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Defragmenting or not defragmenting, that is the question!

Posted in General

People often ask us whether they need or should defragment their Mac’s hard drives. For those of you who love reading there are plenty of lengthy discussion floating around the Internet in the form of Apple tech notes as well as other articles. We decided to go for the short and sweet answer instead:

Unless you do some very specific tasks that are uncommon for normal users then you don’t have to worry about it. 

OS X has several built in technologies which automatically optimizes how files are saved to the hard disk in order to minimize fragmentation. While this won’t stop your hard drive from becoming fragmented over time it will slow down the process to the point where you might need to defragment once a year or so. Incidentally, installing system updates will force OS X optimize the operating system files and some commonly accessed files that are used during startup, etc. As long as you stay up to date you never really notice any slowdowns at all.

So when do you need to defragment? According to Apple you only really have to worry about it if you often work with video editing or similar tasks where you deal with very large files and combine this with only have very little free disk space. In this case you might need to defragment manually, but usually it gives a very small performance gain considering the time it takes to defragment the drive. A better solution might be to just move the big files to another disk for a few days and let OS X work its magic.

If you do have a drive you really think needs to be defragmented we’d actually recommend backing up and restoring your computer from a Time Machine backup instead of defragmenting it using a commercial tool. It gives you a good excuse to start backing up your files, it is generally much faster than defragmenting and it can usually solve other problems with your computer too. Not to mention that unlike the defragmentation tools available online, it is also free.

Combo updates

Posted in Troubleshooting

Did you know that many of the problems we are asked to solve can be traced back to a faulty system update or corrupt system files? While it may sound pretty serious there is usually a very simple way to fix it, reinstall the latest Combo update from Apple.

When Apple is testing macOS updates with its developers they are using the Combo update, which is a package that contains every single update from the day your macOS version was released. However, what they deliver to the end users is normally an incremental update which only contains the changes from say 10.14.1 to 10.14.2. Unless you have a clean install there is a chance that it will replace files it shouldn’t or, on the contrary, that it won’t replace files that have become corrupted and are now causing problems.

The best thing to do if you happen to experience these problems is to reinstall the update, but instead of using the Software Updates which will only give you the incremental update you use the Combo update. The Combo update will replace all the core system files and give you a completely fresh and up to date macOS install that will hopefully make your problems history. 

This is also how you fix your computer if an update was interrupted as the Combo update will restore all missing files and make sure they are up to date.

Access hidden files

Have you ever wanted to access a hidden file from an Open window or a hidden folder from a Save dialog? You can easily toggle hidden files by hitting Command+Shift+Period in any dialog window.

Terminal tricks

Here are two less-known tricks for those who use the Terminal a lot.

Ordinarily Terminal doesn’t obey the usual Option (Alt)+Delete keystroke that deletes a word behind the cursor in other apps. To make Terminal do so, hit Escape, then hit Delete. You will need to do this for each word you want to delete - Escape, then Delete; Escape, then Delete; etc.

If you’re editing a file in nano, emacs or vim, you can hold down Option (Alt) then click anywhere in the file to move the cursor there. It works at the command line too - you can jump to anywhere in the line you’re currently typing by holding down Option (Alt) and clicking there.

Take control over your browser plugins

Posted in Safari Security

Safari 7 now provides finely tuned controls over what websites can use which browser plugins.

This means you can have the Flash player installed on your Mac, but blocked for your wider web experience, while still being allowed on a few select sites that you trust the plugin to run on. This serves as a perfectly reasonable alternative to uninstalling the plugin in it's entirety, and it's easy to configure for all websites and selective websites in Safari for OS X.

  • Open Safari and then go to "Preferences", accessible from the Safari menu.
  • Choose the "Security" tab and look for "Internet plug-ins", then click the "Manage Website Settings…" button.
  • Select "Adobe Flash Player" from the left side to gather a list of websites that have used or attempted to use the Flash plug-in.
  • Pull down the menu alongside each URL to fine-tune Flash for that website, choosing one of five options:

Ask – Safari will ask permission to run Flash if it is encountered.

Block – blocks all Flash for the website from automatically loading, this is essentially like Click-To-Play and can be overruled by selecting a Flash object and choosing to run.

Allow – Flash will always run when encountered for that specific website.

Allow Always – Flash will always run when encountered for specific websites, even if the Flash plugin has been disabled due to being outdated or insecure.

Run in Unsafe Mode – not recommended, overrides any security preferences within Safari to give Flash free reign to run.