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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

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.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

If you’ve been using iTunes for a long time, you may have noticed how it changed from a good music player into a strong multimedia player, became a music, video, and app store, as well as a file and device manager for syncing, backing up, and restoring iOS devices.

Lost in all the changes was its original strength: simply playing and managing media on a Mac.

If iTunes now seems a bit unwieldy to you, there are alternatives available that can likely meet most of your needs. The key word here is “most” of your needs. As far as I’ve seen, there’s no single iTunes replacement that can do everything iTunes does. But if your main interest is playing media, or organizing your multimedia library, there are quite a few alternatives available. If you’re looking for an app to manage your devices, perform backups, and transfer files between devices, there are some good choices for that as well. Related article: How to Move Your iTunes Library to an External Drive

Swinsian – Free trial; $19.95
If you’re looking for a media player to play music and manage your libraries, Swinsian may be a good fit. Swinsian is easy to set up; it can import your existing iTunes music library, and you can set up specific folders for Swinsian to monitor. Drop an album or track into one of the folders, and Swinsian will import it into its library for you.

Swinsian displays your media library in a compact but customizable window. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Swinsian supports a large number of file formats, including FLAC, MP3, AAC, ALAC, Ogg Vorbis, WMA, WAV, Opus, AC3, AIFF, Musepack (MPC), DSF, and APE.

And while being able to play music on your Mac from different file types is helpful, it can be a problem when you want to transfer a music file to your iPod or IOS devices. Swinsian has you covered there, with automatic transcoding of file formats to ones supported by the device you’re moving them to. No need for a separate app to translate file formats.

Other features include:

  • Album art: Swinsian can find and download album art automatically, and display it within the player.
  • Duplicate track finder: If your music library looks anything like mine, the ability to find duplicate tracks and eliminate them may be worth the price of admission alone.
  • AirPlay support.
  • Smart playlists: Build new playlists based on a wide range of criteria including rating, artist, title, bit rate, play count, and much more.
  • Mini player.
  • 10 or 31 band equalizer.
  • Gapless playback.
  • Support for cue files or embedded cue information.

Plus many more features.

Swinsian’s interface will remind you of iTunes before it became so bloated with features. The interface is easy to move about in; using the music browser simplifies finding music. And the interface is highly customizable, allowing you to rearrange and add information as you see fit.

If your main need is for a versatile and easy-to-use music player, Swinsian is a good choice. Its focus is being a music player, and library and playlist manager.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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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.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

When asked what browser they use on their Mac, most people will respond with Google Chrome or Apple Safari. Some will mention Firefox and Opera as alternatives to the big two.

It seems each browser has its advocates, with browser features, speed, and user interface being the most often named reasons for a preference. It would be difficult to try to measure the benefits of a browser’s features, or its user interface, but we can test a browser’s speed, and who doesn’t enjoy a good race?

So, let’s line up the competitors and see who gets to the finish line the fastest.

The Browsers
The four most popular Mac browsers are included in our benchmark testing, along with Safari Technology Preview (STP), a browser in beta form designed to showcase new technology that will likely make its way into Safari at some future date. We’re including it just to provide a sneak peek at what will be coming down the line.

Chrome: Google Chrome has become the most used desktop browser, with an estimated 68% share of the desktop market (2018). It was first released in 2008, and made use of the WebKit rendering engine, the same one used by Safari. In 2013, the Chromium project was announced; it included the new Blink rendering engine. Blink was a fork of the WebKit code, and since the two have parted ways, each rendering engine has seen a frantic pace in its development.

Firefox: Could be considered one of the oldest browsers available. Firefox can trace its heritage back to Netscape Navigator, one of the first widely available web browsers. Firefox may have a long history, but it is, in all respects, a modern browser. It includes the newest version of the Quantum rendering engine, designed to bring new technologies to Firefox by building on the foundation of the older, but very stable, Gecko engine.

Opera: Another browser that can follow its heritage back into the dim beginnings of the world wide web. Although Opera has been around for a very long time, its technology is quite new; it’s based on the same Blink rendering engine used in Chrome.

Safari: Apple’s Safari web browser has been the default browser app since 2003 and the release of OS X Panther. Safari makes use of WebKit as its rendering engine.

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by Tom Nelson

Safari Technology Preview, often referred to as STP, is a web browser for the Mac. STP was designed as a testbed to evaluate new browser technology that Apple is considering using in future releases of Safari. Think of it as a public beta for the next generation of the Safari browser, but with a few important differences over conventional beta software.

First off, STP is amazingly stable, which is a pretty amazing thing to say for an app that is, at its heart, a framework for Apple to plug in modules to test out various concepts. At any time, STP may be running an updated version of WebKit, the rendering engine that powers Safari. It could also have a new or updated JavaScript engine, updated CSS technology, new features, developer tools, and security measures. With all these new or updated components, you would think STP would be prone to errors and crashes, but in actual use, Safari Technology Preview remains very stable, a testament to the developers and the testing process being used with this beta browser.

Second, frequent updates ensure that bugs, once found, are quickly fixed. Likewise, new technologies that are being developed are likely going to be first publicly seen in STP, at least for Mac users, and updated frequently with each STP release.

What Are STP’s Features?
A better question would be, what are the recent features since STP is updated so frequently. In the two most recent updates (STP 71 and STP 72), Safari Technology Preview has seen new additions to its list of experimental features:

Web animation can be used to bring life to a web page, or simply to animate a galaxy of swirling points of lights. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

  • Web animation: STP gained support for Web animation, part of the W3C standard. In addition, STP can translate older CSS animation to the newer and faster web animation standard.
  • Web authentication using USB security devices: This set of programming APIs allows USB-based security devices to be used for authenticating login credentials. Apple is testing the Client-to-Authenticator protocol part of the FIDO2 standard that would allow a hardware key, in this case in the form of a USB stick, to be used in place of passwords as a login credential for web services.
  • Dark Mode support: Safari gained support for Dark Mode in Mojave.
  • WebGPU: A future standard, still being worked on, that allows a computer’s GPU to be used to accelerate rendering of both 2D and 3D graphics images within the browser.
  • WebMetal: Similar to WebGPU but specific to the Metal-enabled GPUs used in some Macs (mostly 2012 and later models).
  • WebRTC: Web Real-Time Communication is an open-source standard that allows audio and video communications to work within a web page using direct peer-to-peer communications.

Safari Technology Preview contains many additional features and capabilities, way too many to list here. You can discover more by stopping by the Safari Technology Preview developer’s page (developer membership is not required).

General features of STP include:

  • It allows you to try out the latest web technology.
  • If you’re a web developer, STP contains a wide collection of developer tools.
  • Independent of the standard version of Safari, you can run STB and Safari side-by-side, with no interaction between them.
  • STP Bug Reporter not only allows you to report bugs you encounter, but you can also make enhancement and feature requests.

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by Tom Nelson

Dashboard, the secondary desktop introduced with OS X Tiger, is gone, vamoosed, kaput; it’s an ex-desktop. With the advent of macOS Mojave, the Dashboard and all of those productive widgets are gone. Such is the penalty paid for progress. Or is it?

If you’re a fan of Dashboard and all of its funky widgets, such as weather, an assortment of clocks, a calendar, local movie listings, stocks, and whatever else you may have loaded into the Dashboard environment, the good news is that the Dashboard isn’t really gone, Mojave just turned it off by default.

Now, having Dashboard disabled by default may be an indication of what is in store for Dashboard down the road. Dashboard widgets, those mini applications, haven’t seen a lot of activity from developers in quite a while, and most of the widgets can be replaced with apps from the Mac App Store. And if rumors are to be believed, some iOS apps, beyond those included with Mojave, may in the future make the jump to macOS. In that case, the Dashboard environment may just not make a lot of sense anymore. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy it for now.

Enabling the Dashboard
It’s an easy process to turn Dashboard back on:

Use the Mission Control preference pane to enable Dashboard, as well as to select what mode it will operate in. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

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

Select the Mission Control preference pane.

Locate the dropdown menu next to the Dashboard text.

Use the dropdown menu to select one of the following:

  • Off: The default state for Mojave. The Dashboard is turned off and can’t be used.
  • As Space: The Dashboard environment is treated as a separate desktop space. You can switch into and out of the Dashboard space using the Spaces bar, keyboard shortcuts, or gestures.
  • As Overlay: This is the classic method of displaying the Dashboard, as an overlay above your normal desktop.

Make your selection from the dropdown menu.

You can now quit the System Preferences.

Accessing the Dashboard
There are a number of ways to access the Dashboard, though the most common is to use the F12 or the Fn + F12 keys (depending on the keyboard type you’re using). Pressing the F12 key will either display the Dashboard as a space that slides into place, replacing the current desktop or other active space, or as an overlay on top of the current desktop.

There are additional ways to access the Dashboard once you have turned the feature on:

Launch the Mission Control preference pane, as you did earlier.

In the Keyboard and Mouse Shortcuts section, you can assign keystrokes or mouse buttons to perform specific tasks. Look for the Show Dashboard text. Next to the text are two dropdown menus; the first can be used to assign any of the function keys, F1 through F19 (your keyboard may not have all 19 function keys). You can also use the Shift, Control, or Command keys in combination with the function keys to create up to 57 possible key combinations to access the Dashboard.

If you would prefer to use your mouse, the second dropdown menu to the right allows you to select from up to seven different mouse buttons to use to access the Dashboard environment.

Hot Corners allows you to access the Dashboard by moving the cursor into the designated corner. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Hot Corners are another way to access the Dashboard. With this method, simply moving the cursor to one of the corners of your display can cause the Dashboard to appear. To set up Hot Corners, click the Hot Corners button in the Mission Control preference pane. In the sheet that drops down, select the dropdown menu that corresponds to the display corner you wish to use, and then select Dashboard from the dropdown menu’s list of options.

You can also use the Dock to work with Dashboard. Click or tap the Dashboard icon in the Dock to go directly to the Dashboard. Chances are there’s no Dashboard icon in your Dock under Mojave, but it’s easy to put it back. In the Finder, open the Applications folder, and then drag the Dashboard app to the Dock.

Prefer to use gestures? That’s possible as well:

  • Dashboard enabled as a space: You can use the standard two-finger swipe left or right to move between spaces.
  • Dashboard set as an overlay: You can use a three-finger swipe up to open Mission control, and then select the Dashboard from the Spaces bar.

Quit Dashboard
To quit the Dashboard and return to the desktop:

  • Press the Escape key.
  • Press the arrow icon in the bottom right corner of the Dashboard.
  • When Dashboard is used as an overlay, click or tap in any empty space of the Dashboard.

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by Tom Nelson

Once a popular option in the early days of the Mac, RAM disks, which were used to speed up the performance of a Mac, have fallen by the wayside.

Conceptually, RAM disks are a simple idea: a chunk of RAM set aside that looks, to the Mac system, like just another storage drive. The system, as well as any installed apps, can write files to or read files from the RAM disk, just as if it really were another storage drive mounted on your Mac.

But unlike any storage drive, a RAM disk can operate at the speed of RAM, which is usually many times faster than most drive storage systems.

RAM Disk History
RAM disks existed before the Macintosh ever hit the market, but we’re going to predominantly explore how RAM disks were used with the Mac.

The Mac Plus, released in 1986, had quite a few new features, including the use of SIM (Single Inline Memory) modules that users could easily upgrade. The Mac Plus shipped with 1 MB of RAM, but users could increase the memory size to 4 MB. That was an amazing amount of RAM in 1986, and begged the question: What can I do with all this memory space?

At the same time, many users were asking how they could speed up their Macs. And while many users were happy to just max out the RAM, and enjoy the performance gain of having more memory, which let them run more applications concurrently, some users discovered the joys of using a RAM disk to speed up the system and apps. Other users discovered that a RAM disk could be used to create an amazingly fast storage system. Remember, back then, most Mac Plus users were getting by with a single 800 KB floppy drive, while those who felt like splurging could add an additional external floppy drive. If you really had cash to burn, you could hook up a 20MB SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) hard drive, which would likely set you back well over $1,200.

The first prominent use of a RAM disk was to copy the Mac’s slow ROM (Read Only Memory), which contained many of the system’s core components, along with the operating system, which was stored on a floppy drive, and move them both to a RAM disk where they could operate at the speed of RAM; many, many times faster than either the floppy disk or the ROM.

The performance increase was amazing, and was achieved for just the cost of a RAM disk utility app.

The second common use of a RAM disk back in the Mac Plus days was to create a tiered storage system. Floppy drives weren’t fast enough for professionals or avid amateurs to work with new rich media editing systems, such as audio editors, image editors, or page layout apps. SCSI drives could meet the needs of image editing and page layout, but audio editing was at best iffy, with most SCSI drives being too slow to provide the needed bandwidth for audio or other real-time editing.

RAM disks, on the other hand, were very fast, and could easily meet the needs of real-time editing with their ability to write or read files as quickly as the RAM could be accessed, without the mechanical latency inherent in SCSI or floppy disks.

RAM disks can be very fast. In my case, over 10x faster than my Mac’s startup drive. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

The only disadvantage to RAM disks was that the data stored in them was lost every time you turned your Mac off, or the power went out. You had to remember to copy the content of the RAM disk to your main storage system or your work would be lost.

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by Tom Nelson

Disk Utility, the macOS Swiss Army knife for working with disks and storage volumes, may have a few blades missing, especially when it comes to working with unformatted drives and unused space on a disk or storage volume.

In versions of Disk Utility that came with OS X Yosemite and earlier, you could enable hidden debug modes in the Disk Utility app that allowed you to see and interact with all the space on a disk, including hidden elements, such as the Recovery volume or the secret EFI partitions.

In this Rocket Yard article, we’re going to look at how to enable Disk Utility to view and work with the types of disk spaces you’re likely to encounter, including:

We’ll also demonstrate how to use Terminal to access the remaining hidden disk structures that Disk Utility can’t view directly, including:

  • Recovery volumes
  • EFI volumes
  • Preboot and Boot volumes

Selecting the Initialize button will open Disk Utility, but the disk may not show up if the apps view settings are in the default settings. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Using Disk Utility to Access All Devices
Disk Utility is configured by default to only show formatted volumes. This makes using Disk Utility with existing volumes an easy task since there are only a few, and sometimes only one, volumes displayed, cutting down on what could be an overwhelming list of disks, containers, volumes, RAID slices, etc.

The disadvantage, however, is that it can make it difficult to work with new unformatted disks you may be using for the first time. This includes working with unformatted drives as well as unformatted USB flash drives.

Tip: When we speak of unformatted drives, we’re including any disk that uses a format that your Mac can’t natively work with.

Disk Utility lets you pick which display mode to work in: Volumes only, All Devices, or only a selected drive. You can switch between them at any time, and Disk Utility will update the display immediately; no need to close and reopen the Disk Utility app or restart your Mac.

Show All Devices
This setting will display all storage devices connected directly to your Mac. In addition to each device being displayed, a hierarchical listing will show how each device is organized, i.e., how many containers, partitions, or volumes each device contains. Absent from the hierarchical view will be any of the items Apple has decided to hide from the end user, such as EFI volumes and Recovery volumes.

When Disk Utility’s view option is set to Show All Devices even unformatted devices will be present in the sidebar, such as the highlighted USB flash drive that needs to be formatted. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

From the Disk Utility toolbar, click the View button, and then select the Show All Devices item from the dropdown menu. You can also select Show All Devices from Disk Utility’s View menu.

The Sidebar will change to display all locally connected devices, presented in a hierarchical view starting with the physical device, than any containers and volumes the device may have been partitioned into.

Hide the Sidebar
For the ultimate in simplicity, you can choose to hide the sidebar and remove any listings of devices or volumes from view.

From the Disk Utility toolbar, click the View button and select the Hide Sidebar item in the dropdown menu. You can also select Hide Sidebar from Disk Utility’s View menu.

The sidebar will close, and the last selected item in the sidebar will become the only item listed in the Disk Utility window.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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