Automatic Updates for Mac computers

Keeping your Mac updated with security fixes is one good way to help your system continue to stay free from malware. Even though it’s rare on Macs, the potential for malware is there, and we’re seeing more attacks as time goes on. Here’s how to set your system to let you know when updates are ready to install.

  • Under the Apple Menu, go to “System Preferences”
  • Click on the “App Store” icon
  • Check the boxes for all of the following:
    • “Automatically check for updates”
    • “Download newly available updates in the background”
    • “Install app updates”
    • “Install OS X updates” (or “Install macOS updates” for Sierra and later)
    • “Install system data files and security updates
  • Look at the “Last check was…” date; if it’s been a while, click on the “Check Now” button to get new updates

When your computer has downloaded new updates, you’ll get a notification to let you know. You can then go into the App Store app click on the “Updates” icon at the top, and apply any updates that are available.

Windows Update Settings

Many ransomware and spyware programs get into your computer by exploiting vulnerabilities in the operating system. One thing that can help protect your Windows system from malware is making sure that Windows Update is working and applying security updates and bug fixes from Microsoft.

Here are the best settings for Windows Update on Windows 10, Windows 8.1, and Windows 7. (If you are still using Windows XP or Windows Vista, my advice is to upgrade to Windows 10. If your computer is too old to run Windows 10, seriously consider replacing it soon.)

Windows 10:

Microsoft has made Windows 10 to be fairly assertive about always installing Windows Updates, so if you do nothing, it will download and install updates on its own — even in the middle of the day. It’s a good idea to set it so that it does its updates and restarts when you’re not using the computer. Do this by setting your active hours, and also set Windows Update to finish updates when you’re not there to sign in. Here’s how:

  • Select the Start button, select Settings -> Update & security  > Windows Update
  • Click on the “Change active hours” link
  • Set the start and end times to reflect when you’re most likely to be using your computer
  • Click “Save”
  • Now click on “Advance options”
  • Make sure the checkbox for “Use my sign in info to automatically finish…” is checked.


Windows 8.1:

The 8.1 update to Windows fixed a number of interface problems with Windows 8. Oddly, the update to 8.1 doesn’t come via Windows Update, but through the Windows Store. The procedure for doing this update can be found here. Then follow the procedure below.

  • On the keyboard, hold down the Windows key and “C” at the same time to open the sidebar on the right side of the screen
  • Click on “Settings”
  • At the bottom of the Settings panel, click on “Change PC Settings”
  • The PC Settings screen will open; In the left sidebar, click on “Update and Recovery”
  • In the Windows Update screen, selct “Choose how updates get installed”
  • The “Important updates” drop-down menu at the top has four options; pick one of the first three — my recommendation is “Download updates but let me choose whether to install them”
  • Check the boxes for “Recommended updates” and “Microsoft update”
  • Click “Apply”


Windows 7:

Microsoft release Windows 7 in 2009, and replaced it with Windows 8 in 2012, so as these things go, it’s getting a little old. However, it is still supported by Microsoft, and by nearly all software publishers, so there’s no immediate rush to upgrade. Here’s how to manage Windows Update:

  • Select Start->All Programs->Windows Update
  • Click on the “Change settings” link in the left sidebar
  • The “Important updates” drop-down menu at the top has four options; pick one of the first three — my recommendation is “Download updates but let me choose whether to install them”
  • Check the box for “Give me recommended updates the same way…”
  • Check the box for “Give me updates for Microsoft products…”
  • Click “OK”

Update Your Email Signature

Like any other smarty-pants, know-it-all, professional geek, I’ve got a few pet peeves about how people use their technology. Case in point: Getting an email from someone with “Sent from my ” followed by the kind of device used, or the name of their cellular carrier. If you’ve still got that default signature, it’s pretty easy to change, and gives you the opportunity to add some personality, contact information, or even business branding to your outgoing emails.

If you’re on an iPhone or iPad, here are the steps to change your email signature:

  • Go into your Settings app.
  • Tap on “Mail, Contacts, Calendars.”
  • Scroll down to the “Signature” option, and tap on it.
  • If you have only one email account, or are on iOS 5 or earlier, tap on the text field to edit it with the onscreen keyboard.
  • If you are on iOS 6 and have multiple email accounts set up on your device, you have the “All Accounts” option to use a single signature, or the “Per Account” option to use an individual signature for each account.
  • After you are done, you can tap the home button to exit the Settings app.

If you use an Android device, here’s how to set your email signature:

  • Open your Mail app — or your Gmail app, if that’s what you use on your device.
  • Tap on the Menu button of your device.
  • Tap on the “More” option.
  • Tap on “Settings”
  • Tap on the email account you want to set the signature for — you can set each account to have a different signature, if you want.
  • Tap on the “Signature” option; in the Gmail app, you may have to tap “General Settings,” then “Signature.”
  • Enter the text for you email signature.
  • Tap the “Save” button, and you’re done.

You can put just about anything in your signature: Your name, phone number, return email address, a website, a “Yours truly,” or even a favorite quote. Don’t make it too long, though — a signature isn’t the place for prolonged self-expression! And if you have a work email account on your phone, your company may have some rules about what you can or can’t put into that signature, so make sure you find out about that.

There are also ways to put rich text with formatting, and even graphics, into your signature. If you are interested in any of these, send me a note using the “Contact Me” link above.

Save Those Web Pages For Later

…sort of like a doggy bag for the Internet!

There are so many websites with so many posts, that occasionally, you come across one that is not only worth your time reading, but worth saving for later! Instead of just bookmarking it, or — heaven forbid — printing it out (does anyone do that anymore?), there are several very good ways to save a link to the page. The three listed below are free services, though some have additional features that you can get with a paid subscription.

Instapaper's home page

Instapaper's home page

Instapaper is one very popular link-saving service. By adding a plug-in to your web browser, you can save any web page for later reading. And with apps for smartphones and tablets, you can read those articles anywhere. Instapaper works with all the major web browsers, giving you a toolbar button for saving pages. And your Instapaper account automatically gets a unique email address, so you can email links to articles to yourself for later reading. While viewing your list of saved articles, you can edit labels, add tags, organize your saved pages in folders, and remove articles you no longer want to save. There are also social sharing features, so you can use Facebook and Twitter to pass on articles to your friends.

www.getpocket.comPocket (formerly Read It Later) is another option, giving you a button in your toolbar for saving web pages. There aren’t as many features in the web version of their service, but the smartphone apps for iOS and Android let you share your links via Facebook and Twitter. And Pocket also has a way for you to email articles into your reading list.

Evernote LogoIf you want something with even more functionality, you can go with Evernote. They have the same basic tools: a button in your web browser, mobile apps, and email saving capabilities. But Evernote also lets you save text clippings from web pages, images and files from your computer, and all sorts of media. There are desktop applications for Windows and Mac OS X, letting you organize your saved information in folders, and quickly add new files and information with drag-and-drop simplicity. And they have smartphone and tablet apps that use your Evernote storage for information collections about people, food, and even school work.

This just scratches the surface of this kind of product. If you have other favorite web-clipping solutions, or if you have any questions about selecting and using these services, click here to contact me.


Computer Backup for Home Users

March 31st is World Backup Day, a day that some folks have set up to remind everyone to back up their computer data. And it’s worth taking time to think about it, because at some point, you ARE going to lose data. Computer storage will inevitably fail, and the time to plan for that failure is the moment you start saving anything on your computer — pictures, tax documents, emails, contacts, or anything else that you don’t want to lose.

“But backups are really complex!” Well, they have been in the past, but new products and technologies make it much easier to protect your data without risking your sanity! The best solutions will cost you something, but there are some really inexpensive or free ways to get the job done.

Normally, I’d run down some options, and then give my recommendations at the end. This time, though, I’m going to start by laying out my preferred recommendation for a long-term backup strategy. Then I’ll give you some intermediate steps to get you backing things up now, with an eye to moving to that strategy.

The Best Way to Backup

The most effective solution is to have both a local and a remote backup, managed by software that does both continuously through the day. Why both local and remote? A local backup can be made quickly, and restored quickly, but since it’s right next to your original data, it’s subject to the same risks (theft, flood, fire, etc) that the original data is. A remote backup is physically isolated from your original data, but it is slower to backup and restore. The combination of the two gives you the most security and flexibility.

So — how do you do this? I recommend Code42’s CrashPlan software, and specifically their CrashPlan+ Unlimited service. For just under $3.00 a month (if you buy four years of service, as of this writing), you can backup everything on a single computer to both a local and remote location. CrashPlan hosts backup servers at their secure data centers, on high-availability networks, so you can always retrieve your files when you need to. You can even access those files using your smartphone, using custom applications for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Plus, you can backup to an external hard drive, with the same software, and with just a few more clicks in the setup.

The CrashPlan software is available for Mac OS X and Windows (and even Linux!), and using it is pretty simple. Install it, and it will prompt you through the process of creating an account with CrashPlan (which is used to identify your data if you need to restore it to a different location), selecting what files and folders to back up, and the destination for those backups. From there, the program works in the background, and you’ll rarely notice that it’s even there.

CrashPlan also maintains multiple versions of files, in case you need to go back to an earlier version of that budget spreadsheet, or recover the original of a digital photo that you edited.

(Note: I am not sponsored or compensated by CrashPlan or Code42. In fact, I’m a paying customer, with no agenda other than giving you information about a very good product)

If you have more than one computer in your home (and an increasing number of us do!), then consider CrashPlan+ Family Unlimited. The cost for a four-year service agreement comes to just under $6 a month, and covers up to ten computers. The other advantage of the Family Unlimited package is that you can also back up from one computer to another within your home network. With this feature, you can add a huge hard drive or two to one system, and have all the other computers run their CrashPlan backups to it. Combining this with the remote backup for all of your systems, and you’ve got a great setup!

There are several other great online backup services, such as Carbonite, Mozy, Backblaze, and SpiderOak,just to name a few. The prices and features vary a bit, so shop around. It seems to me that CrashPlan has the best features AND the best prices. Even if you pay month-to-month, their Unlimited plan is just $5.00 a month, and the Family Unlimited plan is $12.00 a month.

Let’s Dial It Back a Bit

If the costs of the CrashPlan services seem a little high to you, there are some options that are less expensive.

If you’re not the kind of person who saves a lot of pictures, music, or videos on your computer, then you probably aren’t using that much space on your computer. I know a few people whose entire collection of electronic data would fit on a single DVD! For these folks, the CrashPlan+ account will give you 10 GB of online space, for under $1.50 a month (again, if you buy a four-year plan — it’s $2.50 month-to-month). The software works exactly the same, it just limits how much space you get.

If you just don’t want to spend any money on an online backup service, CrashPlan has a solution for you, as well. Can you say, “Free?” Without paying a dime, you can download and use their software to backup to an external drive, or to another computer on your network, or even to a friend’s computer across the Internet! All you and your friend need is the CrashPlan software, enough extra space so that you can share it with them, and a reasonably fast Internet connection. You exchange the codes that the software generates for you, and your friend’s computer shows up as a backup destination for you, and vice versa.

These backups are secure, too: If you store your backups on your friend’s computer, they won’t be able to see your actual files, just the encrypted, compressed files that CrashPlan stores backups in, with cryptic names and no real way of opening them.

Getting Your Data Back

One thing that very few people think about when it comes to backups is the restore process, and that’s unfortunate. After all, backups are only good if you can get your data back!

With CrashPlan, restoring your data is pretty simple. If your computer has failed and you repair or replace it, and have to start from scratch, you simply install the CrashPlan software, and once you have connected it to either your backup drive or the CrashPlan servers, you choose a tab in the program, select the computer you want to restore from, and tell it where to put the data on your working computer. Restoring from a local drive is reasonably fast; restoring from an Internet location is much slower — but it works.

At The Very Least

If you don’t want to go with CrashPlan, or any of the other services I’ve mentioned, then at least use the backup options that came with your computer.

Windows 7 includes a “Backup and Restore” control panel item, which will let you set up a schedule to backup all of your system or just selected folders, and gives you the option of storing backups on an external drive, CDs or DVDs, or on another computer on your network.

Mac OS X includes TimeMachine, which is amazingly simple to set up. When you first connect an external drive to your Mac, you will be asked if you want to use it for a TimeMachine backup drive. If you allow that, then it automatically starts backing up everything on your system. There are ways to make it backup to network drives (most significantly to Apple’s TimeCapsule hardware), if you want to do that, as well.

What Can You Afford To Lose?

If you’re not sure if you really need backup software, ask yourself this: “If I lost my computer, what would I need to get back from it?” If your answer is, “Nothing,” then you don’t need backup software. But if you have things that you don’t want to lose, or can’t afford to lose, then get a backup strategy going now. Feel free to contact me with any questions you have.