do I use InDesign. I mostly use Bean for formatted text. New Macs come with a free copy of Numbers and Pages which will open most Office documents. Pages and Numbers are very unintuitive to me, but if you are used to Microsoft products, I’ve heard that they are easy to pick up. Every once in a while someone sends me Excel spreadsheets and I use LibreOffice to open them. No one complains when I send them back, so I’m guessing it’s compatible. It’s also free.

If you do any audio processing download a free copy of Audacity.

Don’t bother downloading Flash or Adobe Reader. Most websites that use Flash have an HTML5 version that runs fine in Safari. Download a copy of Google’s Chrome browser for the sites that use Flash. Or you can turn on Developer mode and tell the website that you are an iPad. A lot of Mac users like Chrome better than Safari. Especially the geekier ones who like to use a lot of plug-ins.(Some of my demos only run in Flash and if you are a Stewart/Colbert fan you’ll need Flash to watch their clips.) There are also network TV shows that play better in Chrome and some YouTube clips won’t play without Flash.

You’ll also want to download Jumpcut for getting access to your clipboard. It lets you paste things you copied a while ago into the current document. I use it hundreds of times a day. Also free.

You also need Easy Envelopes for printing envelopes. It’s from Ambrosia Software or the Mac App store. Best $9.99 I ever spent. It’s a widget that installs on your dashboard (F12)

You should learn to use the dashboard. I have the current METAR (a Web Clip), a calculator, weather, a unit converter, and Easy Envelopes on my dashboard.

If people send you random videos (and you watch them) you’ll want to download VLC. It opens just about any video format.

If you want a flight simulator, purchase X-Plane.

There are some people who like to have everything on the desktop. I’m not one of them. I usually have whatever I’m currently working on there and then file it away when I’m done. The default place to store files is Documents. I have most of my stuff there. I created a folder called Current that I put in Documents. The name has a space in front of it so that it sorts first. I put all the stuff that I need to deal with in the near future in that folder. That way it’s not cluttering up my desktop and I don’t forget to deal with it.

Learn to use Time Machine. I have two Western Digital 3TB hard drives. I do a Time Machine backup on one every couple of days of them. The other one is in the hangar and I bring it home once a month to do a backup. That’s probably overkill for most people. If you organize your hard drive, you can probably make due with a Time Machine backup and a removable USB stick.

I’d recommend that you put anything that would be a real pain to replicate on a USB stick and keep it somewhere that your computer isn’t. I have my accounting data and my customer database backed up on USB sticks. Every time I go to the office I leave one stick and take home the other. Worst case I lose a couple of days of data. I have never personally had a catastrophic data loss, but I know plenty of people who have. YMMV

There are lots of right-click items that are really useful. If you are in a web browser, mail, or most programs that deal with words, right click on a word and you can do a dictionary lookup or search with Google. If you don’t have a mouse with a right mouse button, Control-click on the word. If you’ve misspelled the word, you get suggestions on how to spell it. Opening the spelling and grammar panel is also one of the options.

Vuescan for Mac will handle just about any scanner. It also has lots of scanning options. With a little work, Image Capture will do the same thing. You just need to download and install the TWAIN SANE Plugins. I haven’t needed to scan anything for a while, but it worked fine using Mountain Lion on two of my scanners that are at least 15 years old. They have plug-ins for Mavericks, but I haven’t tried them.

I also use Image Capture to get photos off my digital camera. For me, it works better than iPhoto. If you do lots of Photo work, you’ll want to get Aperture or Adobe’s Lightroom.

Programs for Your Mac

Macs come with a handful of programs that are well-designed and fairly intuitive. These programs are all that many people will ever need, but you may not know that they even exist. This post discusses the programs that come with your Mac—and a few other essential programs—and explains some non-obvious things you can do with them. We’ll also talk about how to get rid of some things that look cool the first few times you use them, but will drive you crazy after a month.

The Dock

The first thing you need to do is move the dock to the right-hand side of the screen. Almost all monitors have more horizontal space than vertical space and putting the dock on the right-hand side gives you more room for web pages and documents. Lots of programs put toolbars on the left-hand side of the screen, so you don’t want it there. You can move the Dock by clicking on the Apple in the top left of the screen, then clicking on ‘System Preferences’. Choose ‘Dock’ then ‘Position on screen: Bottom’. Change it to Right.

I like my size to be about the middle of the range and I absolutely hate the animation while opening applications so I turn it off.

Most people prefer to have the dock hidden and have it pop out when you roll over it. I generally keep programs in the dock that I use at least once a week. This includes web browsers, SFTP clients, a couple of text editors, Mail, and iTunes. I also keep a folder for saving comics. The rest of the programs I use are opened by clicking on a file (Preview, Photoshop, FileMaker, and SoundStudio) or I know that I want to use it and open it by hitting Command and Spacebar. This brings up the Spotlight search bar so I can type the name of the program I want to use.

When you are first starting out, you probably want to keep every program you use in the Dock so you can find it easily. Programs will stay in the Dock if you drag them to a new position or if you right-click (Control-click if you don’t have a mouse with a right mouse button) and select the option ‘Keep in Dock’.

Advanced users will want to pin the dock to the bottom of the screen. Open a Terminal window and past the following line into it.

defaults write pinning end

Press Return and then restart the dock by typing

killall Dock

and then press return. You can also use TinkerTool to pin the dock and perform other useful actions.

Web Browsing

Safari is a very nice web browser that will render most sites perfectly. There are a few Preferences that you will need to change. The first thing you need to do is go to the Safari menu item and click on ‘Block Pop-Up Windows’. This will eliminate most of the pop-up windows that show up on some sites. You’ll occasionally get a pop-under—a window that show up under you main window. You won’t know you have these until you close the main window.

Sometimes a website won’t let you in because you aren’t using Internet Explorer. For those sites you can fake some of them out by enabling the ‘Develop’ Menu. Go to the Advanced tab in Safari’s Preferences and click ‘Show Develop menu in menu bar’ box. You can then have Safari tell the offending web site that it is Internet Explorer by selecting IE as the User Agent in the Develop menu item. If the site uses Windows-specific hacks, it still won’t work but it does work a good percentage of the time.

There are lots of alternatives to Safari. If you are coming from a Windows environment you are probably already using Firefox. Firefox allows plugins and Safari does not only recently added that feature. You can go to the Apple website and view extensions by clicking on Safari, then Safari Extensions Gallery. For many people the extensions are the reason they use Firefox. I use it with the Firebug plugin for website development. There are literally hundreds of plugins available so you can customize you web browsing experience. Ad blockers seem to be especially popular.

Opera, Camino. Flock, and OminWeb are reasonable alternatives to Safari and Firefox. Google has released a browser for Intel Macs called Chrome.


Yes. Flash ads can be annoying. However, I find that I tune out most ads and focus on the content of the web page. Flash can be used in a constructive manner. YouTube uses Flash to display its videos. Many of my web sites use flash for instructional programs. Flash is probably the most common way to play sound in web pages but HTML5 (which is supported by all of the new versions of the browsers mentioned above) is making Flash obsolete. Your Mac came with a Flash Player that works for all of web browsers on your computer. From time to time you may need to update your Flash player to the latest version. Software Update will not do this for you. You will need to go to the Adobe web site and update your copy. If you want to turn off Flash, Safari will let you turn off all plug-ins by selecting a check-box in the ‘Security’ preference pane. Firefox has similar functionality.

If you want to block Flash, there is a plug-in for Safari that works really well. Instead of displaying Flash ads you get a gray box with a button for loading the Flash content. ClickToFlash is an open source program that really speeds up browsing. Flash files don’t load until you tell them to. You can whitelist sites that have Flash content that you want to see—like YouTube and LearningFundamentals

Word Processing

Your Mac comes with TextEdit—a simple text editor. It works fine but there is a free alternative that is much better. Bean is a superb word processor that I use for all of my letter writing. I also use it to edit templates that I’ve created for envelopes, faxes, and short letters. The reason I use it instead of TextEdit is that it allows me to set page boundaries, margins, and indents. It supports smart quotes so your quotes look like “this” instead of "this". It has an automatic word count. This comes in handy frequently when I am writing descriptions of my products where I am limited to 50 words. This feature would also be handy if a student was required to write a paper of a specific length. The default format is .rtf and rtfd (rtf with pictures)—a format the just about every word processor can open. It can also open most versions of Word so you can read what others send you. It’s not good for manuals and catalogs where precise formatting is required, but there are other tools for that. It is perfect for what it was designed for—simple document creation.

I recently discovered a useful feature of Bean. If you copy text from a web page and paste it into Bean, the text retains all of the formatting of the web page. Colors, bold, italic, spacing etc. are all copied into the new document. This comes in handy if you want to save just a part of a web page, say a recipe or fix-it instructions. You can then use Print-PDF-Save as PDF and have a PDF of the document or save it in rtfd format.

Sophisticated Word Processing and Spreadsheets

If you need to write manuals or advertising copy where precise placement of images and text is important then you will need to use more powerful document preparation software. There are three free alternatives that use the Open Document format by default. has recently been ported to work natively on the Mac. NeoOffice is a Mac port of that has been around for a while. Recently IBM released a free version of Lotus Symphony. All three of these packages allow fairly sophisticated document preparation. They also come with a spreadsheet program.

I’ve used OpenOffice/NeoOffice to edit long manuals and documents and they perform well. I’ve played with the spreadsheet capabilities of each package and they seem fine. I was a big user of Lotus years ago but I rarely use spreadsheets now so I can’t really critique the spreadsheets. They all seem fine to me.

Heavy Duty Document Preparation

If you are involved in preparing catalogs or print advertising then you already know that the only program that will meet your needs is Adobe InDesign. It has its quirks, but the latest version has fixed most of the things that really annoyed me. Preview and third party pdf manipulators have solved my biggest complaint with InDesign—its inability to print booklets.


For years coders have used BBEdit for their heavy lifting. There is a free version called TextWrangler that has most of the features of BBEdit—including SFTP editing—that works almost as well. A new editor—TextMate—is a clean-sheet design that appeals to a lot of coders. I’ve used it when editing LaTex files because it integrates well with the PDF creation process. BBEdit supports SVN and CVS for version management and TextMate supports Darcs, Perforce, SVK, and Subversion. Both have built-in syntax highlighting and code completion.

For the hardcore among us, there is VIM. And of course there’s probably a command in Emacs that runs an instance of OSX.


Most Mac applications automatically check spelling while you type. Most also support OSXs built-in dictionary. Just right click on a word and you can find the definition. If you are unsure of the spelling of a word that has been flagged, click on it and the dictionary will suggest spellings that might be what you really mean. Make sure the ‘Check Spelling While You Type’ option is checked in the ‘Edit:Spelling and Grammar’ preference in Safari and you won’t have to worry about spelling errors on web posts. You are still responsible for making sensible comments. And unfortunately, it can’t find errors that crop up when you edit in a hurry.

Photo Importing

iPhoto is perfectly fine for most people. If you take lots of photos and want to edit them in PhotoShop like I do then you may want to grab them off of you camera with Image Capture. Image capture comes with your Mac and it works with most digital cameras to let you copy pictures from your camera to your hard drive. It also gives you control over which images you want to leave on the camera and which you want to delete. Be aware that it sometimes can’t tell the difference between a USB flash drive and a camera so it may pop up and ask you to download images from a flash drive. We use Image Capture instead of iPhoto because we take thousands of pictures and want to control which ones we download and where we save them.

Screen Capture

Often you will want to capture your entire screen or just a portion of it. There are keyboard commands that will do this for you and save the image as a .png file. To capture everything on the monitor press ‘Command-Shift-3’ and everything on the screen will be captured to a .png file. The files start with the name ‘Picture 1’ and each subsequent capture increases the number. If you want to capture just a portion of the screen, then press ‘Command-Shift-4’ and a cursor changes to a large ‘+’ with the coordinates of the screen next to it—called a crosshair cursor. Click to start selecting just the portion of the screen that you want to capture. When you let go of the mouse the image will be saved on your desktop. You can edit these pictures in Preview, mail them to Windows users, and embed them in Bean documents.

If you can’t remember the keyboard commands then you can use Grab. Grab also has several advantages over the screen capture key commands. The first is that it captures the image to a window—not the desktop. If you didn’t get the right thing then you don’t save it. A downside of Grab is that the default format for saving images is .tiff. Most Windows users won’t be able to view .tiff images in their e-mail. However, Grab takes advantage of a hidden in plain sight OSX feature—the services menu item. Instead of using ‘File:Save’ to save the capture, use the services menu to open the capture in Preview. Once it is in Preview you can crop it, adjust the size, or most importantly save it in a number of file formats, including JPEG and PNG. Which format to use is a complicated subject so for now you probably want to use JPEG. If you are emailing the image compress it to about 30-50% by using the slider that appears when you save it.

Screen capture is appropriate for capturing the daily comics that are in Flash format, genealogy records, and Google Books text. It is not the best way to save web sites, order information, or images in web sites. We’ll learn the best way to do that later.

You can also use the Grab program through Preview.


Preview has evolved to be more than just a quick photo and pdf viewer. When used as an image editor it allows you to make simple edits to photos, change the format, and resize images. You can also use it to view folders of images and delete those you don’t want to keep.

When viewing PDFs you can fill in forms, search for text, and make simple annotations. You can also create a new document from the images or pdf stored in the clipboard. (Basically any image you have copied using Command-C or Edit:Copy).

You can capture a portion of the screen with File:Grab and then manipulate it with the normal cropping and editing tools.

PDF manipulation

Serious PDF manipulation requires Combine PDFs. It used to be free but now costs 20€ or $30 and is well worth it.

There is another combiner, PDFLab from the makers of CocoaBooklet that I found when looking up links for this article. It lets you do the same thing as Combine PDFs with a slightly different interface. It is donationware.

Occasionally you will run across a password protected PDF file. These can be a pain if you want to print, copy, or save a portion of them. I frequently run across parts or service manuals that are incorrectly made. There are a few pages of diagrams that are oversize and the rest is letter size paper. Unfortunately all of the letter size pages print very small and the copy protection makes it hard to strip out the large pages and save the rest of the document as letter size. PDFKey Pro is a one-trick-pony that strips the password protection from PDF files so that you can print or save parts of them. It’s not free (its $24.99) but if you need it, it’s worth it.

I frequently need to make booklets for manuals that I’ve written. CocoaBooklet makes it easy.

File transfer

If you work on web sites then you need to move images and files back and forth between your Mac and the server. There are two products that do this very well.

I usually use Cyberduck, a GPL’d product that works well with files and folders. You can set it up to open files in any of your favorite editors. I like the way it handles bookmarks, since I edit dozens of sites. It is my preferred SFTP client.

Another SFTP file transfer client is Fugu. It has a different interface but the same functionality. I used it for a long time and was quite pleased with it.


I don’t keep track of my ancestors, but my father does and Reunion does a great job of tracking who is related to who, when they were born, how many siblings they have, and all of the other information genealogists collect. It allows export to html files so you can publish your family tree to the web. It is reasonably priced at $99. It is under active development so updates are frequently available.

Movie Playing

Quicktime and DVD Player will satisfy most of your movie playing needs. Sometimes a Windows user will send you a movie that you can’t play with Quicktime. That’s when you need VLC. It plays just about every movie format and it’s free.

Sometimes you need to pull off the movie portion of a DVD so that you can play it later or edit it in iMovie. Or maybe you need to convert a movie into a format that iMovie can recognize. Handbrake is a powerful converter that works on most types of movie formats.


Jumpcut is a clipboard tool that makes a list of the text that you copy so you can access it later. This is incredibly useful if you do any coding or repetitive editing. For example, I frequently ship packages using the UPS web site. I use this program hundreds of times each day. I used it to past the header for each section on this page. I’ll use it for repetitive code like the code surrounding a link. The tool is resides in the menu at the top of the screen where you can access it easily.

Most people will never need to mess around with creator codes and file types or make files invisible but if you do those kinds of things then you’ll need FileBuddy.

As mentioned above, TinkerTool (€ 10.00) has lots of little utilities to change the behavior of your Mac. It’s a tool for advanced users since it does things like pin the dock and remove the startup chime—things most people don’t care about.


You can move your TiVo’s programs to your Mac with a program that is sold with Toast—the CD and DVD burning program. If you can find it, there is a discontinued free program called TiVoDecode Manager that works well for most shows but sometimes has audio synching problems.

TiVo has a program that lets you play your iTunes Music and IPhotos on your TV. TiVo Desktop has an unfriendly list-style interface, but it works well for playing music. (As of 2009-09-09 it doesn’t work on Snow Leopard but they are promising an update.)

Free Dashboard Widgets

There are several widgets that I use almost daily. The first is included with OSX—the weather widget. It gives the weekly highs and lows at a glance.

The built-in calculator function is overkill for most of what I do so I downloaded Pemdas—a simple calculator. I use it several times each day.

I frequently use Easy Envelopes for addressing envelopes. It integrates with AddressBook for people you send things to frequently and also lets you paste addresses for one-offs.

Unit Converter and iCal are widgets included with OSX that I use keep on my desktop and use frequently.

Anti-virus software

You don’t need anti-virus software to protect yourself from Mac viruses—mostly because there aren’t any yet. However, you do need to be careful not to install trojans—programs that trick you into installing them and which have the potential to make bad things happen. Many trojans are work by tricking you into thinking you need a plug-in to view content on a site. Porn sites are especially good locations for this type of trojan. The only plug-in you should normally need is Flash and if you don’t have it installed, get it from the Adobe site.

If you get files from Windows users and send them to other users, you might want to consider an anti-virus program to identify viruses in those programs. We use ClamAV on Windows machines that connect to our office network and there is a Mac version ClamXav that is free and open source.

I’ve got a few more programs that I’ll add later. In the mean time, check out the Quick Tips at Apple. The videos are short and to the point while showing you tricks you never knew you needed.

Once you have been using your Mac for a while, you may want to add some more sophisticated programs. Smashing Apps has a list of free apps that can help you do things that you didn’t even know you wanted to do—like read and annotate PDF (Skim) or mess with some of the system preferences that you can only access from the command line or with Onyx.

Find the Right App

Three good sites for finding just the right app for doing what you want to do are I use this, MacUpdate and Version Tracker.

Updated: 2010-12-29