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Archive for February, 2019

by Tom Nelson

Choosing the six best free and almost free Safari extensions is generally a fun task, though this time I had to be a bit more careful, because of the changes made in Safari 12, as well as in macOS Mojave.

Safari 12 prevents the use of some extensions, imposes limits on others, and generally mucks up the ability of the user to decide which Safari extensions they wish to use, all in the name of security and creating a unified user experience.

You don’t have to rush out and pick a different browser to use, though that’s certainly an alternative if your favorite extension is no longer supported in Safari. For the most part, Safari extensions are still supported and available. The changes primarily mean that extension developers must submit their extensions for placement in the Mac App Store, and make use of current Apple extension APIs. The upshot is that many extensions will need to be updated by their developers before they will be available for download and installation from the Mac App Store. Related: Rocket Yard Testing Lab — Which Browser is Fastest?

Two Sources for Safari Extensions
Extensions that will work in Safari 12 and later can be found from two sources: the older Safari Extension Gallery, which is being deprecated in favor of the Mac App Store. It’s still functional for now, and is a good source for many Safari extensions that haven’t yet made the transition to the new Mac App Store platform.

The second and preferred source can be found in the Mac App Store; Safari Extensions for macOS High Sierra and earlier or Safari Extensions for macOS Mojave and later.

Safari Extensions in the macOS Mojave’s Mac App Store. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

I used both of these sources to assemble our list of the six best Safari Extensions.

Safari Extensions
I liked quite a few of the new Safari extensions; they all have very low impact on Safari and the Mac’s performance, which is one of the design goals of the new extensions format. While I can recommend these six, I want to point out there are plenty of extensions to choose from in the Mac App Store, and more to come.

Ghostery Lite: More than an ad blocker, this privacy extension stops most trackers dead in their tracks, preventing them from sending personal data about your browsing habits back to the advertisers servers. It’s also able to rid web pages of those annoying customer interaction bots that pop up and offer to chat with you about a product or service, dispense with social media feeds that may be integrated into a website, block comments, adult content, audio or video, and, of course, block ads.

Ghostery Lite also allows you to include websites in a trusted sites list, which lets them override the blocking you have in place.

Ghostery Lite is lightweight, and doesn’t place a significant load on CPU or memory when operating.

Ghostery Lite is free.

Ghostery Lite’s settings allow you to customize which type of trackers are blocked. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

StopTheMadness: How often have you navigated to a website and discovered that your browser stops working as expected? Many websites suppress normal operations of a browser, preventing such routine operations as using keyboard shortcuts, opening contextual menus, copying, cutting, or pasting of text, AutoFill, and more.

If I end up at just one more website that prevents me from pasting my password into the appropriate field… Well, you get the idea. StopTheMadness does one thing I really like: it lets you take back control of your browser and thumb your nose at websites that want to control you.

StopTheMadness is $6.99

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by Tom Nelson

Auto Save and versions has been a feature of the Mac OS since OS X Lion was released, in the summer of 2011. That’s a long time for a very helpful file versioning system to be available in the Mac, but it remains largely overlooked.

If you’re wondering what file versioning is and what it does, you’re not alone. To understand its use, you need to go back to the earlier days of the Mac. Back when it was not uncommon to lose a great deal of work because an app crashed or the system crashed.

The Revert To command in the File menu of most apps allows you to access earlier versions of the currently open document. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

This fear of lost work convinced many Mac users to adopt a workflow that includes saving work often, and saving any work in progress before performing any type of system function, such as copying files, launching an app, or downloading files.

The bad old days of the Mac are pretty much ancient history, swept away by bug fixes, better development practices, and features like Auto Save and file versioning.

Auto Save and Versioning
Not all apps support file versioning. In some cases, it’s just because the app developer chose not to use the standard file API provided by Apple, and instead rolled their own, likely because they needed some capability not included in the native file manager. Or, the developer’s app wouldn’t work well with Auto Save and versioning because of the way it forces saves to occur without the user’s request. Think multimedia editing apps, where you don’t want the edits you’re working on to replace the original files until you’re ready to commit to the changes.

For just about every other type of app, Auto Save and versions can ensure you never lose a significant amount of work, and allows you to revert to earlier versions of a document.

How Auto Save and Versions Work
Auto Save and versions are two parts of the file versioning system; you need both for the process to work. If an app is designed to support versions, then it also supports Auto Save. File versioning is built into the file manager, and is part of the Document Architecture that Apple provides. It’s not part of Time Machine, nor is it reliant on any feature or service of Time Machine. The two are often confused because the Version History viewer looks almost the same as the Time Machine interface. And while they both allow access to earlier versions of a file, that’s where their similarities diverge.

Versioning occurs when you create a new document in an app that supports the Auto Save and versioning feature. Once you perform the original save or save as, the saved copy is stored as the current version. At this point the app will automatically take periodic snapshots of the open document, saving them as a new current version. The older version isn’t lost; instead it becomes a previous version.

Apps have a second way to ensure your work is saved automatically. While actively working on a document, if you take a break by not performing any tasks with the document, or move focus away from the document, say to view a web site, the app will take another snapshot, creating another new version of the document. In this way, a failure, a freeze, or a crash of your Mac, or any of its apps, will likely result in no significant loss of work.

The last way an app can create a version is with the good old-fashioned Save command. You will still find Save in an app’s file menu, along with the usual keyboard shortcut (Command + S). The only difference is that now the app creates a new current version, adding to the version history.

All those previous versions of a document can be accessed from within the app, letting you return to a previous version of a document. Made a mistake in a document edit and need to go back to what was there a few hours ago? Auto Save and versions makes this an easy task. We’ll take a closer look at accessing version history in a bit, but first…

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by Tom Nelson

The Preview app is a handy tool for viewing and working with PDF (Portable Document Format) files, as outlined in the Rocket Yard guide: macOS 101: Mark It Up with Preview.  In Part Two of the guide, we’ll look at how Preview can be used for viewing and editing images.

We’ll be using Preview’s Markup toolbar, which is usually hidden. You can use the instructions from the Mark it Up with Preview guide, linked above, to access the Markup toolbar.

While it’s not a full-featured image-editing app, Preview does have some remarkable capabilities that make it a good choice for working with images, especially when you consider it’s supplied free as part of the macOS.

Destructive Editing, Auto-Save, and Versions
Preview is one of the apps that work with the Mac’s auto-save system. This means that Preview will automatically save a document as you work on it. The practical aspect to this is that Preview will use destructive editing by automatically periodically saving the changes you make to the file you’re working on. In other words, if you want to change an image back to the way it looked earlier, chances are it’s too late. Earlier versions of the image are history.

For this reason, I highly recommend that you work on a duplicate of the image file. This can be done by after opening an image in Preview by selecting Duplicate from the File menu. Give the file a new name, then use Save from the File menu. This will ensure any changes won’t affect the original file.

Optionally, you can make use of the Revert to command in the File menu to return to a previous version of the file that existed before you made any edits. This means you will lose all of the edits you made, even the ones you might want to keep.

Remove Objects from an Image
Preview has a number of tools that allow you to select an object and copy or remove the selected object from the image. One of the problems with selecting an object is the difficulty in performing a precise selection to isolate the object from the background. Preview offers two tools to perform this task: the Selection tool, which allows you to draw a rectangle, an elliptical, a free-form lasso, or a smart lasso around the desired object, and the Instant Alpha tool, which can perform a selection based on colors of objects.

Instant Alpha: This tool has been included with the Preview app for some time. It allows you to remove an object from an image, or remove the background from around an object. Instant Alpha works by making selections based on color matching, making it an ideal tool when there’s distinct difference between the object and the background.

Using Instant Alpha, you can remove the background from around an object, such as these glasses, making it easier to copy them for later use.

The instant alpha tool can be found in the Markup toolbar. It looks like a magic wand, and is usually the second tool from the left in the Markup toolbar.

To use the Instant Alpha tool, make sure the object within the image is visible in the Preview window. You may want to use the Zoom in or Zoom out icons in the standard toolbar to better focus on the object you wish to work with.

Once everything looks right, click or tap the magic wand icon.

Place your cursor near the object above the background you wish to remove.

Click and hold the mouse or touchpad while very slowly dragging the cursor over the background.

As you drag, you’ll notice the background starts to turn pink. The more you drag, the larger the area of the background is turning pink. What is happening is, as you drag the cursor, the Instant Alpha tool adjusts the range of color it will accept as a match. This lets you select more of the background as a wider color match is used. If you select too much area, you can simply drag in the opposite direction to reduce the match range.

Once you have the background selected, stop dragging, and release the mouse or trackpad button.

The pink highlight will be replaced by a dotted selection line.

Click the Delete key on the keyboard, or select Delete from the Edit menu, to remove the selected background.

You’ll likely see a sheet appear asking if it’s OK to convert the image format to PNG. This is done to ensure the deleted areas of the image are replaced with a transparent background.

You may need to repeat the process to remove background areas near the desired object that were a different color.

Once you’ve removed the background around the object, you can use any of the Selection tool types to select the object, and then select Copy from the file menu.

The selected object will be saved to your Mac’s clipboard for use in other apps.

You can save the object to a file by selecting File, New from Clipboard.

Preview will open a new image file with the object you just copied.

You can then select Save from the file menu.

Smart Lasso: The Smart Lasso tool is part of the Selection tool’s options. It allows you to draw a freeform selection line around the object you wish to copy or delete. The smart lasso will attempt to automatically adjust the selection path based on color intensity. This allows it to conform to the object you’re attempting to select.

The Smart Lasso lets you draw around an object you want to select, and will automatically resize itself to follow the outline of the selected object. Photo © Coyote Moon, Inc.

To use the Smart Lasso, make sure the object of your desire is visible within the image. Adjust the zoom in or zoom out settings as needed.

Click or tap the chevron just to the right of the Selection tool.

In the dropdown menu that appears, make sure that Smart Lasso is chosen.

Place the cursor along one of the edges of the object, then click and hold the mouse or trackpad. Start dragging a line around the object. As you drag, you will notice the freeform line being drawn has a thick border. Make sure the edge of the object you wish to extract is within the thick border of the line you are drawing.

Finish the Smart Lasso by completely surrounding the object, and returning to the starting point.

Release the mouse or trackpad; the thick line will become a dotted selection line hugging the selected object.

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by Tom Nelson

Preview, the free PDF viewing app included with the Mac, can do a lot more than view images or open PDF files to view. It includes a number of features and services that can be used for editing PDFs, working with images, even creating electronic signatures to use to sign important documents.

In this Rocket Yard guide, we’re going to explore the Preview app’s ability to fill out PDF forms and mark up files, even files that weren’t designed to be completed electronically.

Using Preview for Markup
PDF (Portable Document Format) is a file format intended to ensure that documents can be exchanged reliably, independent of the type of software or hardware being used to view, print, or edit them. In other words, that PDF file you’re viewing on a Mac will look the same when viewed on a PC, or for that matter, any device that supports PDFs.

Preview supports more than just viewing; you can also mark up a PDF file in order to add additional information. One of the most common uses for a PDF file is as a form intended for an individual to fill out. When a PDF file is created for this purpose, the creator of the file can make the process easier by adding predefined text boxes, check boxes, graphics, links to instructions, just about anything that will make the process of completing the form an easier one. A well-designed PDF form can make the process an easy one.

But even PDFs that weren’t designed as forms can still have information added to them in a process commonly referred to as marking up a document, or simply mark up.

Finding the Markup Tools
Launch Preview, which you’ll find in the /Applications folder.

Preview opens by asking for a document to load. If you don’t have a PDF document to experiment with, I suggest a trip to the IRS.gov website. Download any of the IRS forms, which are available as PDFs ready to be filled in. You can also elect to open a JPG image file, or perhaps one of the OWC manuals you’ve downloaded from the OWC support website.

The Markup toolbar is usually hidden, and has to be opened before you can use it. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Select the file you wish to open, and click the Open button.

With the selected PDF file now open, you can access the Markup tools by ensuring that Preview’s toolbar is displayed. Select Show Toolbar from Preview’s View menu.

If the toolbar wasn’t displayed before, you’ll now see a small toolbar across the top of the Preview window. It will include buttons for zooming in or out, sharing, rotating, search, and a few other options.

Just to the left of the search bar is a button that looks like the tip of a pen or pencil within a circle. (Depending on the version of the Mac OS you’re using, the button may look like a little toolbox.) Clicking or tapping this button will display the Markup toolbar just below the standard toolbar.

Using the Markup Toolbar
At the time of this writing, the Markup toolbar contains eleven or twelve tools (depending on the Mac model you’re using) you can use for marking up a PDF file. We will look at each one, and how it is used. The markup tool list below starts with the first tool on the left-hand side of the window and moves to the right:

Text Selection: This tool is used for selecting and copying text. To select text, click the Text Selection button (it turns blue when active), and then drag over the text you wish to choose. In many cases, the Text Selection tool may already be selected, allowing you to simply drag across text to make the selection; in other cases, the Text Selection tool may need to be enabled first.

Once text is selected, you can copy it by selecting Edit, Copy, or by using the keyboard shortcut Command + C, or right-clicking and selecting Copy from the popup menu. Text you have selected can also be subject to other markup tools, as mentioned below.

Rectangular Selection: Use this tool to draw a selection rectangle over an image.  The rectangle can be resized using the selection handles as well as moved about the PDF document by dragging from any side. Once in place, you can then copy or remove the area selected.

Sketch: The sketch tool allows you to draw an arbitrary shape using a single stroke.  If the shape you draw looks like a standard shape (arc, square, rectangle, circle, oval, star) it will be replaced by the standard shape. A palette will also be displayed, showing the original and the standard shape. Use the palette to pick which of the two shapes you wish to use.

Draw: This tool only appears if your Mac is equipped with a Force Touch trackpad. It works the same as the sketch tool above, but interprets the force being applied to the trackpad to determine the width of the line being drawn.

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