Mac

Fixing Stubborn Default App Issues With RCDefaultApp 0

RCDefault Usually, you can set default apps for certain file types right through OS X features directly. Email (in El Capitan) is done by going to the preference pane in Mail.app, most file types allow you to set the default by going to Get Info, etc. However, sometimes things go awry, and that’s where RCDefaultApp comes in handy – big time!

For example, I had been trying out several email apps to find a good “second app” that I could use exclusively for corporate email messaging. This seriously screwed up my default mail app settings, and nothing would convince OS X to not use Mail.app for everything email no matter what. I tried many suggestions found online, but most fixes either no longer existed in El Capitan (repair permissions) or were simply ineffective at fixing the problem. Then one of my Tweeple – @bynkii – suggested I check out RCDefaultApp.

I had used it some time ago (Snow Leopard days) and it worked well, so I hunted around and found it again. First off, make sure you download it from RubiCode’s site only. Other sites seem to only have the non-universal, PowerPC versions which will not work on anything past the Leopard family. Once you have it, open the dmg and then open the Preference Pane file. This will launch a mini-installer that lets you decide if you want to install it for all users or not. Note: one component (“DoesNothing”) will not run, as it is not signed, but apparently it does exactly what it says on the tin, and doesn’t actually do anything necessary to the software itself.

The app is simply a Preference Pane, so open System Preferences, and you will see a new pane called “Default Preferences” under Other at the bottom. This brings up the main window, which lets you set your default apps for a wide variety of file types, sub-types, and more. In my case, I had to change the default email handler, but also the extension for .eml – which is apparently what was causing all the problems for me. Once I made those changes, Airmail became my default email client for the entire system as expected.

So if you have files opening in odd applications, and the normal methods for changing the default apps don’t work, check out RCDefaultApp from RubiCode. It’s free, and worth far more than you pay for it =)

The Search for Workable Information Worker Software 0

HNCK2695 Email is – for the most part – the stuff of modern productivity. Begin able to send and receive email, along with the calendars, contacts, and tasks that it brings; is essential to getting work done these days. When you use the native Mac apps, everything is fine. When you need to use 3rd-party tools, things go sideways in a hurry.

For example, I work – as most do – with email, calendar, task, and contact apps on a daily basis. To keep my personal accounts independent from my work accounts, I use the native OS X apps (Mail, Calendar, Contacts, etc.) for my own stuff and 3rd-party apps for everything else. While I was working for a company that used Exchange/Office 365, this was easy to do. Native apps for personal, Outlook for work, and everything went relatively seamlessly. Granted, Outlook has issues, but it worked.

For my personal stuff, all the apps talked to each other and would share data with each other. Accepting an invitation in email put the resulting appointment into the calendar. With 3rd-party apps, the wheels fell off the wagon insanely fast.

After much searching, I gave up on a unified app like Outlook. There are a few out there, but they either rock at email and totally suck at calendars, or vice versa. None could handle everything. Since I now use Google calendars, Outlook for Mac was right out – it doesn’t support CalDAV, which is required for Google Calendar functionality.

So, it’s now 3 different apps – one for email, one for calendars, one for tasks. While not optimal, I can live with that, if they’d actually talk to each other!

I went with Airmail (US$10 in the App Store) for email, Fantastical (US$49 in the app store) for calendars, and todoist (Free with paid features in the app store) for task lists. This was after much experimentation and finally gave me the integrations I need, but there was a TON of trial and error to get to this point.

I tried one email client (Postbox) that worked really well for email. The layout was perfect for me, it allowed me to archive messages to something besides the “All Mail” folder, and it didn’t appear to be a resource hog. Problems arose, however, when I found out that pretty much every *other* vendor decided to stop supporting it for integration and shortcuts. It operated horribly when it came to calendar invitations, sometimes not bothering to tell the calendar software it got one, other times refusing to open the invitation at all, and always spewing out a ton of garbled text instead of the body of the invitation itself.

Then I focused on the calendar. One software package (BusyCal) was great in terms of layout and syncing with Google, but couldn’t handle HTML in invitations. I’m not sure why that was the case, as it’s 2016 and HTML-based invitations have been around for literally a decade now, but whatever. Since 80% of my invitations were for Webex or otherwise included a lot of HTML, this killed the usefulness of the app entirely.

OK, how about tasks? Miserable. Either they have so many features and “Getting Things Done” rule-sets that they’re unusable for someone like me (classically trained in the Franklin/Covey method); or they were just simple task lists with no flexibility at all. One was so complicated that after a week I gave up even trying to figure out how to move a task and just “completed” it so I could start over and create a new one.

So, I figured a “if you can beat ’em, join ’em” approach and tried out a couple of apps that simply framed up the Gmail website into the app itself. While they both worked, they also both refused to talk to anything except themselves. That meant I was stuck with Google’s horrible calendar interface, or nothing. Not a good trade-off for me. Of course none of them allowed for offline support either, which makes traveling painful when I can’t get wifi. To add insult to injury these apps, while essentially being an HTML wrapper, didn’t support any of the Gmail plug-ins that others in my company use regularly. So I got all the headaches of the web interface, and none of the benefits.

Finally, someone suggested Airmail. It does only mail – nothing else – and is a great hybrid between Gmail features and usability on the desktop. The app doesn’t support plug-ins from the Gmail site, but it does have offline sync, handles HTML mail/invitations well, and plays nicely with the OS X Notification Center. That’s about all it does, but it does it very well, and serves its purpose.

Fantastical gave me a great calendar experience. Showing the week-at-glance in a way that was readable, and easily figuring out what an HTML invitation was. It’s functional, readable, and flexible enough to deal with most common calendar scenarios. The price is rather high, but worth it if you need an independent calendar.

Todoist is the glue that holds it all together for me. It integrates with Airmail (and about 20 other apps) and can easily handle flipping tasks around, shifting priorities, and knowing when I need to see things. On the road, I can email things to Todoist and it’ll throw them in the inbox for me to sort out later.

It’s taken over a month of trial and error, but I finally found a set of apps that give me a workable solution to what should have been a no-brainer situation. I’d really like to see someone come up with a workable all-in-one app for Mac-based Information Workers like me, but I guess there just aren’t enough of us to make it financially workable for someone to do it.

Time to update to El Capitan 0

Photo Credit: PicJumbo-Viktor Hanacek
IMG 6838While I typically wait a few months before updating to the latest major release of any OS, the time has come to start using El Capitan (OS X 10.11). The OS itself seems to have stabilized well, with the first and second major round of patching already complete an out in the wild. Additionally, there’s another pretty big reason to finally bite the bullet and upgrade:

Recently, a few apps I’d like to use have abandoned support for Yosemite (OS X 10.10), leaving users with little choice but to move to the newer version of OS X if they want to keep using the app. Since the apps in question are distributed through the Mac App Store, they simply won’t install on older versions than the developer specifies. In truth, the MAS won’t even let you purchase them on any Mac running on the earlier versions of OS X, entirely blocking you from getting the apps unless you jump into the latest OS X version.

I don’t see any major reason not to upgrade, however. The platform is getting rave reviews, and the battery life improvements will mean longer run times on my MacBook Pro. Some of the new cross-platform (OS and iOS) features are also impressive. I’ve used handoff and other tools between my Mac and mobiles since I jumped into Yosemite, and the ability to get caller ID and alerts on the Mac when I get a phone call is a nifty thing. Having the ability to send and receive both iMessage and normal SMS messages on all devices/computers is also very useful, as it means I don’t have to stop what I’m doing and grab another device just because a txt came in.

All in all, there’s no real reason not to go ahead with the upgrade, and now there are more and more reasons while taking the plunge is the best idea.

Keep your Mac from falling asleep during restore 0

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alancleaver/

Restoration from a Time Machine backup can be a lifesaver, but restoring the whole system after booting into Internet Restore can cause some serious issues – especially if that restore takes an extended amount of time.

Normally, the process would be to simply hold down CMD+OPT+R after the BOING and until the spinning globe shows up on the screen, this automatically starts Internet Recovery Mode, and allows you to connect to WiFi or a physical network jack and begin the restore process.  You select “Restore from Time Machine Backup,” select the appropriate image, and away you go.  When the process is finished, your Mac is back to the way it was before your unfortunate incident, with very few exceptions (if any).

There’s a catch though.  Jumping into Internet Recovery Mode also loads the default set of Power Management options, and restoration of a full Mac system these days might take several hours.  Those two factors add up to one massive headache.  Unless you keep the system awake by tapping a key or moving the mouse now and then, the system will go to sleep in about 10 minutes, and start shutting down spinning disks about 10 minutes later.  This means that your – presumably external – Time Machine drive will also get spun down, crashing the restore operation and forcing you to start all over again.

Obviously, it’s just not practical to sit there and keep the system awake for the 6+ hour restore you’re in for if your Time Machine is on a USB 2 disk and is over 500GB or so.  There is, however, a way to force the system to never sleep, even in Internet Recovery Mode.

 

First, boot into Internet Recovery Mode and wait for it to start up.  That will bring you to a screen with a window offering you the basic choices of reinstalling OS X, restoring from Time Machine, etc.  Go to the menu bar at the top of the screen, and choose Utilities, then Terminal.  This closes the first window and brings up a command-line interface (the BASH Terminal) where you can enter these three commands:

 

pmset -a sleep 0

pmset -a disksleep 0

pmset -a displaysleep 0

 

Then quit Terminal via the menu, and walk through the standard restoration operation.

Here’s what you’re doing:

pmset is a function of the underlying OS that handles setting parameters for Power Management options.  In each case you’re telling OS X to set the named Power Management option (system sleep, disk sleep, display sleep).  The “-a” tells OS X to set that option for all power profiles – while you’ll probably only use AC Power during a restore, it’s a good idea to just tell the Mac to use it for all of them.  “0” sets the time-out to zero, in other words never sleep.

The result is that the Mac will never dim the display, got to sleep, or stop the spinning disks until you a) re-set those options or b) boot into another OS instance. Since you’re going to boot into a new instance when the restore is done, you don’t have to worry about changing them back later.

Simple as that!  Open Terminal, type those three commands, and then quit Terminal and walk through the restore process from your Time Machine backup with no interruptions.

Critical Mac Security Update 0

For those of you who keep an eye out for weird pop-ups and messages, you most likely noticed a Notification or Growl message that “A critical security updated has been applied.”

When I saw that, I had a moment of panic, as I had – up until now – told OS X that I wanted to manually install patches, updates, and fixes. So this message out of the blue was a bit of a shock. After some online research (and with help from some great Twitter friends like @UberBrady ) I was able to get to the bottom of it.

First things first, if you upgraded to Yosemite from earlier versions of OS X, most of your preferences came over – but one very important one was added and is turned on by default. OS X starting in Yosemite includes an “emergency update system” that automatically downloads and applies any patches that Apple believes to be extremely critical security fixes. They have, to date, only classified one such patch in that category, and this was it. This critical update system is ENABLED by default, and frankly you should leave it enabled. But if – for some reason – you need to turn it off, jump over to Apple Menu| System Preferences| App Store and you’ll see the settings for auto-updates, including the relatively new one for emergency patches labeled “Install system data files and security updates”:

Screenshot of the App Store preferences

Even though this would appear to be for a lot of patches, note that you’ll still have to download and install “optional,” “Important,” and other patches manually if you do not check the other two boxes.

Now, onto the particulars of the update:

Apple recently announced a fix for a Network Time Protocol (NTP) system in OS X. The bug could allow an attacker to take control of system resources (which is a bad thing) with relatively little effort (which is a HORRIBLE thing). This means un-patched systems are vulnerable to attack and need to be patched immediately. Luckily, if you haven’t changed the defaults, Yosemite will patch it automatically as described above.

A more detailed explanation of what the vulnerability is can be found on Apple’s Site.

So, have no fear, the unexpected Notification is not, itself, and attack. Rather, it’s a new feature in OS X designed to help protect against attackers, and was just rather well hidden – and never before used – up to this point.

Stay Safe!