A couple of quick steps to improve the Yosemite UI on non-Retina Macs

I’m guessing most Mac users running a Mac that can handle it have already updated to Yosemite, or will soon. I’m the kind of user who always runs OS updates whenever they’re available.

I’m not a huge fan of Apple’s decision to make Helvetica Neue the new system font in Yosemite. I like Helvetica, but I don’t love it. I prefer something with a little more personality, a little less ubiquity. That said, I do prefer geometric and Grotesque-type fonts over humanist fonts… and I was really sick of Lucida Grande, which I never really liked in the first place.

My first reaction when I tried the Yosemite beta was that it looked half-assed. The final version is a bit more polished, but it still feels poorly thought out. Or, at least, it did until last weekend when I was at an Apple Store and I saw Yosemite on a Retina MacBook Pro for the first time.


Retina is clearly what this interface was designed for, and eventually that’s how we’ll all be experiencing it. But for now, and for a while to come, most of us will probably be stuck with non-Retina Macs and the inferior presentation of Yosemite’s refined UI that they deliver.

That said, there are a couple of things you can do to improve the experience. Part of why Yosemite doesn’t look great on a non-Retina Mac is that there’s too much subtle stuff going on that just kind of gets mucked up when you don’t have that precise definition on letters and icons. You can improve this aspect of the UI immensely by reducing its use of transparency. Open up System Preferences and switch to Accessibility. Check the box labeled Reduce transparency.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 12.11.23 PM

Another optional change you may wish to make is to darken the menu bar and Dock. This is more of a matter of taste, but personally I like the darker look. Switching this on essentially inverts the colors, so your menu bar has a nearly black background with white text, and the Dock becomes translucent dark gray, instead of translucent white.

Once again in System Preferences go to General and check Use dark menu bar and Dock.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 12.11.16 PM

Now enjoy your new OS!

How to install Windows 8 on a MacBook Air

No longwinded backstory in this post. I’m just posting this here so I can remember it if I ever have to install again, since I seem to keep forgetting.

If you’re trying to install Windows 8 (or Windows 7) on a MacBook Air, and you boot to the Windows CD (from a SuperDrive, of course), you may find that when you try to select the BOOTCAMP partition, you get an error stating that Windows can’t be installed on this drive, because it’s in GPT format, and you need to have an NTFS partition.

Well, it doesn’t matter if you have that partition formatted as NTFS or not. The error is happening because of the way you booted up!

Quit the installer, and restart, holding down the Option key. Then when the disk selection comes up, don’t select the Windows installer, select EFI Boot instead. That’s it!

How to get iWork (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) apps to stop defaulting to iCloud when saving

Ever since I semi-fully embraced iCloud, I’ve found that the iWork apps — Pages, Numbers and Keynote — always default to wanting to save every new document in iCloud, which I never — well, OK, almost never — want to do. It’s fine that it’s an option, but I want the default to be saving to my local hard drive (which, actually, means saving to my Dropbox account).

It didn’t take much effort to find this thread on Apple’s support forums, but the first suggested solution — turning off “Documents and Data” in System Preferences → iCloud — seemed draconian. With this option you can never sync your documents to iCloud.

A little further down the thread I found the “real” solution, courtesy of “Bernie_uk”, which was important enough for me to want to share here.

It requires opening up Terminal, but it’s not too scary. You just have to run this command:

defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSDocumentSaveNewDocumentsToCloud -bool false

This command doesn’t turn off anything in iCloud; it just tells the system that your default should be saving files to disk, not to iCloud. Note that since this is a global setting, it will affect not just iWork, but any other apps that use iCloud’s “Documents and Data” syncing. (I guess.)

The uncomfortable marriage of the UNIX command line and Mac GUI, and its implications for my sudoers file

I’m a longtime Mac user. A “power user,” you might say. Not so much a power UNIX user, though I do a fair bit of Linux-based command line tomfoolery as part of my job.

But things get ugly when the two come together. At the command line I am a bit too inclined to treat my Mac like a Linux server. It may have UNIX at its core, but it’s not Linux. And Apple has put some effort into de-UNIX-ing it as well. Things you expect to work don’t work the way you expect them to. (Yes, I just wrote that sentence. See what this is doing to my brain???)

For reasons I don’t care to get into, I decided today that I needed to modify the sudoers file on the studio’s Mac mini file server. And in my own inimitable and slightly stupid way, I handled this task as I typically do anything involving changing buried system files, not by struggling through using a command line text editor, but by copying the file to my desktop (where it is magically released from the prison of UNIX file permissions in which Apple has… uh… imprisoned hidden UNIX system files). I edited the file and put it back in the /etc folder where it belongs.

Only problem: in the process, the file’s ownership and permissions got changed. No problem, I thought. I’ll just sudo that sucker. Only problem is, when the permissions on the sudoers file aren’t what the system expects them to be, it doesn’t let anybody sudo anything.

Well… crap.

But then I remembered… Mac GUI solutions to the rescue! I opened up Disk Utility and ran “Repair Disk Permissions.” Problem solved! Apple has saved me from myself.

Now I can go back to my delusion that I am a power user.

Did Adobe actually mock up these Mac OS X screenshots on Windows? (Yes… I’m pretty sure they did.)

So, for reasons I’d rather not get into, I had to break down and install Flash Player in Safari today. (OK, I’ll get into it briefly… due to a rather obscure bug, Chrome — my preferred browser — has been crashing repeatedly on me whenever I try to upload a file. Long-term solutions aside, I had an immediate need for a way to use a Flash-based file uploader, so I had to install Flash in Safari.)

On the final page of the Flash Player download process on Adobe’s website, they offer a series of helpful screenshots to guide the most novice of Mac users through the process of locating and running the installer. Only… no, wait. Those can’t be real Mac OS X screenshots. The fonts are all wrong! So is the anti-aliasing, if you want to get really geeky about it. They’re mostly Arial, with the trademark overly-hinted anti-aliasing of Windows. Strangely though, it looks like the text label under the disk icon in the first screenshot is in Helvetica.

The real telltale sign for me though was the white mouse pointer arrow. Mac OS X has a black arrow. (The Mac has always had a black arrow, and Windows has always had a white one… presumably one of Microsoft’s infringement-suit-skirting superficial changes to the GUI in the early days of the Mac/Windows rivalry.)

I have come to expect subpar user experiences from Adobe, a company whose products I once loved so dearly. But this really takes the cake. I can’t even quite comprehend how screenshots like these were produced. It’s impossible to get results like this on a real Mac. Do they have some weird proprietary in-house Mac emulator that runs on Windows? (Actually, that might explain a lot.) Did they actually meticulously create these “screenshots” in (the Windows version of) Photoshop? Or do they have a Windows application specifically designed to generate fake Mac screenshots for all of their documentation? I’m at a loss to explain it, but there’s no way it wasn’t significantly more work than simply, you know, taking screenshots on a real Mac.

See for yourself… (Note: The image is slightly scaled down here to fit the page. Click it to view at full size.)