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Why Bother to Upgrade?

If you’ve already installed the Mac operating system a dozen times over the past few decades hoping for a faster and more amazing Mac only to find that the process has kept you inside on a sunny day and left you with a slower or more unstable Mac, or a Mac that can’t connect to the Internet, or a printer that won’t print, or a copy of iTunes that hides its sidebar, or just plain fuss and bother, you probably aren’t looking forward to yet another upgrade. You’ve got better things to do.

Take Control reader David L. expressed this in email yesterday, saying, “However, I haven’t updated to Yosemite yet and after seeing the crappy user interface changes we got when I updated my wife’s Macbook from Mountain Lion to Yosemite, I doubt that I will. Her system is more cranky and less useful with Yosemite than it was with Mountain Lion. What would be more useful for us than a ‘how to’ would be ‘a should I?’ or a ‘why upgrade?’ article in TidBITS.”

As we ponder the idea of a TidBITS article about this topic, I wanted to share with you what TidBITS Publisher Adam Engst had to say about the matter, in his email reply to David:

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, actually. On the one hand, I sympathize entirely — I think these upgrades are coming too fast, and providing too little user benefit. But here’s the downside. If you wait too long, you can end up with a difficult upgrade, or, in the worst case, lost data.

I still hear from people still moving away from the email client Eudora, and it’s gotten really hard to do now, since the software that was new in 10.6 Snow Leopard days hasn’t seen any development since, and the developers themselves may have moved on or taken it down. And the community knowledge has evaporated — it takes me a long time to remember anything useful about Eudora now.

Another guy (a tech journalist, even) just wrote in with a problem where he’d waited too long to update iPhoto, and now his iPhoto library is too old for Photos to import it. And he can’t easily update iPhoto because it’s not for sale any more.

The other problem is that Apple does introduce niceties for developers in each release, so developers have to make hard decisions about how far back to keep their code working. A lot of the time it’s not feasible to maintain backward compatibility, so people who don’t upgrade begin to have trouble keeping their devices up to date with third-party software. And that in turn forces developers to keep older versions around and to answer questions, which costs them money without generating any upgrade income.

Beyond what Adam has said, another reason to update is when you have more than one Apple device (any combination of a desktop Mac, laptop Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Apple Watch, or Apple TV) — when it comes to any sort of cloud-related connections, these devices do work better together if they are all running the latest system software. If you don’t keep the system software current on your devices and you then buy one new device, that purchase can trigger a domino effect, requiring all of your other devices to be updated so that the new device will work properly with the others. That’s not to say that you should update your devices the moment a new Apple operating system is released: a prudent user may want to wait about 4 months to give Apple time to smooth out glitches. For example, if Apple normally rolls out big new changes in, say, October, then February might be a good time for you to jump on the update bandwagon.

Then there’s security. Security enhancements are usually a big focus of pretty much any operating system upgrade, and the more current you keep the systems on your devices, the more likely it is that their systems, and the communications they participate in, will be secure. To that end, if you were to follow my advice and upgrade everything in February, I would also suggest staying on top of upgrades within that operating system version. So, if you upgrade to El Capitan and iOS 9 in February, I would recommend promptly installing all subsequent updates to El Capitan and iOS 9, so your devices can benefit from any security fixes and any remaining bug fixes.

Finally, a lot of upgrading pain is the fuss and bother of things not working right, or not looking right. My primary motivation as editor-in-chief of the Take Control series is to provide people with helpful information about how to get more out of their Macs and related gear. I can’t promise that one of our books will make your Mac experience perfect — or that you will benefit from it without a certain amount of effort on your part — or without additional RAM installed in your Mac — but the Take Control ebooks do look at how to avoid or solve all manner of problems, and at how to customize your computing experience to your liking.

It would be easier if computers never changed. They’d be our faithful companions where we store our receipts and recipes, where we compose love letters and novels, and where we enjoy our streaming videos and cat photos. We’d spend our computing time on scientific calculations, composing orginal music, and printing broken appliance parts to our 3D printers…

… but that’s the rub: If our computers never changed, we’d not be storing receipts, because we wouldn’t be able to afford a fast scanner and there would be no cloud to download them from. We could compose a love letter or novel, but there would be no self-publishing to Amazon and a 300-page manuscript would still be nearly impossible to load into our favorite word processor. There would be no streaming of anything, except conventional TV and radio. We could do scientific calculations, but not with anything close to the big data crunching that we can do now. GarageBand and its ilk would not exist. And we’d still have to go to extra lengths to print a curly quote.

But is the advance of computer technology all digital nirvana? No it’s not, nor is it even close. It’s a completely human endeavor: messy and half-broken, flawed and half-baked. As a consequence, we stare at progress bars and spinning gears. When we want to get something done, we have to remember to use the View menu to see our sidebar, or wonder why the word “More” has turned into a … button. Tech companies are re-engineering and re-designing everything, it seems, and they are reinventing our most intimate digital spaces as they go, flinging around buttons and changing colors willy-nilly to suit themselves. If you’ve already upgraded your computer’s operating system more than a dozen times, you’ve seen first-hand how slowly computers seem to change from year to year, but how much they change from decade to decade. By writing this blog post, I can no more turn this tide of change than I can make the moon leave its orbit.

Should you upgrade? Yes, you should. This is because life goes on. Will the process be annoying? Probably. Will your jaw drop the first time you take a video call from your grandson on FaceTime? Or the first time you skip a long line by waving your wrist at a scanner? Or the first time your smartphone gets you to the right place in a foreign city by multi-leg public transit? Probably.

Posted by Tonya Engst (Permalink)

Prep for El Capitan with Early-bird Discounts on Take Control Books

Apple plans to release OS X 10.11 El Capitan this fall with under-the-hood improvements aimed at improving performance and zapping bugs, along with changes to the Finder and core Apple apps. Because it’s only a matter of time before your Mac starts nagging you to upgrade to El Capitan, we have the early-bird release of Joe Kissell’s Take Control of Upgrading to El Capitan available now and Scholle McFarland’s El Capitan: A Take Control Crash Course available for pre-order.

You must click a link on this page to load the necessary coupon. These discounts will expire once El Capitan ships.

• El Capitan Bundle: Save 30% on both books — you pay $17.50, list price is $25. Put them right in the cart!

Save 20% on Take Control of Upgrading to El Capitan — you pay $12, list price is $15.

Save 20% on El Capitan: A Take Control Crash Course — you pay $8, list price is $10.

More about Take Control of Upgrading to El Capitan

So you can prepare for the upgrade now, we’ve just published the 74-page Take Control of Upgrading to El Capitan. In this book, the ninth installment in our series of “Upgrading” titles, Mac wizard Joe Kissell helps you with hardware and software compatibility, problem prevention, prepping your drive, and picking the best installation method. Whether you’ll be upgrading from the 10.11 El Capitan public beta or from 10.4 Tiger — or anything in between! — Joe coaches you through making a bootable duplicate of your main drive and gives you pointers for eliminating digital clutter and handling last-minute preparations.

Once Apple releases El Capitan, we’ll publish a version 1.1 update with full installation steps, post-installation advice, troubleshooting help, and more. Look for “Meet Me Back Here on Upgrade Day” in the book to learn how to get the free 1.1 update, or just watch for an email message with direct download links.

More about El Capitan: A Take Control Crash Course

In El Capitan: A Take Control Crash Course, by former Macworld editor Scholle McFarland, you’ll explore changes in the Finder and new features in apps like Safari and Notes, and update your know-how of key Apple technologies, including notifications, iMessage, Handoff, iCloud Drive, AirPlay, AirDrop, and Family Sharing. You’ll also find directions for working with Finder tags and Finder window tabs, plus special topics on user accounts and troubleshooting. As with all our Crash Courses, this book is designed to make it easy to dip in and read quickly, picking just those topics that interest you.

When you pre-order this book, you’ll download a one-page PDF. After Apple makes the official release of El Capitan available, you’ll be able to click a button in the PDF to get the full ebook (in PDF, EPUB, and Mobipocket formats) and start learning about El Capitan. We’ll also send you email with download links.

Posted by Adam Engst (Permalink)

Kirk and Chuck Talk about Audio Hijack

In his second interview with Chuck Joiner of MacVoices this month, Kirk talks about why he finds Audio Hijack 3 a user-interface breakthrough for the venerable audio utility. He also explains the real-world approach he takes in the book. So give a listen — if you have Audio Hijack, you might even want to record it!

Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)

Replace the Dots with Numbers to See Your Cellular Connection Strength

When your iPhone connects with a cellular network, whether to access the Internet or to make calls, you should know that a weak cellular signal not only may affect data transfer speed or call quality but also requires your device to use more power — and that means your device’s battery drains more quickly. If your device’s five dot signal-strength indicator does not give you enough information about the strength of a signal (“is that 3-dot signal closer to a 2 or a 4?”), you can make your device show you the exact RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indication) measured in decibel-milliwatts. Josh Centers has written up the steps in TidBITS.

Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)

See Exact Cellular Signal Strength for Hotspot Happiness

If you use your iPhone or iPad to create a Wi-Fi hotspot for your other devices, you should know that a weak cellular signal not only may affect data transfer speed but also requires your your hotspot-supplying device to use more power — and that means your hotspot’s battery drains more quickly. If your device’s five dot signal-strength indicator does not give you enough information about the strength of a signal (“is that 3-dot signal closer to a 2 or a 4?”), you can make your device show you the exact RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indication) measured in decibel-milliwatts. Josh Centers has written up the steps in TidBITS.

Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)

Google Aims to Simplify Wi-Fi with OnHub Router

Google has entered the Wi-Fi router marketplace with its newly announced OnHub device which purports to make establishing and maintaining a Wi-Fi network simple. If you are wondering whether Google’s device might be a suitable replacement for your router or make a useful addition to your Wi-Fi network, head on over to TidBITS where Glenn has posted his preliminary take on it.

Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)

MacVoices #15153: Jeff Carlson Talks Apple Watch and His Take Control Crash Course

A few months back, before the Apple Watch was released, version 1.0 of Jeff’s book came out, full of information for prospective watch buyers but, of necessity, short of usage tips and advice. However, now that Apple’s wrist-bling has been available for a couple of months, Jeff has been able to expand and update his book accordingly. Chuck Joiner naturally is curious about what Jeff has added to his book and what he has changed. That’s at the core of this MacVoices conversation, and if you have the time for it (check your watch), you can find out too!

Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)

TextExpander 5.1 Adds Suggestion Control

TextExpander 5.1 is out (click Preferences > Updates to get the update) and, aside from minor fixes, the update refines the new Suggestions feature. The app now excludes most single dictionary words when it suggests snippets, and it adds a new checkbox in its Preferences > Suggestions settings: Notify Me about Snippet Suggestions. When this box is unchecked, TextExpander will still add suggestions to its Suggested Snippets group but will not post notifications about them. If you don’t mind getting snippet suggestions (and, periodically, culling them as I suggest in the book), but you do dislike seeing notifications about them popping up on your screen, this checkbox is for you.

Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)

Michael Expands on TextExpander with Chuck Joiner

One of the best parts of finishing a Take Control book (aside from the royalties, of course) is the chance to spend an hour chatting with Chuck Joiner about it on MacVoices. As usual, Chuck and I had a great time discussing not just the book but the TextExpander software and why we like it so darn much.

Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)

iBooks Author Update Adds EPUB; iOS 8.4 Adds Multi-Touch Book Capability on iPhone

Apple has released version 2.3 of iBooks Author to accompany the releases of iOS 8.4 and OS X 10.3.3. The new version of iOS brings with it a new version of the iBooks app, version 4.3, that can now open and display Multi-Touch books on iPhone.

That’s pretty big news, but the bigger news is that iBooks Author now offers two EPUB templates. Using those, one can create EPUBs in iBooks Author using the File > Export command. Here’s what the iBooks Author Help has to say about EPUBs:

The ePub templates are designed for novels, mysteries, and other books with a lot of text. You can allow readers to scroll through the book or swipe to turn pages. You can include any objects and media on the book cover and the table of contents header, and for the body pages, you can choose from a set of objects specially selected for ePub books—tables, images, and Gallery, Media, and HTML widgets. (If an object is unavailable, the tools and inspector controls for working with it are hidden or dimmed.)

The Help also notes some limitations in EPUBs created by iBooks Author:

While reading a book created with an ePub template, iBooks users can change the font size and screen brightness, but can’t change the font style or read in night mode (light text on a dark page).

Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)