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#904: Installing Applications: What, Where and How, Booting to a Black Screen, A Couple of Levels of Local Security, NEW: MacBook Air Updated


“I think I’m allergic to sleekness,” writes Callan Lamb, a friend of mine who was recently a guest contributor to David Byrne’s website, He continues with the unsettling effect that an Apple store’s “cleanliness” and the ever-present IKEA minimalism we’re subjected to has on him. It doesn’t stop there, he admits, as sleekness pervades our landscape, from “toasters and apps” to “cars and condos.”

If you read the entire article, and I recommend you do, you may feel as conflicted as I do. I’m a flannel-wearing Vermonter who, in his spare time, makes furniture out of tree limbs — quite the opposite aesthetic from iOS 7’s flat design, which I swooned over when it was first released.

I love that my apps update to Helvetica and expect me to know which way to swipe for more content. I’m too broke to risk a drop, but every so often, I take my iPhone out of its case just to appreciate how cool it is. However, it’s Lamb’s assertion that design “is at its best when it tosses asides truisms and embraces flexibility [because] that imperfection is what makes us human,” that makes me nod my head in agreement.

Today in Tech Tails, embrace the sleekness of your technology and minimize the human error factor. We’ll explain all you need to know about installing your Apps properly, a story about keeping sleepy MacBook awake, and some more tips for keeping you secure.

- Mike

  Installing Applications: What, Where and How  

One of the most common issues I come across as a technician has to do with improperly installed applications on customers’ machines (Skype and Firefox, I’m looking at you!). The Mac OS doesn’t explicitly guide the user how to install third party software, and as such, many are left fending for themselves, often to negative results.

When one downloads a Mac application, it’s often stored within a disk image (.dmg) which cannot be modified. This is to keep the original software intact and unmodifiable by others. Double-click on the disk image, and it will “mount” on the computer, much like any USB drive or DVD disc would.

But here’s the crucial step: Do not run the application until you have copied it to your Applications folder.

Many apps will show a window that illustrates this (see article image to the right), but you’d be amazed at how many users don’t copy it and run the app from the mounted disk image itself. Doing so can (and likely will) cause the app or your computer to do wonky things. The application may need to make changes to itself or store temporary files, and it’s being opened from a disk that cannot be modified.

If you don’t see something similar to the image pictured, just drag and drop to the Applications shortcut in the sidebar or folder in your dock. Once you’ve successfully copied the new app over, eject the disk image just as you would any other disk/disc. The new software can now be opened directly from the Applications folder.

Note: Copying the application to your desktop is ill-advised, as it cannot be accessed by other users, and may lead to issues when support is needed for your computer.

  Booting to a Black Screen  

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that customers have reported similar symptoms in the tech queue: sleep/wake problems, booting to black screen with a cursor, and generally, things that I haven’t seen in OS X before (though some were close).

After searching the Apple forums, I came across a few articles that referenced booting to black screen with cursor, sleep/wake and OS issues, and a couple that included problems triggered by something plugged into the USB ports or a change in power state while sleeping. No one could seem to pin down the specific cause, but they were always fixed by either updating software or restoring the operating system.

I followed some of the advice found, and it worked for the troublesome machine with the black screen problem, but not for the other machine with performance/sleep issues. On the latter, by wiping it clean and updating the OS, I managed to get the computer responding normally. It passed all hardware tests, so I moved the customer’s data back over and called him for pickup.

However, we then saw that apps weren’t loading and there were general performance issues. So, I focused my efforts on the software since it seemed that we must have a data corruption issue. After a little troubleshooting and some input from another technician, the problem was narrowed down to the customer’s user account. “It doesn’t make sense…I had just wiped it clean and tested…everything worked before,” I thought, but of course, this was before I transferred the customer’s data back over.

We created a test account and lo and behold, everything worked fine. Somewhere within the customer’s data was a setting, flaw or troublesome file that was prohibiting it from performing properly.

To fix an issue like this, we either migrate just the important data files (e.g. documents and pictures) over to the new user account, or reinstall the operating system with an install image without removing any of the user data. Nine times out of ten, reinstalling the OS while keeping user data intact corrects the issue, but for this customer, we opted to pull the important files over.

Of course, I recommend backing up at all times, because in the event that a reinstall over the top doesn’t fix the issue, the last resort would be to restore your machine back to factory settings, in which case, all your data would be gone.

When it comes to troubleshooting, I can usually figure the issue out, but there’s a lot to still learn about software and hardware interaction and I will admit that I’m no software expert. I learned my lesson with this one, and while this had a happy ending, remember to back up!

  A Couple of Levels of Local Security  

Operating System Passwords

OS passwords are not an end-game security precaution. We can reset a Mac OS or Windows password in about sixty seconds, as can anyone who has any technical experience with either. Operating system passwords prevent coworkers, children or other people from accessing your data.

Important: You really shouldn’t name them after your dogs/cats/children, and be aware that the ability to boot to a CD/DVD in Windows or Single User Mode on a Mac gives anyone the ability to reset your password. You can disable Single User Mode on Macs (which isn’t advisable unless you have really sensitive data).

Firmware Passwords

In the PC world, these are called BIOS passwords. On Mac OS X 10.7 and later, you can enter the Recovery partition (Option boot) and set a firmware password. It can prevent other users from entering Single User Mode, which can be used to change a user’s password or to boot from an external or DVD drive to access local files.

There is risk, however, because if you forget this password, you may not get your data back if it is not backed up. Newer Macs (since about late 2011) have built-in security that requires us to contact Apple to reset them.

  NEW: MacBook Air Updated  

Apple announced that they have updated their MacBook Air line with faster processors and lower pricing. The Air now starts at $899 — a $100 price drop from what they used to be. Both the 11-inch and 13-inch models have also been given a bump from a dual-core 1.3GHz to 1.4GHz. Everything else remains pretty much the same on these machines.

Check out a Then & Now comparison for all the specs.

The new MacBook Air is currently making its way to our warehouse and we’ll be shipping them out soon — so be sure to get your order in!

Shop 11-inch MacBook Air

Shop 13-inch MacBook Air

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