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by Tom Nelson

With the release of macOS Mojave, the ability to take screenshots underwent a bit of a change. Gone is the old Grab screenshot utility; in its place is the new and improved Screenshot app. And while the new Screenshot app brings new capabilities, the old keyboard shortcuts that you’re used to using are still present, and work as expected.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

That makes transitioning to the new Screenshot app a fairly easy task.

In this Rocket Yard guide, we’ll look at how to take advantage of the new Screenshot app, with a number of tips and a few tricks.

Screenshot App
Let’s start with what hasn’t changed. Although the app has a new name (Screenshot), it’s still located in the /Applications/Utilities folder. If you used to have Grab installed in the Dock, you can drag the Screenshot app to the Dock as its replacement.

All of the keyboard shortcuts you used for screen capture will still work as expected.

Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Command + Shift + 3: Captures the entire screen.
  • Command + Shift + 4: Captures selected area.
  • Command + Shift + 4, and then tapping the spacebar when the cursor is over an item, captures the selected window, menu, Dock, or other UI element. The element you wish to capture needs to be present on the screen before you invoke this keyboard shortcut.
  • Command + Shift + 5: Launches the Screenshot app.
  • Command + Shift + 6: Captures the Touch Bar, if your Mac is equipped with one.

So far, from a keyboard shortcut perspective, the Screenshot app isn’t much different from its predecessor.

Screenshot App: The Basics
Let’s take a look at what the Screenshot app can do. Launch the Screenshot app by using the keyboard shortcut Command + Shift + 5, or navigate to /Applications/Utilities and double-click or tap the Screenshot app.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

The Screenshot app will open, with a floating palette positioned just above the Dock. The palette contains 8 buttons that perform various tasks. Starting from the left-hand side and moving to the right, the buttons are:

X: Close or quit the Screenshot app.

Image of a screen: Capture the entire screen. When clicked or tapped, the cursor will change to a camera icon. Clicking or tapping again will grab a screen shot of the entire screen.

Image of a window: Captures a selected window; when this button is selected, the cursor changes to a camera icon. As you move over various UI elements, such as the desktop, window, menus, or dock, each element will be highlighted. Clicking or tapping will take a screenshot of the selected element.

Image of a dotted rectangle: Captures a selected area; when clicked or tapped, a selection rectangle will appear on the screen. You can then use the handles on the rectangle to resize the selection as needed. You can also drag the selection rectangle about by placing the cursor within the rectangle; once the cursor changes to a hand, you can move the selection about. To take the screenshot, use the Capture button in the Screenshot palette.

Image of a screen with a round camera lens in the corner: Records the entire screen. You can start the recording by selecting the Record button in the Screenshot palette.

Image of a dotted rectangle with a camera lens in the corner: Records selected portion. Use the same methods as outlined in dotted rectangle, above, to select an area to record. When ready, click or tap the Record button in the Screenshot palette.

Options: Provides a menu to select various Screenshot options, such as where to save, timer delays, or Microphone selection for video recording. Options should be selected before taking a screenshot or recording the screen.

Capture or Record: This button’s name will change depending on the Screenshot function you’re using: Capture for taking screenshots or Record for taking video. The button can also be absent when it’s not needed.

Screenshot App: Advanced
Most of the advanced features can be found within the Screenshot app’s Options button. The items listed under Options will change, depending whether you’re taking a screenshot or a video recording.

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by Tom Nelson

Have you ever wondered what’s stored in your Mac’s Utilities folder? This folder contains apps that are used to perform a number of interesting chores, from providing basic information about your Mac, to displaying complex mathematical formulas as 2D or 3D graphs, to allowing your Mac to speak, not only the text in a window, but how the window’s tools and buttons can be used.

In macOS 101: What’s in the Utility Folder, Part 1 we looked at the first ten apps Apple stores in the Utilities folder. In the second part of this article, we look at the last ten apps. Your version of the Utilities folder may contain more or fewer apps than we list here; the number fluctuates, depending on the Mac OS version you’re using. Other apps may be added by third-party developers.

If you’re ready to continue the exploration of the Utilities folder, open a Finder window and browse to /Applications/Utilities.

Grab
The Mac has been able to take screenshots since it was first introduced, by using keyboard shortcuts, such as Command + Shift + 3, to capture the entire screen, or Command +Shift + 4 to capture a user-selected portion of the screen.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

To give the user a bit more control over taking screenshots, Apple includes the Grab app in the utilities folder. Grab can perform the same function as the earlier keyboard shortcuts for screen capture, but it also provides additional capabilities, such as grabbing a selected window, taking timed screenshots, or optionally showing the pointer in the screenshots.

If you’re using macOS High Sierra or earlier, you’ll find that Grab does a great job of handling the screenshot taking needs of most users. If your Mac is running macOS Mojave or later, Grab has been replaced by the newer Screenshot app. You can find out more about the Screenshot app a little further on in this guide.

To give the user a bit more control over taking screenshots, Apple includes the Grab app in the utilities folder. Grab can perform the same function as the earlier keyboard shortcuts for screen capture, but it also provides additional capabilities, such as grabbing a selected window, taking timed screenshots, or optionally showing the pointer in the screenshots.

If you’re using macOS High Sierra or earlier, you’ll find that Grab does a great job of handling the screenshot taking needs of most users. If your Mac is running macOS Mojave or later, Grab has been replaced by the newer Screenshot app. You can find out more about the Screenshot app a little further on in this guide.

Grapher
Grapher is a visualization tool for creating 2D and 3D graphs from mathematical equations. Many users of Grapher consider it an equivalent to the older graphing calculators, but with more ability to store, edit, and refine equations than a hardware-based calculator could ever do. And there’s the added benefit that the graphs you create can be saved in various formats for inclusion in other documents you may be working on.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Grapher supports popular 2D graph types such as classic, polar, linear-logarithmic, log-log and polar log. Three-D graphs can display standard system, cylindrical system, and spherical system. Graphs can include animation, though there’s an issue with exporting animated graphs that can be overcome by using the Screenshot app to capture the animated graph as a video.

Aside from the ability to export an animated graph, Grapher can export data in JPEG, TIFF, EPS, PDF and LaTeX formats.

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by Tom Nelson

The utility folder is chock full of handy apps that perform a wide spectrum of tasks, from monitoring the performance of your Mac to giving your Mac a voice.

In this first of a two-part article, we’re going to look at the first ten apps Apple stores in the Utility folder. And if you haven’t guessed, the second part will look at the remaining ten apps Apple provides.

The Utility folder located at /Applications/Utilities may actually contain more or less apps than what we will list here, that’s because the number of apps can vary by Mac OS version. It can also contain additional apps placed in the utility folder by third-party developers.

To access the Utility folder open a Finder window and browse to /Applications/Utilities. You can also get there by using the Go menu in the Finder.

Activity Monitor
By far one of our favorite utilities so much so that we can recommend setting it as a login item for your user account so it automatically launches whenever you log in.

Activity Monitor can be used to monitor the performance of your Mac including monitoring memory usage, a great way to know if you would benefit from adding additional memory to your Mac. You can also monitor processor performance, energy use, disk, and network usage.

But its benefits don’t stop with just monitoring performance; Activity Monitor provides, details about individual apps, services, and daemons that are running on your Mac. You can use this information to see which app or service is using the most memory, hogging processor performance, using the storage system or accessing the network. You can even use Activity Monitor to detect and kill wayward apps that may be involved in a nefarious activity or those that are just not working well and hogging resources.

AirPort Utility
If you’re using an Apple AirPort Extreme, AirPort Express or AirPort Time Capsule, the AirPort Utility is the app you use to set up, monitor, and make changes to your wireless network.

From this central app, you can control all of your Apple supplied networking devices as well as set up and share USB based storage devices, connect a USB printer to the wireless network, stream iTunes content via AirPlay, and manage IPv6 settings as well as all of the usual Wi-Fi network settings.

If you’re not using AirPort-based wireless devices you will find Airport Utility less useful though you can still launch the app and see your basic network configuration including connection status, router IP address, DNS servers, and the search domain name (if set).

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by Tom Nelson

Your Mac’s user account password gives you access to all of your user data as well as many services included with the Mac OS. That’s why if you should ever forget the account password, you may be in real trouble; stuck without access to your data.

In this Rocket Yard guide, we’re going to look at the various ways you can change a password, as well as reset an account password, should you ever forget it.

The process for resetting an account password is dependent on the version of the Mac OS you’re using, as well as if you’ve enabled optional services, such as File Vault, or the ability to use your iCloud password to reset the user account.

Before we get started, a note about a user’s keychain: The keychain stores frequently used passwords and other login credentials used by the user account. When you reset a user account password, the user’s keychain may also need to be reset. If you see a warning about the keychain, you can find information about resetting it near the end of this guide.

Changing Your Account Password
Let’s start with the easiest of all the tasks we will cover: changing your current password when you know the password, and can successfully log into your account.

You may want to change the password for any number of reasons; accidentally divulging your password, security policies that require passwords to be changed at set intervals, or maybe you just want a more secure password than the name of your pet. No matter the reason, here is the process:

If you know your password and just wish to update it, use the Users & Groups preference pane to make the change. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

If you’re not already logged in, start your Mac up and log into your user account.

Launch System Preferences by selecting System Preferences from the Apple menu, or clicking the System Preferences icon in the Dock.

In the System Preferences window, select Users & Groups.

Make sure your user account is highlighted in the sidebar, and that the Password tab is selected in the main window.

Click or tap the Change Password button.

Note: If the button is labeled Reset Password, you may be logged in with an account other than the one you whose password you wish to change, or you’ve selected the wrong user account in the preference pane sidebar.

A sheet will drop down where you can enter the old password and new password, as well as a password hint. Enter the required information, then click or tap the Change Password button.

The password for the selected account has been changed. You should try logging out and back in to verify it.

Reset Account Password with an Admin Account
An administrator account can reset any user account, including other administrator accounts. If you’ve forgotten the password of an account, but are able to log in with another administrator account, you can use the following steps to reset an account password:

Administrator accounts can reset the passwords for any of the user accounts. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

  • Log in to your Mac using an administrator account.
  • Launch System Preferences, and select the Users & Groups preferences.
  • Click or tap the lock icon, located in the bottom left corner.
  • Enter the administrator account password at the prompt.
  • Use the sidebar to select the account whose password you wish to reset.
  • Click or tap the Reset Password button.
  • A sheet will drop down, allowing you to enter a new password and password hint.
  • Fill in the sheet and click the Change Password button.
  • The password will be reset.
  • Close System Preferences.
  • Select Log Out (Account Name) from the Apple menu.

Log in with the user account and password you just changed, to confirm everything is working the way it should.

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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

Backing up your Mac can be a very easy process. Pick a drive to use for your backups, turn on Time Machine, and you have a basic backup system in place with very little effort. Time Machine has a lot going for it, including the ability to recover older versions of a file from the backup device. That can be invaluable when you need to know what was in a document a few versions back, or even a few years back.

But there are a few things Time Machine doesn’t do well, such as restoring all of the data on a failing startup drive. The process of recovering the information from a Time Machine drive can be long and arduous, and having to wait a few hours to get back to work can really throw a monkey wrench into your schedule.

That’s one of the reasons I recommend using a second backup strategy, based around cloning the data on your startup drive. Cloning can let you get back up and running in the time it takes to restart your Mac. It lets you continue to work while you order a replacement storage device for the volume that failed. It can also take some of the tension out of what can be a very stressful time.

Using Time Machine and a cloned startup drive is such a powerful backup system that it’s the basis for all of the backups in our home and office environments.

Which brings us to this week’s Rocket Yard guide: Use Multi-Bay Enclosures for Better Backups.

Using External Enclosures with Two or More Bays
Let me be clear: a multi-drive backup system doesn’t have to be built from multi-bay enclosures. You can successfully make use of multiple single drive enclosures and achieve equivalent results. But using multi-bay enclosures has a few advantages:

  • Fewer power bricks and cords to clutter up your work area.
  • A single connection to your Mac leaves more ports available for other uses.
  • Available with 2, 4, or 6 drive bays, or even more.
  • Many multi-bay enclosures support various RAID types.
  • Can be used for multiple tasks, such as backups, media libraries, bulk storage, and media editing.

External Enclosures to Consider
With so many multi-bay drive enclosures available, you may want to look at the following as good examples of enclosures to consider for this backup system.

The Mercury Elite Pro Dual Mini houses two storage devices in the smallest of our suggested enclosures.

OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual Mini: This dual-bay enclosure is designed to accept 2.5-inch drives, the same size used for most laptop drives as well as SATA-based SSDs. It makes use of hardware-based RAID that supports RAID 0, 1, SPAN, and Independent drive modes. The enclosure makes use of USB-C 3.1 Gen 2, providing speeds up to 10 Gb/s. Its small size and use of USB 3.1 Gen 2 connections make it a great choice for backups, as well as image or music libraries.

The Mercury Elite Pro Quad can house up to four drives, and connects using USB 3.1 Gen 2.

OWC Mercury Elite Pro Quad: This quad-bay enclosure works with both 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch SATA-based drives, with no adapters needed. It comes with SoftRAID XT Lite, supporting RAID 0, 1, JBOD. This enclosure uses USB-C 3.1 Gen 2, providing speeds up to 10Gb/s. This enclosure is also available with an advanced version of SoftRAID that adds support for RAID 4, 5, and RAID 1+0.

OWC ThunderBay 4: A quad-bay enclosure that supports 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch drives with no adapters needed. It makes use of SoftRAID XT Lite, and supports RAID 0, 1, and JBOD. This quad enclosure makes use of Thunderbolt 3 to provide the highest sustained performance of our suggested enclosures for backup.

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by Tom Nelson

Launch Services is a core service of the Mac OS that enables an actively running application to open other apps, documents, or URLs (Uniform Resource Locators). Launch Services is also used to prioritize which app is used to open a document or URL.

Launch Services replaced a number of earlier system managers the Mac used to use, such as the Desktop Manager, Internet Config, and File Manager, replacing them with the single Launch Services system, and the database Launch Services maintains to keep track of all things related to how documents and apps relate to each other.

Launch Services allows an app or document to:

  • Open (launch or activate) another app.
  • Open a document or URL.
  • Identify the preferred app to use to open a document or URL.
  • Register the type of documents or URLs an app is capable of working with.
  • Keep track of information needed for displaying a file or URL, including its icon, name, and kind (examples: JPEG, PDF, Folder, Volume).

Launch Services keeps track of which apps can work with a selected document. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

In past versions of the Mac OS, this type of information was maintained by the Finder, as well as by some specific system managers. By consolidating this information to the Launch Services, it allows for greater reliability, easier (actually, automatic) registration of file and document associations, and less need to repair file association information. If you remember having to rebuild the Desktop frequently on older Macs, then you know the file associations tended to get out of whack often.

Launch Services maintains a database aptly known as the Launch Services Database, which is used to record all the needed information about apps, documents, and URLs to determine which items an app is capable of working with.

Application Registration
Launch Services automatically registers an app with the database the first time the app becomes known to the system. This can occur when:

  • The Finder reports an app has been added to the Applications folder.
  • An app installer is run.
  • When a document is opened that has no preferred app, the user is asked to select an app to use, and that app is registered with Launch Services.
  • When the built-in Launch Services tool is run whenever you boot your Mac or login as a user. This tool scans the Applications folder looking for any new apps that have been placed there.

Dragging an app to the Applications folder is one of the ways an app is registered with Launch Services. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Opening Documents
When you open a document or URL, Launch Services is used to determine which app to use to open the item. Launch Services uses the following specific order to check for which app to use:

User-Specified Binding: If the user has set a specific binding by manually setting a file association, then use that app to open the document or URL. Do not check further. Note: You can manually set file associations using one of the tips in: Quick Tip: Managing macOS File Associations or macOS 101: Six “Forgotten” Tips for New (and Old) Mac Users.

If the document has a file name extension, Launch Services will find all apps that list the extension as compatible.

If the document has a four-character file type, Launch Services finds all apps that accept the file type.

If more than one app is found, the following is used to determine a preference:

If the document has a four-character creator type that matches an app:

Give preference to apps on the boot volume.

Give preferences to apps residing on local volumes vs. ones on remote volumes.

If two or more files and an app still meet the criteria, give preference to the newest version.

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by Tom Nelson

There are many features of the Mac that are often overlooked by new users, or simply forgotten about by those who have been using Macs for a while. In some cases, the feature is used once when setting up a Mac, and then vanishes from memory; other times, the feature is never stumbled upon. No matter the reason, this collection of six “forgettable” Mac tips deserves to be remembered.

Customize Icons
Icons, those little images that represent apps, documents, folders, drives, and a few other items, are used extensively throughout the Mac’s interface. They’re most prominent in the Dock, in the Finder, and on the Desktop.

Personalizing your Mac by using custom icons can add a bit of flair as well as allow you to better organize your Mac’s file system. Apple already provides custom folder icons for the Applications folder, Documents folder, Downloads, Movies, Music, Pictures, and a few others, but most of the folders on your Mac will use generic folder icons. The same is true for storage devices mounted on your desktop, and files on your Mac.

You can replace a file, folder, or drive icon with one of your own making, or one acquired from the many websites that specialize in Mac and Window icons, many of which are free.

The thumbnail icon displayed in the Get Info window can be used to copy a favorite icon, or to replace it with a new one. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

One of the simplest ways to change an icon is to copy/paste an icon using this tip:

Right-click or control-click on the icon you wish to copy, and then select Get Info from the popup menu that appears.

In the Get Info window that opens (the window will be in the upper left corner of your display and may be hidden by other windows), you’ll see a thumbnail icon in the top left corner.

Click or tap once to select the thumbnail, then select Copy from the File menu or hit the command + C keys on your keyboard.

The icon will be copied to the Mac’s built-in clipboard.

Find the file, folder, or drive icon you wish change.

Right-click or control-click on the icon.

In the Get Info window that opens, click or tap the thumbnail icon to select it, then use Paste from the File menu, or command + V on the keyboard, to paste the icon from the clipboard onto the selected item.

That’s the easy way to copy/paste icons from one source to a new destination. But what if you want to create a custom icon from scratch?

We’ve got you covered with Create Your Own Custom Icons.

Other World Computing also has a webpage full of drive icons you’re welcome to use. You’ll find them at: Custom Drive Icons.

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