Glenn Fleishman answers your most vexing Mac problems
WHAT YOU NEED TO DO WHEN YOU INHERIT A MAC
The loss of a loved one is devastating. When this gets tied up with a technical support issue? Even worse. Help Desk recently received several emails from Macworld readers who inherited, purchased, or were given computers or iOS devices by people who have passed away. They have enough password information to use the Macs successfully,
sometimes for years. But then an event occurs that requires resetting the machine.
Macworld reader Andrew has a Mac given to him a few years ago by a now-deceased acquaintance. He attempted to disable FileVault after upgrading to High Sierra. After restarting, the Mac presented a lock screen and asked for a code to enter. It didn’t resemble anything he’d previously used. (It’s unclear from his email whether it was a Find My Mac style lock (which seems unlikely as it would seemingly require someone with that account to mark it as lost) or the firmware password.)
If you can prove you’re the rightful and current owner Apple and authorized resellers can unlock Macs with the firmware password set, and Macs and iOS devices that are locked via Find My iPhone or the activation lock. (Apple doesn’t advertise this fact on its site, but I’ve heard from many readers who have availed themselves, and you can find accounts of people who have done the same all over Apple-related forums.)
This is obviously problematic when you’re given a device and didn’t purchase it, and you can’t consult the owner for help. You probably don’t have the receipt, and even if you did, and if the owner hadn’t noted they’d transferred the device to you, Apple likely wouldn’t unlock the device anyway.
In another email sent to Help Desk, a relative of the current elderly owner was trying to help them, but the owner couldn’t recall the password set for their iCloud account, didn’t have access to the recovery email address (I hear this a lot related to
Yahoo accounts), and couldn’t find a copy of the receipt. They wrote, “His iPad was accidentally erased when he was trying to setup a new email account as he no longer has access to the email he used when setting up the Apple account.” They even contacted the store from which it was purchased, which was still in business, but the store only retained receipt records for two years, and this was longer than that.
It’s frustrating to say the least, but it’s also Apple attempting to make it a less valuable proposition for stolen hardware. As long as thieves know they can’t restore a device, the less likely they will be to steal Macs and iPhones and iPads, the theory goes. However, because not everyone secures their hardware, I wonder how effective that is with a Mac. For smartphones, reports a few years ago indicated a huge drop in thefts, but that seems to have stalled. No theft statistics are kept on Macs.
Prepare yourself for future problems
It’s not particularly helpful to have someone tell you how to fix the problem by going back in time. Nonetheless, you can try to forestall the problem in the future.
If you’re buying from a stranger or acquaintance. Ask for the original receipt or a copy, and for a short signed note that says the party has sold you the device. This should be enough to convince Apple or a third-party reseller that can access Apple’s system.
If you’re buying from friends or family, or received it as a gift from someone living or dead. This can be awkward, but you’ll want the receipt as well. You can explain that the device could become unusable in the future, and that might motivate someone. You may be able to work with the person or the estate’s executor to get a receipt from the store it was purchased from; not all stores delete their old receipts. Get a signed note as above. If the person is deceased and there’s a will, ask the executor to sign it. Otherwise, ask the person giving you the hardware to sign the note.
In both cases, you may still be fine without the note, but given that Apple doesn’t publish guidelines of what proof of ownership you need besides the receipt, it’s better to be prepared.
Four further points:
1. Apple has standards (fave.co/2O2hBp4) for what it accepts as a valid receipt (see below). Make sure what you get meets those standards.
2. For a Mac, make sure you can start the machine up from a cold start (fully shut down) all the way through logging in with an administrative account and having the Finder appear. You may want to run the firmware password utility (fave.co/2LtGdWi) just to make sure there’s no hidden problem. If FileVault is enabled, disable it and then re-enable it. This will reveal any problems with starting up, and let you set your own recovery key.
3. For an iOS device, follow Apple’s instructions on disabling the activation lock (fave.co/2JzdGN5) before accepting the device.
4. Ask the person, if available, to remove the device from their Apple ID account. You should then log into iCloud on the device, and confirm that it appears in your Apple ID account.
HOW TO CONSOLIDATE ALL THE IMAGES ON YOUR MAC
The ‘digital shoebox’ was a 2007 phrase of Steve Jobs, who intended the Mac to become a digital media hub in which Apple’s programs would help you organize everything. That’s the notion that makes an analogy to having all your negatives, prints, and slides in shoeboxes in the days of film photography, and never being able to find anything.
The digital shoebox metaphor remains accurate in 2018 for the wrong reason, as it’s very easy to wind up with images, videos, audio, and other kinds of files all over your Mac. If you’re supremely organized and single-app oriented, perhaps you manage to import everything into iPhoto (then Photos) and iTunes. But for the rest of us, we have files all over the place.
Macworld reader Todd wrote in asking if there was a good way to consolidate all his photos in one place? His account is far from unusual:
I have JPEGs on my desktop and in various folders.
I have a Lightroom folder. I have a Google folder.
I have a Photobooth folder. I also have iPhoto libraries as well as a Photos library.
He’d like to consolidate everything. A few approaches might work.
Adobe Lightroom (fave.co/2L44l5Q): Lightroom can reference media files anywhere on any attached drive, so you don’t have to consolidate them. It’s
my go-to app after Aperture was killed, and I find it a great editor and a reasonable organizational tool. You can import media directly into it, and it will create folders for you as well. Adobe offers it by subscription in app/cloud storage bundles that start at £10 per month.
In the Photos app, by reference: Photos in macOS can work on images without importing them, letting you keep your organization without copying everything. That’s not precisely what Todd wants,
but it’s an option some people employ so that Photos only has thumbnails, modified images, and other data inside its library.
To set that option in Photos, go to Preferences > General, and uncheck Copy Items to the Photos Library. Referenced items have a special mark on them that looks like an arrow pointing out of a rectangle (see screenshot opposite).
Photosweeper 3: While it doesn’t manage images, Photosweeper (fave.co/2LyIAab) does let you scan folders and disks to find duplicates. You can use this after consolidating all your media in one place to be sure you aren’t keeping multiple copies of everything. It also integrates with iPhoto, Photos, Aperture (the final version), and Lightroom to mark duplicate images within those libraries, which might obviate having to consolidate your media.
Copy out of a Smart Folder: This approach doesn’t gather images, but it provides a single place to see where everything is stored across all indexed drives and then copy it. In the Finder:
1. Choose New > New Smart Folder.
2. In the upper right of the folder, click the ‘+’ button.
3. Select the pop-up menu that reads Kind and change it to Image. The Finder will search for all matches, which may take a while. I had 130,000 matching items.
4. Click Save in the upper-right corner to save this as a search you can bring up again.
This can overwhelming, but you can limit results by searching only in certain sub-folders or adding additional criteria. You can also follow the instructions in this previous article (fave.co/2NZqMGR) to limit results to specific image types, instead of everything Spotlight characterizes as an image.
Note, however, because iPhoto and Photos use internal organization for all the image imported into their libraries, you’ll wind up losing the structure from those libraries and the connection between a master original image and modifications you’ve made. It can be a mess.
Apple could add Spotlight criteria that would let you scope folders, and say, “find all images except those in the Photos or iPhoto library”, but there’s no way to include or exclude items by path or folder. You also can’t sort results by location.
A different way to scope is to use the ‘Search’ bar that appears above results in a Spotlight search to pick an individual folder. This is unfortunately not available in a smart folder. (You can click the gear and then choose Show Search Criteria, which lets you select from This Mac, the Smart Folder query, and Shared, but you can’t specify a different folder.)
To use this method of limiting to a folder you want to search within, such as Documents:
1. Open a regular Finder window (New > New Finder Window).
2. Click in the Spotlight search and enter kind:image
3. From the Search bar that appear, click the folder name.
Both a Smart Folder and this Spotlight search have the benefit of flattening media in all nested folders, so you see everything at a single level. If you want to grab all the media in your Photos folder and you have an iPhoto or Photos library stored there, ensure their parent apps aren’t running, and temporarily move those libraries to another place on the same drive.
With enough storage, you can select all images (or that you want) from the Smart Folder or the Spotlight-scoped search results and Alt-drag to copy them to a single location, which you can then import or reference into a photo-managing app.
WHAT TO DO WHEN IPHOTO AND PHOTOS TAKE UP TOO MUCH STORAGE SPACE ON A MAC
When Apple released Photos for macOS, the company chose a clever approach to reduce the program’s storage consumption, knowing that most users would be upgrading an iPhoto library. Because iPhoto retains the originally imported images without modification, an upgrade to Photos would require duplicating all of those images, plus importing any modified versions stored in the library.
I and others have explained this before at Macworld (fave.co/2NZXY1e), so I won’t go into great depth, but Apple relied on hard links, a special kind of file alias that allows a file to be stored a single time on disk and have multiple pointers to that file. Those pointers act exactly as if they were the original file. You can delete all but the last hard link and the file remains on disk. (This is in contrast to aliases, which are stub files that point to another file or folder. If that destination is removed, the aliases break.)
For Macworld reader Josh, this became an issue, as he has his old iPhoto library and and a new Photos one, and is running out of storage on his
main Mac drive. He wanted to migrate his Photos library, but continue to use iPhoto. The issue was twofold: Where are file stored? And what happens if he moves the Photos library off the main drive?
Because of hard links, you can just copy a Photos library to another drive and delete the library from its origin, and iPhoto is unaffected. Just to reiterate: a hard link means that the file is accessible as if it were in multiple locations, but is only deleted when the last reference to it is deleted from the disk. And hard links copy to other volumes like ‘real’ files, too: you don’t have to use a special approach for this to happen.
But this copying doesn’t solve the lack of storage on Josh’s main drive. Unless he’s been importing a lot of new material into Photos, the overlap of identical material between Photos and iPhoto is fairly close, and copying might only reduce the combined total by 10- or 20 percent.
One strategy might be to move the Photos library to another drive, and then review in iPhoto what images and movies you need to keep in the older format versus the newer. On performing a similar examination a few years ago, I found I had gigabytes of videos that I either didn’t need anymore or that
I could rely on having a single copy in Photos, and was able to reduce an iPhoto library tremendously.
UNDERSTANDING HOW iCLOUD STORES DATA
Contrary to what you might think, Apple’s iCloud isn’t a central storage system. Rather, it’s a synchronization system that requires data remain on the endpoints, such as your Macs and iOS devices. Deleting data off endpoints manually typically deletes it from iCloud’s central servers, used to manage sync, and from every other connected device. Macworld reader Tom wrote in asking about this topic, which is extremely confusing, as some iCloud services can reduce storage required in varying ways, but you have to use their interfaces to let them manage it automatically. If you delete items manually, they’re just removed.
Is there any way to create folders (or an album) in iCloud, store files in that space, but delete the files from the general Photos group?
Not exactly. If you store data directly in iCloud Drive, it has to remain there and sync to every
Mac. With Dropbox, by contrast, you can use Selective Sync or a new Smart Sync (for a highertier paid plan) to decide which folders sync to which computers. However, some iCloud-based services automatically remove locally stored files when they’re safely tucked away in the cloud:
• macOS’s Desktop and Documents feature copies everything in those folders to iCloud storage, and then deletes them locally – leaving a sort of shadow version behind – if it determines they are little used and you need the storage on your drive. You can open the files and they’re retrieved and available again. I wrote about the downsides of this a few months ago (fave.co/2O0vHaE), but you can’t choose how the feature works: it’s entirely algorithm driven.
• iCloud Photo Library lets you enable an optimized mode in Photos in both iOS and in macOS that keeps a thumbnail of images and movies locally, but retains the full-resolution version on the iCloud servers. This is found in Photos > Preferences > iCloud in macOS and Settings > your name > iCloud > Photos in iOS. Choose Optimize Storage. These items are downloaded whenever you try to view them.
A third service is the exception: you can delete files manually or have iOS remove them automatically to free up space, but only if you have a certain subscription:
• iCloud Music Library syncs your collection across devices, but you have to either subscribe to Apple Music or iTunes Match to delete items from iTunes. These remain in iCloud, and are shown in iTunes with an iCloud symbol next to the ones that aren’t locally stored. You can tap or click to retrieve them on demand. You can enable automatic deletion in iOS in Settings > Music > Optimize Storage.
Make sure any iPhone you buy is no longer linked to the previous owner’s account
You can manage media in Photos without importing. Those images and videos get tagged with a tiny icon. You can create a smart folder that contains them all if you have a mix of imported and referenced ones
Hard links allow you to copy a Photos library to another drive and delete the library from its origin
Songs you can download from iCloud Music Library have a cloud download icon next to the title