This week's sponsor
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April 4, 2020 4:55 PM PT
My thanks to Rogue Amoeba’s SoundSource for sponsoring Six Colors this week. SoundSource is a utility that gives you powerful control over all the audio on your Mac, right from your menu bar.
Dan wrote about SoundSource about a year ago here on Six Colors, and here’s part of what he said: “It’s one of those apps that you don’t know you need until you use it for a while—then you wonder why it’s not installed on every single Mac you use.”
SoundSource lets you take control of Mac audio on a per-application basis. You can change the volume of any app relative to others, and play individual apps to different audio devices. I can output different apps to my headphones (via my USB audio interface), through my iMac’s speakers, and to the external speakers hooked up to my iMac.
The app also lets you adjust audio dynamically, so you can hear your audio even in loud environments. The built-in equalizer sweetens the sound. You can even apply Audio Units effects to audio as it’s played. And all accessible right from the convenience of the menu bar.
SoundSource costs just $29, and Six Colors readers can save 20% on SoundSource with coupon code 6C2020. (Good through May 10th.) Download the free trial today!
Dan Moren for Macworld
April 3, 2020 5:12 AM PT
One of the defining characteristics of Apple’s ecosystem over the last decade has been its carefully curated nature—what critics refer to as the “walled garden.” The idea being, essentially, that if you don’t like the way Apple runs its extremely popular platforms, you can take a hike.
Over time, Apple has loosened and even removed some of its restrictions, sometimes officially and other times merely tacitly. But many have still remained in place, and while there are definitely advantages to the way that the Cupertino-based company does things, there are also places where perhaps the company could stand to relax a bit more.
Case in point: This week, some users noticed that they could now rent and purchase movies and TV shows directly in the Amazon Prime iOS app, without having to resort to an arcane work-around. Apple confirmed that this is an “established program”—despite it being the first time it seems to have been publicly acknowledged—that exists with certain high level partners, including Amazon, Canal+, and Altice One. (A deep dive by John Gruber at Daring Fireball lays out all the Byzantine ways that this deal works.) Is this a limited, targeted exception? Or perhaps a crack in Apple’s formidable armor?
This week, on the 30-minute tech show that is trying to keep it down, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests newly-independent Rene Ritchie and up-and-coming podcaster Leo Laporte to discuss whether Fitbit’s new wearable can take on the Apple Watch; how we balance privacy, security, and reaching out to family during COVID-19; the shift in iPad usage with trackpad support; and whether macOS support touch interaction.
This week, on the irreverent tech show that’s always social distancing, Moltz is still waiting for a new phone, Dan is drinking and Lex is getting sassy. These and other ways to pass the time at home.
Jason Snell for Macworld
April 1, 2020 7:32 AM PT
It was “a wholly new product,” a “futuristic gadget the likes of which we’ve never seen before” that would somehow “soon be viewed with the same nostalgia-tinged contempt we have for the original iPod and iPhone.” After months of debate and speculation in the aftermath of its announcement, ten years ago this week the original iPad arrived and I finally got to review it.
Anniversaries are an opportunity to look back in time and ponder how much has changed. I’m happy to report that despite spending a bit too much time dewlling on how the iPad didn’t run Flash, my review from April 2010 does a pretty good job of encapsulating the potential of that original iPad. Re-reading that review today also reminds me that we’re still debating a lot of the same issues that the iPad brought up when it was introduced. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
By Dan Moren
March 31, 2020 7:18 AM PT
Damning report from Micah Lee and Yael Grauer at The Intercept on Zoom’s misleading encryption claims:
Zoom, the video conferencing service whose use has spiked amid the Covid-19 pandemic, claims to implement end-to-end encryption, widely understood as the most private form of internet communication, protecting conversations from all outside parties. In fact, Zoom is using its own definition of the term, one that lets Zoom itself access unencrypted video and audio from meetings.
So, there’s a bit to unpack here. First, what Zoom is doing is using TLS (Transport Layer Security), the same protocol used to secure HTTPS web connections—i.e., the secure connection you make when, say, you shop at an online store and see that little padlock in your browser’s location bar.
However, end-to-end encryption—which Zoom claims to offer—is a different beast. What it means is that if I’m talking to you, our conversation is encrypted from my device all the way to your device, with no server or party in between able to decrypt it. (Your and my devices have to be able to decrypt our conversation, else we could not converse.) FaceTime and iMessage 1 are both end-to-end encrypted, meaning even Apple can’t read our conversations, as are messaging apps like Signal and WhatsApp.
End-to-end encryption for multiparty video chats is hard, as cryptographer Matthew Green tells The Intercept, but it’s certainly not impossible. And, frankly, you don’t get a pass because something is hard. Zoom claiming to offer end-to-end encryption while not doing so is simply dishonest and irresponsible marketing.
And in case you think I’m being too harsh, here is—in my opinion—the money quote from The Intercept’s article:
“When we use the phrase ‘End to End’ in our other literature, it is in reference to the connection being encrypted from Zoom end point to Zoom end point,” the Zoom spokesperson wrote, apparently referring to Zoom servers as “end points” even though they sit between Zoom clients. “The content is not decrypted as it transfers across the Zoom cloud” through the networking between these machines.
You can’t just make words mean whatever you want. “End-to-end encryption” has a specific definition, and trying to massage it simply because it’s inconvenient is a real problem.
If you apply to a grad school and say “I had a 4.0 GPA”, but upon further investigation they discover that you had only a 3.0, and your answer is “Well, I got a 4.0 GPA this one semester, and my understanding of GPA is that you just pick the best score you got,” then the response is going to be “That’s not how it works.”
If a bank says they offer secure storage for your valuables, and then it turns out they transport them in an armored car but then dump them in an unlocked closet, you would understandably feel that they had not been honest with you.
What Zoom is offering is, at best, “end-to-middle-to-¯\_(ツ)_/¯-to-middle-to-end” encryption.
The old Ian Fleming adage is “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.” I’m not saying that Zoom is deliberately acting maliciously here; rather, all of this points to a corner-cutting culture that evokes a quote from a different Ian: Zoom is so preoccupied with whatever or not it can do something, that it doesn’t stop to think if it should.
And that’s dangerous, especially as our current world predicament means Zoom’s popularity has skyrocketed. It’s become the de facto communication method for companies, educational institutions, and even just average folks who want to chat with their family and friends, 3 none of whom may be fully aware what the implications of them joining a simple video call may be.
Look, I’m a Zoom user, and it’s proved to be a useful tool and a solid product. But that doesn’t excuse the way the company has repeatedly behaved. The good news is that with all this increased usage comes increased scrutiny, which will hopefully encourage Zoom to mend its ways. But doing so is either going to require investment to make Zoom live up to its marketing, or the company to dial back on its claims and admit that it’s not delivering on what it promises. Unfortunately, spending money and issuing apologies are two things companies hate to do.
The loophole for iMessage comes not in the conversation itself, but in backing up your device—which contains a copy of your conversations—to Apple’s servers. ↩
John Gruber has a great write-up of the implications of that over at Daring Fireball. ↩
Not to mention podcasters! ↩
Myke has taken possession of a “new” iPad Pro, so he and Jason compare notes and enter the Conspiracy Room to ponder why it exists. While they’re there, they also revisit the possibilities of ARM Macs and iPad versions of Apple’s pro apps. We also save some praise for iPadOS cursors and Apple’s COVID-19 reactions thus far.
By Dan Moren
March 30, 2020 6:10 AM PT
If you’ve got a need to compare folders, text files, image files—really, anything that can be compared, Beyond Compare is the app you want. I looked at a handful of other comparison tools and spent a lot of time searching the web, trying to figure out the best way to reconcile lots of old files, and Beyond Compare was the one tool I found continually name-checked—and, as it turns out, for good reason.
Essentially, you can drag any two folders into Beyond Compare’s two panes and have it compare their contents. You can choose to have it show only the files that are missing on one side or the other, or all of the differences in files, or even just the files that are the same. Plus, you can add filters that exclude certain filename patterns (for example, I frequently set it up to ignore directories that begin with a period, since those hidden files are generally configuration files I didn’t care about).
Beyond Compare excels when comparing identical or very similar folder structures, and it offers options for comparing files, folder structure, both, or neither. But there are also commands that help when things don’t line up quite right. For example, the “Align with…” command lets you line up two sub-directories to compare, even if they don’t have the same name. If you need to go more in depth on files, Beyond Compare can also compare images and text documents, and can even provide side-by-side hex comparisons, which is way more than I need, but will doubtless prove useful to others.
The app can be a little tricky to use: it took me a while to get the hang of it, figuring out which views I wanted, and what all the various colored icons meant. (Purple, for example, are orphans—files on one side that aren’t on another, whereas red just means there are differences within the files.) One complication arose from the fact that my Synology NAS, which is now my official file server, is formatted with the BTRFS filesystem, and several of my older files got renamed, leading to lots of file differences that were merely differences in file name, not in content. 1
I’ve spent a lot of time in Beyond Compare over the last few weeks, and I definitely got more adroit at using it as time went by, though I’m certain I missed features that could have saved me even more time. In the end, it still didn’t handle exactly the task I’d like it to—namely, scan a folder hierarchy and tell me all the files that are missing from another drive—but that’s a pretty intensive procedure that I frankly couldn’t find any software to handle. So I ended up spending a little more time manually drilling down into folder hierarchies and comparing file sizes and dates.
Despite those travails, Beyond Compare has proved to be more than worth its $30 price tag, not least of all for the peace of mind it brings in being sure that I have all of the data I want. (And, I’ll add, it has an extensive—and perhaps even too generous trial option that allowed me to do pretty much all of my comparisons for free, so I made sure to buy a license anyway.) If your file comparison needs are even more in-depth—say you need to handle three-file comparisons or folder merges—there’s also a $60 Pro version, but for most users, the standard will probably suffice.
Fun trivia time! In the classic Mac OS, directory hierarchies were indicated using the colon (“:”). But, when Apple moved to Mac OS X, which was based on BSD, directories instead used the more common forward-slash (“/”) delimiter. Problem is, back in the classic Mac OS days, you could put all the forward-slashes you wanted in a filename and the system didn’t care—until you migrated all those files to Mac OS X, where the file system very much did not want slashes in file names. But, in order to keep backwards compatibility with classic APIs, Apple essentially converted all those slashes in file names to colons, but still displays them as forward slashes anywhere in the GUI. To this day, you can still put forward slashes in your filenames, but if you go and look in the Terminal, they’re colons. However, if you try to put colons in filenames, it’ll generally automatically use a hyphen instead. Computers are weird. ↩
By Jason Snell
March 27, 2020 11:52 AM PT
During WWDC in San Francisco some year, John Siracusa walked into my office at Macworld and needed to look at something on my computer. I remember him being appalled by how messy my Mac’s desktop was. There were dozens of files scattered all over the desktop.
I remember telling him that, like many Mac users, my Desktop was also my inbox, littered with stuff I was working on or needed to deal with in the near future. And that was true. But when I was reminded of this exchange a few weeks ago, I realized that I’ve changed my tune completely in the last year. As I write this, there are three items on my desktop.
Here’s what I did to go from Desktop Oscar to Desktop Felix 1.
Embrace cloud syncing. When I started using cloud services to make my files available across devices, that drove a lot of files off of my Desktop. I made this move before Apple so generously added Desktop and Documents folder syncing to iCloud, which would probably have kept me cluttering my Desktop. But Dropbox only works in its own special folder, so I started saving the stories I was working on in Dropbox rather than on my desktop.
When I started to get frustrated with how messy my Dropbox folder was, I created a special folder within Dropbox called Stories, to contain all the stories I was working on. And I used Default Folder X to make it the default folder for opening or saving files when I’m using BBEdit. When I got frustrated by the number of files in that folder, I used Hazel to create a rule that moves stories into an “archive” folder after a few weeks.
I will also admit that when I see a random file floating on my Desktop that I don’t need, I tend to just chuck it into Dropbox, getting it out of my face while making it accessible anywhere should I need it. Yes, this is the digital equivalent of cleaning your room by pushing all the junk under your bed, but what can I say? Nobody looks under the bed.
I also used to save all my screenshots—and I take a lot of them in my line of work—to my Desktop. I know! Now I save them to a Dropbox folder called Screenshots, giving me access to them across all my devices and getting them out of my way. (I’ve also got a Hazel action that deletes them after a few months of inactivity.)
Get a file server. I’ve been using a Mac mini as a server for years, but it’s only in the last ten years that I’ve really embraced it as a file repository. If I’ve got a podcast project that doesn’t need my immediate attention, it gets copied to my server, into a “Works in Progress” folder, where it sits until I need to retrieve it—getting it off my Desktop.
Use the Sidebar and the Dock. When I created my Stories folder, I added it to the Sidebar in Finder windows for quick access. (Somewhere, John Siracusa is probably angry at me again for using the Sidebar, but I do.) I’ve also got numerous other folders in my Sidebar that I would otherwise have as aliases on my Desktop or, in the old days, in a DragThing dock.
I also have a few other items that I’ve dragged into my Dock: An alias to my server for instant screen sharing, my Downloads folder and my Dropbox folder.
Keep my Desktop organized. A big change for me that finally put me on the path of good Desktop organization was turning on sorting on the Desktop. My Desktop is sorted by name, meaning that items appear one at a time, starting in the upper right corner of my screen and moving down from there. This means that items can’t overlap, and eliminates another set of clutter.
I’m not using the Desktop Stacks feature Apple introduced in macOS Mojave. That’s partly because Apple’s organizational principles for those Stacks just don’t work right with the kinds of files that I tend to have on my Desktop, and partly because it’s really an attempt to make a Desktop with dozens of files look cleaner—and I no longer have dozens of files on my Desktop.
Get templates off my Desktop. One of the reasons I created my Template Gun AppleScript was because I kept all the Zip archives I use as templates for my various podcast projects on my Desktop. Instead, I moved them to a Podcast Templates folder in Dropbox and wrote a script that automatically unzips a copy of one and places it on the Desktop.
Because, and I can’t emphasize this enough, I still leave active project files on my Desktop. There are sometimes 10 or 15 files on my Desktop. But they’re always sorted into an orderly list, and they don’t stay out there very long.
It may not be perfect, but I feel like I’m headed in the right direction.
Dan Moren for Macworld
March 27, 2020 4:34 AM PT
Home sweet…augh. Yes, even as someone who’s worked from home for almost a decade and a half, having to stay indoors is starting to drive me up the wall.
Thank goodness for technology. It’s a lot harder to imagine what we all would have been doing with all this free time in an era before the internet: probably watching a lot of terrible cable TV and maybe, I don’t know, reading books.
Chief among the many technologies that Apple brings to the table in our socially distant present is FaceTime: it’s great for catching up with family, friends, and other loved ones in these trying times. Though the feature was a revelation when Apple added it back in the iPhone 4, video chatting has become old hat these days—though recently it’s been getting quite the workout.
With all the attention on FaceTime, and what I’d wager is unprecedented usage of the feature, its shortcomings have started to become painfully evident. As good as it is, there’s definitely room for improvement.
This week, on the irreverent tech podcast that’s always a little bit behind, there’s a new iPad in town and it’s going to have a crazy new keyboard. And how about that cursor? Plus, Dan’s isolation has driven him to perform mad experiments, Google Podcasts is now on iOS, John reveals his laptop height-adjustment secrets, and Lex has a new hazmat procedure.
By Dan Moren
March 26, 2020 6:30 AM PT
My adventure resurrecting my Power Mac G3 not only brought to light old files, but also some old computing habits, prompting a question from one Twitter user:
I appreciate the subtle Cowboy Bebop reference in that terminal sceeenshot 😅— Jason™ @ S̶a̶k̶u̶r̶a̶-̶C̶o̶n̶ 😞 (@yuusharo) March 24, 2020
Is that still a thing in macOS/Unix? Custom launch messages in terminal?
That custom logon message—aka the Message of the Day or MOTD—was once a staple of the command line, and yes, it is still a thing, even in the most recent version of macOS. Customizing it is simple.
Just pop open a Terminal window, and open the
/etc/motd file in your favorite text editor. I prefer
nano 1 so, I would just run this command:
sudo nano /etc/motd
Once you enter your administrator password, you’ll get a blank text edit window into which you can enter a message. Save that file (in
nano, type ctrl-x and then ‘y’ when prompted to save) and the next time you open a new Terminal window, you’ll be greeted with your message of the day. Make sure to make it something upbeat—we all need it these days.
Nano: the only way to stay out of the vi vs. emacs turf war. ↩
Cory Hixson had Jason on the first episode of his new podcast, Talking To the Internet. Topics include Jason’s various side projects over the years, how he got into tech journalism, lessons learned from his publishing-industry career, and becoming a podcaster.
This week, on the 30-minute show that you can wash your hands to, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Heather Kelly and Paul Kafasis to discuss how we deal with old tech and data, what we do to entertain ourselves (and friends) via Zoom and Skype, our health tracking habits, and the weirdest COVID-19 related emails we’ve gotten from companies. Plus, an indoor-game-themed bonus topic.
By Dan Moren
March 25, 2020 8:50 AM PT
Earlier this year, before the world found itself in the grips of a pandemic, I had a nasty bout of the flu. It laid me flat for a solid week, and even after I’d mostly recovered, it took a while for me to ramp back up to my normal activity.
But apparently nobody told my Apple Watch. For the worst of my illness, I didn’t even bother putting it on, but once I started feeling better, I dutifully got back into the habit. And thus began my Watch’s repeated daily reminders about how I was failing to be active enough. “Stand up!” it would proclaim at ten to the hour, even as I lay huddled on the couch, consuming the entirety of Star Wars: Resistance. “You’re usually further along in your rings by now!”
Look, I get it, Apple Watch. You want us to be active, healthy, and happy. And most of the time, that’s just fine. But sometimes circumstances are beyond our control, and not only should we not be made to feel guilty about it, but more to the point, we should not be forcing ourselves into action when it would be actively detrimental to our health.
So now, as many people around the world may be sick (hopefully only mildly) or stuck in their houses, perhaps it’s time to think about dialing back on this a bit. To that end, a couple of suggestions about how to adapt the Apple Watch’s activity tracking features.
First, the Apple Watch activity alerts should allow an option to tell the watch that you’re under the weather. 1 That should reduce the number of nagging reminders for you to be active during the day, without tempting us to rip our watches from our wrist and fling them across the room. (Yes, you can turn off all activity-related notifications, but that’s inconvenient and perhaps overkill for a few days.)
Secondly, I propose some form of “streak forgiveness.” Many of us are devoted to closing our rings every day, and it’s a real bummer when illness gets in the way. So you should be able to mark that you’re sick and take a day or two off without affecting your overall fitness streak.
“But surely people will use that to cheat!” I can hear you exclaiming.
Friends, there’s no prize here. (Okay, yes, there are those medals you get for completing challenges, but I hate to be the one to break it to you: they’re just pixels on a screen.) We’re all doing this voluntarily, because we want to be healthy and active—the only person you’re cheating if you were to abuse this feature is yourself. And if you want to cheat yourself, who is Apple to get in the way? If it’s that much of a concern, put an asterisk next to it. This isn’t the Houston Astros, folks.
For those who partake in activity competitions, since your points are based on how much you actually move, then you wouldn’t get any extra points anyway. But again, those competitions are totally voluntary, and you’re not competing in an Olympic event.
It’d be great to see a feature of this sort in watchOS 7 or, hey, sooner. Apple should at the very least consider letting you temporarily mute the Activity reminders for a preset amount of time. Because we all want to be getting out more—it just may not be our fault if we can’t.
Colloquially, I refer to this as the “[expletive] off, I’m sick!” button. ↩
Jason Snell for Macworld
March 25, 2020 7:40 AM PT
The first reviews of the 2020 iPad Pro are in, and the results are clear: It’s an awful lot like its predecessor from 2018. While there are a few notable updates—a new ultrawide camera and a LiDAR scanner—it’s not really any faster than the old model.
Which, fair enough. The 2018 iPad Pro was so far ahead of the game that even now I never feel like it’s too slow to handle anything I throw at it. I can see why Apple didn’t feel the need to upgrade the A12X processor much at all.
But, then, here’s the big question: Why did Apple upgrade the iPad Pro at all?
I have some theories.