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by Tom Nelson

macOS High Sierra brings with it a new filing system known as APFS (Apple File System). APFS replaces HFS+ (Hierarchical File System Plus), and offers a new, modern file system that is optimized for use with SSDs (Solid State Drives), while still being usable on hard drives and, in the near future, even on tiered storage systems such as Apple’s Fusion drive.

Image courtesy of Apple

As part of the upgrade process, the macOS High Sierra installer will automatically convert an SSD to the new APFS. The conversion process leaves the drive’s data intact, or at least it’s supposed to; be sure you have a recent backup before upgrading, just in case. At the time of this writing, the automatic conversion process is limited to internal SSDs. External SSDs being used as startup drives seem to be left with their original file system, with no conversion to APFS occurring. However, this could change with the next update to macOS High Sierra, as it seems Apple is committed to growing APFS usage across all Apple devices.

Although the conversion to APFS will happen automatically if your Mac startup drive meets the criteria, specifically, an SSD occupying a connection internally to your Mac, you can choose not to use APFS and force the installation to bypass the conversion process, leaving your startup drive in the older HFS+ format.

How to Prevent Automatic Conversion to APFS
There are a couple of strategies you can use to prevent the upgrade to APFS and retain the older HFS+ formatting:

Use an external drive: You can choose an external drive as the target for the macOS High Sierra upgrade. This will allow you to retain the current formatting on the external. Once the upgrade is complete, you can clone the external drive back to your normal internal startup drive. Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper are two popular apps for creating clones. You could use Disk Utility’s Restore feature to create your clone as well.

Use startosinstall: macOS High Sierra includes a command line tool hidden away within the installer that can be used to control the conversion to APFS. By using this tool, you can tell the installer not to convert to APFS during the installation process.

While either method will work, using the startosinstall utility is the easiest and quickest process. It allows you to perform the macOS High Sierra upgrade without any conversion to APFS. It also allows you to skip the additional step and save the additional time needed to make a clone, as required in the external drive method.

Using Startosinstall to Prevent Conversion to APFS
Startosinstall is included as part of the macOS High Sierra installer. If you downloaded the installer from the Mac App Store, you’re all set. If you happen to have the installer open, waiting for you to start the macOS High Sierra install process, simply quit the installer (Command + Q). You need to invoke the installer from the Terminal command line for the option to not install APFS to be available.

Before you begin, make sure you have a recent backup of all the data on your current startup drive and the target drive for the installation (if they’re different). Better to be safe than sorry.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Startosinstall has a number of options for automating the installation process. This includes the APFS option, which can be used to prevent the conversion to APFS, or for that matter, to force the conversion, making it a bit easier to upgrade an external SSD to macOS High Sierra should you decide you want to use APFS.

When you’re ready, launch Terminal, located at /Applications/Utilities/.

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by Tom Nelson

macOS High Sierra contains many new features and capabilities, but APFS (Apple File System) is certainly one of the biggest changes. Changing the primary file system used by the Mac, or for that matter, any computer system is a big deal. Apple has only changed the default Mac file system twice in its 33-year history.

Macintosh File System (MFS) was the original file system introduced along with the Macintosh in January 1984. It was designed to meet the demanding needs of a 400 MB floppy disk. The Hierarchical File System (HFS) followed in September 1985, and the last file system upgrade was Hierarchical File System Plus (HFS+), which was released with Mac OS 8.1 in January 1998.

APFS and Time Machine, Boot Camp, and File Vault
While there have been some minor upgrades to HFS+ over the years, the Mac’s file system has stayed pretty much the same since 1998. That makes the new APFS file system a big deal. And like any big deal, there’s a lot to understand about how APFS will work with existing Mac apps and services, including Time Machine, Boot Camp, and File Vault.

We’re going to primarily look at these three Apple-provided apps and services, but third-party apps may also be affected by the change to APFS. It’s a good idea to check any file system utility you may be using for APFS compatibility.

Time Machine
In its current incarnation, the Time Machine app is mostly compatible with APFS; that is, you can back up an APFS formatted drive using Time Machine, as well as restore files from a Time Machine backup to an APFS formatted drive. However, there are some very important caveats that Time Machine users should be aware of.

Time Machine drives must be formatted in HFS+. Time Machine uses the magic of hard links, a feature that HFS+ file systems have to catalog and keep track of which files in a backup make up the current version of an app, document, or directory. Hard links are just one of three types of file linking that HFS+ supports, the others being symbolic links and aliases.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

APFS, on the other hand, does not support hard links. When you convert an HFS+ formatted volume to APFS, any hard links found during the conversion process are automatically changed to symbolic links, thus breaking your Time Machine backup into a collection of almost useless files. Luckily, installing macOS High Sierra won’t automatically convert Time Machine drives to APFS, but it’s possible to change the drive’s format to APFS from within Disk Utility or via the Terminal app. Resist the temptation to go all APFS; Time Machine will not cooperate with you.

If you do accidentally convert a Time Machine drive to APFS, the Time Machine app will no longer recognize the drive as a backup drive. If you select the old Time Machine drive within the Time Machine app as a backup destination, you’ll be confronted with an option to erase all of the content on the selected drive and reformat it as HFS+. (Actually, Time Machine will just warn you that it must first erase the destination drive, but the reason is because the drive has an incompatible format.)

Until Apple releases a new version of Time Machine that makes use of the APFS feature set, such as snapshots to replace file linking, your Time Machine backup must remain formatted as HFS+.

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by Tom Nelson

One of the niceties in the Mac OS is the ability of the system to display how your storage space is being used. Originally introduced in OS X Lion as part of a feature upgrade to the System Information app, the Storage tab displays how much free space is available on each disk attached to your Mac, as well as how a disk’s storage is being used, by category.

If you’re not sure how to find the categories, click the Apple logo in the menu bar in the Finder, select About This Mac from the dropdown menu, and then click the Storage tab. Mouse over a color bar, and a text balloon will pop up, telling you what the category is and how much disk space it’s using.

The categories change as new versions of the OS are released, but the current categories include System files, Documents, Apps, iTunes, Backups, Other, Audio, Music Creation, Photos, Movies, and Purgeable space.

The Other category, shown here in gray, shows my startup drive (Casey) with a small percentage of Other files, while my data drive (Casey Cat) contains nothing but Other file types. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Purgeable space is more or less unique to the Mac; you can find out more about it in the Rocket Yard Guide: What is Purgeable Space in macOS? The next category that seems to get a lot of attention is Other. So, just what is included in Other?

That’s a common question, one you may often ask yourself, especially when you need to free up space when your drive starts to fill up. When that happens, I think most of us tend to look at the Other category and think, there’s a lot of space being used by Other. If I don’t know what it is, and the system doesn’t seem to know either, then why can’t I just delete those files?

What’s in the Other Category
The type of files the operating system assigns to the Other category in the Storage display changes a bit from OS version to OS version, but there was a big shakeup in storage management when Apple introduced macOS Sierra, which caused the Other category to become better defined.

Because of the changes, we’re going to provide two lists for the type of files that are assigned to the Other category: pre macOS (OS X) and post macOS.

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by Tom Nelson

You just turned on your Mac and all you see is a dark display. That’s OK; you know it can sometimes take a little while for your Mac to boot up. But after a minute or two, you start to think something is dreadfully wrong with your Mac. Let’s take a look at the possible causes of a moribund Mac, and what we can do to fix them.

Check the Basics
We’ll start our troubleshooting by checking a few basics. I suppose this step is a bit out of order from a logically flowing troubleshooting process, but hey, it’s the simple stuff that most often causes these types of problems, so let’s start there.

If you’re using an external display, check to make sure it’s turned on: While you’re at it, make sure the video cable is seated properly at both the display and the Mac ends of the cable. Check the power cable as well. If either cable is loose or unplugged, the dog did it; at least that’s what the cat always says. Regardless of who was responsible, if it’s loose, you need to reconnect the cable firmly at both ends.

Check that the display’s brightness is turned up to a reasonable level: This applies to both external displays, which will usually have one or more buttons on the monitor to adjust the display (check the monitor’s manual for instructions), and those built in to your Mac. On an Apple-supplied keyboard, including those built in to a MacBook, the F1 (decrease) and F2 (increase) keys are used to adjust the brightness. On non-Apple keyboards, the F14 (decrease) and F15 (increase) keys will adjust the brightness.

Is the power turned on?: You already verified that the display is turned on, but you should also make sure that both your Mac and its display actually have power. Check to see if the power cables are plugged in, and make sure that any power strip or UPS that the display or your Mac is plugged into is also turned on. If you’re not sure if the power is on, try plugging a known good device, such as a lamp, into the same plug that your Mac or display uses.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Once you’re sure your Mac and its display are connected properly to a power source, the appropriate cables are connected, and the display’s brightness is at a reasonable level, it’s time to move on to more detailed troubleshooting.

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by Tom Nelson

One of the shortcomings of the Finder is the lack of options when it comes to managing folders and their content. While there are a few issues that are often mentioned, the one we’re going to address here is how to merge folders that have the same name.

It seems to happen quite often when you have a project you’re working on in two different locations, say at home and at work. Or perhaps you’re working on a project on just one Mac, but you have a folder for the currently active project, and one for the updates you’re planning to perform.

In either case, the goal is to unite the two folders so they contain all of the files found in each one. When there are two files with the same name, you want the most recent version to be used, and the older one to be replaced.

Seems simple enough, but for a long time this type of basic file/folder manipulation was beyond the capabilities of the Mac’s Finder. Of course, there are quite a few third-party utilities that can perform the merge function for you; there are even some Apple utilities that can assist in this undertaking. But we’re going to start with just the Finder we use every day, and try out some of its merging options.

Options When Moving Files
When moving or copying files (we’re primarily going to refer to moving files, though you could also be copying files) from a source folder to a destination folder, there are a number of options for how file merging is performed.

The first option is none at all. If the files you’re moving are unique, that is, the names don’t match any of the files currently in the destination folder, then no merge option is presented, and files are simply moved to their new home in the destination folder.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

When one or more file names in the source folder match one or more file names in the destination folder, then the Finder will present four options in a dialog box for how to merge the files into the destination folder.

Actually, you’ll only see three of the four merge options; the last one is hidden, but we’ll show you how to access it.

Keep Both: When a file name matches, both versions are kept in the destination folder, with the file that came from the source folder having a version number appended to its name. As an example, if both the source and destination folder had a file named ExampleFile, then after the move, the destination folder would contain files named ExampleFile and ExampleFile 1.

Stop: Selecting this merge option halts the merge function entirely; no files will be moved from the source and no files in the destination will be replaced.

Replace: Selecting the Replace option will cause any file in the destination folder that has the same name to be replaced by the file from the source folder.

Skip: This is the hidden option that can be revealed by holding down the option key when the dialog box is present. Skip replaces the Keep Both option and allows you to skip over the currently listed file. This is the same as the Stop function, but only applies to the currently listed file in the dialog box. You can use Skip when you spot a file during the merge process that you didn’t mean to move.

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by Tom Nelson

You just upgraded to macOS High Sierra and you’re amazed at the overall performance improvement you’re experiencing on your Mac.

OK, I just made that up. Most of the time, upgrading to a new version of the Mac operating system doesn’t bring performance increases. In most cases, performance remains about the same, with any efficiencies in the new OS offset by new features that take more than their fair share of your Mac’s resources.

But sometimes after installing a new OS, your Mac may seem to have had its performance rug pulled out from under it. Luckily, such problems are usually temporary or easy to fix. If you’re experiencing speed issues after installing macOS High Sierra, give these tips a try.

Spotlight Slowing Things Down
One of the perennial performance hits that occurs after a Mac operating system upgrade is Spotlight indexing the startup drive, or for that matter, any new drive(s) you may have added recently. The indexing process can really slow things down after an upgrade since the startup drive had a lot of information changed on it.

Adding a drive to Spotlight’s Privacy tab prevents it from indexing the volume. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Spotlight needs to build an accurate index of the files on your Mac so that search results are fast and correct. Thankfully, this is only a temporary problem. Once the indexing is finished, your Mac’s performance should return to normal.

If you can’t wait for the indexing to be done, you can disable indexing using these instructions:

Launch System Preferences, and select the Spotlight Preference Pane.

In the Spotlight window, select the Privacy tab.

Click the plus (+) button in the bottom left corner of the window.

In the list that opens, use the sidebar to select your Mac (it will be listed under Devices), and then select the startup drive, usually named Macintosh HD. Click the Choose button.

You’ll be asked if you really want to prevent Spotlight from searching in Macintosh HD. Click the OK button.

The startup drive will be added to the Spotlight privacy list and indexing for the drive will stop.

You should only add the startup drive to the privacy list as a temporary measure. I highly recommend that you remove the startup drive from the privacy list as soon as possible to ensure that all of the Mac’s search functions will work correctly.

To remove the startup drive and allow indexing to continue, select it from the Privacy tab and click the minus (-) button.

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by Tom Nelson

It’s almost become a tradition; one we wish we didn’t have to put up with. It seems with each new release of the Mac operating system, there are some features that just don’t seem to work the way they used to. The tradition lives on with macOS High Sierra, so we’re gathering a list of what High Sierra broke and how to fix it (when you can).

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Drive Encryption Can Change Formatting
Encrypting an entire drive to add a level of security has been an easy task in the Mac OS ever since FileVault 2 was released as part of OS X Lion. Full disk encryption has been a boon for Mac users who worry about their personal data being easily accessible on their Macs or external drives. This is especially true for portable Mac users, who need to worry about their Macs being lost or stolen.

macOS High Sierra continues to support full disk encryption, but Mike Bombich, who created Carbon Copy Cloner, has verified a bug in High Sierra that will cause an external drive to have its format changed from HFS+ to APFS when the drive is encrypted in High Sierra.

Enabling encryption on a drive should not alter the underlying drive format. If the drive was HFS+ (Hierarchical File System) before you chose to encrypt it, it should remain an HFS+ drive afterwards. The same is true for APFS (Apple File System) formatted drives; choosing the encryption option shouldn’t change the APFS format of the drive.

Related: A Note On High Sierra Compatibility with Third Party SSDs

Under certain conditions, encrypting a drive will modify the format to APFS without the user being aware of the changes.

The specific conditions are:

  • Must be an external drive
  • Must not have a Mac operating system installed on the drive

If these two conditions are met, and you select the option to encrypt the drive, by right-clicking the drive icon and selecting Encrypt from the popup menu, the drive will be converted to APFS format and then encrypted.

Even though the drive has been converted to APFS and encrypted, it will continue to work just fine with your Mac running macOS High Sierra. The problem comes about should you ever connect the drive to a Mac running an earlier version of the Mac operating system, or if you boot your Mac to an earlier version of the OS. In either case, the external drive won’t be recognizable by the older operating system.

Our recommendation is not to encrypt your external drive, unless converting to APFS is acceptable to you, and you have no plans to use the drive with earlier versions of the Mac operating system.

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by Tom Nelson

MacOS High Sierra is finally ready for release. It endured the summer beta program, and is now available through the Mac App Store for anyone to download and install.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

We’re always grateful that new versions of the operating system go through an extensive beta process, but it always seems a few issues will still be lurking, ready to pop up and surprise us.

With that in mind, here are some of the more common problems you may encounter when upgrading to macOS High Sierra.

Note: Before upgrading to any new or updated operating system, it’s a good idea to have a current backup in place.

Upgrading From the Beta
If you’re a beta tester, you may have a slightly more difficult time upgrading than the rest of us; it all depends on whether you installed the new APFS (Apple File System) during the beta testing. Apple backed away from its original goal of having APFS ready to go for all Mac configurations. Instead, it’s releasing macOS High Sierra with APFS only for Macs using SSDs (Solid State Drives). If you converted a Fusion drive during the beta, it needs to be reverted to HFS+ before you can install macOS High Sierra.

Unfortunately, Apple isn’t providing any tools to revert the file system. Instead, you’re required to back up your current data with Time Machine, erase and reformat the affected drive(s), install macOS High Sierra, and then migrate your backed up data to the fresh install.

Apple includes instructions for the process, specifically using Time Machine as the backup app. It seems you should also be able to perform this task by creating a clone using Carbon Copy Cloner or one of the other popular cloning tools. Nevertheless, even if you decide to create a clone, we highly recommend you also create a Time Machine backup, especially if the clone is the only copy of your data you will have.

You’ll need a drive partitioned as HFS+ for the Time Machine backup. This can be an existing Time Machine drive as long as it’s formatted as HFS+. You’ll also need to create a bootable macOS High Sierra installer; a 16 GB or larger USB flash drive or an external drive can serve this purpose.

Warning: The process of creating the bootable installer will erase the contents of the selected drive volume.

Apple has posted instructions in its support area for Preparing Your Fusion Drive Mac for the macOS High Sierra Install. It covers two methods for converting a Fusion Drive back to HFS+ and installing macOS High Sierra. The instructions are a bit sparse, but should be sufficient for getting the job done. If you have any questions regarding the process, be sure to post them in the Comments section below.

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by Tom Nelson

Safari 11, included with macOS High Sierra, has a number of new features. It’s also one of the fastest browsers, at least when it comes to rendering and running JavaScript. But one feature that’s turning heads in the web-marketing arena is Safari’s new ability to prevent cross-site tracking using ITP (Intelligent Tracking Prevention).

ITP, along with how Safari manages cross-site cookies, can cut down on the ability of web-based ad services to track your movements around the web. It’s this tracking ability that leads to focused ads appearing in many different and unrelated websites. For example, after looking for a new winter coat at your favorite clothier’s web site, you might discover that wherever you go on the web, an ad for winter apparel is present.

While Safari and ITP may put an end to many of the annoying ads that follow you around the web, as well as create a bit more personal security, it may also have a few unintended consequences that may result in a favorite website or two not working correctly, until they receive an update to work with ITP.

You may find you need to revert back to the old way that Safari managed cookies when visiting a few sites, including some sites (banking and financial services come to mind) that use a centralized login system that provides sign-in service for multiple related sites. In that case, there’s a good chance that ITP’s machine learning system will mistake the central sign-in service as an ad tracker, forcing you to sign in repeatedly.

With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at how to manage Safari’s new privacy settings, and how you can enable and disable ITP in Safari.

Cookie Management and Cross-Site Tracking
Safari 11 (and later versions) disables cross-site tracking as its default configuration, so out of the box, you should notice fewer obviously targeted ads appearing in the websites you visit. To be clear, Safari isn’t stripping out ads from websites; the websites you visit will still display ads; they just won’t be explicitly targeted to you, based on other websites and products you’ve viewed.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

But, wait; you say you’re seeing targeted ads even though cross-site tracking is enabled? Yup, you may still see targeted ads for one of two reasons: either the web advertisers have implemented new technology to get around ITP, or you’re seeing ads based on a site you routinely access.

ITP uses a 24-hour window that allows for some tracking, mostly in the form of a persistent cookie that can be used to allow you to automatically sign in to a site. But third parties who provide web resources, such as images or ads, to the site can use the same cookie to track the fact that you visited the site. That’s why you may still see some ads tracking you around the web. After 24 hours, the cookie is automatically disabled for tracking functions, but retains its ability to be used for auto sign in to a site.

After 30 days, the ITP system purges the cookie completely, requiring you to manually log in should you return to the site in question.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Because ITP is a new technology involving machine learning, it’s likely that we’ll see updates to Safari that will make some changes in the cookie management system, but when macOS High Sierra is first released, what we described above will be the default ITP behavior.

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by Tom Nelson

When it comes to choosing an external enclosure to house an SSD or hard drive, there are so many options that it can be difficult not only to make a decision, but also to figure out just how many possibilities are available.

One approach that can help in organizing the choices is to think about which enclosure type is best suited to your expansion needs. We’re going to organize our look at external enclosures by the type of connection and the enclosure’s capabilities, and then provide a brief look at what some of the likely types of uses such storage expansion would be used for.

OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini. Image courtesy of OWC.

We’re going to concentrate on bare or “diskless” enclosures that you can place one or more SSDs in, but the general information can also be used to help select an enclosure for any type of supported storage device, including hard drives, SATA-based SSDs, PCIe-based SSD blades, or even optical drives, to access your collection of DVDs. You can also apply this information to purchasing external storage systems that come with drives already installed.

Enclosures can hold a single drive, multiple drives, multiple drives with built-in RAID, and multiple drives of different sizes. Enclosures can have additional functions beyond just housing a storage drive; some perform as port multipliers or docks, allowing one interface to be used to provide connectivity through multiple port types.

You may need a storage enclosure for optimizing speed, or an inexpensive way to create that backup system you’ve been promising yourself. Either way, you should find some helpful information in our guide to picking an external enclosure.

Best Use for Thunderbolt Enclosures
The Thunderbolt interface is certainly versatile. Depending on the Thunderbolt version available on your Mac, it can provide data throughput of up to 40 Gbps (Thunderbolt 3), 20 Gbps (Thunderbolt 2), or 10 Gbps (Thunderbolt 1 or just plain Thunderbolt).

But it isn’t just the raw speed available in Thunderbolt that makes it a great choice for storage and other uses; it also has the ability to support multiple interface specifications. Thunderbolt 3 supports 40 Gbps data transfer speeds, USB 3.1 Gen2 running at 10 Gbps, and DisplayPort 1.2, with support for two 4K streams, and the ability to provide up to 15 watts of power for bus-powered devices, or 100 watts for charging, all wrapped up in a single USB-C connector.

When selecting a Thunderbolt 3 enclosure for storage, you have a few basic types to choose from: a Thunderbolt Dock, such as the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock (see image below), which allows you to connect a single cable to your Mac to break out multiple USB 3.1 ports, a mini DisplayPort supporting dual 4K displays, or a 5K display and an HD display, S/PDIF digital audio, a card reader, even a legacy FireWire 800 port.

Image courtesy of OWC

Docks are available in various port configurations, but since we’re concentrating on storage, they allow you to use additional USB 3 Gen1 or Gen2 ports to attach additional storage enclosures to. Pretty helpful when you find your Mac’s ports are all in use.

But we’re just getting started with Thunderbolt’s versatility. Enclosures are available that provide a PCIe-based expansion chassis, such as the Mercury Helios 3 (see image below). The PCIe interface can be used to install various types of PCIe expansion cards, but for storage, a PCIe card that accepts one or more SSD blades will provide for a screamingly fast storage system. Or, if you already have a few SATA SSDs, you can install them in a high-performance SATA to PCIe card and gain a bit more performance from them than you can get out of a USB 3 interface.

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