Is there an alternative to Photoshop on the Mac?

Is there an affordable alternative to Photoshop for macOS? Something with deeper features than Photos, like layering.

I like and admire Pixelmator a lot, but its interface is way different from Photoshop, and with all the time I’ve spent mucking about with it, I haven’t gotten as fluid as I am in PS.

The closest I’ve gotten is Acorn. It’s like Photoshop 6, which appeals to my nostalgia, but even better to my desire for elegant software to stay that way. I always get what I need, in and out, in minutes, without thinking about how-to.

That said, if you need to get truly jiggy wid it, Affinity Photo is a go-to for pros.

GIMP (the GNU Image Manipulation Program) is worth mentioning, because free. But I haven’t used it in forever; whenever I have tried it, I run into the usual non-Mac-like behavior of ported open-source packages.

 

How should I upgrade to Mojave?

I have been reading about Mojave and was wondering which of the two ways to upgrade would be best: clean (wipe the computer and start over), or just drop it in the computer and go…

I’m real glad you asked! Almost always, I recommend simply upgrading your existing insulation. Apple’s upgrades have historically run pretty clean, and typically do some nice housekeeping in the process. The only conditions that make me go for a full erase-and-reinstall are a) someone is moving to a new computer and has a burning desire for a fresh start, or b) something is real obviously messed up and no other troubleshooting has been successful.

But there is an implied question here, namely, should you upgrade to Mojave yet?

Short answer: It would probably be fine to do so, but I’m still going to recommend that you hold off for a couple of months.

For iPhones and iPads, the big upgrades usually go smoothly, but on the Mac, unless you really need or want the new features and don’t mind some quirkiness as Apple squashes bugs, it’s best to wait a couple/few months for the new OS to reach its x.2 or x.3 update.

Mojave has been working fine for me, and there are no reports of big problems. I think it’s one of the nicest upgrades to the Mac in recent years, specifically because Apple gave Finder some long-overdue love. The new screenshot features that mirror what iOS got last year are also really helpful.

But as this article demonstrates, some folks have encountered minor issues. They have quick enough fixes, but if you count on your Mac to run smoothly without having to engage someone like me, might as well wait a bit!

Guess I’ve been consistent; this guidance dates back a while: 2007, 2011, 2013

 

Hangout: Cure your website woes with Squarespace

If you need a website, or if you have a site that you’re unhappy with, you have got to try Squarespace. Squarespace makes creating a site easy, fun, and satisfying. Apple Consultant Jonathan Marcus will show you how to get started with Squarespace, and some important tips for building your content with Mac and iOS.

Thursday, Nov 21, 1pm CST, on Google+

Original event

Meet Juliana

A bunch of you have already met my excellent coordinator, Juliana Abercrombie. Last year, I was inspired to find someone to handle the calendar and order systems. I know Juli through my fiancée’s work at the Witte Museum, and I was thrilled when she agreed to take the gig. She is sharp, organized, thorough, and a clear communicator. Plus, she’s a massive Mac nerd.

When she joined on, Juliana had just gotten her undergrad degree from Ball State, and already had grad school in the works. My business is all about mobility, and I knew she could help me from anywhere the internet reached. So this fall, when Juli embarked on a Master’s program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at the University of San Diego, we had everything in place for her to continue rocking the scheduling and billing duties here at jjmarcus.

And rock she has. Juli has helped me use those excellent cloud apps, like our help desk, Dropbox, and Google Voice to make sure that you get the help you need, a lot quicker than I could get it to you before.

Should I backup my computer?

Every computer owner must keep active, daily backups of all of their data. We like to use the 3-2-1 Commandment of Backups:

Thou shalt keep: 3 copies of any data, on 2 different media on-site, and 1 copy offsite.

Put another way:

A file doesn’t exist unless it exists in three places.

The 3-2-1 rule applies to any piece of digital data, however minor, small, or seemingly unimportant.

  1. Copy 1 is the drive inside your Mac,
  2. Copy 2 is an external hard drive in your home or office, which gets backups via the Time Machine software, connected either directly to your computer or over your internal network,
  3. And the 3rd copy happens across the internet, frequently to a service such as Carbonite or our current favorite, Crashplan.

We have established easy, elegant, and cost-effective methods to achieve 3-2-1, and we will work with you to find the solutions that best fit your business.

Here’s a scenario:

Let’s say you are maintaining good, solid, daily 3-2-1 backups. And then, in normal use, your Mac’s hard drive fills up, and you need to free up space. Before we do that, we just need to consider 3-2-1: if you delete something from your Mac, that means that you have to copy that stuff to a 3rd destination.

The easiest solution for that is simply another external drive. Think of it as an archive—you know you’ve got the data on Time Machine and Crashplan, so you can either do a manual, organized copy to the Archive Drive, or set some different software to automatically build the archive as you go, depending on your workflow.

It’s worth noting that Apple will release Mountain Lion this summer, which will let you set Time Machine copying to multiple drives. That’s going to ease a lot of our decisions in this arena.

Give us a call. We’ll help you choose the right devices, at the price that fits.

J2 News: Reality & Rumor

Nothing like a good Apple keynote to stir it all back up again. Last month, Jobs and Co. unveiled their next generation software, with good, solid material for iPhone, iPad, and Mac, and even for this new-fangled internet the kids are on about all the time. And what’s all this 3G/4G stuff?

I gotta admit, until Apple made their big June presentation, this year had been ho-hum for this nerd. New iPad — yeah, cool, whatever, but wasn’t there supposed to be a whole mess of tablets, each cooler than the next? Meh. Even when they finally shipped, they failed to impress.

Then we got a faceful of geek downers: WikiLeaks persecuted, Sony’s networks disabled, and hacks and security breaches every day. Unfortunately, it’s time for me devote a whole ’nuther couple of newsletters to the darker side of the Internet. I am even gonna beg that everyone either read ’em, or otherwise educate themselves on keeping their data secure.

Party on, Steve!But I want to do the FUN STUFF FIRST!

Nothing like a good Apple keynote to stir it all back up again. Last month, Jobs and Co. unveiled their next generation software, with good, solid material for iPhone, iPad, and Mac, and even for this new-fangled internet the kids are on about all the time.

The Mobile

For the phone and tablet, we’re getting a bunch of new features in the fall. You can read about all the goodness in iOS 5, but among my favorite bits are quicker camera access, wireless syncing and backups, notifications all grown up, and instantly legible articles in Safari. Bold & italics in email, too… Hey, anyone wanna know how I just did that on my iPad?

There are some hot ’n’ heavy rumors about built-in voice control and voice-to-text transcription. These goodies, as well as turn-by-turn navigation, already distinguish Android from the Apple devices. Perhaps these boons will be bestowed upon the iFaithful this year. Perhaps typing on the iPhone will no longer suck quite so bad.

Perhaps iPhone will come with a flying rainbow gumdrop pony.

One other credible guess is that a new iPhone will hit in time for the holidays. Nerds and analysts predict a refresh of the current phone, with faster “4G” Internet.

4G hypeBy the way, in case this whole “3G/4G” thing has you muddled, you’re not alone. The phone companies have deliberately confused you. Here’s the scoop:

”G” does stand for “generation,” not of the iPhone, but of cell phones in general. It mostly refers to the internet on your phone.

  • 1G was the first consumer-affordable cell phone network. Remember the big bricks in the 80’s, with fat rubber antennae and batteries with lives shorter than a ballpark hot dog?
  • 2G was the first digital cell network. Think your first cell phone: candybar-size, with a black-and-grey screen. Made phone calls, and we thought it good. This second generation eventually featured the mobile internet. The first iPhone was advanced 2G, featuring slow, but functional, web surfing.
  • 3G is where most of us are now. Darn good internet, serving most people’s needs. The second, third, and fourth iPhones have all been 3G.
  • The term “4G” is controversial. It actually refers to a specific standard for super-fast wireless internet… that doesn’t actually exist in the real world, at least not in a commercially available form. The cell phone companies, unwilling to wait for this tech to become viable, have instead rolled out networks that are indeed faster than 3G, and called them “4G.” The nerds have moaned and groused, but they don’t got the money, honey.

Make sense? All the other major cell phone manufacturers and carriers have successful 4G [sic] products. The main beef with the current lineup is real sad battery life. I want to guess that this issue prevented Apple from releasing an iPhone in June. If they can get a faster phone, with a faster connection, and uncompromised power supply, they’ll have the competition beat once again.

Credit to Engadget’s primer on the subject.

To date, the iPhone models have been iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3G S (for “speed”), and iPhone 4. Most pundits are guessing at “iPhone 4G.”

If you own an iPhone 4, and don’t find yourself thinking, “Gosh, I wish this was faster,” then perhaps you’d want to wait ’til next year for an upgrade. Owners of older phones might look to the autumn to renew their contract and get a spankin’ new subsidized jobby. And remember, you can always ditch your old phone on sites like Gazelle for a tidy sum.

(Another prediction calls for a 4G iPad this autumn, but I bet against it.)

The Mac

lion logoThe Mac operating system is getting a big makeover, too. Mac OS X 10.7 is nicknamed Lion, and I will spare you any feline puns now. You’re welcome.

The big new features, coming to Macs in July as a download in the Mac App Store (!) are listed here. I am curious to see whether the average Mac user takes to things like full-screen apps and document grouping, but Auto Save, Versions, and Resume rank up with Time Machine and Spotlight as major moves forward: imagine never ever losing work again! Perhaps it won’t be fail-proof at first, but I like to imagine it’ll be close enough to save our collective butt consistently.

Mission ControlOn the geekier hardware side: The latest refreshes of iMacs and Pro laptops feature the new, blazing-fast Thunderbolt data port, and this is big news for the near future of computing. We want to move stuff quick between computer and backup or other storage. Conventional hard drives feel slow, and so does USB, compared to the new solid-state drives (SSD) that started appearing in the first MacBook Air in 2008. SSDs are now common, though still comparatively expensive; Thunderbolt connections will increase demand for faster storage, which will bring prices down.

What this could mean for you: getting hundreds of pictures and videos off your camera in seconds, copying high-def movies to your media jukebox in a snap, and backups happening so quickly you don’t even think about it.

Last I heard, inventory of Mac minis, MacBook Airs, and Mac Pros is dwindling, and I think we are getting ready to see at least new Mac minis with Lion Server and Thunderbolt. I have been holding out for a new media server and a new laptop. I’m saving up!

I also want to state here and now my own most ridiculous prediction: a slim rack-mountable server appliance to replace the Xserve (R.I.P. 2011). I want a solid-state drive to boot quickly, and two 500GB hard drives for data. And I want Windows guys to pee themselves when they see it.

As to when I recommend you upgrade, it’s easiest for me to hold to my recommendations for prior versions: If you really need to, OK, but if you can hold off until Apple’s goes through a couple of revisions, you’ll increase your chance of a smooth transition. Server owners, especially, should wait at least until 10.7.2 or thereabouts.

The Maybe

The real curiosity in Apple’s presentation was iCloud, an online service to succeed MobileMe, and then some. It will cost exactly nothing.

The things iCloud purports to do include:

  • sync your contacts, calendar, and other data
  • store documents for easy access on any device or computer
  • automatically backup any photos taken on the mobile devices to the internet, making them instantly available on all your other devices and computers
  • automatically sync anything you purchase in iTunes between devices.

In addition, for $25 a year, we’ll get iTunes Match, which will be a bit of magic I’ve craved for years — the ability to store music I already own so that you can play it anywhere. This will not be limited to stuff I’ve bought through iTunes. Any mp3 or AAC file I have on any computer will either be uploaded to Apple’s servers, or matched against a track already hosted by iTunes.

As I mentioned in this blog post, Apple’s history of online services has been at times spotty, ill-conceived, or poorly implemented. This time, they seem to be serious about learning from their mistakes, and their new giant data center in North Carolina speaks to a new dedication to keeping our stuff safe and accessible. ICloud sounds like a serious, considered utility aimed to solve some very real, very new problems.

That said, “cloud computing” means using all of the online services pertinent to one’s work and lifestyle. Apple mostly creates solutions for individual consumers, and just a few for businesses. Just as MobileMe never became “MobileUs,” iCloud is not intended to be “weCloud,” and the marketplace for online solutions for businesses large and small continues to grow and thrive. Besides the obvious lifestyle applications, I’m totally jazzed to see how businesses can use all this shiny new Apple tech to keep bringing in the bacon. We know we’ll have a good soundtrack while we fry it up.

In a couple of days, I’ll put out two security emails. Please stay tuned!

J2 News #4: Preachin’ What We Practice

A Promotion

Before I get to my announcements and tips, I want to tell everyone about some new promotions. We hope you’ll like these new, more affordable ways for you to get Chicken Soup for your Macs.

System Upgrades

At the end of 2008, I said I was going to make some improvements to our service. Today, I’m proud to formally announce our new web site at j2mac.com, a place for you to connect to us, and to get information that we hope you find helpful in your computing life.

First, right away, I’m excited to tell you about our new, incredibly handy Schedule page. There, you’ll find up-to-date calendars for me and Erick.

Whenever you want to schedule some time with J2, please call 210.787.2709, or email us at schedule@j2mac.com. You can pick an available time — a blank spot in one of our calendars — and call or email our new scheduling coordinator, Denise Rangel. When Denise books your appointment, we are able to see it immediately on our iPhones. Denise has freed up a great deal of time for us to concentrate on doing what we do best. Many thanks go to Lynn Gosnell for helping inaugurate this new system.

Jonathan conducting J2 Lab I
For me, the most fun and useful part of j2mac.com is the searchable blog, which lets us post commentary on the tech solutions and answers that we employ. Check it out when you have a chance; there are all kinds of tidbits for Mac and iPhone users, and lots to help any surfer get more out of the internet.

We have also begun to create histories of the work we do for you. We keep the documentation online, viewable to anyone in our organization; we also share your sheet with you (and only you), and you can call it up from a web browser any time. I’ll send you a link when we first create your doc.

I recently discovered another powerful online gizmo that I didn’t even know I had: Check out this Client Information Form that folks can fill out online, giving us basic contact information but lots of other things we need to know, such as your internet service provider, current models of computers, etc. We are also going to send out some polls and surveys — check the sidebar to the right of this page for the latest one!

That’s the stuff that you’ll see — what web site designers call the "front end." Behind the scenes, we are using some fantastic online devices that I’ll describe below. They have saved us time, sped up our process, and helped us kept each other informed and up-to-date.

All of these tools are readily available, and easy to set up. But here’s the amazing part: They are all free. 100% of zero dollars. Beyond what I was already paying for my web site hosting, I haven’t had to spend a dime making our working lives more productive and more efficient.

And now, I wanna tell you how.

Better, stronger, faster, and way cheaper

This is a promising time on the internet. As recently as 6 months ago, many of the wishes I have been expressing for years — for easy, affordable services that would let us get to our files and other stuff from any ‘net connection on earth — remained unanswered.

When the second iPhone came out, and Apple promised wireless syncing via the MobileMe service, I hoped that Mac users finally had an alternative to Microsoft’s expensive and complicated Exchange service, with its "push" email, and collaborative address book and calendars.

Email itself has always had drawbacks. It’s inefficient for quick dialogue, and it doesn’t let you involve a whole bunch of people in a town hall-like forum. But instant messaging, through AIM or iChat or what-have-you, feels invasive and annoying to many people.

Oddly, I think we have given up on easy collaboration and sharing of documents. I used to work for a newspaper, and it amazed me how unwieldy the process of editing an article was: getting a document attached to an email, saving it on a server, printing it out so others could read it, emailing the writer back an attachment… That was seven years ago, and most production environments are still doing things that way.

Well, I hate to be maudlin and melodramatic about this, but I’ve gotten my answer, and it is Google Apps.

With Google Apps, the members of my organization can see each other’s calendars, and schedule each other. The appointments show up immediately on our phones. We can email each other address book cards, or look up client contact information online. We can keep client histories as Google Docs, publish them for the appropriate client’s eyes only, and reference them on our phones when the need arises. We can publish spreadsheets so people can calculate, for example, the cost of setting up a small network in their home or office. And those forms I mentioned earlier? Incredibly easy to create in Google Docs, and when someone submits their reply, it automatically sends their answers to a spreadsheet that holds everyone else’s responses as well!

We can even video chat with each other, in a plain ol’ flippin’ web browser!

Google’s new service is either totally free — that’s the flavor we have chosen — or if you need the beefier version of it, with 24/7 tech support and greater storage per user, it costs an extremely reasonable $50/year. Their cost comparison with Microsoft Exchange is enlightening.

In addition, we are taking advantage of a more new-fangled service called Yammer, which enables the three of us to message each other in a running narrative that we can all see. Yammer is based on the idea of Twitter; both are geared toward short messages, and rely heavily on text messaging for posting and receiving updates. This is, for me, an important substitute for email, which is too cumbersome for quick updates while on the go. Yammer’s cost? You know it: $0.

I almost hesitate to mention the phone-number service I am using, because it’s now no longer accepting new sign-ups. I hope that Google re-opens GrandCentral to the public soon.

The new website itself is powered by WordPress, possibly the most accessible and versatile blogging and web publishing system available today. One can publish a WordPress blog for free, or as in our case, it’s a plug-in included with my $4/month GoDaddy web hosting package that I’ve had since the beginning. It took a few days to massage the design into a form I mostly liked, and I took a few months to sit on it, tweak it, and work out the kinks — and I finally feel like it’s a functional extension of this business.

I cannot overstate my gratitude to the guys at Swirl for helping me put a new face on our business — Carlos Zapata gave us a hip new logo, and Jason Risner’s photography makes us look way better than we deserve.

I have posted more information on these services and the way we use them on the blog, here and here. Again, this whole on-the-go, location-agnostic way of working was not possible two or three years ago, certainly not with the minimal effort and expenditure we have spent.
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A little learning, a lot of savings

This last year has taught me so much about how to use these new services to communicate with my team, manage my tasks and priorities, stay in touch with my personal and professional relations, and save money in the process.

I know that so many of our clients are paying more than they need to for email and web site solutions that don’t even give them what they need. And I know that many people feel that they aren’t using the technlogy that they’ve invested in to its full advantage.

Let J2 help you, your business, and your household get more for less. Please call us at 210.787.2709 to schedule a consultation.

 

With gratitude and respect,

Jonathan