High Sierra Features and Issues

Apple has launched the new MacOS High Sierra on 25th September 2017. We took the plunge of downloading and installing the OS with as much expectations as trepidation. If you are one of the first installers, you end up ironing out lots of bugs. We worried that some apps won’t be compatible with the new OS.

But our experiences till now turned out to be pleasant. Our Mini performed well without any sign of distress. We had to sort out a runaway process called as Photoanalysisd which tends to use up plenty of CPU resources and in the process slowing your computer to a crawl. You can read about how we resolved this issue later.

MacOS High Sierra

Installing High Sierra: It took us quite a bit of time to install the OS – about 45 minutes. It would have been more if it had installed APFS. Since we had a hard drive, the installer retained our HFS+ file system. The download was around 9 GB in all and once you agree to the usual T&C, it went on without any further inputs from us.

The first boot took a long time – not unusual for most OS. And then we took the system for a quick test. It turned out that Apple has made a significant change inside the OS. The graphics performance has increased perceptibly. Even the humble test we did using Novabench confirmed our perception. It gave a GPU score of 131 as against the earlier score of 43.

 

High Sierra Score

We show the old score for comparison.

High Sierra Score

APFS: (apple File System) is enabled only if you have a flash drive or SSD. If you have an old fashioned hard drive or a Fusion drive, the installation proceeds without installing the new APFS. You will not be able to capitalize on the features of APFS.

Features of APFS:

1. Comes with built-in encryption. The whole disk can be encrypted which enhances the security.
2. You can take snapshots at any point in time – highly useful if you want to roll back to a previous time.
3. It has a kind of dynamic space allocation : Apple calls it as Space-sharing which renders the operation of resizing the partition.
4. The replaced file system HFS+ was started in the year 1998. It is a bit long in the tooth and could manage only a certain storage capacity and number of files. The APFS now can manage upto a maximum of 9 quintillion files on a single volume.
5. It also tends to offer faster throughput compared against the outgoing HFS+. Copying of files is faster with APFS.

Metal 2 : Apple’s Graphics API useful for Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). According to Apple – ‘Now Metal 2 not only takes the visual experience to the next level, but also adds capabilities like machine learning, virtual reality, and external GPU support for entertainment and professional creative apps.

Built-in Support for newer media file formats: Apple introduced space saving and better compression in graphics and media with iOS 11. So as a corollary, it has provided native support to those file formats.
High Efficiency Video Encoding (HEVC) is a new format for video and High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF) is the new format for images. In recent iPhones, Apple allows you to save your photographs in HEIF format rather than the JPEG format, thus saving quite a bit of space. But thoughtfully, Apple recodes the image files to the ‘normal’ JPEG format if you share them with others. Now with High Sierra, these HEIF and HEVC file formats are natively supported.

HEVC, also hitherto known as H.265, offers 40 % smaller file sizes compared with the previous standard video format, H.264.

Safari 11: Safari is what Netscape was many years ago – slow to change but stable. In all these years, personally we never replaced Safari in our Mac.

Safari 11 Browser

 

The new version Safari 11 is fast and stable. It has many features:

1. Option to turn off media auto play
2. Intelligent Tracking Prevention
3. Improved Performance.
4. Always-on Reader mode
5. Persistent page zoom
6. Notification controls

Photos: Apple always offered things – hardware as well as software which are intuitive to use. It is not complicated outwardly. But on the inside, under the hood, you have the finest technologies available. MacOS High Sierra’s Photos App appears simple enough. But click on the Edit button and it takes you to one of the most advanced image editors I have seen outside PhotoShop. You can adjust a whole gamut of options on the image.

Apple Photo App

But it has a serious flaw: If the photo app is not running, it spawns a process called as photoanalysisd which quickly takes up a lot of system resources. This can slow your computer very badly. It was designed to analyze your Photo collection and depending upon your collection of Photographs can run for days. We tried to kill the process many times all in vain. It respawned itself. But when we opened the Photo app, it went off. At the moment it is the only simple way to keep the process under control.

photoanalysisd

 

Prevent RansomWare Attack

The world witnessed a massive cyber attack on 12th May 2017 – specifically known as WannaCry Ransomware which encrypted files in over 225,000 computers worldwide. It was based on EternalBlue exploit of Windows OS implementation of Server Message Block (SMB protocol). The vulnerability was first ‘discovered’ by NSA and Microsoft released a security patch in March itself.  It spread like a wildfire but collected comparatively little money in Bitcoin for the perps. It looked like a dryrun for an eventual assault on computers in specific targeted countries.

Ransomware Attack

There is no reason to conclude that such assaults on the Windows system would be self limiting as it happened in this case in future. It stands to reason that unless you take all due diligence in securing your computers, you might find your computers rendered useless at any time.

 

decrypting files

Protection of your system hinges on how you treat your system. No amount of Anti-virus, anti-Malware software is going to replace a well designed proactive plan to secure your system. This article is borne out of decades of years of experience in securing computers.

1. Periodic Backup : Depending upon the usage, create a backup at least everyday. If your files are mission critical, it is essential to have monthly, weekly and daily backups.

When you use a backup, make sure that the backup is read only. Other things being equal, I would choose a Linux file server for one of the backups. Linux provides several options to lock down using a combination of permissions and mounting. This way we can ensure that once the backup is created, it can’t be written again preventing data corruption.

2. Ensure that the OS and the software you are running are current and patched. If you are using Windows – make sure that at least Windows Defender is enabled and active. if you are on Windows 10, make sure that the service Windows Update is set to automatic and not disabled. Many power users disable this to prevent undue latency. Windows Defender will not update its virus database if this service is disabled.

3. There is a saying in the espionage industry – ‘Trust No one’. It applies to us as well. Things are not what they seem. If you are on Windows, take the first step of checking file extensions from Windows Explorer. Windows tries to hide the file extension in a default installation. You need to enable it to view file extensions. This helps you see if a file masquerades as a document file with the extension of .doc while it has a real extension of .exe: sinister.doc.exe
Whilst at it check the type column for probable file type as what Windows thinks. Don’t take the word of Windows for it.

 

Reveal file name extensions

Do Not count on email service providers to check your email attachments for Malware. There are dozens of Malware masquerading as genuine attachments which can pass the peremptory scrutiny of the generic anti virus software of the email service providers. Make a mental note to delete a mail as per the rules below:
Rule 1 : If it purportedly comes from people you know – when they have no need to attach any attachments.
Rule 2: If it purportedly comes from some celebrities. It may temporarily boost your ego to get mails from Celebrities, but chances are they don’t know about you and the mails actually come from hackers who use social signals to smuggle in their nefarious payloads. I have been getting ‘mails’ from all – from the Pope himself down to the President of the US.

Use a separate computer for potentially dangerous activities: -like checking emails, browsing unknown sites, socializing activities. Before you do all that, make a clone of the OS and store the disk separately. Every few days, just purge the existing OS from this computer and recreate the OS from the clone. This computer has no privilege to connect to the main computers. If affected by any Malware or virus, it can’t spread to other computers.

If you have only one computer that needs to multitask, create a Virtualbox and install a Windows in the Virtualbox. Once the Virtualboxed Windows is working as per your needs, copy the .ova file in a separate directory. You can purge the existing Virtualboxed windows at regular intervals and recreate another instance from the .ova file.
This way you have a Sandboxed computer that can’t mess up your precious regular Windows. Remember – a really Secure Computer has no connection to outside world.

 

Windows 10 Edge Browser

Windows 10 now has the new Edge Browser, named after the EdgeHTML layout Engine which appears to outperform all other current browsers – albeit with its own limitations. Microsoft says that the new browser is developed from scratch and complies with the web standards. Before the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Edge has many ‘new’ features:

1. Make Web Notes : You can highlight, add comments, create box in the color of the available choice and save the notes. Whilst at it, you may also share your Web Notes in – OneNote, Mail or Messaging.

 

2. Reading View: You can check out only the content with out the trappings of Ads, Images and other normal paraphernalia of a typical website – a feature borrowed from Apple Safari. In this mode, you get to see a bare bones text only version without any clutter – probably a useful feature for a lengthy article.

 

3. Using the digital Assistant Cortana: Now the Edge Browser is hardwired with Microsoft’s personal digital assistant which can tell you something about the highlighted text. Cortana can make connections with available text resources in your connected devices and with information supplanted from its Bing Search Engine can help you plan your itinerary if you are traveling, or help you source the ingredient for the recipe you are searching.

Edge Browser Options

Edge comes with other surprises as well – it can read PDF without any plugin. I wanted to check out the resource usage of the browsers running in my Windows 10 Pro Computer. As expected Edge has the lowest usage of resources : from memory footprint to CPU usage.

 

Resource usage for Edge, IE 11 and Firefox

Edge used only 26.4 MB when compared with its sibling Internet Explorer 11 which took 49.4 MB, this is probably the lowest memory footprint. On the other hand, the regular FireFox 41.0.1 took upwards of 680 MB. It doesn’t stop there – the stability of the browser when the open window has a page which keeps loading additional components is an important factor. Firefox appears to be the most prone to crashing in this list of browsers. Internet Explorer 11, we have noticed from the Windows 7 days, has been stable in the face of many problematic pages. Edge carries this trend forward and remained robust when I loaded pages which caused issues with Firefox.

Normal legacy IE 11 still does duty in Windows 10. You can start Internet Explorer 11 many ways. Type into ‘Search the web and Windows’ the word – Internet and you will see the Internet Explorer as a Desktop app. Or fire your default Edge Browser and navigate to the site you want and from there click on the Ellipsis (three dots) on the top right and select ‘Open with Internet explorer’.
Internet Explorer 11 - starting

When you see their application status if you ALT + TAB you could make out the difference – the old IE 11 is in a lighter blue compared with the new Edge which appears in a dark blue ‘e’.

Edge Browser identifies itself like this:

Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/46.0.2486.0 Safari/537.36 Edge/13.10586

Internet Explorer identifies itself as :

Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; WOW64; Trident/7.0; rv:11.0) like Gecko

in my version of Windows 10.

The bottom line is in Windows 10, Edge has the edge over other browsers – in terms of stability, speed and lower resource foot print.

 

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