Did You Know You Can Close a Mac Laptop When It Has an External Display?

We wanted to make sure that those of you who work on a Mac laptop with an external display know that you can close your laptop’s screen and keep working. Apple calls this closed-clamshell or closed-display mode. Of course, it requires that you connect an external keyboard and mouse or trackpad, via either USB or Bluetooth, and the laptop should be connected to power as well. Apple also recommends putting the Mac to sleep before disconnecting the external display. Why would you want to use closed-display mode? Mostly to conserve desk space when you have another preferred keyboard and pointing device, although it might also help graphics performance by allowing the Mac to focus on driving only the external display. There are lots of stands that hold a MacBook in a vertical orientation so it takes up less desk space.

(Featured image by Bundo Kim on Unsplash)

Yay! Older ScanSnap Scanners Get New Life in Catalina with ScanSnap Manager V7

About a year ago, Fujitsu informed owners of older models of the company’s ScanSnap scanners that it wouldn’t be updating the necessary ScanSnap Manager app to be 64-bit, effectively preventing those people from using their scanners in macOS 10.15 Catalina. Unexpectedly, Fujitsu has now reversed course, releasing ScanSnap Manager V7 with support for the previously orphaned ScanSnap S1500, S1500M, S1300, and S1100 models. Even though they’re not listed as being compatible, ScanSnap Manager V7 also reportedly works with the S300M and S510M, so if you have any older ScanSnap scanner, it’s worth trying the S1500M download.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

Microsoft’s commitment to customers during COVID-19

This post from Microsoft’s leadership team details their commitment to customers during the COVID-19 crisis. It outlines how Microsoft’s top priority is the health and safety of employees, customers, partners, and communities. It also explains how Teams is available for EVERYONE and what Microsoft is doing to keep the application running smoothly.

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Create Your Own Chat Group Via Slack

Whether you’re working from home or just stuck at home, it can be tough to communicate with colleagues, friends, or family. Sure, there’s email, but that gets hard to manage quickly, and it can be difficult to stay focused with so much news rolling in. For friends and family, Facebook might seem to be the digital town square. However, many people avoid Facebook due to its impressive record of abusing its users’ privacy, failure to protect that user data from hackers, and exploitation by foreign governments. And it’s wildly inappropriate for most business communications.

For an alternative that doesn’t involve relying on overloaded email inboxes or handing everything about your online life over to a corporate Big Brother, consider the group messaging tool Slack, which has become popular with small and large firms, non-profits, academic departments, student project teams, and government agencies. Although it’s aimed at organizations that pay a monthly fee for every active user, Slack offers a free tier with all the features you would need to create your own online community for your workgroup, family, or friends. Everyone can join in since Slack has apps for macOS, iOS, Windows, and Android, and it can be used in any desktop Web browser.

Conceptually, Slack is similar to Apple’s Messages, in that you can communicate with others by typing short messages and sharing graphics and other files. You can even have one-on-one voice calls (group calls, screen sharing, and videoconferencing are limited to the paid plans).

What sets Slack apart from Messages, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, and the like is that it lets you segment discussions into “channels,” which can either be public, such that everyone in the group can see them, or private, so only invitees can participate. Plus, you can have “direct message” conversations with one or more individuals.

The beauty of Slack channels is that they’re easy to create, and they bring together all communications relevant to a particular group, project, client, or topic. Channels help focus discussions, so those who are interested in only certain channels aren’t overwhelmed by irrelevant chatter.

For an extended family, you might create channels by branch (so your brother can ignore your in-laws’ conversations), parts of the country (so relatives who live elsewhere don’t have to see the local family members’ dinner plans), and events (like Hanukkah or a family reunion). Or, in a design team’s Slack group, you might want channels for each major client or project, along with channels for financial or human resources topics. There’s no one right answer—the goal is merely to keep discussions relevant and focused.

How do you keep up on discussions? Slack has flexible notifications, letting you choose at the top level to be notified about everything; just direct messages, mentions, and keywords; or nothing—at which point you can check in manually. You can also choose to be notified of replies to threads you’re in. Then you can override those defaults for any channel or conversation, which lets you ensure you’re notified only by people or topics that interest you. Plus, if you leave your Mac, Slack can repoint notifications to your iPhone automatically, with separate settings to make sure you aren’t overly nagged while at your kid’s track meet.

Slack provides tons of other features that can prove useful in groups of any size. You can share and comment on files of any type, which is far more effective than sending attachments around in email. You can create “posts” and get others to edit them collaboratively—a boon when trying to craft the perfect bit of text for some purpose. And you can integrate hundreds of Internet services into Slack so it can act as a single dashboard for many other apps, including the likes of the videoconferencing tool Zoom.

Getting started with Slack is fairly easy, and we recommend the following basic steps.

  1. Create a Slack workspace. Slack provides instructions for basic setup.
  2. Set up channels. Create a few channels to help people feel like they’re in the right place. You can always make more channels later.
  3. Invite people in. You can invite users to your Slack during setup, but it’s better to wait until you’ve set up your channels. Make sure to use everyone’s preferred email address when inviting them.
  4. Help people install Slack apps. For those who are tech-savvy, installing Slack’s client apps isn’t hard, but you might need to provide support for those who are less experienced.
  5. Provide name advice. Slack lets each user set a full name and a display name, and you might want to recommend a particular format (first name only, or first name and last initial) that makes display names unique and easily understood and typed.
  6. Help people configure notifications. Perhaps the hardest part of using Slack is getting notifications adjusted right for each person. Slack offers guides for desktop, email, and mobile notifications, along with additional help.

For additional advice on setting up and using Slack, consider Glenn Fleishman’s book Take Control of Slack, which goes beyond Slack’s help to provide real-world setup and configuration advice. We’re also happy to help provide setup and configuration advice—just get in touch.

(Featured image by Pankaj Patel on Unsplash)


Need to Stay in Touch? Try One of These Videoconferencing Apps

Videoconferencing has gone mainstream. If you work in a sufficiently large organization, you probably have already been indoctrinated into a recommended solution, whether it’s the built-in videoconferencing features of Slack or Microsoft Teams, or a dedicated videoconferencing system like Zoom or Webex.

But what if you’re in a small workgroup, are a freelancer, need to communicate with members of a non-profit group, or just want to stay in touch with friends and family? There are numerous options, but here are a few free options we recommend.

One note: As with text chat, you often have to meet people where they are, rather than where you’d prefer. You might like Skype, but be flexible if someone else schedules a Zoom meeting or if you want to talk with an elderly relative who can only use FaceTime.

FaceTime

Since FaceTime is limited to users of Apple devices, it’s both the easiest and most limiting of your videoconferencing choices. If everyone you want to talk with is an Apple user, you’re all set. But if you’re going to include even one Windows or Android user, look elsewhere.

Setting up and using FaceTime is simple because every Apple user already has the FaceTime app, it ties into your contacts, and everyone already has the necessary iCloud account. FaceTime calls can include up to 32 people, and it’s entirely free.

To start a new call, either tap the + button (iOS) or start typing someone’s name (Mac). Or, if you’ve talked to that person or group recently, just select them in the list.

You can also start a FaceTime call from any Messages conversation by tapping the avatar icons at the top of Messages and then tapping the FaceTime button.

Adding someone to a call is easy, if hidden. On an iPhone, tap the screen to reveal the controls, then swipe up on them to reveal more, including Add Person. On the Mac, click the sidebar button to reveal the sidebar and the Add Person button.

FaceTime in iOS includes numerous effects that are popular largely with children, including Animoji that replace your face with a cartoon, video filters (try Comic Book with an Animoji head), shapes, activity stickers, Memoji stickers, and emoji stickers. Alas, you can’t switch to a virtual background as you can with Zoom.

The big thing that FaceTime lacks in comparison with other options is screen sharing, which lets you show others in the video call what you see on your screen. The closest you can come is to flip the camera on your iPhone or iPad and point it at your Mac’s screen. FaceTime also lacks recording, though you can use iOS’s Screen Recording or macOS’s QuickTime Player to do that.

Google Hangouts

Whereas Apple separates text messaging and video calling into Messages and FaceTime, Google combines those capabilities in Google Hangouts. It works in iOS and Android, and on the Web, so it can be used on any computer. Google’s Web approach means it’s easy to follow an invitation link to join a hangout on the Mac, although that’s best done in Google Chrome or Firefox, neither of which needs a plug-in. Safari does require a plug-in.

If you already have a text conversation going with one or more people, it’s easy to start a video call by clicking the video button. You can also start a video call with one person and, once you’re in the call, click the Invite People icon, click Copy Link To Share, and then send that link to people in any way you want. Every participant does need a Google account, and only ten can join a video call at once.

In comparison with the others, Google Hangouts is bare-bones. It offers no effects, virtual backgrounds, built-in recording, or other gewgaws, and the way it separates the chat in a video call from the text conversation in a hangout is confusing. But if you need to communicate with a set of people who use Hangouts regularly, it works.

Skype

Microsoft’s Skype is the granddaddy of Internet telephony apps. It’s available for free for macOS, Windows, iOS, and Android, making it a good cross-platform choice. Since it uses Microsoft Live logins, it’s most easily used by those who are already deep in the Microsoft ecosystem, but you can invite someone to join a conversation as a guest without an account. Guests invited by link can even join from within Google Chrome (but not Safari) without needing the Skype app.

The easiest way to start a video call is from an existing conversation; just click the video button in a conversation. To get the link to a conversation, click the bold names at the top left of the conversation.

Skype offers extras for jazzing up the associated text chats—emoticons, stickers, and “mojis,” which are short video clips from movies. Its video calling options—for up to 50 people—are extensive. You can take a still photo of the screens in the call and share them in a gallery of images, carry on the text chat in a sidebar, and turn on “subtitles” that automatically transcribe what everyone in the call says. Skype lacks virtual backgrounds, but it can blur your background for more privacy. Screen sharing is supported, though not built-in recording.

All these options make for a somewhat convoluted interface, but Skype works well and may be the best free option overall.

Zoom

In the last few months, Zoom has become the best-known entry in the videoconferencing field. It’s popular with organizations, thanks to enterprise-level features and a simple experience for joining group calls, coupled with high-quality audio and video. The main downside is that the company has been criticized for lax security and poor privacy practices.

You need a Zoom account only to host a videoconference; the people you invite don’t need to sign up. Joining a video call for the first time is easy—you merely click an invitation link, and the Web page that loads either downloads the app (on a computer) or provides a button to get it (smartphone). Subsequent connections launch the app and connect you to the meeting.

For those who don’t pay $14.99 per month for a Pro account, Zoom’s Basic account is free. With the exception of limiting calls to 40 minutes, it’s fully featured. Nothing prevents you from starting another call immediately, and there are no limits on the number of calls you can make. The Basic and Pro plans are limited to 100 participants at a time, but Pro plan subscribers can pay for more.

Along with its popular virtual backgrounds feature, which lets you upload a photo or video to put behind you in the picture (a snazzy executive office, a tropical beach, or whatever), Zoom offers a number of compelling options. It lets multiple people share screens at once, lets people display reaction emoji (handy for showing approval while staying muted), can record audio or video locally (Pro accounts can record to the cloud), and much more.

Making a Choice

If you’re videoconferencing only with Apple users, try FaceTime to start. If FaceTime doesn’t float your boat, or you need cross-platform video calls, Skype beats out Google Hangouts handily. Zoom is probably the best of the lot, though you have to decide if breaking its 40-minute limit is worth $14.99 per month. If not, fall back on Skype.

(Featured image by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels)


Invoke Split View More Easily in Catalina

Split View on the Mac helps you focus on your work in one app—perhaps a word processor—while providing access to one other app, like a Web browser. (Make sure “Displays have separate Spaces” is selected in System Preferences > Mission Control.) Before macOS 10.15 Catalina, you had to click and hold on the green full-screen button in the upper-left corner of any window, drag that window to one side of the screen, and click a window on the other side to put them side by side. Catalina makes this easier to discover: hover over the green full-screen button briefly and then choose Tile Window to Left of Screen or Tile Window to Right of Screen before selecting a window on the other side of the screen. If you don’t want a 50-50 split, drag the black divider bar between the windows to adjust the proportions. To leave Split View, move your pointer to the top of the screen to reveal the menu bar and then click the green full-screen button.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

Unsubscribe from Marketing Email to Lighten Your Inbox Load

Are you overwhelmed by email? Is your Inbox filled with promotions, special offers, and the like? These messages aren’t spam—you almost always bought something from the company or have some sort of relationship with the sender—but that doesn’t mean you want to hear from them repeatedly. Luckily, it’s easy to get off the lists of legitimate senders. Just scroll to the bottom of each message and look for an unsubscribe link. Often it will be the word “Unsubscribe” or an instruction to “click here to remove yourself.” Click the link and, if necessary, click an Unsubscribe button on the resulting Web page. Then delete the message and move on to the next one. After a week or so of doing this regularly, you should start to notice a marked decrease in unwanted messages.

(Featured image by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash)

Make Your Mac More Useful by Managing Menu Bar Icons

If your Mac is anything like ours, it’s suffering from an infestation of menu bar icons. Sure, the Wi-Fi menu is essential, and many others can be helpful. But if you have too many, or they’re in random order, finding one when you need it can be frustrating. You can employ two techniques to increase the accessibility of your menu bar icons:

  • Delete any Apple-provided status icon you don’t use by holding down the Command key and dragging it off the menu bar. (To put it back, select the “Show icon-name status in menu bar” checkbox in the associated System Preference pane.) Command-dragging to delete won’t work for most apps with a menu bar icon; for them, look for a preference in the app itself.
  • Rearrange the menu bar icons in an order that makes sense to you by Command-dragging them around. You can’t move the Notification Center icon or put anything to its right, but every other icon is movable.

(Featured image based on an original by Patrick Ward on Unsplash)

AirDrop Reception Not Working? Here’s the Likely Fix

AirDrop has become a fast and reliable way to transfer data from one iPhone to another that’s nearby. Just tap the share icon and in iOS 13’s activity view, either tap an AirDrop shortcut in the top row or tap AirDrop in the second row and select choose a person or device in the subsequent AirDrop screen. But what if your iPhone doesn’t appear for the person who wants to share with you? Assuming Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are both on, the fix is generally to go to Settings > General > AirDrop and select Everyone. If you’re concerned about unwanted transfers, switch to Contacts Only afterward.

(Featured image by GĂĽnther Schneider from Pixabay)