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Google Drive software for Mac will merge Google Workspace and consumer versions, and lose selective sync ability

There are a ton of cloud storage providers at this point: Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Apple iCloud Drive, Google Drive, and more.

Google Drive has been gradually displacing Dropbox over many years as the cloud drive of choice for those who need to share documents, and who are not embedded in Microsoft’s world.

While it’s possible to use Google Drive entirely on the web, and my guess is that it’s what most people do, a much more pleasant experience, in my opinion, is to install software on your computer that makes your Google Drive appear as though it is any other folder on your computer. You can just save items into it and copy items out of it directly without uploading or download, by using the Finder or another Mac application. This is, of course, the way Dropbox and iCloud Drive are typically used. (If you open a document from the Finder that was created with Google Docs, it will open in your web browser, since there is no dedicated Mac application for it.)

To date, using Google Drive software on a Mac (or Windows PC, for that matter) has been confusing, because there are two entirely different pieces of software that provide your files. It’s Google. Are you surprised? This is all about to change, but right now, these are:

  • Backup and Sync from Google: this is available to anyone with any kind of Google account, free or paid. It downloads a copy of everything in your Google Drive to your computer, except for folders you can choose to manually exclude, making them only visible on the web. (Dropbox and OneDrive have similar “selective sync” capabilities; iCloud Drive does not.) Your Google Drive contents appear as a Mac folder in your home folder, same as with Dropbox and OneDrive. This software does not offer “smart sync” or “files on demand” capabilities like Dropbox, OneDrive, and iCloud Drive, in which the full contents of your Google Drive are shown to you without the files actually taking up space on your computer. Instead, the entire contents of your Google Drive will be fully downloaded to your computer, except for any folders you exclude (this is like disabling Dropbox Smart Sync, OneDrive Files On Demand, or iCloud Drive “Optimize Mac Storage”).
  • Google Drive File Stream: this is only available to users with Google Workspace (formerly called G Suite, and before that Google Apps) accounts. Your Google Drive will appear as an external drive on your computer. Like Dropbox Smart Sync, OneDrive Files On Demand, or iCloud Drive Optimize Mac Storage, the full contents of your drive are shown to you, but are not stored on your computer; they are only downloaded the first time you try to open a file (which won’t work if you’re offline at that moment). Unlike Backup and Sync from Google, you can’t exclude certain folders from appearing entirely, and you can’t default to automatically downloading the full contents of your drive to your computer, if that’s what you want.

It’s actually possible to install both Backup and Sync from Google and Google Drive File Stream, and there are some use cases for it (such as wanting to access files in two different Google Drives). Signing into the same account with both does work, though Google discourages it. I did this for a little while when I wanted to have some folders always downloaded and available, and the others visible in the Finder without taking up space on my drive. I eventually gave up on both and switched to Dropbox, because it has, in my experience, more reliable synchronization, and both Smart Sync and selective sync capabilities under one roof.

Anyway, Google is now merging these two products into one, which, for simplicity’s sake, I think it is a good idea. More or less, features from Backup and Sync from Google are being folded into Google Drive File Stream, and being made available to all Google users. Google Drive File Stream has already been given the new name for this hybrid, “Google Drive for desktop” (though at this transitional moment moment it did what Google Drive File Stream always did, and remains available only to Google Workspace users). Google has helpfully provided a full list of features of the both old products and the forthcoming new product.

What’s being added to the existing Google Drive File Stream is the “backup” part of Backup and Sync from Google, which keeps copies of what’s on your desktop, documents folder, and photos. I always disable those features; Google has enough of my life without also having the entirety of my computer, and I don’t know that I trust their technology more than I do more comprehensive, dedicated backup solutions like Backblaze.

What’s being taken away is the “Selective Sync” feature of Backup and Sync from Google, and probably the ability to have everything downloaded to your computer all the time, if I’m reading between the lines correctly. This might not affect that many people, but if either feature is something you use, you might need to adjust your habits, or switch to a service that offers equivalent behavior, like Dropbox.

Making Mac Mail in Big Sur behave more like previous versions

Apple made some changes to Mac Mail in Big Sur (and, presumably, forthcoming versions) that some are finding disorienting.

The old behavior, as it has stood approximately forever, is that the “special folders” of accounts — Inbox, Sent, Drafts, Junk, Trash, and Archive — were collected together and shown at the top left in the column of mail folders and accounts, and could be viewed mixed together, or individually. Any additional folders, such as filed mail, were then shown per-account, each in their own section, below.

The new behavior, which I personally don’t love but it is what it is, is that that the Inbox, Sent, Drafts, Junk, Trash, and Archive folders for each account are now shown within each account below, in addition to any other folders present, whereas they used to be hidden and only shown up top.

However, the old behavior is provided by a new “Favorites” section at top left, and it is here that the Inbox, Sent, Drafts, Junk, Trash, and Archive folders are shown aggregated, as before. But, by default, not all of them are shown — you only get Inbox and Sent. To restore the rest of them, you need to click on the tiny + sign to the right of Favorites, and then enable what you want to see.

Mail then appear much as it did before, except that the Inbox, Sent, Drafts, Junk, Trash, and Archive folders also appear under each account, below the Favorites section. What under “Favorites” can be thought of as shortcuts or aliases to the folders within each account; it doesn’t matter which you use, except that Favorites does allow you to see multiple accounts mixed together.

One nice improvement is that you can designate any other folder for the Favorites section as well by control-clicking on it and choosing “Add To Favorites”. So if you have a couple of filed mail folders you want to be able to quickly get to, you can have them also appear in the upper left.

What will Apple give you for your old Mac, iPhone, or iPad?

Apple, for the last few years, will let you “trade in” an older model of one of their products. This can be done at any time, not only when you’re purchasing something new; they’ll give you a gift card with the value of the trade-in.

To see what they’ll give you for your old stuff, go to this page: Apple Trade-In

Scroll down to the middle of the screen, to where it says “Trade In And Get Apple Gift Card Credit.” Immediately beneath that, click your device type, and enter its serial number, which the page will tell you how to do. You can then choose whether you want to take your old device to an Apple Store, or you want an empty box shipped to you and conduct the trade in by mail.

What Apple is offering here is convenience — it’s safe to say what you’re going to get is well below the fair market price. But if you’ve got old Apple stuff sitting around gathering dust, you’ve got little to lose by trading it in.

Make sure that you fully erase the device before you give it to Apple — on iPads and iPhones, this is easily done under Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content And Settings. Macs are considerably more unwieldy; see Apple’s instructions on What to do before you sell, give away, or trade in your Mac. Make sure to complete step 7, which itself links off to more instructions. (The forthcoming macOS 12 Monterey finally simplifies this process.)


Image of vintage iMacs at TekServe by Shinya Suzuki, courtesy Flickr Creative Commons.

The strange version numbers of Microsoft Office for Mac

Microsoft Office for Mac has been around forever. In recent history, since 2015 or so, rather than waiting for a single great big new version every few years, Office now receives an update every month, and these updates bring both new features and bug fixes.

The one-time purchase also gets monthly updates until three years after its original release date, and then two years of security updates and bug fixes (but no new features) after that. There are also a few features (like ribbon customization) available only to 365 subscribers, though Microsoft doesn’t list what they are; they just call them “Premium,” as opposed to “Classic.” (Thanks, Microsoft!)

Release notes for all versions going back to version 15.30 (January 2017) are here and downloads to old versions are here.

Here’s a list of some of the significant versions of Microsoft Office for Mac that have been released, for history and reference.

Office for Mac 16.49 (June 2021): current version

Office for Mac 16.43 (Nov 2020): final version to support macOS 10.13 High Sierra

Office for Mac 16.42 (Oct 2020): first version to introduce “new Outlook” option (Microsoft) (The Verge) (The Register)

Office for Mac 16.29.1 (Sept 2019): final version to support macOS 10.12 Sierra

Office for Mac 16.17 (Sept 2018): first version of Office for Mac 2019

Office for Mac 16.16.27 (Oct 2020): final bug fix and security update for Office for Mac 2016; final version to support macOS 10.10 Yosemite and 10.11 El Capitan

Office for Mac 16.16 (Aug 2018): final “feature-freeze” version of Office for Mac 2016, with future updates only containing bug fix and security updates

Office for Mac 16.9 (Jan 2018): first “Windows unified code” release, follows version 15.41 from Dec 2017; starts at .9 because lower numbers were pre-release versions (Jamf Blog)

Office for Mac 15.25 (Aug 2016): first 64-bit version; optional final 32-bit variant available via separate download (Microsoft)

Office for Mac 15.14 (Sept 2015): first version of Office for Mac 2016 available in one-time purchase edition

Office for Mac 15.12 (July 2015): first version of Office for Mac 2016, for 365 subscribers only. This is a little confusing. Currently, the software is just called “Office”; “Office 2019” only refers to getting it by one-time purchase, rather than subscribing. But, for versions 15.12 through 16.16.27, the software itself was called “Office 2016”, and was initially only provided to those paying for Office 2011 via a 365 subscription, before being made available as a one-time purchase a couple of months later. (Microsoft)

Outlook for Mac 15.3 (Oct 2014): first major new Office app version released after Office 2011, released only to people paying by 365 subscription; released several months before the rest of the refreshed Office apps, which appeared in version 15.12 (Microsoft) (Talking Moose via Google Cache)

Office for Mac 14.7.7 (Sept 2017): final version of Office for Mac 2011; final version to support macOS 10.5 Leopard through 10.9 Mavericks

Office for Mac 14.0.0 (Oct 2010): first version of Office for Mac 2011

Entourage 13.1.6 (late 2013?): final version of Entourage Web Services Edition (same compatibility as Office 12.x)

Entourage 13.0.0 (Aug 2009): first version of Entourage Web Services Edition (predecessor to Outlook for Mac); optional supplement to Office 2008 (Microsoft)

Office for Mac 12.3.6 (Sept 2013): final version of Office for Mac 2008; final version to support macOS Tiger; final version to support PowerPC based Macs

Office for Mac 12.0.0 (Jan 2008): first version of Office for Mac 2008

Microsoft Office (Word/Excel/PowerPoint/Outlook): subscribe to 365, or buy outright?

Microsoft Office for Mac — that is, the suite of applications that includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook (Home & Business edition and 365 subscription edition only), OneNote, Teams, and OneDrive — receives a new update monthly. The current version in July 2021 is version 16.50, next month will be 16.50, etc.

As of July 2021, you can subscribe to the Office software via the following Microsoft 365 plans:

  • 365 Personal: use on five computers by one person, $69/year
  • 365 Family: use on six computers by up to six people (they can have their own Microsoft logins), $99/year
  • 365 Apps: business plan with per user pricing at $8.25/month
  • 365 Business Standard: per user pricing that includes both Office software and Exchange email hosting at $12.50/month
  • a different 365 business plan (there are many) that includes both software and email hosting, with per user pricing

You can also buy the Office software outright, as a one-time purchase:

  • Office Home & Student 2019, one computer (but sometimes 2-3 works), $149
  • Office Home & Business 2019, one computer (but sometimes 2-3 works), $249

If you buy it as a one-time purchase, it’s mostly the same, but:

  • You don’t get Outlook if you buy the Home & Student version; you’ll need the Home & Business version
  • You can’t customize the “ribbon” of icons across the top of the screen (this limitation is truly bewildering, and unique to the Mac edition)
  • You don’t get access to the iOS/iPadOS versions of the apps
  • You don’t get OneDrive (Microsoft’s version of Dropbox or Google Drive) storage
  • You get monthly updates for three years after the product’s original release date, after which you’ll be “frozen” on whatever monthly version it’s at; and then you’ll get monthly security and compatibility updates for that frozen version for two more years, and then those will stop too. So, the later you buy Office after the original release date, the shorter a shelf life it has in terms of updates. You can keep using your frozen version indefinitely, but if it becomes incompatible with a future version of macOS, you’ll need to again buy or subscribe to the current version of Office. At the time of this writing, it’s probably not a good time to buy Office 2019, because it was introduced nearly three years ago.
    • For example, Office 2016 was released as a one-time purchase in September 2015. If you bought Office 2016, you got monthly updates until you were “frozen” in August 2018, at version 16.16, while subscribers got to go on to version 16.17, which also became the start of Office 2019. Security and compatibility updates for Office 2016 continued monthly for two years starting with version 16.16.2, until October 2020, when version 16.16.27 became the very final version.
    • If Microsoft repeats this pattern, then in August 2021, version 16.51 will become the last version of Office 2019, and then version 16.52 will become the first version of Office 2022 (though, breaking with tradition, it appears it will be called Office 2021). Then buyers of Office 2019 will receive monthly security updates for two years, in the form of 16.51.2, 16.51.3, etc, until topping out around 16.52.27 in October 2023.
    • This means it’s probably better to not to buy Office 2019 right now; I would subscribe for a few months if I needed it now, then buy Office 2022. (Or I would just keep the subscription so I don’t have to think about it.)
    • (Based on comments in a conversation I started on Microsoft’s support forums, receiving any kind of feature updates at all for the one-time purchase is unique to the Mac edition of Office; the one-time purchase Windows edition is feature-frozen from the outset, so there is no guarantee Microsoft won’t apply the same policy to the Mac edition at some point. But they haven’t so far.)

Microsoft Office [Word/Excel/PowerPoint/Outlook]: macOS version compatibility

Microsoft Office only supports the last three versions of macOS. So if you want to install it onto an older version of macOS, you need to know what the last supported version number is. You can download that from Update History for Office for Mac, or use the direct links provided here.

Big Sur (11), Catalina (10.15), and Mojave (10.14) support the current version of Office, which, as of July 2021, is 16.50.

High Sierra (10.13): The last supported version is 16.43. Direct link: Office for Mac 16.43

Sierra (10.12): The last supported version is 16.29, with Word, Excel and PowerPoint updates to 16.29.1. Direct links: Office for Mac 16.29 / Word 16.29.1 update / Excel 16.29.1 update / PowerPoint 16.29.1 update

El Capitan (10.11) and Yosemite (10.10): The last supported version is 16.16.27 (aka Office 2016). Direct link: Office 16.16.27

Mavericks (10.9), Mountain Lion (10.8), Lion (10.7), Snow Leopard (10.6), Leopard (10.5): The last supported version is 14.7.7 (aka Office 2011). Direct link: Office 14.7.7

Tiger (10.4): The last supported version is 12.3.6 (Office 2008), with optional Entourage Web Services Edition 13.1.6.

Panther (10.3), Jaguar (10.2): The last supported version is 11.6.6 (Office 2004).

Puma (10.1): The last supported version is 10.1.9 (Office v.X).

Cheetah (10.0): No supported version of Office. Cheetah was, for all intents and purposes, unusable.

Mac OS 9: The last supported version is 9.0.6 (Office 2001), and for Exchange users, the unrelated Outlook 8.2.2 (Outlook 2001).

The $1,299 two-port iMac vs the four-port $1,499 iMac

Apple's new iMacs

Apple refreshed their iMacs last month, but one fine detail is that there are really two models: a two-port model that starts at $1,299, and a four-port model that starts at $1,499. (There is also a $1,699 base model, but that’s just a better-configured version of the four-port model.)

The differences of the two-port model are:

  • It has two USB4/Thunderbolt 3 40 Gbps ports, but lacks two additional USB-C 10 Gbps ports
  • If you want a Gigabit Ethernet port in the power brick, it’s $30 extra
  • If you want Touch ID on the keyboard, it’s $50 extra
  • It has one internal fan, rather than two (I’m not sure this really matters)
  • The processor lacks one graphics core (I’m not sure this really matters)
  • No 2 GB storage option
  • not available in Yellow, Orange, or Purple

Still, if you’re not the type to attach things to the back of your iMac, and don’t need 2 TB of internal storage, the two-port model is very nearly as good as the four-port model, for $120-$150 less (because I’d certainly get the keyboard with Touch ID),

stupid APFS tricks

APFS does a few things differently than HFS does. Some of it is under-the-hood stuff that has to do with encryption and security. But in terms of your day-to-day use, there are a couple of odd tricks it can perform.

Multiple volumes per disk partition

Most file systems create one volume per disk partition. But APFS allows multiple volumes per partition, within what it calls a container. So, if you open Disk Utillity, and choose Show All Devices from the View menu, what you’ll find is that under each drive partition (usually only one), if it’s formatted as APFS, you’ll see a container, and then within the container, you’ll see one or more volumes. I haven’t yet figured out a good use of secondary APFS volumes within a container that wouldn’t be as well solved by just making a folder on the primary volume.

If you do add a second volume to an APFS container, even though it will appear as though you added a second (or third or whatever) drive, only the first can be used for booting macOS. If you want to have more than one bootable macOS version on the same drive, that you can switch to using the option key during startup or with the Startup Disk control panel, you’ll instead need to partition the drive to get a  second APFS container.

However, Apple has. In Catalina, your macOS drive, though shown to you in the Finder as though it is a single volume like it was in all versions of macOS before it, is actually split across two volumes. One of these is the system drive, and contains parts of the operating system that don’t ever change, such as core applications like Mail, Safari, etc, as well as the unseen parts of the OS that keeps your computer running. So, from Apple’s perspective, the only reason they would change is if something were trying to modify the way the system behaves. Because that could potentially be the action of malicious software, Apple has designated this unchanging system volume of macOS to be readable, but not writeable. That would mean that bad software (or good software, for that matter) could try to change those parts of the system, but they’d be simply unable to.

Meanwhile, everything else in the OS, plus all your personal files, are designated in a writeable volume, as usual, within the same container. Then Apple glues these two volumes together in an APFS volume group, and makes their common areas (like the Applications folder) appear as a single folder via gluing the complementary files togehter with firmlinks. It’s all crazy complicated and insane. If you go looking in the basement, you’ll see two Applications folders on two volumes, each containing different things. But the Finder shows them to you as one.

Copies that don’t take up twice as much space

In HFS+, or really most file systems, if you duplicate a file (or folder), it writes a copy of all that file’s data, which, depending on its size, can take a while, and then, logically enough, you get a second file that takes up exactly as much space as the first one.

In APFS, something cool and crazy happens. What I just described is what looks like what happens. And your second file does in fact appear to take up as much space as the first one. But it doesn’t. It takes up almost nothing. That’s because what gets copied is not the file data itself, but just a reference to it. You can’t actually see that this happened, other than that it only took a few seconds to copy even a very large file or folder. And in fact it can be quite confusing, because the math on your drive no longer makes sense. If you had a 50 GB file and copy it under APFS, it looks like you’re using up 100 GB of whatever you have available. But you’re not. You’re still using 50 GB.

If you then open the second file, and change it, APFS only saves the parts of the data that changed, and changes its internal referencing so that the copied file now reflects the same data in the original that has not changed, except for the new parts that you have changed. So, in the example above, if you changed, say, 5 GB of data in the file, the two files now together occupy, in reality, 55 GB. This is known as copy-on-write, and is completely bananas.

I have used this feature of APFS to great effect when merging large photo libraries. Rule one of how I work is always set things up so I can go back a step if I need to. No one-way moves, if they can be avoided. Merging photos into a Photos library might not result in what I want, if something goes wrong. Under HFS+, I would have had to duplicate the whole Photos library first, so that it could be reverted to if need be. If that was a large Photos library — say, 200 GB — then I’d need 200 extra GB lying around. Plus the copying takes time. And, if I’m doing multiple iterations, then I need a LOT of extra space. And time.

APFS solves this problem in perfect fashion. If I duplicate that 200 GB photo library, it takes a short amount time, and takes, for all intents and purposes, no extra disk space. When I merge in new photos, those get added to the total disk space used. If I don’t get the results I expect, after the merge, no problem. I throw out the merged library, return to the pre-merged copy, and start over.

What’s challenging about copy-on-write is its lack of obviousness, and lack of consistency. As far as I know, it only happens during Finder copies. If you use the Terminal to copy, or you use “Save As…” in an Application, then you’ll get a new file that does not share data with the original, so it takes up as much space as the original, just as you would have under HFS+. And there’s no way to see, in APFS, that a file is a “references copy” rather than a full copy, nor see how much disk space is really used by it.


APFS has a very cool thing called snapshots. It makes your entire disk able to be reverted to a previous state. I’ve used this feature when troubleshooting a misbehaving Mac, because it enabled me to try something, say “nope, wasn’t that”, and then go back to the disk as it was, so I could try something else. When you’re not connected to your Time Machine drive, your Mac automatically makes snapshots, disk space permitting, and these are used to fill in the blanks when you reconnect. Snapshots are automatically made during macOS updates, but you can also make them on demand using “tmutil” in Terminal, or Carbon Copy Cloner (which can also restore from a snapshot without reverting the whole disk).

Copying complications

Copy-on-write and multiple volumes can cause complications when copying a whole disk with a file-based tool such as Carbon Copy Cloner. If you copy a file in the APFS Finder, and that copy gets copied to another disk, it’s going to necessarily copy all of its data. That means that, in the copy-on-write above example, your target disk will not have two related 50 GB files that in reality total 55 GB on your disk. It will end up with what you’d expect: two unrelated files that take up 50 GB each. I can imagine this would cause a complication if you are copying a nearly full disk to another disk of the same size, because that receiving disk might, counterintuitively, not be large enough.

The solution to this problem is to “block copy” the disk. Blocks are just groupings of bytes, which are themselves groupings of bits, which are to computers what atoms are to physical objects. Everything on your disk is just an ordering of bits, which are clustered into blocks. In other words, blocks are “beneath” the file system; the file system stores its data iin the blocks. So, if you ignore the concept of a file and just copy every raw block on a disk to another disk, you’ll still preserve all the relationships of copied files.

To block copy an APFS volume to another disk, or disk image, you can use Disk Utility. You need to first delete all snapshots in the volume, using “tmutil” in the Terminal, or Carbon Copy Cloner. You then need to unmount all volumes within the container. You then use the “Restore” button in Disk Utility, and specify the container as a source, and an APFS volume on the target, which will be replaced by what you’re copying. (You can’t specify the target container itself). However, Disk Utility apparently doesn’t do everything the right way in Catalina, when it comes to writing to the new disk, so you might need to go into Terminal to actually accomplish what you want. The links at the bottom of this page may be helpful for this.

One quirk of Apple’s container-copying tools — whether Disk Utility, or Terminal commands — is that, despite block-copying the entire original container, they only allow you to restore one volume from a multi-volume container. Why this is, I cannot say. What happens is this: the container (or image file representing the container) is copied as a single file to an APFS volume on the target. (If needed, any existing container on the target will be deleted, and a new container and volume will be created to receive the container-as-file.) Then, via a process Apple calls “inverting,” your chosen volume is extracted from the container-as-file, and, depending on what options you selected, it either gets added it as an additional volume of the target container, or it outright replaces the target volume, leaving you with, in effect, a block-copied APFS volume. Inverting will fail if you have any snapshots present. You need to delete them first.

If you have multiple volumes in your original container, you’ll need to repeat the process, making a point to add a volume to the target container, rather than replacing it; and you’ll have to go through the ineffecient process of recopying the entirety of the container for every volume you want from it.

There is a workaround, though — you can in fact block copy the whole container without Apple’s tools, using the “dd” commnd in the Terminal, and it will bring over all volumes contained within. It does require care to execute correctly, because if there is any chance that the original and the copy are present at the same time, the Mac can’t distinguish between them. So the volume ID’s need to be changed on the copy. And that gets complicated if the container is encrypted, because you can’t just change the ID. And the container is always encrypted on a T2-equipped Mac, if I understand things accurately, whether or not you have FileVault enabled. And I’d imagine that the partition (or whole disk) on the target disk would need to be the identical size as the source, or bad things might happen. (You could always resize partitions later once the copy is complete.)

This can also cause complications when copying a whole disk with a file-based tool such as Carbon Copy Cloner. If you copy a “references copy” made in the APFS Finder to another disk, it’s going to necessarily copy all of its data. That means that, in the above example, your target disk will not have two related files that 55 GB on your disk, but two separate files that take up 50 GB each. I can imagine this would cause a complication if you are copying a nearly full disk that has copies of files to another disk of the same size, because that receiving disk might, counterintuitively, not be large enough.

The solution to this problem is to “block copy” the disk. Blocks are just groupings of bytes, which are themselves groupings of bits, which are to computers what atoms are to physical objects. Everything on your disk is just an ordering of bits, which are clustered into blocks. In other words, blocks are “beneath” the file system; the file system stores its data iin the blocks. So, if you ignore the concept of a file and just copy every raw block on a disk to another disk, you’ll still preserve all the relationships of copied files.

To block copy an APFS container to another disk, or disk image, you can use Disk Utility. You use the “Restore” button, and specify the container as a source, and an APFS volume on the target which will be replaced with the one you’re copying (you can’t specify the container itself). However, Disk Utility apparently doesn’t do everything the right way in Catalina, when it comes to writing to the new disk, so you might need to go into Terminal to actually accomplish what you want. The links at the bottom of this page may be helpful for this.


I had to do some deep diving to research APFS behaviors, and the following resources were amazingly helpful:

“man asr” in Terminal


Restore Mac Finder Comments: bring back your missing Mac Finder comments

Since the dawn of the Mac, or close to it, anyway, you have been able to Get Info on a file, and enter a comment. I’ve found that pretty handy over the years, especially when a folder of files forms kind of a mini-database, and displaying the Comments column in Finder list view provides an additional field for arbitrary data.

Unfortunately, they’ve always been pretty fragile, because, historically, they were not stored in the file itself, but in a database on the system. So if you copy the file elsewhere, there’s a decent risk that you’d lose the comment that went with it, depending on how you did it.

If you add a comment to a file that is synchronized, with, say, Dropbox, and then sign into Dropbox on another computer and let it load up your files, you might find your comment missing. This is very sad. Sometimes they just go missing on their own. That’s even sadder.

Fortunately, macOS now does at least now store the comment in the file metadata, so all is not lost. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go the extra mile of showing you the comment directly from the metadata.

So, I wrote an AppleScript utility to make the comments display again. It goes and fetches the comment, and puts it back into the Get Info box where it belongs. You just drag whatever files and folders need their Finder comments restored onto the script.

We don’t have comments (har) turned on over here for spam reasons, so if you have any questions, you can shoot them to me at

download it here: Restore Finder Comments

(Image by Jeff Djevdet of, courtesy Flickr Creative Commons.)

Welcome to APFS

This is a more technical post, so you can just skip it if it’s not your bag.

All of the data on your Mac’s drive has to be organized in some fashion, so that you can get to it. This is accomplished via what is known as a file system, and the only metaphor I can come up with for it is increasingly obsolete: the card catalog of a library. The library has all these books, but if there weren’t a means of knowing which ones are where, they wouldn’t be of much value.

When you talk about formatting a disk, what you’re talking about, at least in part, is establishing a particular file system on it. Once that’s done, what you’ve got is called a volume, which is where all your information gets stored. (And, though unusual, a disk can also be partitioned, allowing it to appear it were multiple disks, each with its own file system.)

There are many different kinds of file systems for computers, some old, some new. Macs are partially compatible with some of the ones commonly found on Windows computers, so you can work with those disks. But Macs are most reliable when using Apple’s own file systems, which is why it’s usually advisable to reformat an external drive that’s going to be solely used with a Mac, because it probably came preformatted for Windows. You do this using the Mac application Disk Utility, found in the Utilities folder of Applications.

For about three decades, Apple’s primary file system has been called “Mac OS Extended”, also referred to as HFS+, or sometimes just HFS (though that’s not really correct, as it was the name of its incompatible predecessor found in 80’s and 90’s versions of Mac OS).

Starting with macOS 10.13 High Sierra, Apple has introduced a new file system, simply called APFS, because they felt HFS+ was no longer capable of supporting things they wanted macOS (and iOS) to do.

APFS was designed around solid state drives (rather than spinning hard drives) from day one. Interestingly, it doesn’t necessarily perform better than SSD’s do under HFS+, but it takes advantage of how SSD technology works to do things that aren’t as available with hard drives. A hard drive has to physically move a “head” (like a turntable arm) to a specific physical location on a disc. This means that if you ask too many things of a hard drive at once, it gets pulled in multiple directions, dramatically slowing things down. An SSD, being just chips, has no such physical constraints, and can respond to simultaneous requests for data with ease. The downside is that APFS performs very poorly when used with hard drives, as anyone with a hard-drive based Mac (e.g. many configurations of iMac, Mac mini, and MacBook Pro with optical drive) who has upgraded to Mojave or Catalina, both of which require APFS, can tell you.

The fact that you transitioned from HFS+ to APFS without your noticing (that is, assuming you were using an SSD), during a macOS upgrade, is a testament to Apple’s engineering. You shouldn’t have to be aware of how your Mac stores your data on its drive.

I’ll talk about more of what APFS can do in another post.

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