• lifestyle,  mac os x,  macos,  web os

    Roast My Spotlight Settings

    A couple of recent segments on Relay FM’s Connected podcast titled Roast My Menu Bar and Roast My Dock had gotten me thinking about a weird way that I like to use Spotlight Search.

    The long standing feature of macOS is described by Apple this way:

    “Spotlight can help you quickly find apps, documents, and other files on your Mac. With Siri Suggestions, you can also get the latest news, sports scores, weather conditions, and more. Spotlight can even perform calculations and conversions for you.”

    Spotlight was added to Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger back in 2005. Back then, I was not a heavy user of of the tool. I would occasionally use it when I misfiled a document and wanted to quickly try and search for it.

    Source: Wikipedia

    Oddly, the tool that I did end up using, a lot, was a feature of Palm’s Web OS called Universal Search (Web OS 1.x), and its successor feature, Just Type (Web OS 2.x and 3.x). With Web OS, you would just start typing what you were looking for and the Palm Pre would look it up for you.

    Web OS 2.x and 3.x Just Type search bar on a Palm Pre, Source: WebOSNation
    Web OS Just Type search results, Source: WebOSNation

    When I moved from the Palm Pre to the iPhone 4S with iOS 5 in 2011, the Universal Search muscle memory transferred over to Spotlight Search.

    While Mac OS X Spotlight and Web OS Universal Search were meant to search for all sorts of things, both on the device and across the Internet, I fell into a pattern of using both technologies as a quick way to launch applications. First on my Web OS Palm Pre and then on my Macs with Spotlight.

    On the Mac, Spotlight had gone from being a skinny search box in the upper right of the screen to a fully centered search tool that lives at the center of the Mac’s display. As the types of content that Spotlight could search, the search results became longer and longer. But for me, Searchlight would be considered an application launcher first and foremost as a quick way to launch applications without having to take my hands of the keyboard.

    Spotlight Search in macOS Big Sur 11.x

    In recent versions of Mac OS, now known as macOS, I found myself fighting with Spotlight Search for some system apps, like Snapshot, which also has an alias of ‘grab’. (The ‘grab’ alias also works in Microsoft Windows 10 and 11.) I’d want to quickly ‘grab’ a screen capture, pop open Spotlight with the keyboard shortcut Command + Space and type in grab. Rather than getting the Screenshot.app, Spotlight would often put a reference to something ont the web as the fist hit in the list. In past versions of Mac OS, applications would show up first in the list, but that wasn’t always the case in late version of macOS 10.x and Big Sur (11.x).

    Spotlight Settings: Uncheck to declutter search results

    In a recent fit of the machine is working against me rather than helping me, I opened the the Big Sur Settings app, clicked on the Spotlight preferences control panel and unchecked everything in the list except Applications and System Preferences. I may turn on the option to search for definitions in the Dictionary app, but for now, that option remains off.

    So roast my Spotlight usage and preference settings. But for me, this is one time where I chose to customize my Mac to work for me rather than against me.

    And I’m happier for it.

  • apple,  apple silicon,  big sur,  macbook pro,  macos

    MacBook Pro with M1 Apple Silicon Impressions

    Source: Apple, Inc

    A lot has already been said about Apple’s new M1-powered Apple Silicon Macs.  After two months of use, I wanted to share my thoughts on my new 13-inch MacBook Pro laptop with the M1 Apple Silicon chip.

    The M1 CPU is the first processor in the new Apple Silicon line of processors.  The Apple Silicon M1 processor takes over for Intel Core i-series processors that are commonly used in today’s PCs.  After having announced the Intel to Apple Silicon transition at last summer’s WWDC developer conference, the first Macs running M1 have appeared: the 2020 MacBook Air, the 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro, and the new 2020 silver Mac mini.

    The selection of the MacBook Air to receive the new M1 CPU caused me to raise an eyebrow.  I was expecting Apple to add the new CPU to a Mac with lower sales volume.  the MacBook Air, because of its low cost, is by far the most popular Mac that Apple sells.  In my opinion, this speaks volumes to Apple’s confidence that the M1 is ready for prime time.  In a November 2020 interview with The Independent’s Andrew Griff, Craig Federighi, Senior Vice President Software Engineering, said:

    “We overshot,” said the exec. “You have these projects where, sometimes you have a goal and you’re like, ‘Well, we got close, that was fine.’ This one, part of what has us all just bouncing off the walls here — just smiling — is that as we brought the pieces together, we’re like, ‘This is working better than we even thought it would.’”

    The move from Intel CPUs to in-house designed M-series CPUs is driven by three key business points.  The first is that Apple wants to be in complete control of all of the key technologies that are used in their products.  In Macs, this means the CPU.  The second key driver has to do with the pace at which Intel has been able to make their CPUs smaller and more power efficient.  (My apologies for the CPU nerds for the oversimplification here.)  The final driver is Apple’s belief that the features on the Macintosh roadmap are simply are not possible with off commodity parts.  Apple is able to ship the features that they do by designing hardware and software together.

    Hardware

    From the outside the 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro looks like the last several models of MacBook Pro.  Without close inspection, the 2019 Intel and 2020 M1 13-inch MacBook Pro look identical when placed on a table next to each other.  Anyone hoping for a chassis makeover or the addition of new features like a touch screen, will have to wait for a future model.

    On the inside, however, replacing the Intel CPU with the M1 has three major advantages.  The first is that the entire computer feels zippy.  In the two months that I have been using my MacBook Pro, never once have I yelled out, “Oh, come on!” like I am apt to do with my 2015 27-inch iMac when tasks take longer than I expected.  The second is that the battery just lasts.  Normally, we should roll our eyes at over-the-top vendor claims about battery life, but in this case, Apple’s claim is warranted.  With average usage for personal and business tasks, the battery life is amazing.  In my testing, the biggest battery drain on the battery was a non-optimized version of Microsoft Teams.  In a one-hour meeting, where I had the 720p FaceTime HD camera (Apple, what year is it?) and a hot mic using a wired connection to a pair of Beats Studio headphones, the battery took a 10% hit.  (Shortly after my Teams testing, an M1 optimized version of Teams was released and the battery performance did improve.)

    Using Safari, Microsoft Office, Tweetbot, BBEdit, and several other common apps, do not appear to have an enormous impact on the battery like they did on my 2016 15-inch MacBook Pro with an Intel Core i7 CPU.  And while I know that the 13-inch MacBook Pro has a fan in it, I have never once heard it.  Maybe it’s my old ears.  Or, maybe, I just can’t push the MacBook Pro hard enough to get the fan to kick on.  This is true even when I am running the pre-release version of Parallels Desktop with the Microsoft Insider build of Windows 10 for ARM CPUs.  Running a Windows 10 Pro virtual machine on my 15-inch MacBook Pro made the fans spin shortly after booting Windows.  I just wanted to run Visio, not launch a Saturn V rocket.

    Software

    Macs with the M1 processor run on the pre-installed macOS 11.0 Big Sur operating system.  Big Sur has been written specifically to run on the M1 hardware.  An Intel version of Big Sur also exists for Macs that have Intel CPUs.  Big Sur has two software modules that help the M1 work so well.  They are Universal Binaries, programs that are able to run on both Intel and M1 Macs, and Rosetta 2, a translation module that converts instructions from Intel-only programs into their M1 equivalent instructions.  I unboxed my M1 MacBook Pro and started using it.  It wasn’t until a few days later did I think to see if any of the apps I was using had been updated for the M1.  In the early days of using M1, many were Intel versions.  Over time, more apps have been updated as Universal apps.  The only indication that I was running an Intel application under Rosetta 2 was a one-time message indicating that I needed to install the Rosetta module.  Requesting users download the Rosetta module is likely due to the complexities of getting new hardware and software out the door – an already complex logistics problem further complicated by a global pandemic.  I would expect that new M1 Macs purchased and delivered in 2021 will ship with this module already installed.

    Rosetta first run module install prompt

    There are two other software modules that allow M1 Macs learn new tricks.  The first is support for iOS and iPadOS apps.  I installed UsTwo Game’s Monument Valley as a test.  iOS and iPadOS games and apps are installed from a special tab in the Mac App Store.  The install worked just like any other app.  The app launched and ran just like the Intel version of Monument Valley that I have installed on my iMac.  The input for Monument Valley is straight forward tap and swipe when the game is running on an iOS device.  On a M1 Mac, that translates into mouse clicks and click and drag mechanics.  Your mileage will vary based on the apps you want to run.  Some iOS app developers have opted their apps out of automatically being made available for M1 Macs. (I’m looking specifically at you, Netflix and Disney+.)

    The fourth and final new module in Big Sur for M1 Macs is the Virtualization module.  This module is specifically designed to allow users to run alternate operating systems.  At the time of this writing, virtualization on M1 is still premature.  I have been able to use the pre-release beta version of Parallels Desktop to install and run the ARM versions of Microsoft Windows 10 ARM Edition, via the Microsoft Windows Insider program, and Debian ARM64 edition for PCs.  Both work well, however, as with all pre-release beta software, there are some bumps in the road.  Again, your milage will vary depending on the hypervisor software and guest operating system software you want to run.  Overtime, support for running guest operating systems will get better.

    If the Parallels Desktop software is a leading indicator, be prepared to have to reinstall your guest OS and application software in your virtual machine.  It is not possible, today, to copy over or convert an existing Intel-based OS to run on the M1.  I have to perform fresh installs of Windows 10 Pro and Debian Linux and reinstall my apps.  For me, this a deal breaker if you need to use Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion to run business apps on your Mac.  For the time being, I will need to continue running Windows 10 Pro x64 in VMware Fusion on my Intel iMac to be able to continue to use Microsoft Project and Visio when working from home.

    Conclusion

    Overall, I like the new 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro with the Apple Silicon M1 CPU.  The Mac boots up quickly and Touch ID is amazingly fast.  macOS Big Sur has been running trouble free, but I do have a few software nits to pick, none of which are serious.  The PC is responsive, and the Mac is waiting for me and not the other way around.  I do prefer the extra Thunderbolt / USB-C ports on the 15-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros, but I wanted the new shiny toy, and giving up two ports was worth it for me.  I also miss the larger screen and higher resolution of the larger MacBook Pros.  This particular issue is addressed by connecting the MacBook Pro to a Dell WD19TB dock, which is connected to an old 27-inch Dell UltraSharp monitor.

    Looking forward, I plan on using this MacBook Pro for a couple of years until the second-generation hardware comes out.  In all likelihood, a 2020 Mac with an M1 processor will easily run for many years to come.  Knowing myself, by the time late 2022 rolls around, I’m be looking to upgrade to larger MacBook Pro with a M2 processor in it with four Thunderbolt ports.

  • macos,  microsoft,  virtualization,  vmware,  windows 10,  windows server

    Building a Virtual Active Directory Test Lab

    Windows Server Core, Windows 10 Pro, and macOS Big Sur in an AD domain.

    It has been a long time since I build a Microsoft Active Directory lab environment. Years ago, I put together a test lab with physical white box machines that I built. The popularity of virtual machine technology makes all of that space hogging, wires everywhere, make your wife annoyed mess a thing of the past.

    This will be the first in a series of posts about how I setup a virtual test lab using VMware Fusion on my Mac.

    Microsoft Insider Programs

    I have been dabbling with virtual Ubuntu machines over the last year or so, and I wanted to do something a little different. Microsoft offers IT pros a few of their products free of charge, for non-production use, of course, for training and development purposes as part of the Insider program. IT types who want to play along will be interested in the Windows 10, Windows Server (Core), Visual Studio Preview, and SQL Server Developer. There are also programs for Microsoft Edge and Office 365, if you are so inclined.

    Make Up of the Lab

    I’m looking for a playground so my requirements are pretty low. To build my virtual lab environment I will be using my everyday use 2015 5K iMac with a 3.3Ghz Quad-Core Intel Core i5 CPU and 32GB of RAM. Faster CPUs and more RAM is always better, however, in 2015 my needs were different. I am also running VMware Fusion Pro 12 as the hypervisor on my iMac. Due to the physical constrains of my iMac, not all of these virtual machines will be running all the time. Likewise, they will not be optimized for speed.

    As a side note, anyone purchasing a new M1 Apple Silicon powered Macintosh – the 2020 MacBook Air, the 2020 2-port USB-C 13-inch MacBook Pro, or the 2020 silver Mac mini – will not currently be able to run virtualization technology like VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop because these apps haven’t yet been updated to work on M1 and Apple’s new virtualization technology layer.

    For my initial lab setup, I plan on deploying the Insider editions of Windows Server Core, Windows 10 Pro, and then building an Active Directory domain to manage the environment. Then, I added a virtualized macOS 11 Big Sur VM. In the future, I plan to deploy an IIS web server on my domain controller and the developer edition of SQL Server on another AD member Core server. I will be using Microsoft’s RD Client for macOS to connect to the Windows machines. To network the virtual machines together, I will use the “Share with my Mac” VMware Fusion networking option. From my home network perspective, there will only be one DHCP1 IP network address being used (by my iMac) and each VM will get it’s own private IP address thanks to the magic of NAT2.

    VMware Fusion 12’s Network NAT Option

    For my next article in this series, I will discuss the setup process for Windows Server Core.

  • apple silicon,  big sur,  intel,  macos,  parallels,  vmware

    Apple Silicon Macs: An Overview

    During this year’s Worldwide Developer Conference, WWDC, Apple announced the long-rumored start of the transition from Macs that run on Intel CPUs to their own in-house designed CPUs, currently referred to as “Apple Silicon”.

    Apple Silicon features, source: Apple, Inc.

    All of This Has Happened Before

    If you are a user who came to the Macintosh platform during or after 2006, don’t worry. This is actually the third time Apple has made a big architecture shift like this. Apple’s first Macintosh architecture transition was in 1994 from the Motorola 68000-series processors, the ones that were used in the original Macintosh line up, to the PowerPC 601 CPU first introduced in the Macintosh PowerPC 6100. Then, in 2005, Apple again transitioned the Mac. This time from the PowerPC architecture to the Intel Core Duo architecture. The move to Intel processors also had a side benefit in that Mac could directly boot into Windows; something that had previously required special hardware cards or slow virtualization software. Clearly, moving from one processor architecture to another is something that Apple has some experience with. The move from one CPU architecture to another is an extremely complicated effort. Apple spends years planning for and laying the groundwork components for such a transition years in advance. For example, discarding 32-bit app support from 2019’s macOS Mojave was, in retrospect, a major leading indicator for the start of the Apple Silicon transition in 2020. Tim Cook’s words at WWDC 2020 carry the same message as Steve Jobs’ during WWDC 2005 right down to the dad joke about secret labs and double lives.

    Steve Jobs talks about the Mac transition to Intel at WWDC 2005
    Tim Cook talks about the Mac transition to Apple Silicon at WWDC 2020

    Moving to Apple Silicon

    Starting with the A4 processor, Apple has been designing and using their own special blend of CPUs. Apple’s custom purpose-built processes have been used in 2010’s iPhone 4 and the original iPad. Apple has continued to press their custom processor advantage by building an in-house team of chip designers that has powered iOS and iPadOS devices to greater levels of performance year-over-year. Johny Srouji’s silicon team has been very, very busy.

    One of the big advantages to Apple’s CPUs is that they aren’t just CPUs. Apple refers to their processors as “systems on a chip”. In traditional Intel Macs, there are discrete CPUs, graphics processing chips, known as GPUs, and RAM. For example, a current iMac will have an Intel Core i7 Coffee Lake CPU and will have to send messages between the AMD Radeon Pro GPU and memory. Communicating between these components takes time. Apple’s A-Series SoCs, including the first Macs running Apple Silicon due out late this year, give these machines a performance boost over those that use off the shelf commodity parts.

    Using their own SoCs gives Apple another strategic advantage – they are able to develop key customer facing features such as Touch ID and Face ID which required the use of the technology that is found in the iPhone’s T2 secure enclave. While Apple didn’t specifically talk about future Macintosh products during the online only developer conference back in June, I expect the first Apple Silicon iMac to have Face ID. While today’s Intel-powered MacBooks have Touch ID, the current design requires a heavy amount of engineering to fully integrate the T2 co-processor with the Intel CPU. I expect that the first Apple laptop with Apple Silicon will have a much cleaner, streamlined implementation.

    Besides performance, I am particularly interested in seeing where Apple Silicon Macs go in terms of customer security and privacy, machine learning (i.e.: high quality ML search results in large Photo libraries), and quality of life features (i.e.: Apple Pay and Apple Watch unlock).

    What About Virtualization and Thunderbolt Support?

    The switch over to Apple Silicon won’t be without tradeoffs and compromises during the two-year transition period. Since the announcement at WWDC, two big questions have come up about key features of Intel Macs.

    Apple Silicon Macs running macOS 11 Big Sur will feature Universal 2, Rosetta 2, virtualization, and native iOS apps for iPhone and iPad, source: Apple, Inc.

    The first is what about virtualization? Virtualization allows customers to run Microsoft Windows and other operating systems. Apple has said that their first party solution, Boot Camp, will only work on Intel-based Macs. For Apple Silicon Macs, Apple will be introducing a new virtualization layer and re-introducing key technologies from the PowerPC to Intel transition: Universal 2 and Rosetta 2. With Universal 2, app developers will be able to compile and deploy apps for both Apple Silicon and Intel Macs. Rosetta 2 will help protect customer’s investment in software by enabling software written only for Intel Macs to run smoothly on Apple Silicon Macs running macOS 11 Big Sur. During the keynote, Docker and Parallels were both specifically mentioned as a way to run containers and Linux virtual machines on Apple Silicon Macs running Big Sur. Since Apple Silicon Macs are based on the same processor architecture as iPhone and iPad, iOS and iPadOS apps will now be able to be natively run on new Macs without modification. This will be a boon for customers and developers alike as the number of apps and customers will increase.

    But what about Mac users who rely on the ability to run Microsoft Windows for things like Active Directory management tools and Windows-only business applications, including Microsoft Project and Microsoft Visio? Presumably, virtualization vendors VMware and Parallels will be working on solutions for Apple Silicon Mac. This, however, is not a forgone conclusion. Shortly after Apple’s announcement, Fusion developer VMware posted a question to Twitter asking how customers would use their software on Apple Silicon.

    One possible solution would be Apple and Microsoft working together to bring Windows on ARM support to Apple Silicon and macOS Big Sur. Microsoft’s Surface X PC already runs a version of Windows 10 that has been optimized to run on a custom Qualcomm ARM chip known as the Microsoft SQ1 SoC. Such a deal could go a long way to virtualizing Windows on Macs similar to how Windows runs on Intel Macs today. At the very least, such a deal could be a leg up for VMware and Parallels products. Microsoft is working collaboratively to make sure that Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) are ready for Apple Silicon-powered Macs. Anything is possible from the sometimes partners and sometimes rivals. I like to think that there will be a solution for running Windows and Windows-only application on Apple Silicon Macs, but I won’t be counting on the ability to virtualize Windows on an Apple Silicon Mac into my buying decision at the end of the year.

    At the tail end of 2019, Apple began shipping their new Mac Pro tower and Pro Display XDR. The Pro Display XDR, a several thousand-dollar professional workflow monitor, uses Thunderbolt 3 technology to connect it to compatible 2019 and 2020 Macs. The Thunderbolt 3 standard requires and Intel CPU and is one of the reasons why the 2018 and 2020 iPad Pro tablets have USB-C only ports. The good news is that Apple plans on protecting their customer’s investment in the 32-inch 6k display technology. Intel recently announced the USB-C 4 and Thunderbolt 4 standard, which is based on the same USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 connector port. Apple, in a statement to news outlets, said that, “We remain committed to the future of Thunderbolt and will support it in Macs with Apple silicon.” While Apple did not get into specifics of how they will bring USB-C 4 and Thunderbolt 4 to future Macs, we now know that existing and new peripherals based on the Intel standards will continue to be supported into the future.

    Buying Advice and the Future

    The announcement of Apple Silicon Macs and macOS 11 Big Sur make for an exciting time for Macintosh fans. Just as the transition to Intel CPUs unlocked better performance, Apple Silicon Macs will usher in the next decade of new features for customers.

    With that said, the next two years are going to be in flux. If you are a tech enthusiast, then you are probably going to be like me and will want to get your hands on a new Apple Silicon Mac as soon as you can. As an early adopter you will not doubt run into some compatibility issues with existing software and peripherals. 2020 Apple Silicon Macs, after all, will be “1.0” devices. Apple Silicon hardware released in late 2021 and beyond will have the benefit of feedback from late 2020 and early 2021 Apple Silicon Macs. You should avoid buying a new Apple Silicon Mac with the hope that one day a feature you need or want will be supported.

    If you are someone who just prefers the Mac, then buy the best Mac you can when the need comes up. Don’t worry about which chip is in your new Mac. You will receive years of support and trouble-free use for years to come.

    If you are a professional who relies on the Mac to get your work done, you will have some decisions to make. If you find yourself working primarily in Adobe Creative Cloud products, Microsoft Office, and Autodesk Maya and Cinema 4D, you may be ready for the new platform. However, if you look down the list of software and features that just have to work flawlessly, then, your best bet is to stick with the Intel Mac you have today or purchase a new Intel Mac when you need one during the next 18 months.

    The future of the Macintosh platform is brighter as it has ever been, and I am looking forward to the new features!