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Archive for the ‘macOS Tips’ Category

by Tom Nelson

Mission Control, originally released with OS X Lion, allows you to organize your windows, apps, and virtual desktops, as well as run small apps known as widgets, in a dedicated space. If it sounds like Mission Control is the Mac’s built-in window manager for users, you’re on the right track, but Mission Control does a good deal more.

A Bit of Mission Control History

Mission Control is actually a conglomeration of three earlier OS X Technologies: Dashboard, Exposé, and Spaces. Exposé, the oldest of the features, dates back to 2003, and the introduction of OS X Panther.

  • Exposé allows you to hide documents and app windows, or just as easily expose a window, app, or document you need to work on.
  • Spaces lets you create and manage virtual desktops, allowing you to organize activities to specific desktops, and then switch between them as needed.
  • Dashboard is a dedicated desktop that can run mini-apps called widgets. These small apps were based on web technologies: HTML, JavaScript, and CSS.

Mission Control united these similar technologies under a single roof, or in this case, a single preference pane, to control, configure, and make use of the windows and desktop management system.

What Mission Control Does: The Basics

Mission Control’s main task is to help you de-clutter your desktop and be able to work more efficiently, even when you have dozens of apps or windows open.

There are six key tasks that Mission Control allows a user to do:

  • View all open windows: Display all windows as thumbnails to ensure every window can be seen at the same time.
  • View all windows of a specific application: Displays all windows used by a single app. If needed, the windows will be displayed as thumbnails to ensure all of the app’s windows can be seen at once.
  • Hide all windows and display the desktop: All windows are hidden, revealing the underlying desktop.
  • Manage windows across multiple monitors: Allows windows to be moved to additional displays.
  • Manage apps and windows across multiple virtual desktops: Multiple desktops can be created, each having its own set of apps and windows assigned to it.
  • Manage Dashboard widgets: Controls how Dashboard widgets are displayed.

Mission Control uses a combination of keyboard commands, gestures, and mouse shortcuts to control its various capabilities. Learning the various shortcuts is the basis for making effective use of Mission Control and its ability to help you manage the workflow on your Mac.

Mission Control allows you to find any open window no matter how many other windows it may be hiding behind. Clicking or tapping one of the thumbnails will switch you to that window. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Setting Up Mission Control

The heart of Mission Control is its preference pane, which you can access using the following method:

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

In the System Preferences window that opens, select the Mission Control preference pane.

The Mission Control preference pane allows you to configure basic options as well as assign shortcuts to the various functions.

Place a checkmark in the box to enable any of the following functions:

  • Automatically arrange Spaces based on most recent use: If you’re going to use multiple virtual desktops (Spaces), this allows the most recently used desktop to be the easiest to access.
  • When switching to an application, switch to a Space with open windows for the application: This rather convoluted description just means that if an app you want to use is already open on a virtual desktop, it will switch to that desktop.
  • Group windows by application: When viewing all windows in Mission Control, have the windows organized by app.
  • Displays have separate Spaces: If you have multiple monitors you can assign each monitor its own virtual desktop.
  • Dashboard: This dropdown menu controls how the Dashboard feature is used. You can find out more in the Rocket Yard guide: Get Dashboard Up and Running Again in macOS Mojave. Although the article was written for Mojave users, its information is general enough for understanding the Dashboard options.

The Mission Control preference pane lets you customize shortcuts and adjust options. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Besides configuring the basic options, you can also set up shortcuts to use Mission Control by selecting a shortcut from each dropdown menu. You may have one or two dropdown menus for each item listed below. The second dropdown menu allows you to assign an alternate shortcut for the specific function. The alternate options are usually present when you have input devices with many I/O options, such as a multi-button mouse:

  • Mission Control: Use the dropdown menu to assign a shortcut to open Mission Control and display all open windows.
  • Application window: Set the shortcut that will be used to open Mission Control and display the windows of a selected application.
  • Show Desktop: This shortcut you assign will hide all windows and display the current desktop.
  • Show Dashboard: If Dashboard is enabled (see the option, above), this shortcut will display the Dashboard.

You’re not done assigning shortcuts to access Mission Control yet; you can also assign the corners (Hot Corners) of your display to be shortcuts to access Mission Control, as well as a few other functions of your Mac. Hot Corners are activated when you move the cursor into the corner of the display. If a Hot Corner is assigned for that corner, the function is activated.

Use Hot Corners to assign Mission Control features to the four corners of your monitor. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Click or tap the Hot Corner button in the Mission Control preference pane.

A sheet will drop down, displaying a thumbnail of your desktop with dropdown menus at each corner.

Use the dropdown menu to assign a function to any of the corners. The available functions are:

The first three are Mission Control options; the remaining ones involve other Mac OS features that are dependent on the version of the operating system you’re using.

Make your selections; you can then close the Hot Corner sheet as well as the Mission Control preference pane.

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by Tom Nelson

Smart folders and the Dock just seem to be made for each other. You can configure a smart folder to display just the files or folders that meet your specific criteria. Need a folder that just shows the image files you worked on this week? Or perhaps a folder that only shows new music you’ve added to your Mac? Add these smart folders to the Dock, and you’ll have a quick way to view and work with their files without having to browse through the Finder to find them.

If you’ve been following Rocket Yard guides, you may remember that you can use the Terminal app to create Recent Items stacks for the Dock that can show recently used apps, documents, and servers. And while the premade recent items stack is helpful, it doesn’t allow you to use your own search criteria to create the items in the stack.

Smart folders give you all the power of the recent items stack, but with complete control over what the content of the smart folders will be.

Creating Smart Folders
Let’s start the process by exploring how smart folders are created. For an example, we will create a smart folder that displays image files you’ve worked with over the past week.

Start by having the Finder as the active app; you can do this by clicking on the desktop or opening a Finder window. Once the Finder is the front most app, follow these instructions:

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

From the Finder menu, select File, New Smart Folder.

An empty smart folder window will open. In the window’s toolbar, make sure Search is set to This Mac.

At the far right of the window, click or tap the plus (+) sign. This will display filters you can use to build the smart folder’s search criteria.

Use the first dropdown menu to select “Date Last Opened,” and the second dropdown menu to select “this week.”

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

 

The smart folder will be populated with any files or folders that meet the above requirements of being opened in the last week.

To further refine the search, click or tap the plus (+) sign at the far right of the window.

A second search filter will open. Set the first dropdown menu to “Kind,” and the second dropdown menu to “Image.”

A third dropdown menu will appear that you can use to select the type of image  (JPEG, TIFF, GIF, PNG); for this example, select the “All” option to display any of the image file types.

At this point, you’ve created a basic smart folder that will show any image file you’ve opened in the last week. And while this may be all you need, there are further refinements to the search filters you can make.

Hold down the option key. You’ll notice that the plus (+) sign has changed to display ellipses. Click or tap the ellipses to add additional restrictions to the current search criteria. You’ll see two filter sets appear.

The first allows you to select Any, All, or None, if the following conditions are true. The second criteria set allows you to set the conditions that are being tested. As an example, if you don’t wish to have any PNG image files included in the smart folder, you would set the menus as follows:

Set the first dropdown menu to None.

Set the second group of menus to Kind, Image, PNG.

You’ve created a smart folder that will display all of the image files you have opened during the last week, except PNG files.

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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

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

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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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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