I found Safari Browser to be a nightmare in its cross platform days. It says a lot for its progress that has become my preferred browser. The modern version is fast, efficient with resources, and proactive about tracking protection. Recent announcements also suggest that protection will continue to improve. Using 1Blocker for iOS and macOS , I can manage my browsing experience across Mac and iOS without weighing the app down with extensions. Add to that recent additions such as iOS type privacy settings, and the already excellent continuity features like handoff, and reading list. Put simply, using Safari is easy. It might not be as extensible as Chrome or Firefox, but like those browsers, Safari has a number of hidden features.
Enabling Safari Hidden Features
The other hidden menu is the lessor known Debug menu, which requires some basic terminal foo to reveal. The intrepid and curious will have a range of new preferences to tweak
Open Terminal: If you’re a mouse jockey click on the Go menu in Finder, and select Utilities. If you’re a keyboard warrior hit ⌘ + Space and start typing Terminal.
Once you have the Terminal open either type, or copy and past the following command:
Press return, then restart Safari. Presto, you have a new menu.
Safari Hidden Features to Enable
Until recently, this was the only way you could disable autoplay video on annoying sites. Thankfully, Safari will now allow you to set site specific preferences , content blocking, and so on. It doesn’t always work the way it should in my experience, but setting a global flag in the debug menu takes care of it. Under Media Flags, enable ‘Video Needs User Action’, or ‘Audio Needs User Action’, depending on your needs. You can also disable inline video altogether.
Other handy features include the ability to disable some of Safari’s energy management. If you have attention madness like I do, you might find your open tabs getting out of control. Rather than creating epic memory leaks, Safari will suspend background tabs that aren’t being used. The browser is smart about how it does this, but it doesn’t suit everybody. For some users, having to reload a suspended tab can be a real nuisance. For instance, if you do a lot of research you might want to keep all your tabs live. If this is you, the option to disable background tab suspension is under miscellaneous flags.
There are a lot more flags, some more useful than others. To state the obvious, you can break stuff by playing with them, but that’s half the fun.
If Notebooks isn’t best note taking app for iPad, it is definitely the most underrated. If you're looking for a markdown notes app, a writing app, or a document storage container with a few unique tricks, you won’t find many better. Part notebook, part storage locker, and part GTD task management system. That might sound like a janky combination, but not only does it work well, it looks pretty too. It has been around for a while, so in lieu of a comprehensive review, I want to highlight a particular feature I haven’t seen anywhere else. The ability to turn notes into tasks.
If you have a lot of reading to keep up with from a variety of sources, this is very handy. For planning and tracking big reading projects I still use TaskPaper on macOS, with its counterpart TaskMator on iOS. That system works well, with the outliner style lists making it easy to break up books, journals and so on with due dates. Using Notebooks has a distant advantage over that system, as it can collect the reading material itself. Web pages, notes, PDF documents, Word files, you can read them all directly in Notebooks. It will even let you index epub files to open in a third-party reader, like Marvin. Remember, at its core this is note taking app, while reading you can highlight text, make annotations, take clippings, and more. You can also take notes.
Notebooks Reading List Workflow
This is a simple idea that in practice will help keep track of reading lists, note revisions, or really anything text based. It’s true you can fashion a similar system by chaining apps like DEVONthink and Things 3 together. To my mind this is more elegant, or at least less confusing.
It works like this. As I collect reading material, I drop it into a Notebook that has been setup as a task list. When I’m on the clock I can setup due dates, reminders and so on. More importantly, I can tick items off as I go, meaning a quick visual guide is available to measure progress. It’s easy enough to use Notebooks’ share extension for this — or bookmarklets on the Mac — but there are two alternative methods I prefer. First, Notebooks has a very hand URL scheme which is clever about capturing all kinds of data, which makes setting up a custom action extension for Workflow trivial.
The Workflow action above is especially handy on the iPhone, but the iPad has another option that is easier still. Notebooks has excellent support for the drag and drop feature of iOS 11. So if you don’t fancy using Workflow, you can use multitasking to simply drag links and files directly into a reading list. Or, you can use something like the excellent shelf app Gladys to hold the material you collect before dropping it into Notebooks later. Gladys now has a Mac version too, which adds some continuity to the workflow.
Among the Best Note Taking Apps
If you follow this site, you probably know by now that all my data ends up in DEVONthink, one way, or another. Whatever passes through Notebooks still ends up there, but DEVONthink’s super power is search. It has passable editing and annotation tools, but I prefer doing the interactive work before it ends up in what is essentially a personal research database. For a lot of users Notebooks might even be enough. While the task management features were no doubt conceived for GTD nerds, they end up making Notebooks among the best note taking apps for college, or university users. The caveat being it's not a handwriting app. In fact if anything holds it back, that would be it. I would get around that by using Nebo as a capture tool myself, they complement each other well.
If DEVONthink’s not your jam, or you’re looking to replace Evernote with something private and local, Notebooks is a handsome and feature rich app. It has relative feature parity across macOS, and iOS, and a lot of unexpected touches. GTD purists could configure tickler files, and contexts until their head is sufficiently empty of all that arduous, excess thought. 1. It can even run its own local WebDAV server for private local sync. It sounds strange, but it’s really not.
Presenting complex ideas in a clear, and simple way is as undervalued as it is difficult to master. It doesn’t help that established presentation software is mostly dated, awkward, and time-consuming. Just as we have with writing apps, we have painted ourselves into a corner with presentation tools. Keynote can standalone as an alternative to Powerpoint. And yet, if you pressed me for a list of cool presentation tools, you wouldn't find either of those. It would be a short list, but you would definitely find Deckset 2.0 there.
Deckset is a presentation making app with an entirely different user experience. Especially if you’ve only ever used Powerpoint or Keynote. It seems Focus has become common currency in creative software of late, but Deckset delivers it in an unexpected way. Taking all the fuss, and fiddle out of presentation design by creating slick presentations from text files. With Deckset you can get back to what you should be doing, focusing on ideas.
Presentation Software or Powerpoint by default
In 2013, Microsoft estimated there were 30 million Powerpoint presentations given per day. That figure is likely to have moved on considerably. Everywhere there are presentations, there is Powerpoint. Just as Word has become synonymous with writing, and other text-based productivity, Powerpoint is the de facto byword for slide deck presentations. At the same time, Powerpoint is time-consuming, confusing and frustrating. Despite efforts to trim the product, it carries the compound baggage of an ageing codebase, run through with compromise. Like most users of Word, I strongly suspect Powerpoint users are in the application by default.
Deckset has the pedigree to follow the recent success of writing apps like Ulysses, which continue to popularise a previously niche medium. A similar user base will find in Deckset an ideal alternative to Powerpoint, or Keynote. Even if you’re a wizard with one of those apps, I’d wager you could save yourself time, and get to the point quicker if honing the words, and not tweaking transition animations.
I expect Deckset users will be largely self-selecting. Then again, I’m confident that many potential users don’t yet realise they should be part of that group. If the point is communicating ideas, then eliminating friction in the design of a presentation is paramount.Deckset’s neat trick, is to build polished slide decks from the raw material of your content, the text itself. You create the presentations from Markdown files, in a text editor. The slide deck itself literally gets out of your way while you concentrate on the message.
Plain Text is Simply Plain, Text
Despite the growing popularity alluded to above, there still exists a curious irony around the uptake of plain text utilities. Many prospective users seem concerned that plain text software will be difficult to use. In reality, the program left behind is often more complicated. Applications built around Markdown are some of the most simple and effective apps you will find for any purpose.
I was latecomer to the joys of plain text. If only I could reclaim all the years flushed by grappling with rich text, word processors, and bloated slide-deck programs. A small amount of time learning to write in Markdown can save you hours upon hours. The obvious gains are from time spent dealing with constantly shifting design elements, configuring and adjusting styles over and again. But then, there are the more intangible gains from working with words in their raw form.
Everything written about the focus of writing in plain text applies to slide deck presentations with Deckset. This is what makes it such an ingenious app. Just the same, if you’re still unsure about creating in Markdown, nothing can make this point better than a quick demonstration. The beauty of learning Markdown is you only have to see it to know how it works. It’s not code, it’s a clever markup language that translates into code. With an app like Deckset, you can simply open up the template files, and you’re away. If you want a primer this is everything you need to know to get started using plain text productivity apps like iA Writer, Ulysses, or Deckset.
# Big Heading
## Slightly Smaller Heading
### And so on...
Use two asterisks on either side of words, or either side of a sentence to emphasise words in bold, like so:
Likewise, place an underscore on either side of a word, or sentence to emphasise in italics, like so: 2
Unordered, and ordered lists are intuitive. Each line starts with a hyphen, or numeral + period, like this:
- And, something else
- Make up an unordered list
1. First item
2. Second item
3. Item number three
If you want to turn a word into a clickable link, place it in square brackets, followed by the link itself in parentheses:
Explaining how to format a footnote is more complicated than making one, so it looks like this:
[^1]: This is a footnote
Or, you can do the same with a name
[^Bentley-Payne, 2018]: Something Completely Different
With this, you have everything you need to get started with Markdown. There is more you can do with it, of course. There also exists a few variations on the original syntax, with flavours that support additional elements. The differences are always minimal, but the foundations always remain the same.
User Experience, and Careful Decisions
Enthusiasts and geeks like to talk about responsive developers. By all accounts the builders of Deckset, Unsigned Integer, have taken a user-centric approach to developing their app. There is nothing more responsive than improving an app with user feedback. Much requested customisation features in the new release allow users to create and share themes, or tweak existing one to suit their needs. And, it’s not just about the nerds.
For a seemingly geeky app, Deckset is welcome respite, either as a Powerpoint and Keynote alternative, or as a first slide deck app. The user experience scales from simple automated layout based workflows to more bespoke, and sophisticated presentations — and all without sacrificing itself to complexity. One gets the impression that behind every feature lies a careful decision.
The considered approach is evident beyond the interface itself, with clarity a feature of the product on the whole. For instance, clearly Unsigned Interger recognise the relevance of Deckset to education. Among the documentation there is a deck outlining features inherently important for teaching presentations. Tabular information, equation formatting, captioned images and videos, it’s all there. As is rehearsal mode, speaker notes, and a PDF export function for class handouts. Taking the decision to leave the Mac App Store, means more flexibility in pricing. Deckset 2.0 is now available to education users for a discount.
Goldilocks and the Slide Presentation Tool
Having run Deckset 2.0 through its paces, I almost wish I had more presentations to give. It would easily make my lists of current favourite macOS apps. The revelation that slideshow software had become a sinkhole into which ideas themselves could easily fall persuaded me to all but give up on slide decks. Powerpoint is especially guilty. Although I find Keynote still has its uses, they’re mostly off-label, and fewer all the time. For the past couple conferences, I’ve gone analogue, delivering from a piece of paper to the room. Deckset has turned my head back the other way, by finally providing a happy medium.
If you want to take a look, Deckset offers a free trial. A single license is available for a one-time cost of USD $29. Or, if you’re an education user, you can request a generous 50% discount.
Welcome back productivity nerds. This is part two of a gripping trilogy on software highlights from 2017. In part one, I catalogued some of my favourite iPad apps from last year. The meat between the iOS device sandwich, is of course the Mac. So here we go again.
Before we begin, if you’re interested a number of the apps on this list come with Setapp. That is something I’ve written enough about recently, so if you'd like to read more about Setapp, you can do so here. The apps in question are clearly marked with the appropriate links. Remember, these are just the highlights.
The barometer I use for organisational tools is how much time it takes to manage them. That I spend very little time in the app itself, is a good indication Things is doing what it’s supposed to. The way Things handles the inbox is better than any other task manager I have used. I don't feel like I am double handling tasks. I thought I might miss the automation of Todoist, but so far I haven't really, the email to Things feature is enough.
I still haven’t found the time to write this up properly, but I did give it a cursory post. While you can get lightweight versions of some features, there still nothing like Scrivener. This new version is a long way from the early skeuomorphic days. Now that the interface is so crisp, and clean, it looks every bit the modern Mac app. Further to the visual touches, a long list of new features have improved an already powerful piece of software. If you do any kind of serious long-form writing, and you’re still using a traditional word processor, I’m sorry but you’re mad. 1
Ulysses also makes the charts across both platforms. I use Scrivener a little more on macOS. But as I mentioned in the iPad post, all other project based, long-form writing, and content for this blog is created in Ulysses. I now also use it for posting directly to WordPress, and I couldn’t be happier with how well that works. Setapp takes care of my Ulysses subscription on macOS, and iOS.
Most of my reading, annotating, and editing of PDFs happens on the iPad now. I’m so used to doing that work with an Apple Pencil that marking up PDFs on a Mac can be frustrating. Despite that, there are occasions that demand more screen space, and sometime I need to extract a lot of text from a PDF. Highlights can extract highlighted text, and annotations in Markdown, which is something I cannot do on iOS — defintely not in markdown. 2 Now that DEVONthink handles all of my OCR needs, this is the only other PDF app I need on the Mac.
While coverage has focused on the iOS version, 2017 was also the year I went all in with DEVONthink on macOS. I once shared the superficial concerns of some prospective users, but even if i’d like to see the interface overhauled, I’m glad I got over myself. 3 DEVONthink is a heavyweight application, so getting the most from it takes time. The depth of functionality is perfectly suited to the archive, search, and retrieve workflows required of serious research, so that time is worth investing. I no longer have any trouble finding important documents. My records are organised with some sanity, and I know how, and where to find research I have spent considerable time gathering.
I have known about TaskPaper for a long time, but never really used it properly. That changed last year. With TaskPaper’s plain text super powers, I have cobbled together something resembling a system for planning and tracking my reading, among other things. It might seem like overkill to be employing a form of task management on top of a dedicated task manager, but it helps my scattered mind no end to seperate the finer details. Setapp
Anyone working with text should have this in their kit. No matter what that work entails. Marked is a kind of Swiss army knife for writers. If you are relentlessly obsessive about what you do with words, you will recognise a fellow traveller in this app. It even includes features to improve your writing. Anything I write about Marked risks underselling it. It’s worth a hell of a lot more than what it will cost you. Setapp
I archive a lot of data in DEVONthink, but I don’t use it for bookmarks. Instead I use the perennial wonder machine, Pinboard.in for archiving web pages. Spillo is easily my favourite macOS client for pinboard. Minimal, and opinionated with just the right amount of nerdiness. It’s fully scriptable, and even has its own plugin SDK. Since setting up an Alfred workflow with Spillo, I get more use out of Pinboard than ever.
Until last year, I hadn’t done any programming for a long time. I still don’t, but I can at least lay claim to vandalising code in my attempts to learn how to. For my humble use of git as it is, Tower is more than I need. Then again, using such a wonderfully designed piece of software can only be helpful if I’m to learn things the right way. Working Copy on iOS is currently my favourite Git client on any platform, but this is a pretty close second. Things could change any day now.
I agonised over choosing a text editor for learning development skills. With growing support out there for Visual Studio, I gave it a test run. If easier to configure, ultimately I didn’t like working in it. I tried Atom, and liked the general feel, but I can’t yet benefit from its configurability — honestly it felt kind of slow. In the end, true to form, I landed where I started. Now that I have it set up properly, Sublime text has become one of my favourite applications. As for extensibility, the Sublime SFTP package is the best thirty bucks I have spent in some time.
Another of the technical tools I require, this one has a lot of tricks. To call Forklift the best FTP client I know of would undersell it4. With a slick designed dual pane file browser, file syncing, drive mounting, keyboard kung fu, and all round excellence, these days it is always open on my Mac. Setapp
The most deceptively simple looking app I own. Super Duper overcame a momentary rough patch to deliver an unbelievable improvement to an already excellent utility. With the advent of APFS, it now creates bootable snapshots. The scheduler works so efficiently, I hardly even notice. I can’t begin to express the peace of mind.
There was an intense time-tracking trend among a sub-section of nerds last year. Trust me, that’s not happening here. I find the idea of tracking every aspect of your life disturbing. I use this app in a much less pervasive way, for tracking writing projects. I gather data on how long it takes me to write certain things, so I can better understand deadlines. Whether self-imposed, or not. Timing makes this easy, as it can automatically capture time spent in particular applications. Setapp
A contacts app is not something that would ordinarily interest me, I have only humble contact management needs. Since contact syncing started to work properly, I have been happy to use the native contacts app and forget about it. I felt much the same way about calendars until I tried Fantastical. The Flexibits natural language engine is like magic, and sure enough they have put it to good use in Cardhop.
Spotlight can only take you so far. For keyboard warriors, an application launcher is mandatory. Beyond a long list of built in features, Alfred is an endlessly extensible, powerful automation tool. An active, and generous user community means there are workflows for just about anything, and help at hand if you want to hack together your own.
This is one of those utilities I never knew I needed. It’s common knowledge iTunes is a mess. Apple’s answer is to remove things without replacing them. Whenever it seems I can no longer do something with an iOS device, the answer is iMazing. Setapp
I could have put this on the iOS list too. I published a post recently on how I use 1Blocker to keep me sane while using the internet. Whether you want to block ads or not, the web is often a shady place. Stopping yourself from being tracked might be a hopeless pursuit, but you can at least make it difficult. I’m happy knowing my computing resources aren’t being filched for crypto-mining. I’m also a control freak, so I’ll let through what I please thank you very much.
For much the same reason as above. I prefer to know what’s dialling home. While incredibly powerful, Little Snitch is too noisy for my liking. Radio Silence is much more simple, and yet it still gives me the control I want. In short, this little firewall rules.
Without this little utility, my menu bar would look insane. Version 3 was released a few months back. Instead of dropping beneath, the menu bar now toggles between your main utilities and whatever you choose to hide. A subtle, but worthwhile change. It works so well it will probably be sherlocked.
This is an aspirational app at the moment, it’s probably overkill. My image editing needs a fairly simple, and most of it is done on the iPad. Especially now, with Affinity Photo on iPad Pro. However, Pixelmator has always been an app that I could grok easier than other image editors, so I picked this up in the hope that I could develop some chops. What little I have done with it so far, has been a pleasure.
Another project yet to see the light of day led me to this audio marvel. If you have any cause for routing, or capturing audio on your Mac, this is how you do it. The modular, drag and drop, visual workflow, makes sense out of confusing audio chains. Along with all the built in audio processing, it even supports Audio Unit plugins.
The idea of long-form writing seems to have taken on new meaning recently. To be clear, I’m referring to books, theses, and so on. For long blog posts, it might be overkill. ↩
The Appademic has a free subscription for a year of Setapp to give away. If you don’t know what Setapp is, it’s like a curated App Store. You pay a small subscription fee, and you get access to everything. No in-app purchases, no advertisements, and every upgrade that ever ships. The apps they have are awesome, there are over a hundred now. The collection includes Ulysses, 2Do, iThoughtsX, Marked, RapidWeaver, Studies, Manuscripts. It goes on, and on.
Or, share this post on Twitter with #TheAppademic — Tweet
I won’t spam you. I couldn’t if I wanted to, and trust me I don’t want to. The Appademic mailer will be monthly at best — for the time being. The first one is late. Opting out is easy, do it at any time. And I would rather ride a rather ride a unicycle up a pyramid with one leg than sell anybody’s data for any reason. I’m also appallingly bad at twitter — not bad in the way that could get me elected, I mean I simply don’t spend any time there.
The big idea behind this is to get the word out that this place exists. Sharing is the easiest thing you can do to support this site and help keep it around.
This will run until the 8th of December, no matter where in the world you are. Hey look, it’s the 8th of December, maybe this will help: The World Clock
The winner will be notified next Monday, the 11th of December.
I have tried to stay away from Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals as much as possible. However, I want to mention the discount on Brett Terpstra’s wonderful Marked 2 app. Given the only other deal I mentioned was DEVONthink — for its relevance to the overarching concerns of this site — that should give you some idea of the esteem I hold Marked in. I'm confident Marked will be relevant to a number of readers of this site. It is one of those apps that you don’t necessarily know you need until you have it, then you wonder how you ever worked without it.
If you don’t know about Marked, it is an essential tool for writers working with Markdown, but it is so much more than that. Marked comes loaded with a stack of advanced tools for formatting, proofing, checking, and analysing your work. Highlighting keywords, checking for repetition, and analysing readability; Marked will give you a Fog Index and Flesch-Kincaid scores. It is essentially a powerful Swiss army knife for text, I honestly don’t know what I used to do without it. That’s not true, actually, I either didn’t have access to tools for improving my writing, or I had to go here, there and everywhere to use a fragmented and forgettable system that gave me a headache.
If you want to see the full list of features, check out the documentation . The details on the deal are these:
For today and tomorrow only, you can get 40% off the direct version of Marked 2. That’s the non-sandboxed version that allows more full-fledged running of your own custom scripts and processors, but is otherwise the same as the Mac App Store version. Use the coupon MARKEDMONDAY at checkout and get Marked for $8.39, 40% off the usual price of $13.99.
The easiest way to grab the deal is to follow the link through Brettterpstra.com. That way the discount will be applied auto-magically. Otherwise, you can head there directly and apply the coupon yourself.
You can also get Marked as part of the Setapp suite.
The Appademic has a year's Subscription for Setapp to Give-away, you can find the details here..
I have been bleating on about Setapp on this site for a while. Whether it is for accessing a suite of apps for all of your academic work, keeping it together with time-management, or just taking care of your Mac. The service recently passed the 100 mark for their collection of apps. The chances of not finding what you need in their library are becoming slimmer all the time. If you’re a developer, a writer, a tinkerer, or a so-called productivity enthusiast. Setapp has you covered. And, they’re adding quality apps all the time. One of my early concerns was how unruly it might get if they didn’t exercise decent quality control. MacPaw appears to be acutely aware of that possibility. The software that winds up on their books is not only throughly vetted, but somehow they are attracting numerous best-in-class developers. It looks a good deal regardless, and yet there are ways to get more from subscription that you might realise.
Among the many balancing acts for a developer is how to handle trial versions. Do you hold back features, limit the access time, or make it impossible to save project? With Setapp everything is standardised in that regard. The first month is free for all users, and there are no conditions on the apps. After a month you can add your payment details if you want keep using the suite. You won't find in-app purchases for unlocking premium features, at any time. The Setapp versions come fully loaded, primed for every update and added feature. That is the deal. You can test apps without the caveats.
One of the many advantages to this model isn't immediately obvious. If you're anything like me, there might be a few apps you would like to have available just in case; but buying them outright is difficult to justify when you hardly ever open them up. For example, Setapp includes things like Disk Drill for data recovery, WiFi explorer, and many more maintenance utilities and digital life savers. These are the kind of utilities that make me cringe at checkout, which are invaluable when you need them.
For writers, there is another more salient example. Ulysses has been part of the suit from the beginning. When they recently switched to a subscription model, I didn’t immediately realise they had worked out a way to include their iOS apps with the Setapp subscription. But they have. In fact it kind of irked me that I would somehow be paying for the app twice, but I wasn't paying attention. If you have a Setapp subscription, you can use it to activate Ulysses on iOS.
Subscriptions: Sadly, You Can't Beat em
I have no trouble understanding the disdain for subscriptions that some users have, especially at the individual app level. Using the example of Ulysses again, while I had started to use the app more and more, I was not compelled to upgrade to their new subscription. The value was not immediately obvious for my personal use case. It is a legitimate bug bear for users that across the board subscriptions have been a way to smuggle in price increases. I’m not somebody who thinks developers should make all of their labour gratis and live on crumbs, but I do understand where users have felt stitched up by the two-punch combination. The price increases have no doubt been the hardest part to swallow. Having the universal version of Ulysses included in Setapp has meant I don't need to weigh up it's importance to my workflow on its own. This is part of the problem, having to access every single app on it's individual merits is not always going have a favourable outcome.
One would imagine the teething with this subscription situation will go on for some time. Macpaw have been smart in trying to address this brave new world with something different. Setapp makes a lot of sense where certain apps are concerned. In introducing subscriptions, at times the price points can appear almost arbitrary. Some apps have been wildly overpriced, and whether that is a legitimate mistake or not, it can easily look like an effort to find the breaking point of a user base. Smile is a good example of a company who tested the water and got burnt. To their credit, they were smart enough to realise what they had done, and so addressed it quickly.
There are countless examples where developers have misjudged the situation. I just noticed Focus, a relatively simple pomodoro timer has just introduced a subscription. I can’t see it going well for the developers of that app. Pricing a glorified stopwatch at $4 per month is madness. This is just one way that something like Setapp becomes useful. Not having to make value judgements across every app and service a user might need makes a lot more sense for edge-case apps. Or indeed for software with marginal value. Being included in a suite with premium apps like Ulysses, 2do, RapidWeaver,Forklift, or Marked increases the value of useful, but lightweight utilities like Unclutter. When you can get all of that, and the dozens of other apps bundled with it for $5 a month, 1 who is going to pay $4 for an app made of a stopwatch and a list?
The Value of Setapp for University Users
There are many different user groups this service will suit, but I feel it could be particularly relevant to college students and academic users . My enthusiasm on behalf of students is due in part to the ephemeral nature of university life. Picking up a large software bill was once part of getting setup for university. Some colleges make that more palatable with group licensing. But that will cover an Office 365 subscription if you are lucky. A more custom, or unique workflow will have you reaching for the credit card. You may be investing in software that you will only use for a few years. Setapp could be a workaround for that situation.
I have said it before, but it bears repeating. Whether we like it or not, subscriptions are here to stay. It is now a matter of trying to make the right calls that will minimise the damage to your pockets, while giving you access to the tools you require to get your work done.
I had the privilege of reviewing both volumes of the recently released 60 Mac tips, from David Sparks and Brett Terpstra. I have done my fair share of reviews. They are not always this enjoyable. To be fair, this is the first time I have ever reviewed something like this.
This a project that has been picked up again after the first volume was produced back in 2012. I can only imagine how many ‘we should’ conversations happened between then and now to cross this promise off. With the shiny new collection in Volume two, the first volume has been upgraded. This is great news for owners of that book. Much of the digital kung-fu uncovered for Mountain Lion remains relevant in the heady days of High Sierra. But like all good updates, any obsolescence has been cleaned out. The remaining good stuff is applied to its new context. Welcome to digital publishing. Nobody is going to sneak into your house at night to replace your old paper books with new dust-jackets, and bonus material. At least I hope not.
Three Kinds of People
In a subset of macOS enthusiasts, I can think of three kinds of people this will interest. First, the new Mac user who is still peeling the onion, not yet aware of how much more they can do with it. Second, the honest Mac user who knows they can get more from their robot, and would like to cut to the chase. Without sifting through user forums, dated blog posts, and amateur youtube footage. And third, the self-appointed power user with an itch that can’t be scratched. You know who you are. One who must know everything, who can’t stand the idea there might something they have missed. The hoarder of tricks.
What I’m trying to say is this. Whether you consider yourself a bit of a Mac gun, or you’re still in therapy as a former Windows user. I guarantee there is still something in these guides for you. I think of erstwhile Apple Automation Yogi, Sal Soghoian, who is quoted saying something like ‘The power of the computer should reside in the hands of the one using it.’ I couldn’t agree more. And yet, it is also true that it can take a long time to gain control of that power, and even more time to know how to use it. That’s where your favourite nerds come in.
At the risk of repeating myself — again. 1 Even if the tip is something you already know, don't be so sure you won't learn something. Different ways to do the same thing? That might sound like a variation on the old insanity idiom. But, ultimately we all have our preferences for how we manage process. Nerds are often very particular about how they do things. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way. I’m not ashamed to admit I have banged my head against the wall in an effort to deal with the revelation I have been doing something the long way.
An Unlisted Bonus
When I was making terrible music with awful bands as a teenager in the nineties, it was a thing to add a secret track at the end of a demo. After a long period of silence. It was a thing that hipsters picked up 70s Bands who would stash songs in the pregap. For those bands it was a way of adding something extra that you wouldn’t know was there if you weren’t paying attention. I’m not suggesting David and Brett have added a secret soundtrack, not that I have found yet anyway. 2 No, I’m employing a tenuous analogy to suggest sometimes you get more than what is listed in the contents.
In this case, observing the idiosyncratic way that somebody uses their Mac can be enlightening in itself. For example, getting a peek at a complex tagging system in action is a tip in itself. But here’s the twist. These guys have done something with these two volumes that I know, from experience, is not easy. They have made potentially dry material fun 3. They have paced the tips nicely, presented them neatly, and provided a valuable, interactive resource. Ok, so there exists a subset of people who would get a kick out of geeking it up regardless, but nobody who wants in is being left behind here.
The screencast method makes its utility obvious. If I were too offer one criticism of the books however, is they really don’t have much bookness at all. 4 I’m kidding really, using iBooks to distribute what is essentially a collection videos demonstrating neat tricks, is clever in my book 5. If you want to set it up like I did, put the book on your iPad. Set your iPad next to your Mac, and start your learning. Take on a new trick. Come back tomorrow, and repeat. Introducing things to your workflow slowly helps them stick.
Across the two volumes, all but a small handful of tips are native to macOS. In fact, the second volume is native all the way down. Volume One introduces a small collection of third-party utilities. A thoughtful collection , they are great recommendations. The point is you get some ideas for how to get started with the chosen apps. Trust me, getting started is always the biggest obstacle to knowing how to integrate utilities into your workflow. So far so good, but stay with me.
Working my way through the second volume I realised there are a lot of tips throughout both books that mitigate the need for enlisting more third-party apps. For example, in the past couple of iterations of macOS, Apple have implemented a lot of features for keeping things running smoothly. Let’s call them maintenance utilities. These features can take on tasks that once could only have been handled easily with the help of specialist apps. Such tasks are no longer as difficult, or obscure as they once were. These books provide evidence of that. In some cases Apple have developed there own versions of popular ideas. In other cases, the influence of iOS on macOS has given users granular control they understand. With 120 tips up for grabs, that leads to a couple of value propositions.
The first concerns the books themselves, and the second concerns the third-party apps I mentioned from volume one. What I’m trying to say is, I feel there is more to be gained from these two volumes 6 than there is from loading up on third-party apps. Learning how to better use the tools your already have, like Automator and Terminal, means you can make better decisions about the apps you strictly need. This is where the second proposition comes in. Which is to say, I’m also suggesting that what you save on some apps might allow you to throw down on the suggestions from volume one. Capisce?
A Final Disclaimer
If you’re wondering why I’m not naming the apps alluded to above, or being more specific about the material. Consider it my effort to avoid spoilers. I don’t want to blow it for you. Of course, you can check out the contents and synopsis of both books in the iBooks Store. If you made it too the bottom of this post, I suspect you’re in the target audience.
Pick up a copy of one, or both volumes through iBooks.
There was a time that Safari was a clunky, annoying browser that you could install on Windows. To be fair, pretty much all browsers met that criteria at one time. Things change. In this week’s show and tell I included a link from The Verge, who are shipping Safari as the best reason to upgrade your Mac to High Sierra. So far it’s hard to argue with that. With features added to both iOS 11 and macOS, there is a lot to like about the development of Safari. Of particular interest is the new ability to control some of the internet's more annoying tendencies with Safari's iOS style permissions
This is one of the areas that I have tried to balance security concerns with usability. I haven't always felt comfortable with the results. For a time I used a tricked out install of Firefox, in accordance with one of my favourite privacy resources. The industry around tracking and data collection is so cunning that extensions can become a data point for tracking in themselves. This is one of many reasons the evolution of Safari has become so interesting, moving protection to within the webkit framework brings that balance a little closer.
Safari's iOS Style Permissions on macOS
It is the new granular approach to permissions that I am most impressed with. Particularly on macOS. Safari itself now contains the kind of detailed permissions that we are used to applying on a per app basis for iOS. Something I find incredibly annoying — and invasive — is having websites try to send me push notifications. Who in their right mind would want their browser to badger them all day long? It's more than just an annoyance, though. While some of the older security issues of Push have been incrementally addressed, by design they provide another means for tracking. Look closely and you will notice there is an irony in the way Apple is implicated in the origins of this. Thankfully, they are getting better at addressing these — perhaps unintended — consequences. Notifications are among the many things addressed in the new ability to control permissions for Safari. The upside of Push, it is a permission based protocol. So ultimately, it is one of the web’s annoyances that we can actually opt out of, and now without much trouble. It is not the only one.
The influence of the mobile platform on macOS is becoming more and more obvious. The rollout of Continuity has no doubt made this inevitable, but we have seen more and more features make the crossover. From small, but important additions like Night Shift, to the way iOS devices have been the testing ground for significant new technologies. From a user standpoint, I feel the most significant, visible influence right now is the approach to permissions. The improved preference allow a user to block an entire category. Or you can manage them on a case by cade basis. Like iOS, you can manage access to the microphone and camera, access to location, and notifications. Then there are usability features, like the ability to turn on Reader mode by default for particular sites. And, you can now put an end to those pesky auto-pay videos — you know who you are… Macworld.
You can access all of these permissions in Safari’s preferences. Or, if you want to change settings on the fly, you can right-click — or ctrl + click — on a website’s name in the omnibar, and select Settings for this Website…
The reality of the modern internet is it is a cesspit of shady behaviour by supposedly legitimate actors. Without even getting into the relevant arguments, the performance of websites is a case in itself for having control over the excess. I won’t lean into the rest of the story here, I can make my case another time. Suffice to say, there are good reasons to have some control over this. I will say that Apple’s interventions are doubly interesting, considering the industry built up around its fandom. Apple related sites are some of the worstoffenders too. My sense is there is much more nuance to this than you can glean from the exploding heads who are worried about their wallets. The argument that Apple is doing more to save advertising than harm it in these moves, should carry water with anyone thinking clearly.
But Webkit more generally has ushered in significant, positive changes. Especially when it comes to performance. Webkit also provides significant advantages for the implementation of content Blockers. One of many reasons Safari is starting to back up some of it’s claims.
Reasons to use Safari Browser on iOS
iOS users have had good reason to keep an alternative browser around. I still keep iCab Mobile on hand, for all the little things it can do. It has always been like a browsing pocketknife. It really is the only genuinely extensible, standalone browser on iOS. 1 The built-in download manager retains its utility, even as we move into the brave new world of the iOS Files App. For as long as I have been an iOS user, anytime I hit a road block while browsing, I knocked it over with iCab. However, Safari is extensible insofar as iOS itself is extensible. As the operating system has improved, so too have the default apps. Like other native apps, it is the system wide hooks that make it so useful. 2 From handoff, to iCloud synced history, bookmarks and reading list. All of these features are available system wide. Where third-party developers have cottoned on to the beauty of app extensions, iOS has improved out of sight. With Apple taking possession of Workflow, this is only going to get better.
From the more incremental improvements in iOS 10, it is hard to argue that Safari is Apple’s most mature, even its best iOS app. In iOS 11, Safari comes loaded with all kinds of new tricks. Like macOS, there is further control granted to user permissions. Although, it is more clear the influence iOS has had on the Mac. There is also the addition of WebRTC and media capture, and even access to experimental features. Nobody could argue that iOS — the iPhone in particular —hasn’t significantly influenced web technology. One of its most significant achievements is surely that hand it played in burying Flash. I would argue that this trend is going to continue through the extension of new features in Safari.
If, for whatever reason, you have held on to the impression that Safari is a clunky waste of time, trust me it is worth another look. You don’t have to go far to find lingering impressions of the browser are outdated. 3 I know, I was a subscriber to that view. Even for established users, there are new reasons to to use Safari. The changes in macOS High Sierra and iOS 11 are impressive. Apple has found a way to make privacy its point of difference. While I would urge people to see that for what it is, I'm not churlish enough to overlook the way it benefits users. These a big improvements.
In case you haven’t seen this yet. There is still a version of iTunes that includes the App Store. Apple recently removed the App Store from iTunes on the desktop. Given it had been such an integral part of the way so many people manage their devices, it is understandable that it was received as a wind up in some quarters. If a backdoor is going to turn up anywhere, it is bound to be on Reddit. And so it goes.
There is a process involved. But if you need access to your library of apps on the desktop for any reason. Or you are bloody minded enough to want to take this all work again while you can. This is what you need.
Perhaps the biggest problem with how this change was handled is that it came out of the blue. Users updated iTunes as they normally would. Upon opening it the message was delivered. No more iOS App Store on the Mac — or Windows for that matter. This workaround is not ideal, but it does exist.