Add a Touch Bar to your old Mac with this free app

The Touch Bar is the tentpole feature of Apple’s newest MacBook Pro models. But it’s a hardware feature, which means it’s something those of us who aren’t going to buy a new computer will have to live without. Until now.

Red Sweater software, maker of MarsEdit and other fine apps for the Mac, has released Touché, an app that simulates the Touch Bar on the screen of any Mac capable of running macOS 10.12 “Sierra.”


The Touch Bar is a touch-sensitive display built into the keyboard on the new MacBook Pro. It replaces the “Function Key” row found on other MacBook models. Because it’s a display, it can be infinitely reconfigured with different buttons and interfaces.

Apple has published tools to help developers support the Touch Bar in their apps.

As you can see in the screenshot, the Touch Bar gives you access to features and functions you’d otherwise have to find using key combinations or clicking on menus. But it’s a lot more than that. Because the Touch Bar is a display, developers can make the interface whatever they want.

Developers working on Touch Bar-enabled apps have access to a Touch Bar simulator. As a development tool, that simulator isn’t something that people who aren’t developing Mac apps have easy access to. So Daniel Jalkut at Red Sweater took the next logical step, releasing Touché (which he’s done on the Red Sweater website). It’s a free app.

Apps that already support the Touch Bar API treat Touché just like a real Touch Bar. So you’ll see the same things in Touché that you’d see on the Touch Bar of a new MacBook Pro. It’s a pretty cool hack. You can make the Touché window go away any time you want if you find that the floating Touch Bar palette is a distraction or blocks your ability to see other stuff on your screen.

Anxious to get started with Touché? One caveat: Touché requires a specific build of macOS 10.12.1 “Sierra” (16B2657, if you’re keeping track). If you’re running an earlier 10.12.1 build, you’ll need to manually download and install this newer build, which is available directly from Apple’s website. There’s a link on the Touché Help page on Red Sweater’s site.

If you’ve never heard of Red Sweater and you’re nervous about downloading software from a site you don’t know, I’ll vouch for them. In fact, this very post was composed using another one of their fine products, MarsEdit, which I am very happy to endorse.

The new MacBook Pro isn’t for you. Shut up already.

There are a lot of perfectly cogent, reasonable criticisms of Apple’s MacBook Pro announcement last week. This is not one of them.


Few are more well-thought out than Chuq Von Rospach’s “How Apple Could Have Avoided Much of the Controversy.” I won’t recap it here, but I encourage you to check it out if you’d haven’t already.

I haven’t had a chance to play with the new systems yet. They weren’t available for demo at the Apple Store when I dropped by yesterday to get my phone fixed and I don’t have one on order, as my “daily drivers” consist of recent-model MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro models, so I likely won’t be getting a new Mac for some time.

Instead, I’d like to direct my comments to the self-appointed arbiters of the Apple zeitgeist. You know the ones: With each successive release of software and hardware from Apple, the ones who have increasingly become more shrill and strident about their displeasure with the company and their intention to leave the platform: Shut up.

Buy something else, if you’re going to. But you know as well as I do that you probably won’t. Because you’ve invested years developing and mastering a workflow. And you’re not about to go and recreate that on another platform simply because this particular hardware doesn’t meet your needs, you special freakin’ snowflake.

And hey, if you are, if this is your line in the sand, good on you. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

The rest of us have real work to do.

Muscle Memory and Force Touch

Muscle memory is a funny thing. It can both get in the way of and help to create a good user experience.

I’m using a new MacBook Pro that has a Force Touch trackpad. It’s my first experience with such a device and I adapted to it without too much of a problem.

IMG 1410

I spend a lot of my time on the computer writing, so my favorite Force Touch gesture is to press on a word I want to check the definition of. I do it dozens of times a day in some cases.

I also use an older Apple Wireless Keyboard and Magic Trackpad — the original, not the larger, considerably more expensive Force Touch-equipped model. They rest on a makeshift standing desk in my office. That desk is not something I use all the time, but I use it frequently enough that I find myself switching back and forth between the built-in keyboard and trackpad and my desk keyboard and trackpad.

A few moments of reorientation and I’m typing away happily, not looking down at all – keeping my eyes on the screen as I type these works. Then I’ll type something I’m not sure about, and I’ll select it and then press.

And watch as nothing happens.

About the same time I get frustrated that what I’m expecting to happen isn’t happening, I remember why. It’s because there’s no Force Touch on the Magic Trackpad.

It reminds me of what happened when I got my iPhone 5S. The 5S was the first iPhone equipped with a TouchID sensor. Within hours of using it, I went to unlock my third-generation iPad by resting my thumb on the Home button, then wondered why nothing was happening. Muscle memory had already set in.

Muscle memory is aided by frictionless interface design, and that’s really what Apple’s hoping to achieve with Force Touch on the trackpad and 3D Touch on the iPhone.

macOS 10.12 Sierra Upgrade Guide

Apple this week released macOS 10.12 Sierra, the newest Mac operating system release. I’ve prepared a macOS 10.12 Sierra Upgrade Guide at Backblaze that answers the questions you may have about it. Find out what’s new in Sierra, whether your Mac can run it, and what you should do to prepare. That starts, of course, with backing up your data. Backblaze can help!


The case for a water resistant MacBook

Apple on Friday released the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus and Apple Watch Series 2. All three of the devices sport new water resistance and water proofing features that should cut down the number of trips many of us have to take to Apple Stores to get our gear fixed and replaced. Water damage to sensitive electronic devices is an endemic problem, as anyone who’s worked at an Apple Store or service provider can tell you. I think Apple has a real market opportunity to offer a MacBook that can put up with the occasional spill.


I would love to see Apple make the same treatment to the MacBook line, because water damage to Macs is a major issue as well. In my almost three years working at a computer retailer, I saw computers that had been damaged by water almost every time I worked. Plumbing problems, spilled drinks, or full immersion in bodies of water were all real things that happened. I even remember one that was saturated in vomit from a night of heavy drinking.

I’ve been able to avoid the problem myself, thought it has happened to family members, and it cost hundreds of dollars to repair. If you’re lucky, all you’ll have to do is pay for a new top case for your MacBook, or maybe a new power board. Any way you slice it, it’s never cheap to fix water damage. What’s more, Apple’s AppleCare coverage, which I swear by when buying Mac laptops, especially, does not cover accidental damage. You’re on your own when that happens.

We’re not talking about taking the computer into the bathtub (although, in fairness, I had a retail store customer ask me if that was safe once). We’re talking about spill damage caused by the errant tipped coffee mug or the occasional misadventure with a cool beverage.

Right now water resistant laptops are very much a niche market. Panasonic makes the ToughBook and there are a few others whose makers say they’re water-resistant. They are for the most part ugly and inelegant machines, and all of them are running Windows.

So far it looks like the public is responding really well to the water-resistance of the new iPhone 7. Let’s hope it gives Apple an incentive to produce a Mac laptop that might sport the same sort of resilience to the environment.

How to keep Mac Photos app closed when you connect your iPhone

If you don’t trust the cloud, you may connect your iPhone to a Mac periodically using a Lightning to USB cable. That opens iTunes and the Photos app to backup and synchronize. Photos isn’t the only photo management tool out there. If Photos gets in your way, follow these steps to stop your Mac from opening it. You can even tell the Mac which app you’d prefer to use instead.

Step one is to tell Photos not to open for your iPhone anymore.

How to keep Photos from opening when you connect your iPhone

  1. Connect your iPhone to your Mac using a Lightning to USB cable.
  2. Open Photos if it doesn’t open automatically.
  3. Under the Import sidebar, look for your iPhone.
  4. In the navigation bar, uncheck the box that says Open Photos for this device.Open photos
  5. Quit Photos.
This tip works with any iOS device, not just your iPhone. So if tethering your iPod touch or iPad similarly irritates you, you can turn off Photos for those devices too.
Now that you’ve told Photos not to open, the next step is to tell your Mac which app you would like to use to import photos. Adobe Lightroom and other software provide cataloging, editing and transformation tools that might be more your style.
Once you’ve got an app installed that you want to use, it’s easy to switch the default behavior of your Mac when your device is tethered. The secret is an Apple utility in your Applications folder called Image Capture. Image Capture is included with the Mac, so you don’t have to download it or install it. Just follow these steps.
How to make another photo app open when you connect your iPhone
  1. Follow the steps above if you have not already done so.
  2. Open the Applications folder.
  3. Double-click Image Capture.
  4. Look for this in the lower left corner. Click on it.Arrow
  5. A new menu will appear. It says Connecting this iPhone opens. Click on it.
  6. Any apps you’ve installed that can import photos from your iPhone will appear here. Select the one you’d like to use.

From now on, any time you tether your iPhone to your Mac, that app will open automatically. I’d keep Photos and its library files around if I were you, but that doesn’t mean you have to use them if you’d prefer other software.

How to protect your Mac from malware (again)

A new malware threat affects both iPhones and Macs. Apple already released an update to iOS to fix the problem. Now the Mac has been updated too. Here’s how to check.

First off, this applies to OS X 10.10 “Yosemite” and 10.11 “El Capitan.” If you’re not sure what version you have installed, click on the  menu, then click on About This Mac. The overview window will tell you what version of OS X you have installed.

I’d strongly recommend backing your Mac up before you do anything. Use Time Machine, backup software like SuperDuper, Backblaze or whatever you prefer. Don’t make changes to essential software like your Mac’s operating system without making sure you have a current backup first.

To update your Mac with Security Update 2016-001

  1. Open the Mac App Store.
  2. Click the Updates button.
  3. Click Update.
  4. Restart your Mac to finish installing the update. It may take 5-10 minutes or longer to complete.
Security update

Once the update is done, your Mac will restart and you can continue to work.

In a tech note posted to Apple’s own support site, Apple explained that this update changes kernel operating system code to address “a validation issue” and a “memory corruption issue.” Apple’s links to the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures List identifications for these problems confirm that it’s the same issue reported for iOS 9 last week.

The actual problem Apple fixed here seems to have been used in a malware exploit created as an act of political espionage. While it’s a nasty hack and a security threat, the actual risk to those of us who aren’t political dissidents is pretty low. Still, Apple acted on this and has eliminated the security threat, so it’s a good idea to update your gear.

Worried about malware on the Mac? Try this

It’s sadly easy to click on the wrong link on a web page or in an email and end up with a software package downloaded to your computer, rooted somewhere to make your experience surfing the web an endless misery of ads. Adware and malware abound, not just on PC but on Mac too.

Apple continues to refine OS X to make it as resistant to malware infection as possible, and third party software exists to help as well. Here’s a quick roundup of what you can do to close the wagons, as it were.

Let’s start with what’s built in to the operating system. The Mac has Security & Privacy settings you can adjust to make it more secure. Apple’s Gatekeeper software manages which apps can be installed on your Mac, and its settings are under the “General” tab.

“Allow apps downloaded from” is what I’m referring to. It has three settings: “Mac App Store,” “Mac App Store and identified developers,” and “Anywhere.”

The first two options check for the presence of digital certificates that Apple has verified, a good way to make sure the application you’re downloading is what it’s supposed to be. The Mac App Store option restricts that even further to only those applications you’ve purchased through Apple’s buiit-in Mac App Store.

Problems can happen when you set that option to “Anywhere.” Then the Mac doesn’t check to make sure the app is from a registered Apple developer, which means that it could come from anywhere. It’s an expert level setting that’s best not to use unless you feel comfortable with the potential risk involved. If your Mac is set to Anywhere, now would be a good time to change it.

How to change your Gatekeeper security settings

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Click on Security & Privacy.
  3. Check the setting for 
  4. Click the lock in the lower left to make changes. Enter your administrator password and click Unlock.
  5. Change the “Allow apps downloaded from” setting to one of the first two, depending on your need.
  6. Close the Security & Privacy window to save changes.

Gatekeeper is a good first line of defense. If you’d like to make sure your Mac is free of malware, I’d recommend using Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware for Mac. It’s free, and it’s well-maintained by a company that sells anti-malware software for PC and business.


Macs running Snow Leopard can’t run this software. If you’re in that boat, you should seriously think about upgrading your operating system or your hardware, because it’s really old and it’s not going to be supported for much longer. Having said that, ClamXav still supports machines running 10.6 and later.

Will your Mac support macOS 10.12 “Sierra?” Here’s how to find out

The release notes for the rechristened “macOS” 10.12 “Sierra” indicate a change in minimum system requirements. Older Macs got a stay of execution last year; El Capitan’s minimum requirements didn’t change from Yosemite. This year, Sierra ups that to Macs built since late 2009. If you’re not sure about the age of your Mac, here’s how to tell.

If you were planning to install 10.12 on an older Mac, you should probably make sure it’s up to snuff before you try. (If you try to install the developer preview on a Mac too old to support it, the installer will tell you it’s too old and will quit, anyway.)

If you’re not sure how old your gear is, here’s how to figure it out.

How to know the age of your Mac

  1. Click on the menu
  2. Select About this Mac
  3. Under the Overview tab, look at your Mac’s description. Its model age will be displayed.How old

Even though minimum system requirements had been static on the Mac for a few years, the actual supported features of OS X have been a moving target. El Capitan can be installed on Macs back to 2008, but features like Metal graphics acceleration, AirDrop file sharing, Handoff and Instant Hotspot are specific to Macs buiilt since 2012. That’s because those newer Macs have better hardware inside that enables the feature support. And while El Cap technically supported Macs with 2 GB RAM, running them in that configuration was maddeningly frustrating, especially on Macs without SSDs.

macOS Sierra ups the minimum system requirement to MacBooks and iMacs made in late 2009. That maintains that seven-year spread we saw last year, but cuts off older Mac models built before late 2009. I don’t know what, technically, is motivating the system requirement change. But generally, my experience tells me that Apple’s decisions on system requirements are rarely arbitrary: Apple simply won’t support hardware that they can’t back with a great user experience.

It’s too soon to tell what Sierra’s final system requirements will be: Yesterday was the release of the first developer preview, and a public beta won’t be out until next month, with a general release in the fall. So don’t draw too much from the developer preview as it stands now. Still, forewarned is forearmed, so tuck this information away for the coming weeks and months.

How to quickly see the emoji keyboard on OS X

Sometimes you’d just to prefer to text on your Mac, and who can blame you? It’s got a nice big screen and a nice keyboard to use. But these days lots of us punctuate our messages and our social media posts with emoji, which are a bit more difficult to use on the Mac. Here are a couple of ways to make it easier.

One thing you can do to make emoji more accessible on your Mac is to enable the emoji menu. Open the Keyboard system preference and look for a checkbox near the bottom that says Show Keyboard, Emoji & Symbol Viewers in menu bar. 

Show emoji

With that checked, you’ll see a new menu appear on your Mac; click on it and select Show Emoji & Symbols to display a menu of all available emoji.

Show emoji menu

That will pop up a window that shows you all the available emoji. Position your cursor on the line of text you’d like to add the emoji to, double-click on the emoji, and it will be added to the text. The emoji window will float over the other windows in open apps. Close the window by clicking on the red button in the upper left hand corner.

Emoji menu

There’s an easier way, especially if you don’t want to clutter up your menu bar with additional stuff. Just hold down the command and control keys on your Mac’s keyboard, then press the spacebar. That’ll make the emoji menu appear as well.