Like many people, we spent much of last week watching the news of the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and the increase in cases of COVID-19. TidBITS coverage largely followed suit, with a general article about COVID-19, an article about Apple’s response to the pandemic, and news of how Apple is transforming WWDC into an online event. Plus, for those working from home unexpectedly, Take Control Books published the free Take Control of Working from Home Temporarily. If you’re looking for something more fun to while away the hours, new contributor Connie Laubenthal joins us with a review of the Black Ink crossword app for the Mac. Finally, Julio Ojeda-Zapata looks at ways of automating window positioning using built-in macOS features and various third-party utilities. Notable Mac app releases this week include Tinderbox 8.6, CorelDRAW 2020, SoundSource 4.2.2, and VMware Fusion 11.5.2.
The spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has forced many people to start working from home, which will help promote social distancing and slow the infection rate. But as attractive as working from home might seem, it comes with its own set of challenges. To help you cope, our friends at Take Control Books brainstormed and drafted topics that Glenn Fleishman wrote up in a new, free book: Take Control of Working from Home Temporarily.
The 55-page book is designed for those who are suddenly confronted with the realities of telecommuting. It starts by talking about staking out a physical space in your home, equipping it with furniture that provides decent ergonomics, and choosing gear and apps you’ll need for audio calls and videoconferencing. Although it may already be hard to acquire what you need, it won’t get any easier in the near future.
For those who haven’t worked from home before, much of the difficulty comes in creating the necessary psychological separation from your home life, particularly if you have a partner, roommates, or an extended family. Parenting while telecommuting is tough too, and Tonya Engst contributed the bulk of a chapter on that topic, based on two decades of experience having our son Tristan around while running TidBITS Publishing.
Finally, it’s all too easy when working at home to go heads-down for way too many hours. So the book encourages you to be kind to yourself when it comes to taking breaks, not replacing a commute with more work, and making time for exercise.
Thanks to all who contributed, and particular kudos to Glenn for turning this book out so quickly and to Take Control publisher Joe Kissell, who edited and produced the book and who is making it available for free.
Ending weeks of speculation, Apple has announced that its Worldwide Developers Conference will take place in June… entirely online. In a masterful bit of PR spin, Apple said:
WWDC 2020 will take on an entirely new online format packed with content for consumers, press and developers alike. The online event will be an opportunity for millions of creative and innovative developers to get early access to the future of iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS, and engage with Apple engineers as they work to build app experiences that enrich the lives of Apple customers around the globe.
Of course, hidden inside that announcement is the fact that Apple has dispensed with the physical Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, much the way Google canceled I/O and Facebook canceled F8. All three companies will offer sessions and training online, but where the statements from Google and Facebook were inherently negative, Apple managed to make its announcement sound as though it’s a win.
In fact, it may be a win. Only 6000 or so developers could attend WWDC in person, with $1599 tickets distributed via lottery, which means that most Apple developers stood no chance of being able to attend. We really are talking “most,” since Apple claims 23 million developers around the world. The company has never said how many developers entered the lottery, but it’s a safe bet that those 6000 tickets weren’t nearly sufficient to meet demand.
The loss of the in-person component aspect of WWDC will hit businesses on the edge of the conference hard, and Apple said it would commit $1 million to local San Jose organizations to offset the revenue loss. Facebook is also donating $500,000 to San Jose organizations.
It has been hard to think of anything but COVID-19 of late, not the least because a number of TidBITS contributors live in Seattle, which is particularly hard hit, and because Cornell University here in Ithaca, like some other universities, has just canceled all classes for the next three weeks, with everything taking place online after spring break. Cornell also canceled all events with over 100 people, which affected a major race that I help manage, though that would also have been hit by New York State’s subsequent ban on events with over 500 attendees. Conferences are canceling or postponing left and right, organizations are having employees work from home, and there are bare spots on grocery store shelves. Tomorrow will probably be mostly like today, but will that be true of next week? Next month?
This article stems from a need to say something, even if it’s mostly to acknowledge that we’re confronting the same level of uncertainty as everyone else. It’s a small contribution, but if you have ideas about other ways TidBITS can provide uniquely useful information, please tell us in the comments. For now, though, a few thoughts and links.
The first thing that comes to mind is terminology, since we at TidBITS are particular about how we use words, and usage is all over the map. For writers like me, it’s comforting to know exactly what to call this disease.
According to the World Health Organization, the official name of the disease is coronavirus disease, abbreviated to COVID-19. The virus that causes the disease has been named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, abbreviated to SARS-CoV-2.
Apple and WWDC
A fair amount has been written about how COVID-19 is affecting Apple over the past few months. Until now, we haven’t covered those issues because they aren’t unique to Apple, they don’t affect most users, there’s nothing anyone can do about them, and some are just inside baseball.
For instance, Apple’s financials will be hurt in the short term due to slowdowns in manufacturing and lower sales in China. Apple closed, and then reopened, its stores and offices in China, and the company also closed some stores in Italy and restricted travel.
Other reports have noted that Apple is suffering a shortage of replacement iPhones and some parts. Apple is letting employees work from home, and the company is rejecting apps related to COVID-19 that aren’t from official health organizations or government to combat the spread of misinformation.
Most notably, Apple just announced that its Worldwide Developer Conference will take place entirely online (see “Apple Moves WWDC Entirely Online,” 13 March 2020). That’s better than most conferences, which have canceled entirely—we drafted our usual list of all Apple-related conferences, but we can’t see any utility to publishing it now.
There, you’re caught up (to when this article was written, at least), if you want to be. More COVID-19 news related to Apple will undoubtedly be coming down the pike.
Rely on Quality Informational Resources
As a professional writer and journalist, I think hard about the resources I turn to for information. When it comes to COVID-19, I’ve come up with a geographic hierarchy of sources.
- Start with the World Health Organization. The name says it all.
- Move on to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Again, the name is apt.
- Look for state (such as New York State for me) and local (Tompkins County) government information that’s more relevant to your everyday life. Other countries likely have similar regional and local hierarchies.
- If you have kids, be sure to check your local school district’s resources. (I’ve been impressed with the advice from our Ithaca City School District—the information has been clear, concise, and helpful.)
Although there have been many well-written and useful articles about COVID-19, make sure that anything you’re reading has been updated in the last day or two. Events are moving so fast that articles from a week or two ago may be interesting, but their authors may now have different advice or conclusions. I prefer analysis dashboards and frequently updated pages, most notably the following:
- Johns Hopkins Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases: This dashboard provides constantly updating numbers of confirmed cases, deaths, and recoveries, broken down by geographic area. The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security also publishes daily situation reports that provide a useful summary of what’s happening.
- Our World in Data Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – Research and Statistics: Our World in Data is a collaboration of the University of Oxford and the Global Change Data Lab, and its page on COVID-19 offers quality information on numerous aspects of the pandemic.
- The Internet Book of Critical Care: COVID-19: This online book is the work of Josh Farkas, an attending intensivist at the University of Vermont with years of ICU experience. It’s aimed at medical professionals but could provide useful details about how doctors think about COVID-19.
I realize this stance falls into the category of spitting into the wind, but I strongly recommend against getting information via connections on Facebook and Twitter, or from random YouTube videos. The links might be fine, but there’s so much misinformation out there that you’ll have to do a lot more vetting of any particular resource than if you go directly to health organization experts. When evaluating anything you read that’s not directly from a health organization, ask yourself three questions:
- Who is the publisher? Major outlets like the New York Times, the Atlantic, and the Washington Post generally do quality reporting and have fact-checkers. If you haven’t heard of the site before, does it seem to be focused on health or science?
- What are the author’s credentials? There’s a compelling Medium post (where anyone can post) making the rounds that has a ton of graphs and seems to be saying sensible things, but the author is a marketing guy. His analysis might be right, but put your trust in healthcare professionals, scientists in appropriate fields, and other experts.
- Are there references to reputable publications? This is the Web—there is no reason not to link to original sources. If anything seems off (“would the New England Journal of Medicine really have suggested coronavirus infections are caused by 5G wireless?”), you can and should follow references to make sure they’re being used appropriately.
So stay safe out there, whether that means washing your hands regularly or cleansing your information diet of dangerous misinformation.
As cases of the COVID-19 pandemic skyrocket outside of China, Apple has issued a statement from CEO Tim Cook that outlines what Apple is doing. The company’s actions are all positive, and absolutely the sort of things that one of the wealthiest companies on the planet should be doing. They include:
- Closing Stores: All Apple retail stores outside of China are closing until 27 March 2020. Given that over 1 million people visit an Apple retail store every day normally, this unprecedented move will help slow the spread of COVID-19. Apple’s online stores remain open. It will be interesting to see if Apple extends the closure in parts of the world, depending on the local COVID-19 infection rate.
- Giving Back: Apple has committed financial donations of $15 million worldwide to help treat victims of COVID-19 and lessen the economic community impacts. Apple is also matching employee donations two-to-one to support COVID-19 responses around the world.
- Employee Programs: Outside of China, all Apple offices are moving to flexible work arrangements, with many employees working remotely. Employees who must work on-site will receive health screenings and temperature checks. Hourly workers will continue to be paid, and the company has expanded leave policies to accommodate personal or family health circumstances created by COVID-19. All Apple sites will undergo extensive deep cleaning.
- Apple News: In the News app, you’ll now find a special section in the sidebar for COVID-19 articles from trusted outlets. While I generally support this addition, I would caution against reading so much that it causes you to obsess about the situation.
- WWDC: As we noted in “Apple Moves WWDC Entirely Online” (13 March 2020), Apple has canceled the in-person aspect of its Worldwide Developer Conference and is creating a new, online format that will provide additional access for more of the 23 million Apple developers around the world.
- Apple Card COVID-19 Customer Assistance Program: For those hurt financially by the pandemic, contact Apple Card Support in Messages from Wallet (tap ••• and then the Messages button) and say “I would like to enroll in the Customer Assistance Program.” It allows you to skip your March payment without incurring interest charges.
Cook closed the statement with words both realistic and optimistic:
There is no mistaking the challenge of this moment. The entire Apple family is indebted to the heroic first responders, doctors, nurses, researchers, public health experts and public servants globally who have given every ounce of their spirit to help the world meet this moment. We do not yet know with certainty when the greatest risk will be behind us.
And yet I have been inspired by the humanity and determination I have seen from all corners of our global community. As President Lincoln said in a time of great adversity: “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”
Once again, stay safe out there, and remember to wash your hands regularly. The CDC notes that plain old soap is the best option and the temperature of the water doesn’t matter.
Black Ink is a Mac-based crossword puzzle app from Red Sweater Software. It gives you access to any crossword puzzle using the Across Lite format, which typically has a .puz extension. The default sources it offers include the Wall Street Journal crossword, Chronicle of Higher Education, New York Times Premium Crossword, and American Values Club.
The last two choices require a subscription: $6.95 per month for the New York Times and $20 per year for American Values Club. Red Sweater offers clear instructions on how to obtain additional puzzles (File > Open Web Puzzle > Get More Puzzles) and tells you whether or not there is a paywall. There is also an option to open Across Lite puzzle files that you downloaded from the Web or received through email.
Black Ink offers many useful features for the crossword aficionado. The first of these is the capability to check a puzzle clue answer at the letter, word, or puzzle level (look in Solution > Check). I tend to run through the across clues, check the puzzle to identify wrong answers, and then either delete or change my answers. Wrong answers are indicated by a red “x” in the letter box.
In Black Ink, the puzzle remembers which words you have checked. So, even though you may have eliminated a wrong answer, when you enter another letter into a box that was checked previously, it will recheck that letter. If correct, it will put a green checkmark in the box. This might be disconcerting at first because boxes that originally had no letters in them when checked do not display either a red X or a green checkmark, whether or not the letter in that box is correct. In other words, you can end up with an incorrect down answer with one letter with a green checkmark because that letter is correct, but the remainder of the word hasn’t been checked. Once you realize this is how Black Ink works, it isn’t a problem.
The second notably helpful feature is Reveal (Solution > Reveal). I love using this option when I get stuck, particularly when the clue has to do with a person who is popular in an area I’m not familiar with, such as a particular movie or music genre. It saves me from having to resort to one of the many crossword puzzle answer Web sites.
Some may call this cheating, but I solve crossword puzzles for entertainment, not for competition. Sometimes you just can’t work through enough other clues to find the answer to the clue you are stuck on. A nice part of Black Ink’s Reveal feature is that it tags the letters that it filled in with a blue eye symbol in the box. That lets you know how much of the puzzle, if any, you needed help with. To me, this is an incentive to use the option only as a last resort.
For those more serious than I about their crossword puzzle solving, Black Ink can time how long you take to solve the puzzle. The timer appears at the bottom of the window, and it’s easy to pause or reset it as needed.
Something to note is that when you open a puzzle source, you get the puzzle for that day. But later on, if you open a puzzle from the same source, you get the previous day’s puzzle. This feature lets you open an earlier puzzle if you missed a day. Both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal crosswords are set up so Monday’s puzzle is very easy, but the puzzles get progressively harder through the week until Saturday. So, if you only occasionally do puzzles and want easy ones, it might be best to aim for Mondays. You can select the puzzle source (the Red Sweater Web site offers a nice guide to other options) to optimize the difficulty level, or just work your way through the week from easy to more difficult.
Overall, Black Ink is easy to use and a good fit for any puzzler from beginner to advanced, thanks in large part to its Reveal feature. If you already have a New York Times subscription, it’s a nice way to do the crossword puzzle digitally on your Mac.
Black Ink is free to use with all features for 14 days, after which it costs $29.95 to unlock all features. The price feels reasonable if you will be using it regularly, given its advanced features. As a regular crossword puzzler, I’m a fan.
Don’t squander precious time manually repositioning and resizing Mac windows over and over again. You can automate such drudgery to a large degree.
macOS offers some help. You’re probably aware of Split View, which puts two windows side-by-side in full-screen mode, and Apple has built in additional capabilities. Third-party utilities give you even more window control. There are many such apps out there, and even general-purpose utilities like Keyboard Maestro can help you move windows around.
One window-positioning utility, Magnet, is a zero-configuration tool that anticipates what presets users want. It was my favorite app of this kind for a long time. Last I checked, the $1.99 app sat atop the Mac App Store’s productivity category.
Another, Moom, lets you customize your window behavior. I weaned myself off Magnet and went all-in with Moom because of its flexibility. You can buy Moom for $10 directly from its developer, Many Tricks, or through the Mac App Store.
Magnet and Moom provide a capability I have envied in Microsoft Windows and Google’s ChromeOS: “window snapping.” When you drag windows to the edges of the screen, window snapping causes them to snap into particular positions and shapes.
More on Magnet and Moom in a bit—let’s look at what macOS can do for you first.
macOS Window Positioning Capabilities
Starting with macOS 10.11 El Capitan, Apple gave us Split View. Click a window’s green full-screen button at the upper left. As you hold the button, the window shrinks, and you can drag it to the left or right side of the screen. Release the button and then click a window on the other side of the screen to add it to Split View.
In 10.15 Catalina, Apple simplified the interface. Hover the pointer over a full-screen button and a menu appears with options to tile the window to the left or the right of the display. Choose one of those options, and macOS prompts you to select one of the remaining windows to fill the rest of the screen. That menu also provides an option to make a single window full-screen. That also happens if you tile one window but no additional windows are available to fill the remaining space.
Strangely, Apple’s help article about Split View makes no mention of a hidden feature in Catalina that gives you additional window-positioning options that don’t invoke full-screen mode.
Hover your pointer over the green button while pressing the Option key for a few seconds to see a different set of commands that let you move windows to the left or right instead of tiling them—meaning the windows are not taken full-screen but simply shifted to one half of the screen or the other.
While you’re Option-hovering, you also get a zoom button that causes a window to fill up the screen (minus the space occupied by the Dock and menu bar) without going full-screen. (In older versions of macOS, you can Option-click the full-screen button to maximize a window.)
I tip my hat to Scholle McFarland for including this information in her book, Take Control of Catalina, especially since so few others have noticed it.
Magnetize Your Screen Edges
Magnet gets you up and running quickly. Its menu bar presets include icons as well as text descriptors that make them instantly understandable. Magnet’s keyboard shortcuts strike me as difficult to memorize, but your brain might be up for the job.
Regardless, you can resize Mac windows as left and right halves, as top and bottom halves, as quarter spaces, as one-third or two-thirds windows, and more, with results that never go full-screen. That’s usually my preference since it keeps the Dock and menu bar visible. If you have multiple displays, Magnet also offers Next Display and Previous Display commands to easily move windows from screen to screen.
For an easier approach, use Magnet’s mouse-based window positioning, which snaps windows into several positions and sizes:
- Dragging a window to the display’s left or right edge triggers half-screen resizing.
- Dragging a window to the top maximizes it (but does not take it full-screen).
- Dragging to the corners of the screen triggers top-bottom halving or quartering, depending on precisely where you position the cursor. This takes a little practice.
- Dragging to the bottom creates one-third or two-thirds windows, depending on exactly where you put the cursor. Again, practice makes perfect.
These dragging motions conjure up preview outlines of windows—as in Windows and ChromeOS—to guide you in achieving the desired positioning.
Tweak Moom to Your Liking
Power users seeking greater window-positioning superpowers should give Moom a look. You must be willing to tinker, though, since Moom offers only a few basic features until you customize it to your needs.
You can run Moom as a Dock or menu bar app, but the latter makes the most sense because it simplifies accessing your customized windows-positioning presets.
To get started, open Moom’s preferences and click Custom. You’ll find lots of options, but I suggest you start with Move and Zoom.
You’re presented with a grid that functions as a tiny facsimile of the screen. Drag your pointer across the grid to make a square or rectangle that corresponds to a hypothetical window’s onscreen shape and position. From then on, choose that preset from the Moom menu to position and size any window to those specs. If necessary for more precise positioning, you can tweak the grid’s horizontal and vertical cell density before creating presets.
I’ve used this feature to create presets that center windows with a variety of widths—narrower if I am browsing the Web and wider if I am working with others in a Google Doc and need enough room for team comments on the right side. I’ve also created presets that position windows that take up two-thirds of the left or right of my screen.
You can also use Moom to reposition multiple windows at once. I often need a wider Google Chrome window to the left and a narrower one to the right. This was easy to set up. First, I manually positioned two Chrome windows exactly to my liking. Then, I chose the Save Window Layout Snapshot from the Moom menu. From then on, with two Chrome windows anywhere on the screen, I could instantly snap them into my preferred positioning. I also fashioned a preset for left and right Chrome windows of equal size.
Moom even supports scenarios that involve multiple apps. I often like to put a one-column Twitter client such as Tweetbot or Twitterrific on the left side of my display, with a Chrome window filling up the rest of the screen. Choosing Save Window Layout Snapshot saves this configuration in place. After that, when the Twitter client or Chrome is out of position, tidying them up is a cinch.
In addition, Moom takes over the green full-screen button in windows much the way Split View does in Catalina, but with more options in its hover menu. Hover the pointer over the full-screen button and you’ll see clickable icons for left and right halving, top and bottom halving, and maximizing.
Hold down the Option key while hovering and Moom presents you with quarter-window options. If you pine for Catalina’s default hover menu, press Command (or Command and then Option) as you hover, and its menu will appear.
Wait, there’s more! Moom offers a window “drawing” option via its hover menu. That means you can drag out a rectangle for on-the-fly resizing of your window in the proportions and positioning you want. You invoke this feature in one of two ways, depending on how you have configured Moom’s preferences:
- In the hover menu, click the large icon that looks like a window outline (see image above). Moom displays a similar outline on your screen, and you can reposition and resize while holding down your mouse button. Release the mouse button when the outline is to your liking, and the window snaps to the rectangle you’ve drawn.
- In the hover menu, you’ll see a hexagon-style grid. Drag your pointer across that grid to fill up any number of hexagons—the left half of the grid, the right two thirds, and so on. Moom reorients your window accordingly.
As a bonus, Moom includes window snapping via mouse dragging, but with fewer positioning options than Magnet provides. Moom provides only half-screen, quarter-screen, and maximize options.
Missing from Moom is a Magnet-style option to move windows from display to display with a keyboard shortcut.
I’ve focused on Magnet and Moom because they’re the window-resizing utilities I’ve used the most. Also, based on my research, I believe they offer the best mix of features for maximum versatility.
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you to a few other options.
- Divvy ($13.99): If you just want grid-based window management à la Moom, Divvy is for you. Draw on a pop-up mini-grid to resize windows on the fly, or configure presets for standard configurations. (For those who use Windows as well as macOS, note that Divvy also exists for PCs.)
- BetterSnapTool ($2.99): If you care mostly about window snapping, BetterSnapTool is the best choice I have seen that offers more granular control than Magnet and Moom. This app was also among the top-ranked paid apps in the Mac App Store’s productivity section last I checked.
- BetterTouchTool ($6.50): Best known as a utility to turbocharge Apple trackpads and the Touch Bar on MacBook Pro laptops, BetterTouchTool provides window snapping, resizing, and moving controls. It’s also available via the $9.99-per-month Setapp app subscription service.
- Rectangle. If free and open source is your jam, this Magnet-like utility might satisfy with features roughly comparable to Magnet. The publisher also offers the $7.99 Hookshot, which offers all of Rectangle’s features and adds additional window-snapping features.
- Mosaic. If you use Setapp, you have nothing to lose by kicking the tires on Mosaic, but I found it a bit confusing.
Window Positioning Nirvana
Given the abundance of window-resizing utilities for macOS, there’s no reason to move and resize macOS windows manually all the time. If you find yourself constantly fiddling to get all your windows in just the right spot, macOS’s built-in controls or one of these utilities might be just the thing.
Some people will be satisfied with macOS’s native window-positioning features, which Apple improved in Catalina. If you want more, I recommend Moom because it offers a good mix of features along with a ton of customizability. For those with less inclination to tinker but who still wanting versatility, Magnet is a fantastic—and inexpensive—option.
Regardless, you have the tools at your fingertips to increase your Mac efficiency.