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by Tom Nelson

The version of Safari included with macOS High Sierra brings new and significant abilities to customize how it works with each website you visit. You may have already read about Safari’s new ability to block user tracking by websites, or its new ability to prevent video from auto-playing. But Safari rolls out a whole new way to work with websites, putting you in control and allowing for quite a bit of customization in your viewing.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Safari 11, the version included with macOS High Sierra, has a number of new features, including advanced methods of preventing user tracking (Intelligent Tracking Prevention). But in this Rocket Yard Guide, we’re going to look at Safari’s new ability to customize how a website looks and performs on a site-by-site basis. It’s a powerful tool that can help you tame the wild web.

Website customization works on two main levels; you can define how all websites will be handled, and you can specify how individual websites will be managed. When the two are in conflict, the settings for a specific website override those set for all websites.

A simple example is that you may set all websites to never auto-play audio or video content, but then configure your favorite video service to allow auto-play. When you browse the web, you should never encounter a website that auto-plays sound or video, until you land on the sites where you’ve specifically allowed auto-play to work.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

by Tom Nelson

A few weeks ago, we looked at How to Fix and Avoid the Most Common Mac Error Messages. One of the issues we ran into was which problems we should showcase; there were way more possibilities than we could fit into one Rocket Yard guide. We also asked you, our readers, to let us know which Mac errors you’re encountering that we haven’t covered.

In this, the second edition of the common Mac error messages guide, we’ve included some of the errors that you commented about, as well as a few that we dropped from the original article, for lack of space.

So, once again, in no particular order, even more Mac errors and how to fix or avoid them.

‘Can’t empty the Trash’

There are a few variations on the can’t empty the Trash messages, including:

  • Cannot empty the Trash because a file is in use.
  • The Trash cannot be opened right now because it is being used by another task.
  • Cannot empty the Trash because there are some locked items in the Trash.
Some of the error message text varies with the version of the operating system you’re using, but you get the idea; the trash is simply not working as it should, and you’d like to get the trash taken out pronto. Sometimes the error message shows up when you try to put a file in the trash, and other times the error pops up when you try to empty the trash. Either way, here are some workarounds for the problem.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

A ‘file in use’ message occurs when the file is marked as in use by an app or background process. An easy fix is to quit any open apps, and then try deleting the trash. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, then it’s likely that a background process is making use of the file. You can try restarting your Mac in Safe Mode to prevent apps and services that may start automatically from launching (restart your Mac while holding down the shift key to enter Safe Mode). Once your Mac desktop is visible, try deleting the trash and then restarting your Mac normally.

If you would rather find out which app or service is making use of the file, you can download Sloth, a GUI wrapper for Terminal’s lsof command. Sloth will display all of the apps and services that are using various files on your Mac. You can then use the search tool to filter the results to the file or files in the trash that are causing problems. Once you know which app is responsible, you can use Sloth to kill (quit) the app, and then delete the trash.

You can delete locked files from the trash by unlocking the files. If you haven’t already done so, try emptying the trash, and when you see the locked files dialog box, select the option to Remove Unlocked Items. This will leave the trash containing only the locked files.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Next, open the trash, select one of the locked files, and press the Command + I keys. The Get Info window will open. Look for a checkbox labeled Locked, and remove the checkmark. Repeat for each locked file. You should then be able to delete the locked files. If the locked files originated from a network source, such as another Mac or a Windows PC on your network, you may have to go to the original computer to unlock the files.

‘Spinning pinwheel or beach ball’
The Mac’s spinning pinwheel or beach ball is an indication that a process or app is waiting for a task to finish before it can continue.

The pinwheel can be very annoying, especially when it seems like it’s not just an app, but your whole Mac that’s locked up. Thankfully, there are quite a few steps you can take to combat the spinning pinwheel, as outlined in the Rocket Yard guide: Tech 101: How to Troubleshoot a Slow Mac.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

by Tom Nelson

Your browser is generally a tattletale, willing to divulge many secrets it knows about you or can find out, just for the asking. It’s not really the browser’s fault; that’s just how most browsers are made. We’ll show you how to find out what your browser is willing to tell about you, and how to keep it quiet.

JavaScript and HTML Headers
Most of the information a browser divulges is sent either as data embedded in the HTML headers that are transmitted between your browser and the web server hosting the site you’re visiting, or by the use of JavaScript embedded in the webpage you’re viewing.

The amount of information that can be gleaned through the use of JavaScript and headers is pretty amazing, so as we take a look at some of the common information websites ask for, we’ll also present possible ways to mitigate the security issues of a blabbermouth browser.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Location Information
With a little help from some JavaScript embedded in a webpage, your browser can make a pretty good guess at your current location, and send this information off to a site’s web server.

There are various ways to ask for location information, but one of the common methods is to use a set of APIs used by Google for geolocation. The APIs were developed to allow ads to be tailored for your location; ads for a local pizza shop or a nearby auto dealer are just a couple of examples.

When I tried this out with the Google geolocation API, the result for my location was off by 17 miles. That’s a lot better than a simple IP lookup (more about that later), which can put you pretty far away from your actual location.

Keeping it quiet: The simplest solution is to disable JavaScript in your web browser’s preferences. Safari users will find the option in the Security section of Safari’s preferences.

The problem with disabling JavaScript is that it’s an all-or-nothing solution; disabling it prevents every website you visit from using JavaScript. You’re likely to find most websites will simply stop working correctly. A better choice may be to use one of the many browser extensions available, such as JS Blocker (Safari), NoScript (Firefox), or ScriptSafe (Chrome). JavaScript-blocking extensions can prevent many of the data sniffing code from working on websites you visit.

But it’s not just Google using location information. Your Mac has built-in location services as well. Thankfully, you get to control which apps are allowed to make use of the Location Services. You can find location options in the Security & Privacy preference pane, under the Privacy tab.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

by Tom Nelson

Choosing the best Mac for back to school seems like it should be a simple matter. But before you shout out ‘MacBook!” or whichever Mac laptop is your favorite, you may want to take a look at this guide, which delves a bit deeper into which Mac is a good fit for schoolwork and beyond.

Is that MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro the best fit, or would a desktop, such as the Mac mini, iMac, or Mac Pro, be a better choice. Believe it or not, all Macs can work well in a learning environment, but of course each has its strengths and weaknesses. Some, like the 27-inch iMac, have a bonus benefit: it will also help strengthen your muscles, as you lug it to and from your classes.

Picking the Best Mac For Education & Beyond
One benefit of the Mac that’s sometimes overlooked is longevity. It’s likely the Mac you buy today will still be a productive computer five or more years down the road. Our 2010 Mac Pro is still chugging away, running the latest OS and apps without issues.

As a result, it’s highly likely that the Mac you buy for school will still be running long after you’ve put down your books and watched your school disappear in the rear-view mirror. Your Mac may even see you through your entire education and into your chosen profession. The point is, you may want to spend a little more up front to equip it for the long term. Even if you replace your Mac early in its useful life, you’ll likely be able to get a better return on a well-equipped Mac than a base-level model.

Want to Spend Less?
The prices we mention below are Apple retail prices. There are many sources for discounted Macs, especially if you’re willing to consider used or refurbished models. MacSales.com has an inventory of new, used, and refurbished Macs that are fully tested and inspected by its expert technicians; the Macs come with a 14-day money-back guarantee and a 90-day limited warranty.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

by Tom Nelson

Chances are you’ve never had any problems with your Mac and this guide to common Mac error messages won’t be of interest to you.

Just kidding. It’s much more likely that you’ve seen at least a few of these error messages when using your Mac; after all, we consider them somewhat common.

While the Mac operating system tries to make it as easy as possible to understand error messages, sometimes the description leaves a bit to be desired. For this guide, we selected a number of common error messages, and explained what they mean, and how, when possible, to fix or avoid the condition that caused the error to occur.

So, in no particular order, let’s get started.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

‘Your computer’s clock is set to a date before March 24th, 2001. This may cause some applications to behave erratically’
This error message can indicate that your Mac’s PRAM/NVRAM/CMOS battery has exhausted its charge and may need to be replaced. The battery in question was used primarily in previous generations of the Mac to keep the PRAM or NVRAM, as well as a few other important bits of silicon in the Mac, operating, even when the Mac was disconnected from a power source. This allowed your Mac to remember such things as the time and date, the time zone you’re in, and a number of basic settings, including volume and brightness.

For the most part, modern Macs have done away with the special battery and rely on a portable Mac’s main battery, as well as the use of solid-state non-volatile memory, to store this type of information. But that doesn’t mean you won’t ever see this error message. If you do, then the PRAM/NVRAM likely contains corrupt information and needs to be reset, and, depending on the Mac model, may need a PRAM/CMOS battery replacement.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

‘Kernel Panic: You need to restart your Mac’
The dreaded kernel panic rears its ugly head by imposing a black or gray (depending on the version of the OS you’re using) rectangle over your Mac’s display, along with the words, “You need to restart your computer. Hold down the Power button for several seconds or press the Restart button.”

The best piece of advice we can give you if you find yourself in this situation is to resign yourself to your fate. Documents you had open at the time of the kernel panic likely won’t retain any of the more recent changes you made. At this point, there’s nothing you can do except restart your Mac.

So, what caused the kernel panic? It’s difficult to say. It’s possible to dig through the system logs and find out the last activity the processors were performing when the event occurred, but even this information may not shine a light on the real cause. Suffice it to say most kernel panics are one-off events that are not repeated on a regular basis. There’s a very good chance that the process of restarting your Mac, which will clear out memory and some caches, will be enough to keep the kernel panic from returning.

If it does return, you can try a few basic techniques to potentially resolve the issue so you can get back to work, including How to Use macOS Sierra Disk Utility to Verify or Repair Disks and Reset PRAM/NVRAM and SMC.

When your Mac starts back up, get back to work or play, and be thankful that you have current backups. You do maintain current backups, don’t you?

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

by Tom Nelson

I’m pretty sure my web browser (Safari) is the most often used app on my Mac, though it could also be my mail client (Apple Mail). Both are always running whenever my Mac is on. But it’s no doubt the web browser that sees more interaction with me; browsing sites, researching projects, getting tips on solving problems, or watching videos and playing games. That’s probably true for you as well.

That’s why the browser is a good candidate for optimizing how it works to better meet your needs. There are many ways to optimize your browser, including trying to maximize speed, improve general performance, or get the best search results; the list goes on. It can also be different for everyone since we all use our browsers slightly differently, and it’s not always about speed. Many times optimization can take the form of making a task easier to perform, or making your browser work better with sites you routinely visit.

We’re going to look at techniques for getting the most out of four popular Mac browsers: Safari, Google Chrome, Opera, and Firefox. If these four browsers sound familiar, it may be because we recently put them to the test to see how well they perform under pressure in our Rocket Yard Testing Lab: Battle of the Mac Browsers guide.

Safari’s optional Develop menu brings many additional features to the browser, including an easy way to empty its cache. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

General Performance Improvements
We’re going to start by looking at customization tweaks for increasing performance that are common to all four browsers; then we’ll look at a few tricks for specific browsers.

Clear History and Cache files regularly: This may seem counterintuitive; after all, the browser’s cache files are designed to increase rendering performance by not requiring it to download page data it already has. But occasionally, this data can become out of date or corrupt, and can slow the browser down. Clearing the cache and history files every now and then is a good idea for general browser health and performance.

Safari: An easy way to clear the Safari cache is to enable the Developer menu and use its Empty Caches command. Open Safari, and then select Preferences from the Safari menu. Click the Advanced tab, and place a checkmark in the “Show Develop menu in menu bar” box.

Once the Develop menu item is added to the menu bar, you’ll find an Empty Caches item in the menu.

Chrome and Opera both include the option to clear the browser cache in their menus. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Chrome and Opera: Open the browser, and then select Clear Browsing Data from the Chrome or Opera menu. In the Clear Browsing Data window, make sure the following are checked: Browsing history, and Cache images and files. You can select other items to remove, but these two are the ones we’re interested in. Once you’ve made your selection, click the Clear Browsing Data button.

Firefox: Launch Firefox, then from the History menu select Clear Recent History. In the Clear Recent History window, click the Details chevron. In the list of items that can be cleared, place a checkmark in the Browsing & Download History checkbox, as well as the Cache checkbox. You can select additional items to be cleared, but these are the two we’re interested in. Click the Clear Now button.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

by Tom Nelson

It may seem like summer is just getting underway, and that there are still many cool nights and hot, lazy days ahead to enjoy with friends. But deep down, you know a new school year is lurking just around the corner.

It doesn’t matter if this will be your first year of high school or the last year of your masters program; getting prepared for back to school is a task you’ll need to tackle; part of that is getting your Mac ready.

Upgrade, Replace, or Use Your Mac As-Is?
We’re going concentrate on using a Mac for your schoolwork, but this guide should be useable by anyone, regardless of computer operating system. You may discover that the institution that you’ll be attending favors one operating system over another for class work, but you’ll be ready for almost anything.

If there’s one thing a Mac is, it’s versatile. No matter which operating system or applications are recommended, your Mac can probably run the necessary software. You can use Boot Camp to dual boot between Mac and Windows, or between Mac and Linux; you can even triple boot; just select the operating system you need when you start up your Mac.

So, when one instructor tells you that you’ll be using a solid modeling program that only runs under Windows, and another tells you some flavor of Linux will be used for investigating network architecture, and a third wants you to use video editing apps that run on the Mac, you can handle it. You don’t need three different computer systems, unless you don’t have a spare Mac to take to school.

In addition to Boot Camp, virtualization apps, such as Parallels, allow you to run multiple operating systems with your Mac. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

In that case, you have a few choices. Apple has a wide selection of Macs you can pick from, but you can also find a large selection of used Macs, accessories, and more right here at MacSales.com.

You’ll find just about any recent vintage Mac model available, giving you a wide selection to choose from. And while MacBooks, MacBook Pros, and MacBook Airs are all popular choices for back to school, don’t overlook Mac minis, iMacs, and Mac Pros, which may meet some specific high-performance needs a little better than the Mac notebook lineup.

If you have a Mac already, you may want to consider a few upgrades.

Two of the most common upgrades undertaken by students are to add more RAM, to allow their Macs to work with memory-intensive apps, or simply to have more apps open at any one time, and to add storage space; that is, bigger, faster, or additional drives to make storing, organizing, and backing up files an easier task.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

by Tom Nelson

If you’re an old hacker like me (from back when the word “hacker” had good connotations), you may remember the battle of the browsers in the early days of the Internet. It was a time when Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer ruled the roost, and were the dominant platforms for accessing and browsing the World Wide Web.

At the time, the two browsing platforms were continually pitted against each other in magazines and other publications that reviewed performance and features, and would likely name one of them the winner; that is, until the next version was released and the other browser made incremental improvements to take the crown that month.

For the most part, the great battle of the browsers is long over, with both Netscape (and its offspring) and Internet Explorer seeing their star fade from glory long ago.

But even with the battle over, many of us are still asking questions about the browsers we use. Is my favorite browser the fastest? Which browser is best for web-based apps? Should I move on to a different browser? What about that new browser I just heard about?

With those questions and a few others in mind, we’re going to resurrect the battle of the browsers one more time, and pit four of the leading Mac browsers against each other in a straight benchmark comparison. This battle is strictly a performance test; we won’t be considering features, security, ease of use, or other characteristics that, in the long run, may be more important than straight performance. A smoking hot browser will always have its appeal.

The Browsers
Our browser lineup consists of four of the leading browsers used with the Macintosh, plus one red herring.

Safari: This is the browser Apple has included with the Mac since the introduction of OS X 10.2. The version we used for testing is 10.1.1 (12603.2.4).

Google Chrome: Chrome has been available for the Windows OS since 2008; it was later released for Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android devices. Chrome was originally built on WebKit, the same layout engine used by Safari. The current version of Chome (59.0.3071.109) makes use of Blink, a layout engine that is itself a derivative (a fork) of the WebKit engine used by Apple.

Opera: In one form or another, Opera has been around since 1994, making it the most senior of our competitors. Even though it has a long history, it’s built on a modern foundation, using the Blink layout engine. The version we used for our testing was 46.0.2597.26.

Firefox: The Firefox browser is the second oldest competitor in our test. It reaches back to 2002, when the Mozilla Foundation first created the Firefox browser. Although Firefox came into existence in 2002, many consider Mozilla and Firefox the direct offspring of Netscape and the older Navigator browser.

Safari Technology Preview: This last browser is a sneak peek at technology that will likely make it into the next version of Safari, allowing us to look ahead at what will be coming down the road. It may not be fair to include a beta browser, but it’s fun, and as long as we remember that it’s a beta product I think it’s OK to include it as a sneak peek into future browser performance.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

by Tom Nelson

I’ve always enjoyed working with the latest releases of the Mac OS. Although Apple tends not to release new major versions of the Mac OS until the fall of each year, that doesn’t mean we have to wait till then to take a new OS out for a spin.

Apple has long provided developers with early beta versions of OS X and macOS, but only started providing betas to the general public a few years ago. The public betas have the advantage of letting you try out macOS before the general release, giving you the opportunity to participate in finding bugs, check out new features, or just make sure important software you use every day will work with the upcoming version of macOS.

macOS High Sierra
The latest version of macOS, which will enter public beta sometime in late June, is macOS High Sierra. This version of macOS has quite a few new features and capabilities, including APFS, which, for the first time, will be used as the default file system on the Mac, replacing the very old and long in the tooth HFS+ file system. (Related: See our First Impressions of ‘High Sierra’.)

I’m anxious to find out if some of my older software will still run under macOS High Sierra. Microsoft has said, when referring to the 2011 version of Office, “Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Lync have not been tested on macOS 10.13 High Sierra, and no formal support for this configuration will be provided.” So, I may end up looking for new office apps to use with High Sierra. But it’s not just older versions of Office that may not run correctly on macOS High Sierra, so finding out in advance which apps will work and which are in doubt is one of the many reasons to enroll in the Apple Software Beta Program, aside from just wanting to check out the new OS, that is.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

by Tom Nelson

For quite some time now, Time Machine has been the go-to backup app for most Mac users. It’s the heart of my personal backup system, and knowing I could recover my files quickly if my Mac’s drive ever failed keeps me feeling safe.

But what if it wasn’t just the drive that failed, but your Mac that gave up the ghost? Unless you’re willing to run down to a local Mac reseller and pick up whatever Mac is on the shelf, it would likely take you some time to select a new Mac and have it shipped to you (or to your local store). In the same vein, getting your Mac fixed could also turn out to be a long wait. In the meantime, how do you access the files you need right away?

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

There are a couple of ways to gain access to your Time Machine backup files, depending on the computer you’ll be using in the interim. If you have access to a Mac, the process is fairly simple. Just plug your Time Machine drive into the available Mac, option-click the Time Machine menu bar item, and select Browse Other Backup Disks.

If your temporary computer is a Windows PC, the process is a bit more involved.

We’re going to take a look at the worst-case scenario, which is to have a Windows PC be the only option. And no, I don’t mean using a PC is the worst thing. It’s just that since there’s no version of Time Machine that runs on Windows, you have to be a bit creative to gain access to your backups.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog