Help Desk

Glenn Fleish­man an­swers your most vex­ing Mac prob­lems

Macworld - - CONTENTS -


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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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.


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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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.


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 (, 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.


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.

He asks:

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 (, 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

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