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macOS Sierra: The Missing Manual by David Pogue

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Chapter 1. Introduction

MacOS Sierra is the 12th major version of Apple’s Unix-based operating system. It’s got very little in common with the original Mac operating system, the one that saw Apple through the 1980s and 1990s. Apple dumped that in 2001, when CEO Steve Jobs decided it was time for a change. Apple had spent too many years piling new features onto a software foundation originally poured in 1984. Programmers and customers complained of the “spaghetti code” the Mac OS had become.

So underneath macOS’s classy, translucent desktop is Unix, the industrial-strength, rock-solid OS that drives many a website and university. It’s not new by any means; in fact, it’s decades old and has been polished by generations of programmers.


Beginning with Sierra, Apple no longer calls the Mac operating system “OS X.” It’s now “macOS.” That’s partly because Apple sought consistency with the software in its other products—iOS and watchOS—and partly, no doubt, because it was tired of hearing people pronounce it “Oh ess sex.”

What’s New in Sierra

Having run out of big cat species (Lion, Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard), Apple has begun naming its Mac operating systems after rock formations in California. There was Yosemite, and then El Capitan—and now Sierra, after the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

MacOS Sierra doesn’t look any different from El Capitan or Yosemite before it. Instead, it’s a representation of all the little nips and tucks that Apple engineers wished they’d had time to put into the last version.

The big-ticket item is Siri. For the first time, you can now control your Mac by voice, just as you can on the iPhone. Ask questions, conduct research, check the weather, open apps, find files, send or read email, consult Twitter, and much more—all by voice. A complete dictionary of commands that Siri understands appears in Chapter 8.

Beyond that—well, this time around, Apple isn’t boasting “over 200 new features”; “over 20 new features” would be more like it. They’re subtle. They’re grace notes. They’re motley. They’ll be welcomed by people already using Macs but won’t do anything to sway someone who loves Windows:

  • Optimized Storage. Today’s Mac laptops don’t have a ton of storage; their non-hard disks aren’t as big as actual hard drives.

    This new feature solves that problem rather neatly. The idea: As your Mac begins to run out of space, your oldest files are quietly and automatically stored online, leaving cloud-badged icons in their places on your Mac, so that you can retrieve them if you need them.

    Other disk-space reclaiming features: A new Optimize button deletes iTunes movies and TV shows that you’ve already watched. (You’re always free to re-download them at no charge.) Erase Trash Automatically auto-deletes a file after it’s been rotting in your Trash for 30 days. And Reduce Clutter looks over your downloads, cache files, and mail attachments—things you can always re-download from your IMAP mail account—and offers to delete them. This feature can reclaim a lot of space.

  • Touch Bar and Touch ID. The late-2016 MacBook Pro models introduce the Touch Bar—a glowing, multitouch, customizable strip of screen that lies where the F-keys once were. Because it puts the commands you might need right on the keyboard, it’s a real work accelerator. At the right end: the Touch ID fingerprint reader, so you can log in without having to type a password.

  • Desktop and Documents Folders on iCloud. Sierra introduces a new, optional feature of iCloud Drive (Apple’s version of Dropbox): Everything on your desktop and in your Documents folder can be accessible everywhere—on every Mac you own, every iOS device, every Windows PC, and even online, at iCloud.com. That makes it very likely that when you need a file you don’t have with you, you’ll be able to grab it from wherever you are.

    Of course, you get only 5 gigabytes of iCloud Drive storage, which is shared by all of iCloud’s components—so to use this feature, you’ll almost certainly have to pay for additional storage.

  • Copy/Paste Between Devices. Here’s a feature nobody’s ever seen before: If you copy something—text or pictures—on your iPhone and then switch to your Mac, the Paste command pastes whatever you just copied on the phone! There’s no learning involved, no special command; it’s automatic. You can even paste into Microsoft Word.

    (And if you don’t paste within 2 minutes of copying, then macOS restores whatever was already on the Mac’s Clipboard, so you don’t get confused later.)

    Similarly, you can copy from the Mac and paste on the phone, or copy/paste from one Mac to another, or indeed any combination of iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, or Mac.

  • Auto-Unlock with the Apple Watch. You don’t need a password to unlock your Mac anymore—as long as you’re wearing an Apple Watch. It acts as a wireless master key. (For security, it has a very short range—about 10 feet.)

  • Apple Pay on the Web. At the checkout screens of some online stores, you see an Apple Pay button. Click it to open a box showing the info you have on your Apple phone or watch, including your shipping info, already filled out. Click the credit card you want to pay with, and—here’s the ingenious part—authenticate with your phone, using its fingerprint reader. (Or double-press the Apple Watch’s side button.) You’ve eliminated all the data entry.

    This process is entirely secure; neither the merchant nor Apple ever sees your credit card number. (Instead, a special, one-time code is sent directly to your bank, which does the payment.)

  • Window tabs. Sierra brings tabbed windows (just like in a web browser) to many document-based apps. In practice, this feature works only in Apple’s own programs: Mail, Maps, TextEdit, Keynote, Numbers, and Pages, for example.

  • Picture-in-picture. When you’re in the Safari browser and you’re watching a video, you can click a picture-in-picture icon to detach it into a small, floating, movable, resizable window, so that you can keep watching as you do other work or even switch Spaces (virtual desktops).

  • Messages upgrades. Apple’s Messages app gains a few new features when you’re texting with another Apple fan (that is, someone with an iCloud account)—although not nearly as many as iOS 10 now offers.

    If you paste in a link you’re sending to someone, you get a thumbnail of that web page; if you paste a video, it plays right in the Messages window. If you insert an emoji symbol or two as the sole entry in a text, it appears at three times normal size. (If it accompanies typed text, the emoji still appears at normal size.)

    Messages on the Mac can also receive some of the new features of Messages on iOS, like handwritten scribbles and “invisible ink” (which reveals what’s been typed only when you drag your mouse across it).

  • Photos. Just as in iOS 10, Photos on the Mac gains face and object recognition, so it can group your shots by person, group of people, place, time period, or thing. It auto-generates albums; each includes a map, representative photos (eliminating very similar shots), headshots of the people in the pictures, and even a music-backed slideshow movie.

So the changes in Sierra are, as you’re figuring out, pretty subtle. This new OS won’t throw anyone for a loop. But it’s a big speed-up with a lot of touch-ups—for free.

About This Book

You can’t get Sierra on a disc or flash drive; it’s a download-only operating system. In other words, you don’t get a single page of printed instructions.

To find your way around, you’re expected to use Apple’s online help system. And as you’ll quickly discover, these help pages are tersely written, offer very little technical depth, lack useful examples, and provide no tutorials whatsoever. You can’t mark your place, underline, or read them in the bathroom.

The purpose of this book, then, is to serve as the manual that should have accompanied macOS—version 10.12 in particular.

MacOS Sierra: The Missing Manual is designed to accommodate readers at every technical level. The primary discussions are written for advanced-beginner or intermediate Mac fans. But if you’re a Mac first-timer, miniature sidebar articles called Up to Speed provide the introductory information you need to understand the topic at hand. If you’re a Mac veteran, on the other hand, keep your eye out for similar shaded boxes called Power Users’ Clinic. They offer more technical tips, tricks, and shortcuts.

When you write a book like this, you do a lot of soul-searching about how much stuff to cover. Of course, a thinner book, or at least a thinner-looking one, is always preferable; plenty of readers are intimidated by a book that dwarfs the Tokyo White Pages.

On the other hand, Apple keeps adding features and rarely takes them away. So this book isn’t getting any skinnier.

Even so, some chapters come with free downloadable appendixes—PDF documents, available on this book’s “Missing CD” page at www.missingmanuals.com—that go into further detail on some of the tweakiest features. (You’ll see references to them sprinkled throughout the book.)

Maybe this idea will save a few trees—and a few back muscles when you try to pick this book up.

About the Outline

MacOS Sierra: The Missing Manual is divided into six parts, each containing several chapters:

  • Part I covers everything you see on the screen when you turn on a Mac: folders, windows, icons, the Dock, the Sidebar, Spotlight, Dashboard, Spaces, Mission Control, Launchpad, Time Machine, menus, scroll bars, the Trash, aliases, the menu, and so on.

  • Part II is dedicated to the proposition that an operating system is little more than a launchpad for programs—the actual applications you use: email programs, web browsers, word processors, graphics suites, and so on. These chapters describe how to work with applications—how to open them, switch among them, swap data between them, and use them to create and open files. And there’s also, of course, a new chapter all about Siri.

  • Part III is an item-by-item discussion of the software nuggets that make up this operating system—the 30-ish panels of System Preferences and the 50-some programs in your Applications and Utilities folders.

  • Part IV treads in more advanced territory, like networking and file sharing. These chapters also cover the visual talents of the Mac (fonts, printing, graphics) and its multimedia gifts (sound, movies).

  • Part V covers all the Internet features, including the Mail email program and the Safari web browser; Messages for instant messaging and audio or video chats; Internet sharing; Apple’s free, online iCloud services; and connecting to and controlling your Mac from across the wires—FTP, SSH, VPN, and so on.

  • Part VI. This book’s appendixes include guidance on installing this operating system; a troubleshooting handbook; a Windows-to-Mac dictionary (to help Windows refugees find the new locations of familiar features in macOS); and a master list of all the keyboard shortcuts and trackpad/mouse gestures on your Mac.


Throughout this book, and throughout the Missing Manual series, you’ll find sentences like this one: “Open the System folder→Libraries→Fonts folder.” That’s shorthand for a much longer instruction that directs you to open three nested folders in sequence, like this:

“On your hard drive, you’ll find a folder called System. Open that. Inside the System folder window is a folder called Libraries; double-click to open it. Inside that folder is yet another one called Fonts. Double-click to open it, too.” See Figure 1-1.

If this book says “Choose View→Arrange By→Name,” it’s describing a logical sequence of steps.

In this example, that would mean clicking the View menu, choosing the Arrange By command from it, and then choosing Name from the submenu.

Figure 1-1. If this book says “Choose View→Arrange By→Name,” it’s describing a logical sequence of steps.

About MissingManuals.com

To get the most out of this book, visit www.missingmanuals.com. Click the “Missing CDs” link—and then this book’s title—to reveal a neat, organized, chapter-by-chapter list of the shareware and freeware mentioned in this book.

The website also offers corrections and updates to the book. (To see them, click the book’s title, and then click View/Submit Errata.) In fact, please submit such corrections and updates yourself! In an effort to keep the book as up to date and accurate as possible, each time O’Reilly prints more copies of this book, I’ll make any confirmed corrections you’ve suggested. I’ll also note such changes on the website so that you can mark important corrections into your own copy of the book, if you like. And I’ll keep the book current as Apple releases more macOS 10.12 updates.

The Very Basics

To use this book, and indeed to use a Macintosh computer, you need to know a few basics. This book assumes you’re familiar with a few terms and concepts:

  • Clicking. To click means to point the arrow cursor at something on the screen and then—without moving the cursor—press and release the clicker button on the mouse or trackpad. To double-click, of course, means to click twice in rapid succession, again without moving the cursor at all. And to drag means to move the cursor while holding down the mouse button.

    When you’re told to -click something, you click while pressing the key (which is next to the space bar). Shift-clicking, Option-clicking, and Control-clicking work the same way—just click while pressing the corresponding key.

    (There’s also right-clicking. That very important topic is described in depth in Notes on Right-Clicking.)

  • Menus. The menus are the words at the top of your screen: , File, Edit, and so on. Click one to make a list of commands appear.

    Some people click once to open a menu and then, after reading the choices, click again on the one they want. Other people like to press the mouse button continuously after the initial click on the menu title, drag down the list to the desired command, and only then release the mouse button. Either method works fine.

  • Keyboard shortcuts. If you’re typing along in a burst of creative energy, it’s disruptive to have to grab the mouse to use a menu. That’s why many Mac fans prefer to trigger menu commands by pressing key combinations. For example, in word processors, you can press -B to produce a boldface word. When you read an instruction like “Press -B,” start by pressing the key, and then, while it’s down, type the letter B, and finally release both keys.


    You know what’s really nice? The keystroke to open the Preferences dialog box in every Apple program—Mail, Safari, iMovie, Photos, TextEdit, Preview, and on and on—is always the same: -comma. Better yet, that standard is catching on in other apps, too, like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

  • Gestures. A gesture is a swipe across your trackpad (on your laptop, or on an external Apple trackpad) or across the top surface of the Apple Magic Mouse. Gestures have been given huge importance in macOS. Dialog Boxes contains a handy list of them.

  • Dialog boxes. See Figure 1-2 for a tour of the onscreen elements you’ll frequently be asked to use, like checkboxes, radio buttons, tabs, and so on.

    Knowing what you’re doing on the Mac often requires knowing what things are called. Here are some of the most common onscreen elements. They include checkboxes (turn on as many as you like) and radio buttons (only one can be turned on in each grouping).

    Pressing Return is usually the same as clicking the default button—the lower-right button that almost always means “OK, I’m done here.”

    Figure 1-2. Knowing what you’re doing on the Mac often requires knowing what things are called. Here are some of the most common onscreen elements. They include checkboxes (turn on as many as you like) and radio buttons (only one can be turned on in each grouping).
  • Icons. The colorful inch-tall pictures that appear in your various desktop folders are the graphic symbols that represent each program, disk, and document on your computer. If you click an icon one time, it darkens, indicating that you’ve just highlighted or selected it. Now you’re ready to manipulate it by using, for example, a menu command.

A few more tips on using the Mac keyboard appear at the beginning of Chapter 7. Otherwise, if you’ve mastered this much information, then you have all the technical background you need to enjoy macOS Sierra: The Missing Manual.

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