It’s inevitable—your Time Machine backup drive is going to fill up. Time Machine is smart about backing up only files that have changed, but after months or years of usage, the drive will run out of space. What happens then?
Before we explain, some background. On its first backup, Time Machine copies everything on your startup drive to the backup drive. After that, Time Machine keeps hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups for all previous months. If you modify the same file multiple times per day, every day, you’ll have numerous versions of it in your backup set so that you can go back to any particular version.
So the first thing that Time Machine does when your backup drive fills up is start deleting those older versions, beginning with the oldest ones. It warns you when this starts happening and tells you what your oldest remaining backup is. In general, this approach works well, since you probably don’t need all the older versions of changed files as long as Time Machine always retains the most recent version in the backup.
Eventually, however, even this technique runs into the wall of hard drives having only so much capacity. When that happens, backups will start failing, and this notification will appear after every backup attempt.
Click the Details button in that notification to open the Time Machine pane of System Preferences, and you’ll learn exactly how much space the backup needs and how little your Time Machine drive actually has left.
You have four options at this point, but two of them may not be all that helpful.
Delete Old Backups
One possible solution—albeit likely a short term one—is to delete old backups. You might be tempted to look in the Backups.backupdb folder on your Time Machine drive and delete some of the dated folders inside. Don’t. You have no idea what you’ll be deleting, and you’ll likely corrupt the entire Time Machine backup, rendering it useless.
Instead, use a utility like GrandPerspective
to identify folders or files that are both large and unnecessary. Navigate to one of those items in the Finder, select it, and then choose Enter Time Machine from the Time Machine menu bar icon. Once in Time Machine, click the Action menu (the gear icon) in the toolbar and choose Delete All Backups of Item.
Alas, this approach may not have much of an effect, since it’s difficult to know how many backups Time Machine has stored. We don't recommend going this route.
Exclude Large Folders from the Backup
Another approach that Apple mentions is excluding items from the Time Machine backup. To do this, open System Preferences > Time Machine and click the Options button. Then drag the desired file or folder into the “Exclude these items from backups” list and click Save.
The only problem with this advice is that it’s helpful only before your backup drive fills up. Time Machine won’t reclaim space used by newly excluded items that already exist in your backup.
Start Over, Either on a New Drive or after Erasing Your Existing Backup Drive
One of the great features of Time Machine is that it stores previous versions of files, as we’ve discussed. But you probably know if you’re the sort of person who needs to go back to such previous versions, or if you just use Time Machine so you can restore all your data in the event of a drive failure. If the latter is true and you don’t much care about previous versions of files, a good solution is just to start over, either on a new drive or after erasing your current drive.
Obviously, erasing your current drive means that you won’t have any Time Machine backup at all until a new one completes, which is a risk. And, of course, if that drive filled up once, it will do so again, potentially fairly quickly unless you exclude some large folders. But, if you want to go down that path, open Disk Utility, select your Time Machine drive in the sidebar, and click Erase. Then go into the Time Machine preferences again, click Select Disk, and pick your newly erased drive. You may have to select it under Backup Disks and click Remove Disk first.
Getting a new, larger backup drive and starting over with it is easier and more sensible, though more expensive. Once you’ve connected the new drive, just open the Time Machine preferences, click Select Disk, and select the new drive. The drive we recommend is right here
. In terms of size, aim for at least 4x the size of whatever storage you're using on your Mac. In other words, if you're storing 250 GB of data, you'd want at least a 1 TB drive. If it's in budget, a larger drive is even better.
[If you opt for a different drive than we recommend above, you may need to reformat it for Time Machine. Choose About This Mac from the Apple menu, and then click System Report to open the System Information app. In its sidebar, click Storage, select the drive at the top, and make sure File System is Journaled HFS+ and Partition Map Type is GPT (GUID Partition Table).
If the drive isn’t formatted correctly for Time Machine, open Disk Utility, select the drive in the sidebar, click Erase, and choose Mac OS Extended (Journaled) from the Format pop-up menu and GUID Partition Map from the Scheme pop-up menu. Then click Erase to ready it for Time Machine use. (This will, of course, delete all the data on the drive, so make sure that’s OK first!)]
Finally, make sure the permissions on the new drive are set correctly. Select the drive icon in the Finder, choose File > Get Info, click the triangle next to Sharing & Permissions, and make sure the “Ignore ownership on this volume” checkbox is unselected. You may need to click the lock icon and enter an administrator username and password.
Copy Your Existing Backup to a New, Larger Drive
What if you want to retain all those old backups? That’s entirely possible, though it will take a long time to copy. Follow these steps:
- Connect both the old and the new backup drive to your Mac via Thunderbolt, USB, or Firewire.
- Make sure the drive is formatted properly for Time Machine, and if it’s not, reformat it in Disk Utility as noted above. Also, verify that the permissions are set correctly, as above.
- Turn off Time Machine so it doesn’t try to back up while you’re copying its data. In the Time Machine preference pane, deselect Back Up Automatically, or click the Off/On switch, depending on what version of macOS you’re running.
- Drag the Backups.backupdb folder from the old drive to the new one to copy it. You may be prompted for your administrator name and password.
- When it finishes, a day or two later, follow the instructions above to select the new drive in the Time Machine preferences and make sure to turn Time Machine back on.
One final note. It may be tempting to use an alternative method of copying the Backups.backupdb folder, but resist the urge. Time Machine uses special drive structures to work its magic, and only the Finder is guaranteed to copy them correctly.
Where did your scroll bars go?
On the Mac, scroll bars are essential for both orienting yourself and navigating within a Web page or document window. But they may not appear unless you hover the pointer over the right spot or start scrolling with a gesture on a trackpad or a turn of a mouse scroll wheel. Apple calls this "discoverable UI" (user interface) and while it allows the user to see more of the screen, it's generally a terrible idea from a usability standpoint.
So if missing scroll bars bother you as much as they do me, go to System Preferences > General and under Show Scroll Bars, select Always. That way, scroll bars will always be visible without you having to guess where they are or perform some incantation to reveal them.
Temporarily sharing your location
Here's a quick iPhone tip: If you’re flying, driving, or biking to visit an iPhone-using friend or family member, you can reduce anxiety related to arrival time or pickup plans (and perhaps provide amusement) by sharing your location temporarily so they can watch your progress.
The easiest way to do this is to go into a Messages conversation with that person on your iPhone, tap their picture at the top, tap the i button that appears, tap Share My Location, and then tap either Share for One Hour or Share Until End of Day, whichever is appropriate for the length of your trip. They can then see where you are by going into the same Messages conversation, tapping your name, and then tapping the i button. And, of course, if you’re coordinating an airport pickup, it’s a help if the other person shares their location with you too!
Renaming Bluetooth devices
It’s all too easy to end up with a boatload of Bluetooth devices connected to your Mac. Apple devices will likely have sensible names, like Magic Mouse 2, but what if someone has given you a device with their name in it? Or you’ve ended up with a device called something really random like f023cp37. Happily, macOS lets you rename most Bluetooth devices, including pointing devices, keyboards, earbuds, and headphones. Open System Preferences > Bluetooth, Control- or right-click a device, and choose Rename. In the dialog that appears, enter the new name.
Closing the lid
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.
Area wildfires have disrupted our ability to respond to phone calls and emails in a timely fashion this week. Usually we're good about responding by the end of the next business day, our stated service goal.
This week's encroaching fires and hazardous air quality have severely impacted our ability to meet this standard. Please know that we're working to hold the fort as best we can. We appreciate your patience with us as we tend to family safety matters—a priority that I know everyone within our client base can appreciate. Thank you.
macOS 10.14.6 Mojave
. macOS 10.13.6 High Sierra is acceptable until Fall 2020 when macOS 11 Big Sur is released. Earlier versions should be upgraded ASAP. You can see your Mac's operating system version by going to the Apple menu in the top left corner of the screen and choosing "About This Mac." macOS 10.15 Catalina continues to be bug-laden. If you have already upgraded to Catalina (or if it came on a new Mac), you should update to the latest possible version, which contains bug-fixes.
Seems okay in limited testing. So far a scattering of problem reports, but nothing significant. If you want to install, we'd say go ahead. If you'd prefer to more cautious and wait a couple weeks, that's okay too.
iOS 12.4.1 (or 12.4.2 for some models) acceptable. Any device that can run iOS 11 should be upgraded to 12.4.2. You can see your iPhone or iPad's operating system version by going to Settings > General > About > Version.
iPadOS 12.4.1 (12.4.2 for some models) also acceptable. See iOS comments above for more details.
. Older versions of WatchOS acceptable if necessary; upgrade if your devices (iPhone and Apple Watch) support it. You can see your Apple Watch's operating system version by going to Settings > General > About > Version.
. tvOS 12 also acceptable. Note that earlier models of Apple TV do not run tvOS and are fine for what they do; not all channels, features, or apps will be available. You can see if there's a software update available for your Apple TV by going to Settings > System > Software Updates > Update Software.
- iMac: iMac10,1 (Late 2009) or newer
- Mac mini: Macmini4,1 (Mid 2010) or newer
- Mac Pro: MacPro5,1 (Mid 2010) or newer
- MacBook: MacBook6,1 (Late 2009) or newer
- MacBook Air: MacBookAir3,1 (Late 2010) or newer
- MacBook Pro: MacBookPro7,1 (Mid 2010) or newer
- Note that 2016-2019 MacBook Pro models have a higher than usual keyboard failure rate. Used 2015 models, which use a different style keyboard, may be a more reliable option. The new 2019 MacBook Pro 16" model uses a new keyboard mechanism and should be fine.
These are minimum
hardware recommendations based on what is necessary to run a secure operating system (macOS 10.13.6 High Sierra).
The following are the macOS 10.14 Mojave/10.15 Catalina system requirements. If your Mac does not meet these specifications, it will need to be replaced by fall of 2020, when High Sierra will no longer be secure.
macOS 10.14 Mojave/10.15 Catalina system requirements
- MacBook (Early 2015 or later)
- MacBook Air (Mid-2012 or later)
- MacBook Pro (Mid-2012 or later)
- Mac mini (Late 2012 or later)
- iMac (Late 2012 or later)
- iMac Pro (all models)
- Mac Pro (Late 2013 or newer)
macOS 10.15 Catalina was released in October 2019 and has the same system requirements as Mojave.
iPhone and iPad
- iPhone 6S or newer. Older iPhones cannot run iOS 13.
- iPhone 7 models have a higher than normal failure rate over time. Given the choice, we would recommend iPhone SE (2020) model as a strong alternative to iPhone 7 models.
- iPad Air 2 or newer will be needed for the new iPadOS coming this fall
- iPad mini 4 or newer will be needed for the new iPadOS coming this fall
- iPad Pro (all models)
- iPad 5th generation or newer
The iPad line is made confusing by the multitude of model names and types (Air, mini, Pro, and just plain iPad). Generally speaking, devices introduced in October 2014 and later will run iPadOS. iPads that will not run iPadOS and should be replaced unless they will not be used on the internet.
- Apple Watch Series 5 is highly recommended.
- All versions are secure and acceptable though Apple Watch Series 0 will not run the latest version of WatchOS and therefore lacks both the speed and features of later Apple Watches.
- Apple TV 4K is recommended. Apple TV (4th generation) is fine as well.
- Older models of Apple TV do not support tvOS and cannot run Apple TV Store apps, though we are unaware of any major security issues.
A secure operating system
See Software Recommendations for details. If you're not running a secure operating system, it will be difficult to impossible to protect your data.
We recommend using Apple's built-in whole disk encryption, FileVault. It can be turned on in System Preferences > Security & Privacy.
We recommend and use Apple's built-in Time Machine backup system. You'll need an external hard drive
so that the data is automatically saved to a second location. Off-site backup remains important in mitigating the risk of fire or theft. We use and recommend Backblaze
. At a cost of $6 a month per Mac, Backblaze will encrypt then backup an unlimited amount of data from your Mac. Data has a 30-day retention window, though longer time periods are possible for an additional couple bucks.
Sentinel, Sentinel+, Sentinel Ultra, Sentinel AM
[warning: we are tooting our own horn here]
Sentinel provides professional 24/7 oversight of the health of your Mac. We're monitoring all kinds of things (RAM, hard drive, Time Machine backups, battery, etc.)—150 different data points every hour.
Sentinel+ adds maintenance and security to Sentinel's 24/7 monitoring. Sentinel+ will handle most software updates so you don't have to as well as run maintenance routines to keep things running tip-top. This is includes basic scanning and quarantine of malware.
Sentinel Ultra is our top-of-the-line, four-in-one service that includes everything in Sentinel and Sentinel+. Ultra blocks malicious web sites, filters objectionable content, protects against email phishing threats, and even increases the speed of your web surfing. It's proactive security. Ultra represents our best effort and the best tool in our arsenal to keep clients safe on the web.
Sentinel AM is our anti-malware offering. It's a $5/mo add-on for Sentinel+ or Sentinel Ultra services..
A secure web browser with ad blocking
with the free open source content blocker uBlock Origin
is our first choice. Safari with AdGuard
(and blocking cross-site tracking turned on) is another fine option. AdGuard is no longer free, but Safari extensions are getting enhanced in macOS 11 Big Sur, so we're hopeful that getting uBlock Origin (our favorite) back on Safari is just a matter of time.
There's really no good reason to use Google, Bing, or any of the other search engines. Not only does DuckDuckGo
return excellent search results, you can use commands in the search bar (like "!g"—that's exclamation point plus the letter g) to search Google anonymously. You can search other search engines anonymously too via DuckDuckGo, and DuckDuckGo won't track you. In the search engine preferences for either Safari or Firefox, you can set DuckDuckGo as your default search engine.
A Virtual Private Network
A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is an encrypted tunnel between your Mac (or iPhone or iPad) and another computer run by the VPN company. It protects your internet traffic so that anyone who might want to spy on your traffic locally can't. We use PIA VPN
which covers multiple devices (Mac, iPad, iPhone) for about $75 a year.
A Password Manager
We consider password managers like 1Password
indispensible. Instead of having to remember lengthy passwords or reusing the handful that we can remember, we remember one password to unlock 1Password, and the program takes care of the rest. 1Password can be a little complex to set up, so we typically will help clients with that. Actual use isn't too bad though and is typically within the reach of even basic users.
A Spam Filter
Apple's built in Junk Mail filter works for most spam assuming your email address isn't widely dispersed on the internet. If you're swamped with spam email, though, SpamSieve
can rescue you.
Avoid Social Media
If you're posting to social media like Facebook, you're not just telling your friends something. You're telling Facebook, and Facebook is hardly keeping your information top secret. Want to say something privately to a friend? Use Apple Messages or Apple's FaceTime. Both are end-to-end encrypted, and not even Apple has the keys.