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External Storage on MacOS: A Guide to Hardware Compatibility

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One of the biggest concerns for Mac users is compatibility with external storage devices. In recent years most Mac computers don’t have upgradable internal storage. With the need for more and more storage space, choosing the right external storage solution for your Mac is important. MacOS is known for its strict hardware compatibility standards, which can make it difficult for users to choose the right storage device. In this article, we will look at the three most popular topics related to external storage compatibility with MacOS.

1. Types of External Storage Devices Compatible with MacOS

When it comes to external storage devices, there are many options available for Mac users. These include external hard drives, solid-state drives (SSDs), and flash drives. Each type of device offers its own unique advantages and disadvantages, so it is important to understand your storage needs and what type of device will best suit those needs.

External hard drives are the most common type of external storage device and they offer large storage capacities at an affordable price. However, they are slower than SSDs and can be more susceptible to physical damage.

Solid-state drives (SSDs) are more expensive than external hard drives, but they offer faster data transfer speeds and are more durable. They are also more energy-efficient, making them a great option for laptop users.

Flash drives are small and portable, making them a great option for users who need to store data on the go. They are also more durable than external hard drives, as they have no moving parts. However, they have smaller storage capacities and are more expensive per gigabyte than external hard drives.

2. File System Compatibility

When choosing an external storage device for your Mac, it is important to consider the file system compatibility. MacOS supports several different file systems, including HFS+, APFS, and exFAT. HFS+ is the file system used by most Macs, while APFS is a newer file system that is optimized for solid-state drives. exFAT is a file system that is compatible with both Macs and Windows computers. Practically speaking, pretty much any external drive can be formatted according to the needs of your Mac. So there’s nothing to worry about here.

If you are only using your external drive on a Mac, it is best to choose a device that is formatted with either HFS+ or APFS. If you need to share data between a Mac and a Windows computer, then exFAT is the best option. Again, you can use MacOS to format the drive to the filesystem best suited to your needs.

3. Connection Types

Finally, it is important to consider the connection type when choosing an external storage device for your Mac. There are several different connection types available, including USB, Thunderbolt, and Firewire.

USB Connections

USB is the most common connection type and is compatible with almost all Macs. Traditionally USB provided slow data transfer speeds, but it is an affordable and reliable option for most users. These days newer versions of USB (USB 3, 3.1, and 3.2)

Specification Signaling Rate/Lane Number of Lanes Aggregate Bandwidth
USB 3.2 Gen 1×1 5 Gbps (SuperSpeed) 1 5 Gbps
USB 3.2 Gen 2×1 10 Gbps (SuperSpeed+) 1 10 Gbps
USB 3.2 Gen 1×2 5 Gbps (SuperSpeed) 2 10 Gbps
USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 10 Gbps (SuperSpeed+) 2 20 Gbps

Thunderbolt is a high-speed connection type that is available on some Macs. It provides faster data transfer speeds than USB, making it a great option for users who need to transfer large files quickly.

Firewire is a legacy connection type that is still used by some older Macs. It provides faster data transfer speeds than USB, but it is not as commonly used as Thunderbolt.

My Recommendation

For most users, with a relatively new Mac, an external SSD with a USB-C connector will be your best bet. So long as your Mac has USB-C ports. Although, you can also get hubs and adapters to go from a USB-A port to one or more USB-C ports. But keep in mind, it’s unlikely USB-A ports will take advantage of the speed capabilities of a modern USB-C (3.2) drive. If you think there’s a chance you’ll be using your drive on a newer Mac (either a future replacement to your current Mac, or another Mac you might use) then you’ll be glad to have a faster more modern USB-C (3.2+) drive. I’ll list a few at the end of this article.

Conclusion

In conclusion, external storage is an important aspect of modern computing and macOS provides seamless compatibility with various external storage options. While traditional options like hard disk drives (HDD) and solid-state drives (SSD) are still popular, new technologies like the Thunderbolt 3 and NVMe interfaces offer faster data transfer speeds and better performance. Additionally, the ability to use external storage for Time Machine backups and as a bootable volume allows users to easily expand their storage and protect their data.

When choosing an external storage solution for your Mac, it is important to consider your needs, such as the amount of storage space required and the desired performance. It is also crucial to ensure that the storage solution you choose is compatible with your Mac’s hardware, especially if you are using an older model. With so many options available, there is sure to be an external storage solution that meets your needs and enhances your Mac experience.

The Top External SSD Drives (as-of January 2023)

Prevent “Avid Link” from launching automatically

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Recently I installed a a trial of Sibelius from Avid Software. Since then an Avid software management application (called Avid Link) automatically loads every time I start my computer.

Avid Link provides no option for disabling this obnoxious feature. What’s more, the app doesn’t show up in the list of macOS Login Items list (found in System Preferences, under Users & Groups), so it can’t be disabled there either. The genius morons (to put it politely) at Avid have decided on our behalf that anyone using any of their applications must always have their licensing, update, messaging, etc., application running on their computer. Wankers.

I see online that people have been complaining about this for years. Previously the application was called Avid Tools. That too would launch automatically, and that too invoked complaints, and people trying to figure out how to disable it.

There’s a simple solution. You’ll need to open Terminal.app and execute the following command:

sudo defaults write /Library/LaunchAgents/com.avid.avidlink.plist RunAtLoad -boolean false

You’ll be prompted for your macOS user password. Enter that, and hit enter. That’s it. Done deal.

What this command does is modify the file /Library/LaunchAgents/com.avid.avidlink.plist such that the RunAtLoad variable is set to false. This, in effect, tells macOS to not launch Avid Link at system start-up.

Problem solved.

Let me know if the comments below if this works for you, or not.

macOS Safari Address Bar Search not working

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Having the following experience? When typing search terms into the Safari (desktop) address bar, hitting Return/Enter, expecting a search result page … and yet nothing happens? You’ll also note that no search suggestions are automatically popping up below the search bar.

Normally the address bar in Safari doubles up as a search bar. Type in whatever you like, hit Return, and your nominated search engine will load with the results. If enabled, you’ll also see suggested results showing up as you type. Recently, I found this all stopped working. Which meant the only way I could search via Safari was to first browse to the search engine I want to use (https://ecosia.org in my case).

The Quick Fix (for some)

The solution may be a quick fix. Try disabling the “Include search engine suggestions” option. This will also (automatically) disable the “Include Safari suggestions” option (if it was enabled). Close the Safari Preferences. Test the search bar again. Just type in “test” or whatever you like, and hit the Enter/Return key on your keyboard. Search results will hopefully display.

I found I was able to re-enable the “Include search engine suggestions” (and “Include Safari suggestions”), and it continued to work as expected.

Done deal.

Quicklook preview broken in macOS Monterey

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broken quicklook macOS Monterey

Has this happened to you? Out of the blue, using Quicklook (normally with spacebar in Finder, for example) no longer displays correctly. Images show up as a small thumbnail with a thick white border. Many other files just show up with a place holder. Video files no longer play in Quicklook.

It ends up looking like this:

Image Credit: http://techzle.com/

Surely Apple hasn’t killed the wonderful Quicklook feature?

Well, no they haven’t. It’s a bug (seemingly. And the fix is easy … and, ironically, to fix it, you need to kill the Quicklook feature. But only momentarily.

Solution to broken Quicklook in Monterey

For most people the solution is apparently very simple.

1) Open Activity Monitor (if you don’t know what that is, hit CMD-Space to bring up Spotlight search, type “Activity” into the Spotlight search, and select the Activity Monitor app that will be showing at the top of the search results.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is quicklook-activity-monitor-search-1024x589.jpeg
Search for QuickLookUIService (Finder)

2) In Activity Monitor, search for “Quick”. You should see an entry come up named “QuickLookUIService (Finder)”

Select that entry. Then click the X icon and select Force Quit.

Force Quit the application

Hopefully that’s done the trick.

Return to Finder and hit spacebar on an image, or video, etc. It should now show up in the fully functional Quicklook you are used to.

Stop Apple iTunes or Apple Music from opening automatically

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Recently I’ve had a bout of the Music app randomly launching (“opening”) itself. It seems to just randomly pop up on its own accord. Looking online, I see this has been a problem for years—originally with the iTunes app, and now with its successor, the Music app.

For many people it’s Bluetooth audio devices (e.g., Bluetooth headphones, Apple iPods, etc.) causing the problem. In my case, I have no Bluetooth headphones. Yet for some of us, it’s a total mystery as to why Music app is launching. It can be rather bothersome, especially when it keeps happening every few minutes.

In forums and articles elsewhere, I see people suggesting all kinds of creative solutions. But I found that ultimately the best (simplest, and most reliable) solution is to use a small app called Notunes. I think it’s ridiculous people need to resort to such measures on a premium priced device such as an Apple computer. The developers at Apple need to wake up and listen to the music (pun intended), and add a simple preference option in the Music app allowing the user to disable auto-launching.

The Solution

You can get Notunes here, on Github.

If you use Homebrew (which I highly recommend, and provide instructions on here), it’s super easy to install. Just use this command:

brew install --cask notunes

If you don’t use Homebrew, you can download a Zip with the app here.

Problem solved. You’ll now have an icon in the top macOS menu bar that allows you to toggle on and off, whether or not you want iTunes or Music to launch on their own.

Disable Open external app prompt in Chrome and Brave browser

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Chromium based browsers such as Google Chrome and Brave Browser require the user to confirm whether they want to allow a URI to open an external application, such as Skype, Zoom, DevonThink, the Apple App Store app, etc.

The prompt looks like this:

An example of the external application prompt

It has an “Always allow” checkbox, which works fine with for applications like Zoom, since it’s always the same URI domain that will be trying to open Zoom (it’s the URI you click on for a meeting link). But other applications like DevonThink, the application is launched when you click on the icon for the DevonThink browser extension, and the URI active in the browser at that moment could be absolutely anything. Once DevonThink launches it will take a copy of the current webpage, PDF document, etc. So any third party application (Zotero, for example) that you launch manually in order to do something with the current URI is going to have this same issue.

The issue being, it’s useless trying to whitelist the current URI.

Here’s the solution for DevonThink and for Zoom. It utilises a Chrome policy, which is easily modified via the macOS command line. You can apply this solution for any other application, so long as you can figure out what its application handler is, and its com file name.

UPDATE: Since October 2020 (when version 86 of Chrome was rolled out) it’s been possible to use either URLWhitelist (info here), or URLAllowlist (info here). But as of Chrome version 100 and above, only URLAllowlist works. Note that URLWhitelist will work for older version of Chrome, from versions 15 to 100; and, URLAllowList will work on version 86 and above. If you have a version of Chrome older than v86, please adjust the command accordingly (use URLWhitelist).

For Google Chrome (< version 100):

defaults write com.google.Chrome URLAllowlist -array-add 'x-devonthink://*'
defaults write com.google.Chrome URLAllowlist -array-add 'zoommtg://*'

// or you can add multiple in one command ... e.g.

defaults write com.google.Chrome URLAllowlist -array-add 'x-devonthink://*' 'zoommtg://*' 'anotherprotocol://*'

For Brave Browser:

defaults write com.brave.Browser URLAllowlist -array-add 'x-devonthink://*'
defaults write com.brave.Browser URLAllowlist -array-add 'zoommtg://*'

// or you can add multiple in one command ... e.g.

defaults write com.brave.Browser URLAllowlist -array-add 'x-devonthink://*' 'zoommtg://*' 'anotherprotocol://*'

Mozilla Firefox doesn’t currently have this issue. When you try to open a new (unregistered) external application for the first time, it will simply prompt for which application you want to open the particular protocol. You then select to always use that application. It is not specific to the domain in the URI at the time.

Is this doesn’t work for you, or even if it does work, please leave a comment below, and we’ll try to sort it out.

Wi-Fi network login prompt (“Captive Portal”) not appearing – How to fix

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Recently I’ve stayed at a number of hotels own by IHG (such as Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, and Holiday Inn Express). They all use unsecured (public / open) Wi-Fi networks, which utilise a pop-up login/authentication page, otherwise known as a “captive portal”.

In my case, the hotel used a pop-up based authentication system. This uses the captive portal pop-up built into macOS, along the lines of what you see here:

An example of a captive portal.

The window title will always say “Join ‘NETWORK NAME'”. The footer of the window will show a network address, and a Cancel button.

You’ll come across these on many unsecured Wi-Fi networks, such as those found in hotels and airports. Once you authentic your device (which may required entering a room number and surname; entering a password; or, simply agreeing to some terms of use; etc.) the network might simply remember your device from that point on, or it might time-out at some stage, and require you to go through the captive portal interface again. I’ll refer to this as a “pop-up captive portal”.

Another way captive portal networks authentic users is through a web browser page. So there’s no pop-up like that shown in the above screenshot. Rather, when you try to access any webpage you get redirected to a login or authentication page in your web browser. After that, you can browse and use the Internet as per normal. I’ll refer to this as the “browser captive portal”.

What if it doesn’t appear?

Here’s the problem addressed by this article: In some circumstances the pop-up doesn’t appear. This isn’t unique to macOS. It can fail to appear on any OS, such as Windows, etc. I am only going to address how to fix this on macOS, although the same concept can be applied on other desktop operating systems (Linux, Windows, etc.).

There are a couple of common causes for the captive portal interface to not appear:

1. Custom DNS entries

This issue normally only affects “Browser captive portals”.

If you have no idea what a custom DNS is, you can likely move on to the next cause below. If, however, you have changed the DNS settings on your “Location” in the Network Preferences, this is the likely cause of the captive portal not appearing. For example, you may have set your Location (in System Preferences > Network > Wi-Fi > Location …) to use Google DNS (8.8.8.8, and 8.8.4.4) or OpenDNS (208.67.222.222, and 208.67.220.220), or Cloudflare DNS (1.1.1.1, and 1.0.0.1) being the most common examples.

The problem here is that “Browser captive portals” need your Wi-Fi network connection to use the portal’s specific DNS servers to intersect your access to the Internet. If the captive portal doesn’t recognise your device (which will be the case when you access a captive portal for the first time) it will redirect your browser to a captive portal page. If you have set your Wi-Fi to use specific DNS servers this will override the captive portal network from setting the DNS servers it requires.

The solution here is to add a new Location in your Network settings, with no DNS specified. Call it something like “No DNS”. When accessing these networks change to that Location. Problem solved.

2. Device Recognition issue

This cause is perhaps the most common. As far as I can tell, it typically happens when the network has already interacted with your device, and authenticated it. Yet, for whatever reason, later on the network starts to block your device (as though it is not authenticated) yet it still recognises it as authenticated. Because it continues to recognise your device it doesn’t present you with the captive portal pop-up window.

The solution is relatively simple, you need to spoof a new MAC address. The way the network recognises your device is via the MAC address of your Mac’s Wi-Fi receiver. What you need to do is temporarily change (or “spoof”) your computer’s MAC address. I’ve covered this extensively in the article on Apps to spoof your MAC address and How to change / spoof MAC address on MacOS, including Big Sur. You’re options are to either use an App (such as WifiSpoof) or

With a new (spoofed) MAC address, the unsecured captive portal network will not recognise your device as one it has already interacted with. You will then get prompted to join the network, as per normal.

Disable Microsoft AutoUpdate on macOS (method 2)

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In October 2021 I posted a different approach to disabling Microsoft AutoUpdate, as detailed here. That method also allows you to change the autoupdate interval.

What follows is another method, in case the other one doesn’t work for you. Remember to restart your computer after applying either of these methods.


If you have installed Microsoft applications (such as Office) on your Mac computer, you’ve likely noticed Microsoft AutoUpdate (MAU) pops up every day to tell you if there are updates available. I’ve read that for some people this occurs even if there are no updates available. It’ll look something like this:

Microsoft autoupdate
Microsoft autoupdate

It runs and pops-up even if “Automatic Updates: Automatically download and install” is disabled. This seems to only prevent it automatically downloading and installing updates, but does not stop MAU from running every day.

Some users report excessive CPU usage from MAU. So aside from the potential annoyance factor from the daily pop-ups, it may slow down the computer. Microsoft provides no way to disable MAU from running every day. It can be run manually, so there’s no reason for force it upon the user to have it running automatically.

How to disable Microsoft AutoUpdate

You’ll need to use Terminal.app to carry out the following commands.

# Use this to check out the existing configuration
plutil -p /Library/LaunchAgents/com.microsoft.update.agent.plist

# Three commands to change the configuration
sudo plutil -replace Disabled -integer 1 /Library/LaunchAgents/com.microsoft.update.agent.plist
sudo plutil -replace RunAtLoad -integer 0 /Library/LaunchAgents/com.microsoft.update.agent.plist
sudo plutil -replace StartInterval -integer 10368000 /Library/LaunchAgents/com.microsoft.update.agent.plist
          
# You can check the configuration again to ensure it's changed.
plutil -p /Library/LaunchAgents/com.microsoft.update.agent.plist

After successfully completing the above commands, restart your computer.

To manually check for updates simply use the “Check for updates” option found in the Help menu of any of the Microsoft apps you have installed (such as Word, Excel, Outlook, etc.).

If the above doesn’t solve the issue for you, comment below to let me know.

UPDATE:

Running the command plutil -p /Library/LaunchAgents/com.microsoft.update.agent.plist (before making the changes) will give you the following output, or something close to it.

{
  "Disabled" => 0
  "Label" => "com.microsoft.update.agent"
  "MachServices" => {
    "com.microsoft.update.xpc" => 1
  }
  "ProgramArguments" => [
    0 => "/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/MAU2.0/Microsoft AutoUpdate.app/Contents/MacOS/Microsoft Update Assistant.app/Contents/MacOS/Microsoft Update Assistant"
    1 => "--launchByAgent"
  ]
  "RunAtLoad" => 1
  "StartInterval" => 7200
}

I’ve noticed that each I manually run Microsoft Update it seems reset those settings back to what Microsoft wants them to be. So you may have to set them back to what you want, each time you run Microsoft Update.


Using Microsoft Office on macOS? These books may interest you …

Disable Microsoft AutoUpdate on macOS (or set custom interval)

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If you’ve got any Microsoft apps installed on your macOS computer, and you’ve tried to disable automatic updates of those apps, you likely get notified every two hours of pending updates. Microsoft doesn’t provide any way to stop this occurring. Personally, I find it annoying that Microsoft Autoupdate launches every two hours to tell me there are updates available (in my case I don’t wish to install the updates just yet, as I am using mobile data for a few weeks).

Here’s what the pop-up looks like:

Microsoft Autoupdate

You’ll see I have “Automatically keep Microsoft Apps up to date” disabled. But, as you’ve likely discovered, this does not prevent Microsoft Autoupdate from launching every 2 hours to state there are updates available.

How to disable Microsoft Autoupdate

  1. Open Terminal
  2. Disable it with the following command:
# disable the service 
launchctl disable gui/$(id -u)/com.microsoft.update.agent 

# check that the service is disabled 
launchctl print-disabled gui/$(id -u) | grep microsoft 

How to change the interval for it launching

If you’d rather not disable it, and instead change the interval for it launching, do the following:

  1. Open Termainal
  2. Use the following commands:
# check current config 
content plutil -p /Library/LaunchAgents/com.microsoft.update.agent.plist 
# backup 
cp -a /Library/LaunchAgents/com.microsoft.update.agent.plist /somewhere/to/backup/ 

# change the interval, in seconds — e.g. 43200 seconds (equals 12 hours) 
sudo plutil -replace StartInterval -integer 43200 /Library/LaunchAgents/com.microsoft.update.agent.plist

In my case I change it to an interval of 1 week, which is 604,800 seconds.

Let me know if you have any questions, or if the above works for you.

Another method

If the above method doesn’t work for you, there’s another one posted here.

Using Microsoft Office on macOS? These books may interest you …

Send an alert to Notification Center from the command line

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The Notification Center was introduced in OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion). Off the shelf OS X and macOS don’t have the means to send alerts from the Terminal to Notification Center (at least, not that I know of). There is, however, a handy script that will do make this possible. In this Mac Tip I will explain how to go about it.

How to send Notification Center alerts from Terminal

  1. You need to install a simple script onto your system. It’s perfectly safe to do so, and there are a number of approaches you could take. I believe the easiest it to use Homebrew. If you don’t know what Homebrew is, please view that page, and install it. It’s very simple to install.
  2. With Homebrew installed, install the formula called terminal-notifier. So the command you’ll use is, brew install terminal-notifier
  3. Set up the notifications you want:

Here is an example of a notification:

terminal-notifier -message “Go to Best-Mac-Tips.com, to get the latest Mac tips\!” -title “best-mac-tips.com” -open https://best-mac-tips.com

Try it out, and see what happens.

NOTE: The first time you run this, you may need to allow notifications. You’ll see a request popup, like this:

Click Allow.

What to do with it?

Exactly what you use Terminal Notifier for is entirely over to you. There must be something you had in mind when you came looking for this how-to tip.

Here’s an example of a simple message:

terminal-notifier -message "This is a demo message from Best Mac Tips" -title "Best Mac Tips Message Title"

 

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