We’re all accustomed to the Do Not Disturb feature on our iPhones since they’re with us for most of the day and often spend the night next to the bed. But Apple long ago added Do Not Disturb to the Mac as well, and it’s useful for muting your Mac at night to eliminate unnecessary noises and for preventing unwanted notifications during presentations. In System Preferences > Notifications > Do Not Disturb, you can tell macOS to turn the feature on during specific times, when the display is sleeping or locked, and when mirroring to another screen. Or, you can turn on Do Not Disturb manually—you might want to do this when giving a presentation with Zoom or another videoconferencing app. In macOS 10.15 Catalina and earlier, do this in Notification Center by clicking it at the far right of the menu bar, scrolling up, and enabling the Do Not Disturb switch. In macOS 11 Big Sur, you find Do Not Disturb in Control Center.
We regularly hear from people who think they need Adobe Acrobat DC to manipulate PDFs. Don’t misunderstand: Adobe Acrobat is the gold standard, but it’s complicated and expensive—$14.99 per month or as part of Creative Cloud for $52.99 per month. In contrast, Apple’s Preview is easy and free with macOS. Here are six tasks that people may think require Acrobat but can easily be accomplished in Preview.
Remove and Rearrange or Export Pages
Have a PDF with unnecessary pages? You can delete them in Preview. First, make sure page thumbnails are showing in the sidebar by choosing View > Thumbnails. Then select the pages you want to remove and press Delete. Choose File > Save when you’re done—you’ll need to do that after all the rest of these tasks too.
Rearranging pages also happens in the sidebar—just drag the thumbnails as needed. If you drag a thumbnail to the Finder, Preview exports the page as its own PDF file.
Merge and Add Pages
What about putting pages from one PDF into another? Preview has your back there too. Open both PDFs, make sure their sidebars are showing page thumbnails, and then drag one or more thumbnails from one sidebar to the other, dropping them between the desired pages in the destination.
You can also drag a PDF from the Finder into the sidebar to add all its pages. Or, to take a photo or scan a document and insert it into the document, Control-click in the sidebar and choose Import from iPhone or iPad.
Let’s say someone asks for edits or comments on a PDF. Although you can’t change the text with Preview, you can mark up the document.
Highlight text: They may give you flashbacks to high school, but Preview provides a handful of colored highlighters, along with underline and strikethrough styles. Choose one from the Highlight menu in the toolbar and then select the desired text.
Add highlight notes: To ensure that your highlights make sense to others, add notes to them. Control-click the highlighted text and choose Add Note. Then enter your note in the colored box that appears. It shrinks when you click away from it and expands when you click it again.
Add general notes: You can also place faux sticky notes anywhere on a PDF page. Reveal the Markup toolbar by clicking the Markup button, and then click the Note button. Drag the closed note box to position it on the page. See all your notes in the sidebar by choosing View > Highlights and Notes.
Add shapes and text boxes: The Markup toolbar also contains controls for creating various shapes (including lines with arrows) and text boxes. At times, the best way to show what you mean is to put a box, line, or text directly on the page. Click a shape to add it—text you type while it’s selected sticks with the shape, like the speech balloon below and the arrows above.
If you do need to edit the text of a PDF, that’s a job for Adobe Acrobat or another PDF tool like Smile’s PDFpen.
Sometimes, when you’re sharing a PDF, you want to redact sensitive information so it can’t be read. macOS 11 Big Sur’s version of Preview can permanently obscure and delete selected text from the document. Choose Tools > Redact and select the text you want to hide.
In earlier versions of macOS, you can simulate redaction by covering text with a colored rectangle. Unfortunately, recipients could delete your rectangle or copy the text underneath it. Don’t depend on this workaround to protect confidential information. For true redaction in older versions of macOS, use Acrobat or PDFpen.
Fill PDF Forms
Although Preview cannot create fillable PDF forms (again, turn to Acrobat or Smile’s PDFpenPro), it works fine for entering information into such forms. If you have to fill out an IRS form for your employer, for instance, Preview should work fine. Just click in a field and type, or click a checkbox to select it.
One warning. We’ve heard occasional reports that Windows users reading PDFs with forms filled out in Preview sometimes don’t see the entered text. When returning an important form, it’s always best to ask the recipient to confirm that it worked. If it doesn’t, fall back on the free Adobe Acrobat Reader DC.
Now that so much paperwork has gone digital, we often need to sign PDFs. The most important documents will probably use a service like SignEasy that’s designed for collecting legally binding, secure signatures. But for something like a simple permit application, you can add your signature in Preview by clicking the Signature button in the Markup toolbar and choosing it.
Inserting (and resizing) an already created signature is easy, as is the one-time process of making one. Click the Signature button, and then click Create Signature. If your Mac has a trackpad, write on it with your finger or a rubber-tipped iPad stylus. Or use a marker to write your signature on paper and take a picture of it with the camera. In macOS 10.15 Catalina and later, you can also create a signature on an iPhone or iPad. Once created, the signature sticks around in Preview and even syncs to your other Macs through iCloud.
Note that Preview’s signature is just a graphic that could be copied, so it’s no more protected than a handwritten signature that could be scanned or photocopied.
Useful as all these features are, they’re just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what Preview can do, particularly with graphics. For a complete look at Preview’s features, check out the 178-page ebook Take Control of Preview.
With iCloud Drive, Apple provides an Optimize Mac Storage checkbox that, when checked, stores the full contents of iCloud Drive on the Mac only if there’s enough space. However, you may wish to recover local storage space without selecting that option—luckily, that’s easy to do. Open iCloud Drive in the Finder, Control-click a file, and choose Remove Download. The file remains in iCloud Drive, and if you need it locally, you can click the cloud icon next to its name to download it. If you’re not sure which files in the iCloud Drive window occupy the most space, choose View > As List, and then click the Size column so the largest files sort to the top (click again if they’re sorting to the bottom).
We’ve long recommended that everyone use a password manager like 1Password instead of attempting to memorize or write down passwords. Although there are other password managers, 1Password is the leading solution for Apple users, thanks to a focus on macOS and iOS from its earliest days.
1Password offers numerous benefits, including:
Automatic generation of strong passwords so you don’t have to invent them
Secure storage of passwords, even if your Mac or iPhone were stolen
Automatic entry of usernames and passwords that’s much easier than manual entry
Auditing of existing accounts to see how many use the same password
Easy access to all your passwords from all your devices (Mac, iOS, Windows, Android)
Sharing of passwords among a family or a workgroup
The hardest part of getting started with 1Password, like any password manager, is overcoming the inertia of trying something new. Here’s what you’ll need to do.
Once you’ve decided on a plan, click through to the associated page linked above and sign up. Of course, if your family or business already uses 1Password, the person who created the account should invite you first.
Make sure to create a master password that’s strong yet easily typed because you’ll need to enter it regularly (or use Touch ID, Face ID, or an Apple Watch) to unlock 1Password. Since you’re putting all sorts of valuable eggs in your 1Password basket, be sure to download and fill out your Emergency Kit in case something happens to you. It also contains the QR code that makes it easy to sign in on new devices.
Mac:Download and install the app, sign in to your 1Password account in your Web browser, click your name at the top right, and choose Get the Apps. Click “Add your account directly,” and let your browser open 1Password. Enter your master password and click Sign In.
iPhone/iPad:Download and open the app, and tap 1Password.com > Scan Setup Code. Then find the Setup Code ➊ and scan it using the camera. Enter your master password and tap Done. Next, go to Settings > Passwords > AutoFill Passwords, enable AutoFill Passwords ➋, select 1Password ➌, and deselect Keychain.
Web Browser: The 1Password X extension makes it easier to sign in to sites using Safari, Google Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, and Brave. The 1Password app installs the Safari extension for you; the rest you’ll need to get manually.
With any security solution, there’s a tradeoff between ease of use and security. 1Password provides options so you can adjust that tradeoff to your liking.
Mac: In 1Password > Preferences > Security, you can enable unlock using an Apple Watch if you have both an Apple Watch and a Mac with a Secure Enclave. Also, set the various Auto-Lock checkboxes as you desire—if your Mac is in a shared space, err on the side of more security; if only you and trusted people can access it, you can be less strict.
iPhone/iPad: Tap the Settings button, then Security, and enable Touch ID or Face ID. They let you avoid entering your master password to access 1Passsord while maintaining a high level of security.
3: Save and Fill Passwords
Now it’s time to start using 1Password. The first thing you’ll need to do is save your website logins as you go—you’ll need to do this only once per site. Again, 1Password provides instructions for both the Mac and the iPhone or iPad, but here’s a summary:
Mac: Whenever you enter your username and password in a Web login form, 1Password will ask you to save your credentials. Click the Save In 1Password button and edit the title of the login button if desired. If you don’t yet have an account at the site, enter your username, click the 1Password icon in the password field, and choose Use Selected Password to accept the strong password 1Password has generated for you. Finally, click Save.
iPhone/iPad: When you tap a username or password field, either in an app or in a website in Safari, the iOS keyboard will appear. Tap the key icon ➊, and then tap Create Login ➋. Enter your credentials. If you don’t yet have an account at the site, enter your desired username ➌ and tap the gear icon ➍ to generate a strong password. Finally, tap Save & Fill ➎.
With logins saved in 1Password, when you want to sign in to one of those sites in the future, it has just become extremely easy.
Mac #1: If you’re already looking at a website’s login fields, click the 1Password button in a username or password field and then choose the login you want to fill.
Mac #2: Alternatively, click the 1Password button in the browser’s toolbar. If 1Password’s suggestions aren’t right, type a few characters from the site name in the Search field. Click the AutoFill button for the desired result to load that site and auto-fill your credentials.
iPhone/iPad: Tap a username ➊ or password field in an app or Web page. Your username appears above the keyboard; tap it to fill in the username and password and tap Go if necessary. If you have multiple logins at that site, tap the key icon ➋ to choose a different one ➌.
We’ve just scratched the surface of what 1Password can do. If you explore the 1Password support site, you can learn how to enter two-factor authentication codes (1Password calls them one-time passwords) automatically, create and share vaults with others, add and auto-fill credit card information, and use the Watchtower feature to see which of your logins use weak or duplicate passwords.
(Featured image assembled from originals by 1Password)
For many years, Macs have relied on sets of keys held at startup to enable specific modes. Most notably, pressing Option displays the Startup Manager and lets you pick a boot drive, Command-R starts up from macOS Recovery, Command-Option-P-R resets the NVRAM, Shift starts up in Safe mode, D opens Apple Diagnostics to check the hardware, and T starts up in Target Disk Mode. Needless to say, obscure key combinations aren’t the friendliest way to help someone who may already be stressed out about their Mac not working, so Apple improved things for the new M1-based Macs.
The most important part is that you no longer have to press a key combination during startup. Instead, press and hold the power button until the screen shows “Loading startup options…” and displays the Startup Manager.
Unfortunately, Apple is still a little fast and loose with terms, so we’ve tried to list all of the ones you might see.
Startup Manager / Startup Disk
If you have multiple boot drives and wish to switch among them, you’ll want to use Startup Manager. Immediately after you see “Loading startup options…,” the Mac displays the new Startup Manager, which shows icons for all the bootable drives, along with buttons for Options, Shut Down, and Restart. To boot from a particular drive, select it and click Continue under it.
If you work your way into macOS Recovery but then want to back out in order to select a startup drive, look in the Apple menu for a Startup Disk command, which provides similar functionality with a slightly different look.
Startup Manager (but not Startup Disk) also lets you start up in Safe mode and set a drive as the default to use for booting. First, select a drive. Then, for Safe mode, press the Shift key and click the Continue in Safe Mode button below it. To set a selected drive as the default, press the Control or Option key and click the Always Use button underneath it.
Note that M1-based Macs can’t boot from just any external drive. We’re all still learning about the new platform, but it seems that you need a Thunderbolt 3 SSD that has been freshly formatted with APFS and set up with a new installation of macOS 11.1 Big Sur. See Howard Oakley’s writeup for details.
macOS Recovery / Recovery
When you need to reinstall macOS or restore from a Time Machine backup, head to macOS Recovery. From the Startup Manager screen, select Options and click Continue underneath it. After you choose a language, an initial macOS Recovery screen appears. Note that you have access to the Apple menu, which lets you choose Startup Disk, Restart, or Shut Down, and to the Recovery Assistant menu, which includes a potentially useful Erase Mac command.
macOS Recovery presents you with a list of users. Select one for which you know the login password, click Next, and enter the password when prompted. Now, in the Recovery app, you can restore from Time Machine, reinstall Big Sur, launch Safari to browse the Web and get online help from Apple, and open Disk Utility to manage drives.
The Recovery app has a full set of menus, and notice Utilities in particular. It lets you launch the Startup Security Utility, to reduce the macOS security level, or Terminal, if you want to run command-line tools before startup. (The old macOS single-user mode accessible by holding down S at startup has disappeared.) To return to the Recovery app from any other app, quit the current app. Finally, note that the Recovery app’s Window menu has an option for Recovery Log. As is often the case with logs, it may be inscrutable to all but high-level support experts.
Oddly, once you’re in macOS Recovery, there’s no way to return to the Startup Manager.
Target Disk Mode / Share Disk
If you ever want to access one Mac’s drives from another, you can connect the two Macs via a USB or Thunderbolt cable and use Target Disk Mode. On M1-based Macs, you initiate Target Disk Mode using a command in the Recovery app’s Utilities menu: Share Disk.
Choose Utilities > Share Disk to start sharing one of the M1-based Mac’s drives via Target Disk Mode. Select the drive and click Start Sharing. When you’re done using it, click Stop Sharing before disconnecting the cable.
Apple Diagnostics / Diagnostics Loader
If you’re worried that your M1-based Mac is suffering from a hardware failure, running Apple Diagnostics may shed some light on the problem. Oddly, getting to Apple Diagnostics still requires a hidden keystroke.
Once you’re in the Startup Manager screen, press and hold Command-D to reboot the Mac into the Diagnostics Loader app. You can choose to run the diagnostics offline or to share the information with Apple.
After you pick one, the diagnostics run right away and report back when they’re done. If you have an M1-based MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, make sure to plug it in first, or you’ll get an error telling you that the power adapter couldn’t be found.
The troubleshooting approaches that no longer seem to be available in any way are to reset the NVRAM (Non-Volatile RAM) or the SMC (System Management Controller). Apparently, the NVRAM tests itself at startup and resets automatically if necessary. M1-based Macs reportedly don’t have an SMC in the same way as Intel-based Macs, so there’s no option to reset it.