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Archive for the ‘macOS’ Category

by Tom Nelson

I was expecting a version of the macOS that would mostly be about security and performance, but while I expected a fastball, Apple threw us a curve. Apple announced that macOS Mojave not only included the expected security, performance, and privacy improvements, but also an OS loaded with new features.

I installed the developer beta of Mojave on an external SSD that housed a recent clone of my High Sierra startup drive. The upgrade install of macOS Mojave went without a hitch.

I also tried to install Mojave beta as a guest OS in my favorite virtual machine app. That didn’t go as well, but it’s the first beta, and the VM people will need some time to track down what appears to be graphics display issues.

I chose to test Mojave on a 2014 27-inch Retina 5K iMac with a 4 GHz i7 processor and 16 GB of RAM. Mojave will support most Macs from the year 2012 on, however, there are exceptions that can allow older models to work, as well as prevent newer models from being able to install Mojave. You’ll find all the details in A Complete List of Mojave Compatible Macs.

This is a first impression of macOS Mojave, which was just made available in a developer beta. As such, features we see today may not make it all the way through the beta, or they may undergo significant changes before a public release.

With the background out of the way, let’s move on to what’s new in macOS Mojave.

Dark Mode
One of the new features that’s getting a bit of press is Dark Mode. This system-wide theme is an extension of the current Dark scheme introduced with OS X Yosemite that can be enabled for menus and the Dock. The new version of Dark Mode extends the dark theme to most of the system, and applications that Apple bundles with the OS. The apps most of us routinely use, including Mail, iTunes, Finder, and Photos, have all moved to the dark side.

The new Dark Mode theme is applied not only to menus and the Dock, but also to most Apple apps; in the near future, third-party apps will be able to use the theme as well. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Apple is also making the Dark Mode API available to third-party developers, so your favorite apps will likely support Dark Mode sometime in the future.

Dark Mode is a user-applied theme; you can turn Dark Mode on or off as you wish, using the Mac’s General preference pane. You can also customize Dark Mode slightly by selecting from one of eight accent colors used to highlight menus you select.

Dark Mode can be helpful when working within certain apps and workflows. Generally, apps that benefit from having work surfaces, such as menus, toolbars, and palettes, blend into the background while the creative content you’re working on takes center stage, will benefit from Dark Mode. Other apps, such as web browsers, don’t seem to benefit as much. Give Dark Mode a try with Photos, video editing apps, audio production, CAD, CAE, and 3D modeling apps; even Apple’s Maps app seems to benefit from this UI change.

Dark Mode is a system-wide selection; you can turn it on or off across the entire system, but not by individual apps.

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by Tom Nelson

Disk Utility’s Restore function can be used to copy the content from one volume to another. In this respect, it’s similar to the process of cloning a volume, and indeed, the Restore function can be used to create bootable clones. But if this is your primary reason for using the Restore function, I recommend the use of dedicated cloning apps, such as Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper, that have a great deal more features that are highly serviceable in the cloning process.

The Restore feature can also be used to copy disk images to a target volume, restore an image of your startup volume, or simply copy the content of one volume to another.

We’ve already covered the basics of using the Restore feature for cloning in the Rocket Yard article: Tech Tip: How to Use the Restore Feature of Disk Utility to Clone a Drive.

In this guide, we’re going to look at how Disk Utility’s Restore feature has changed in macOS High Sierra; specifically, the new support for APFS containers and volumes, and how they bring new capabilities as well as limitations to how you restore data from one storage device to another.

When you select a destination volume from the Disk Utility sidebar, you can verify the file system in use on the selected volume by checking the information pane. In this example, the destination volume is formatted with APFS.Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

What Hasn’t Changed in the Disk Utility Restore Function
The basic concept remains the same; you use Disk Utility to select a destination volume from the sidebar, and then choose a source to copy from. Once the copy (Restore) starts, the destination device is unmounted and erased, and the content from the source is copied to the new location. Once the copy is complete, the destination is mounted, and you’re ready to make use of the information.

Restore can also make copies of disk images, as well as just about any device that can be mounted on the Mac’s Desktop. This means you can make copies of just about anything you wish, including creating archives of videos from your camera’s flash drives before you perform any type of edits, creating clones before upgrading an OS or important app, and just as important, being able to return to a known good state should something befall an upgrade.

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by Tom Nelson

Securely wiping a drive, removing all of its data, and ensuring that no meaningful information can be recovered, has long been a feature of Disk Utility and its erase function. Even though the default for Disk Utility is a simple erase, a secure wipe was just a few clicks away.

Two recent changes have made the traditional secure wipe, performed by overwriting a volume multiple times with various types of data patterns, largely a thing of the past. The first change, leading to less reliance on the various secure wipe options, has been the proliferation of SSDs, both as original equipment provided by Apple and by resellers, such as OWC, which bring higher performance storage systems to the Mac.

Using the Security Options to sanitize a volume may be a thing of the past. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

The second change that directly affects the Mac community, at least in the way free space can be securely erased, is the release of the APFS file system, and how it makes use of shared space between multiple volumes.

In this guide, we’re going to look at erasing volumes, partitions, and containers. We’ll be looking at drives formatted with APFS as well as those formatted with the traditional HFS+ file system. If you’re working with macOS Sierra or earlier, you may find the Rocket Yard Guide: How to Use Mac’s Disk Utility to Securely Wipe a Drive a good source of information for erasing your drives.

We’ll be using the Disk Utility app included with macOS High Sierra and later.

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by Tom Nelson

Disk First Aid, currently part of Disk Utility, has long been the go-to utility for verifying and repairing a Mac’s storage system. Included as a standalone app with the original Mac OS, it was later folded into Disk Utility when OS X was released.

Disk Utility, and its First Aid system remains the first line of defense for drives that are experiencing a number of issues, including:

  • System crashes
  • Files disappearing
  • File sizes changing on their own
  • Inability to copy files
  • Inability to open or save files
  • Startup issues
  • Drives unmounting or ejecting on their own
  • And a host of other errors and issues

In this guide, we’re going to take a look at using Disk Utility’s First Aid tool in macOS High Sierra to repair APFS and HFS+ file systems. First Aid can actually be used on any file system that macOS supports, but APFS and HFS+ are the most popular, and the ones you’re most likely to encounter.

We’ll start by going through the actual process of using First Aid, and then take a more in-depth look at the process; we’ll also provide a few troubleshooting tips.

Before you use First Aid, make sure you have a current backup of the drive or volume you’re having issues with. If you’re using First Aid as part of a routine maintenance program, you should still have a working backup of any volume that you’ll be checking.

The Disk Utility app underwent a few updates with the release of macOS High Sierra to support the APFS file system. If you’re working with OS X El Capitan through macOS Sierra, you may find the instructions in How to Use macOS Sierra Disk Utility to Verify or Repair Disks a better fit.

Disk Utility’s Sidebar in macOS High Sierra and Later
Launch Disk Utility, located at /Applications/Utilities.

Disk Utility’s default settings use a sidebar that only displays storage volumes. Since you may need to use the First Aid tool on volumes as well as partitions, catalogs, and physical devices, it’s a good idea to change the sidebar settings to display all devices.

The View button in Disk Utility’s toolbar will expand the sidebar to show all devices. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Click the View button in the Disk Utility toolbar and select Show All Devices from the popup menu, or select Show All Devices from the View menu.

The sidebar will now display all devices, including the physical drive and any APFS containers it may have, as well as any APFS or HFS volumes associated with the physical drive.

The organization of the devices is hierarchical, with the physical drive listed first, using the manufacturer’s name, or the model name or number, or both. At the next level under the physical drive is the Container (APFS file system), followed by the volumes. If this is an HFS-formatted drive, there won’t be any containers under the drive level, just volumes.

Each item can be selected and repaired using the First Aid tool.

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by Tom Nelson

AirDrop is a peer-to-peer file sharing system for local Mac and iOS users. It’s easy to set up with just a click or two; no special information or settings are needed. Just drag-and-drop a file to share with others.

In this Rocket Yard Guide, we’re going to take a look at AirDrop’s history, the basics of its use, and a tip or two for improving its use, including adding AirDrop to the Mac’s Dock for easy access.

AirDrop History
Originally developed for the Mac and released with OS X Lion, AirDrop made use of a new Wi-Fi standard called PAN (Personal Area Network) that allowed for the creation of an ad-hoc wireless network. To make setting up the network automatic, Apple made use of its Bonjour service, which allowed Macs to broadcast that they were part of the Wi-Fi network and could receive files from others.

When iOS 7 was introduced, it included its own version of AirDrop, but replaced the use of Bonjour with Bluetooth LE, and kept peer-to-peer Wi-Fi for sending and receiving, though it dropped the use of the PAN protocol.

When OS X Yosemite was released, it included support for both sets of AirDrop protocols, allowing supported Macs to use AirDrop with other supported Macs, as well as iOS devices.

Not all Macs or iOS devices are compatible with AirDrop. You can check this AirDrop support document to see if your Mac or device supports AirDrop.

Using AirDrop
AirDrop requires the use of either Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, depending on the version of AirDrop being used.

You can open an AirDrop Finder window by selecting AirDrop from the Finder sidebar, or from the Finder’s Go menu.

The AirDrop window displays nearby devices that have AirDrop enabled. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

AirDrop appears as a special Finder window folder that displays any nearby Mac or iOS devices that have AirDrop enabled.

You can drag any file or folder onto a device listed in the AirDrop window. You can also use the share button within an app to send a file via AirDrop. Depending on the version of AirDrop being used, you may be asked to confirm that you wish to send a file to the selected user.

The destination device will display an alert, asking the user if they wish to accept the files being sent.

On the Mac, files being sent will appear in the Downloads folder, once accepted. On iOS devices, the files will be associated with specific apps, such as images being placed in the Photos app.

Can’t find one of your older Macs? Later versions of AirDrop changed the method used to detect AirPort-enabled devices. You may need to use the Search for an Older Mac option. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

OS X Yosemite and later support both sets of protocols, but are set to Bluetooth LE/Wi-Fi as the default. To access older Macs, you must select the option to search for older Macs. This will reset the protocol to the older version, allowing you to connect with older Macs, but not with iOS or newer Macs using Bluetooth LE/Wi-Fi. In OS X Yosemite and later, you’ll find this option labeled “Don’t see who you’re looking for?” at the bottom of the AirDrop folder window. Clicking in this text will bring up the option to Search for an older Mac.

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by Tom Nelson

Content Caching is one of the new services available in macOS High Sierra. Designed to reduce Internet data usage and increase the speed of updating Macs, iOS devices, and Apple TVs, Content Caching can also speed up iCloud storage by keeping a local copy of the iCloud data on your local area network.

Content Caching: History
Content Caching was originally one of the services included with Mac OS Server. By using the caching service, a system administrator could designate local storage as a repository for all of the software updates distributed by Apple for its various product families.

This allowed all devices connected to the local network to access the stored information without having to re-download the data from the Internet every time a device needed an update.

Caching was an effective way for administrators to reduce the Internet bandwidth used, while actually increasing overall system update performance for the end user.

Content, such as macOS updates, is cached, allowing others on your network to enjoy faster updates. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Apple ceased development of the Mac OS Server product, but the Content Caching capabilities have made the migration from the server product to the Mac, as long as it’s running macOS High Sierra or later.

Content Caching: How It Works
Once Content Caching is enabled on a Mac, it keeps copies of all of the software updates, App Store downloads and updates, and iCloud data, including backups to iCloud that are initiated by any client connected to your local network.

The next time a client on your network needs to download the same data, such as a macOS update, the data is retrieved from the content cache instead of being downloaded from the Internet. All subsequent client devices that need the data get it from the local network at what will normally be a much faster connection than is possible from the Internet.

Data Types That Are Cached
Not everything that is downloaded from the Internet is cached. Content Caching supports the following data types:

  • iTunes purchases (iTunes 11.04 and later)
  • iBooks Store content (iOS 6 or OS X Mavericks and later)
  • iOS app purchases and updates
  • iOS updates over the air (iOS 7 and later)
  • macOS updates
  • Mac App Store purchases and updates
  • GarageBand downloadable content
  • iCloud photos and documents for OS X El Capitan or iOS 9 and later
  • Apple TV apps and updates
  • iOS 10 and tvOS 10 On-Demand resources
  • iTunes U course material
  • Mobile assets, including high-quality Siri voices and dictionaries

Setting Up Content Caching
To make use of Content Caching, you’re going to need:

  • A Mac that is on 24/7, or at least whenever a client device is connected to your local network
  • A Mac connected to your local network via wired Ethernet (preferred) or Wi-Fi
  • A Mac with either a large amount of free space on the startup drive or an external drive
  • macOS High Sierra or later

Note: Apple recommends that the Mac being used for caching be hard-wired to your Ethernet network using Gigabit Ethernet or better. The caching system can serve hundreds of clients concurrently. To ensure adequate throughput, a high-performance wired Ethernet connection to the Mac is encouraged.

If you’re implementing Content Caching for your home or small business, with a limited number of client devices (Macs, iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches), a Wi-Fi connection may be adequate, though the caching Mac may see some negative performance effects if the cache is undergoing heavy use.

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by Tom Nelson

This is the last of our four-part guide to using the Mac’s accessibility features. If you missed the previous installments, you can catch up by reading:

Our last group of Accessibility options includes the Media and Hearing options, plus a couple of general tips.

Media and Hearing are the last two Accessibility categories we will look at. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

To open the Accessibility preference, launch System Preferences by clicking its Dock icon, or by selecting System Preferences from the Apple menu.

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

Scroll down the list on the left-hand sidebar until you come to the Media section.

Accessibility Media
The first media option we’ll look at is Descriptions.

Descriptions: This is Apple’s implementation of Audio Descriptions, which involves playing back narration that has been added to the soundtrack of movies, videos, TV programs, and other visual media.

The narration service attempts to describe what is displayed on the screen with concise descriptions of settings, costumes, even sight gags. The narration occurs during pauses between dialog, songs, or major sound effects.

Not all video media includes Audio Descriptions.

To enable Audio Descriptions, launch System preferences, and select the Accessibility preference pane.

Select Descriptions from the list in the Accessibility sidebar.

If Siri is enabled, you can use Siri to bring up the Descriptions configuration by saying, “Hey Siri, open Accessibility Descriptions.”

To turn the description service on, place a checkmark in the box labeled Play audio descriptions when available.

Captions: The Mac’s accessibility options include the ability to display subtitles and closed captions from any media that has embedded captions. Captions are available in two different formats (when provided by the media being viewed): as standard closed captions or as subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing (SDH).

The primary difference between closed captions and SDH is their appearance on the screen; additional contextual clues are included in SDH, such as who is speaking, background sounds, or music lyrics. SDH also uses a more film-friendly font format that doesn’t block as much of the screen as standard closed captions.

The Captions feature allows you to select a caption style as well as choose between closed captions or SDH. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

To configure Captions, bring up the Accessibility preference pane and select Captions from the sidebar.

Once you select the Captions item in the sidebar, you can select or create a subtitle style to use. The Captions feature comes with a few styles already created; you can choose one of the available styles from the list or create your own.

Subtitle styles are displayed in the box above the style list, so you can easily see how each style will look.

To create your own style, select one of the existing styles to use as a template. New styles you create inherit the settings of the currently selected style. Press the plus (+) button below the list of styles.

In the dropdown pane that appears, enter a name in the Style Name field.

Set the color that will appear behind the caption text using the Background Color dropdown menu. You can select from various predefined colors.

The Background Opacity can be set using the dropdown menu. Choose from:

  • Opaque
  • Semi-Transparent
  • Transparent

Set the caption’s color with the Text Color dropdown menu. You have the same color choices as the Background color menu. Remember not to pick the same color or the text will vanish into the background.

You can create your own subtitles style sheet to customize how captioning will look. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Use the Text Size dropdown menu to choose:

  • Extra Small
  • Small
  • Medium
  • Large
  • Extra Large

Use the Font dropdown menu to choose any installed font on your Mac.

You’ll also find that each dropdown menu has a checkbox next to it labeled Allow video to override. Selecting this option allows the embedded settings for the captions to take precedence over the style you created. If you want to ensure your style is always used, remove the checkmark from every “Allow video to override” box.

You may want to let the embedded caption settings override the Background Color and Text Color selections to ensure good visibility against the video. You can always force your style to be used after trying the settings out.

Once you’ve made your choices, click the OK button.

Your caption style will be added to the style list, and will become the selected style. If you would like a different style to be the default, you can select it from the list of styles.

If you would prefer the closed captions to use subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing (SDH), place a checkmark in the box labeled Prefer closed captions and SDH.

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by Tom Nelson

This is the third installment in the Using the Mac’s Accessibility Features series. If you missed the previous installments, you can catch up by reading:

In this installment, we will look at the Interacting category of the Accessibility preference pane.

Accessibility’s Interacting category covers how you can interact with the Mac’s user interface. It includes a number of features that allow you to use dictation for both typing text and controlling basic Mac functions, modify how the keyboard, mouse, and trackpad work, and set up and use alternate physical controllers to interact with the Mac.

Dictation

The Mac’s dictation system is controlled using two preference panes. Basic dictation, that is, using dictation to enter text wherever you would normally type text, is configured from the Keyboard preference pane. Controlling your Mac by speaking, or by creating custom dictation commands, is configured using the Accessibility preference pane’s Dictation options.

Basic Dictation Services:
Launch System Preferences, and select the Keyboard preference pane. You can let Siri perform the task by saying, “Hey Siri, open keyboard preference pane.”

The basic dictation system needs to be enabled before you can make use of the advanced dictation features, including voice command. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

With the keyboard preference pane open, select the Dictation tab.

Use the Dictation radio button to turn dictation on or off.

The option to enable enhanced dictation is available by placing a checkmark in the Use Enhanced Dictation box. I recommend using this option. When it’s selected, Apple will download an extension to Dictation that allows the service to be used offline; the extension also enables dictation commands, a very powerful part of the dictation service.

Use the Language dropdown menu to select the language you wish to use for dictation.

Use the Shortcut dropdown menu to select a keyboard shortcut for turning dictation on and off. This is an important shortcut to remember, as you probably don’t want your Mac trying to convert everything you say to text.

Dictation can use any of the Mac’s audio inputs. You can change the default microphone by clicking on the Microphone icon, and then selecting a mic from the dropdown menu.

You can create custom dictation (voice) commands to control your Mac in the Accessibility preference pane. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

To create a custom command, click on the plus (+) button.

Enter a phrase to use to trigger the custom voice command.

Use the While using: dropdown menu to select an app (including Any Application) that the voice command will be used with.

Use the Perform dropdown menu to select what the command will do. You may be taken aback by seeing only a few options available, such as Open Finder Item, Open URL, or Paste Text. But within the list are three very powerful options:

Press Keyboard Shortcut: This allows a voice command to be used to cause any keyboard shortcut to be performed. Most apps have a large number of keyboard shortcuts available, and if the function you wish to perform doesn’t have a keyboard shortcut, you can either create one using the Keyboard preference pane, or use the next option below.

Select Menu: Enter a menu name exactly as it appears in the app’s menu.

Run Workflow: This will allow you to run any Automator workflow you have created. The Automator item must have been saved as a workflow, and not one of the other options.

Click the Done button when complete.

You start Dictation using a voice command by placing a checkmark in the box labeled Enable the dictation keyword phrase. Once you place a checkmark here, enter a phrase to use to activate dictation.

The last two options are:

Play sound when command is recognized.

Mute audio output while dictating.

Place a checkmark in the appropriate box to enable the above options.

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by Tom Nelson

Last week, we started our foray into the Mac’s Accessibility features with an overview of the services available, and a look at the General category, which provides quick access to many of the Accessibility features. If you would like to review Part One of this series, you can find it at:

macOS 101: Getting Started With the Mac’s Accessibility Features.

In Part Two, we’re going to look at the Vision category, including:

  • VoiceOver: The Mac’s built-in screen reader.
  • Zoom: The ability to enlarge or shrink the view on the Mac’s display.
  • Display: Options to enhance the display for easier viewing.
  • Speech: Using the Mac’s speech options to read alerts, speak text, and modify characteristics of the voice used in the VoiceOver application.

VoiceOver
VoiceOver is the Mac’s screen reader app, though it does quite a bit more than just telling you what’s happening on the screen. It provides voice descriptions of each onscreen item, suggestions about how to use them, supports 35 languages and braille display, and offers a wide range of voice options, including the ability to control your Mac with just a keyboard.

Once VoiceOver is enabled, the caption panel will be displayed. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

VoiceOver is often thought of as an app that’s included with the Mac OS, but actually it’s a core service of the operating system. This allows third-party developers to integrate VoiceOver into their apps to provide simplified navigation with their products.

To configure and use VoiceOver:

Launch System Preferences by clicking on its Dock icon, or by selecting System Preferences from the Apple Menu.

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

If you have Siri up and running, you can say “Hey Siri, open the Accessibility preference pane” as an alternative.

In the Accessibility preference pane, select VoiceOver from the sidebar.

The VoiceOver options will be displayed in the configuration pane.

To enable Voiceover, place a checkmark in the Enable VoiceOver box, or use the command + F5 keyboard combination. You can also use Siri by speaking, “Hey Siri, turn on VoiceOver.”

VoiceOver can also be turned on using the Accessibility Shortcut panel. See Part One of this series, macOS 101: Getting Started With the Mac’s Accessibility Features, for details.

Once VoiceOver is enabled, a caption panel will appear in the bottom left corner of the screen. Within the panel, the text that VoiceOver speaks will be displayed.

VoiceOver will speak and display descriptions of each element on the screen as you interact with them. Besides speaking a description, the VoiceOver caption panel will provide hints and instructions for how to interact with the various elements you encounter.

VoiceOver provides a large number of ways to interact, including an extensive collection of keyboard shortcuts, gestures, and other input methods. A complete list of all the ways to interact are a bit beyond the scope of this overview, however, VoiceOver has a built-in training system that takes the user through the process of using the Mac via VoiceOver commands.

To launch the VoiceOver training, return to the Accessibility preference pane.

Make sure VoiceOver is selected in the left-hand pane, then click the Open VoiceOver Training button.

The training instructions will be displayed. You can move through the training pages using the arrow keys on the keyboard. Use the Escape key to end the training.

Apple also has a VoiceOver Getting Started Guide that I highly recommend. The guide is also available in an English Unified Braille version, and an embossed braille version is available to order.

The Getting Started Guide covers working with text, navigation, VoiceOver basics, working with tables, navigating the Internet, and much, much more.

VoiceOver tip: Control + Option is the default set of VoiceOver keyboard modifiers, and is referenced in most VoiceOver keyboard commands. If you’re using OS X El Capitan or later, the caps lock key also works as the VoiceOver modifier. It lets you press a single key, and when VoiceOver is enabled, the caps lock key doesn’t function as a normal caps lock anyway.

The VoiceOver Utility allows you to customize VoiceOver to meet your needs. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

The last component of VoiceOver we will cover is the VoiceOver utility, which provides a way to customize VoiceOver to work the way you would like it to. You can customize the following:

  • Verbosity: Specify the verbosity level for speech, braille, text, announcements, and hints.
  • Speech: Select the voice, rate, pitch, and volume, as well as how certain text is pronounced.
  • Navigation: Customize how VoiceOver works with cursors, groups, redundant items, and more.
  • Web: Control how web pages are navigated.
  • Sound: Change basic sound parameters.
  • Visuals: Control VoiceOver cursor size and movement, caption panel size, braille panel font size and color, and menu font size.
  • Commands: Allows you to assign VoiceOver commands to keyboard characters
  • Braille: Customize settings for an attached braille display.
  • Activities: Create sets of preferences for use with specific activities.

To access the VoiceOver Utility, return to the Accessibility preference pane.

Make sure VoiceOver is selected in the left-hand pane, then click the Open VoiceOver Utility button.

You can also ask Siri to do it by saying, “Hey Siri, open VoiceOver utility.”

VoiceOver tip: Use the Speech options in the VoiceOver utility to try out different voices. Alex Compact and Fred are popular VoiceOver voices to use. Be sure to try a voice with different speaking rates and pitch to find one that intones clearly.

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by Tom Nelson

This is the first in a series of articles that will explore the Mac’s built-in accessibility features that are designed to make using a Mac as easy as possible for everyone. Is the mouse cursor a bit too small? You can change the cursor size within the Accessibility preference pane. Is a standard keyboard difficult or nearly impossible to use? Once again, within the Accessibility set of features you can modify how a standard keyboard works, or create an onscreen keyboard you can control with head or eye tracking technology.

AccessibilityIcon

The range of capabilities in the Accessibility preference pane is so large that one article wouldn’t do them justice. So, let’s get started with a quick overview and a look at some of the more general settings and capabilities.

Accessibility Overview
The Accessibility API became an official part of the Mac with the release of OS X 10.2 (Jaguar), though it was known then as Universal Access. The name change to Accessibility didn’t occur until the release of OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion). While the initial release lacked many standard features that are taken for granted today, it did include tools for those with partial vision loss, though in its original offering it lacked an important tool for those with visual impairment: a full-screen reader.

With each release of OS X, and later, macOS, the accessibility features grew and were refined to bring equal access to the Mac to all users.

As we delve into the Accessibility options it’s important to point out that not every feature we mention is available in all versions of the Mac operating system. Apple moved the location of some features around within the Accessibility preference pane from time to time. Where possible, I’ll attempt to mention if a feature has been moved, and where it used to be located. I’ll also concentrate on the versions of the Accessibility preference pane starting at OS X Mountain Lion and going forward, with emphasis on the version included with macOS High Sierra. The earlier versions, known as Universal Access, have many of the same features, but the user interface is different enough to make including the older versions cumbersome at best. If I miss any changes, be sure to leave a comment below, letting us know.

The Accessibility options are currently organized into five categories:

General: This category was added with macOS Sierra. The general pane is primarily used to select which Accessibility options will be available in the Accessibility Options Shortcut panel.

Vision: This category was originally called Seeing, but it underwent a name change in OS X Yosemite. This group includes Accessibility options useful for anyone with vision-related impairments.

Media: The Media category was added in OS X Yosemite. It allows the use of subtitles and spoken descriptions in media that supports the feature.

Hearing: Basic audio controls involving alerts and converting all stereo sound to mono.

Interacting: This is the largest accessibility category and covers all the user interface elements used to interact with the Mac, including keyboard, mouse or trackpad, Siri, Dictation, and Switch Control.

The General settings are used to specify which options will be displayed in the Accessibility Shortcut pane. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Accessing the Accessibility General Category
All of the Accessibility options are accessed through the Accessibility preference pane. To bring up the pane, do the following:

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

Select the Accessibility preference pane.

The Accessibility preference pane will open, displaying a sidebar on the left-hand side that contains a list of all of the Accessibility options, organized by category. On the right is the configuration pane, which allows you to control how each of the accessibility options is used.

In the sidebar, select the General item. The General category was added in macOS Sierra to support a new feature: the Accessibility Shortcut panel. You may need to scroll to find the item. If you’re using an earlier version of the OS, you can skip down to the Accessibility Status section, below.

In the configuration pane, you’ll see a list of accessibility services that will be shown in the Accessibility shortcut pane when it’s displayed. You can select which items you wish to have shown by placing a checkmark in the corresponding box.

Note: Placing a checkmark in the box doesn’t enable the feature; it only allows it to appear in the Accessibility Shortcut panel.

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