Mac Multi Monitor Misery

Update – I haven’t updated Macbitz in a while and it looks like my past two posts were also about multi-monitor irritations. What can I say other than “Apple – it’s still a problem!”.

I like macOS. Been using it since 2008 when I bought my first ever MacPro – the tall aluminium (or aluminum depending on the side of the pond you’re on) and that machine is still running today, although as a headless storage machine now. No today I’m sporting a late 2013 27″ iMac and as a legacy of my days in IT it has two external monitors connected to it. Both 27″ monitors, both running at 2560×1440 and giving me a huge expanse of things to distract me.

It all works pretty well, OK the Iiyama monitor which I wrote about some years ago is still a pain with backlight bleed you wouldn’t believe and a very dodgy power switch, but the Dell 27″ monitor more than makes up for it. My only issue is that a 3-monitor setup involving an iMac seems to be a pretty rare thing as far as Apple is concerned, so much so that they probably never test this scenario when developing new versions of macOS. Starting with Leopard back in early 2008 right the way up to Mojave some ten years later, support for three monitors under macOS has been flakey at best! Let me explain. Every time there’s a macOS upgrade, be it a completely new version or just a bugfix update, macOS takes it upon itself to keep things exciting by swapping my monitors around. So what was Display 2 becomes Display 3 and what was Display 3 becomes Display 2. This means that every app that I have assigned to always open on the Dell monitor suddenly starts appearing on the Iiyama monitor and vice versa. It’s then a painstaking task of reassigning specific apps back to the correct monitor. I could just shortcut this swapping the position of my two monitors in System Preferences but the problem there is that as I move my mouse off the left-hand edge of the screen to move it to the Dell monitor on the left of my iMac, the mouse pointer would actually move to the right and appear on the Iiyama monitor which is just confusing. Doubtless macOS has its own internal record of where monitors are and for some reason when an OS upgrade happens this record gets wiped and the old switcheroo happens.

Moving on – I don’t change my wallpapers much but one thing I do is to have the same wallpaper across all three monitors. However… when macOS upgrades happen, the wall paper on one or more monitors will be reset to what it was previously. By that I mean if I have a picture of a sunset on all three monitors and I change it to a different picture, when macOS is upgraded from say 10.14.1 to 10.14.2, the wallpaper reverts back to the sunset picture. I don’t know if macOS retains a history of what wallpapers you’ve used but if it does then it is jumping back to a previous entry.

As if that wasn’t enough, the same happens for screensavers. Perform an OS upgrade and you’ll be treated to the previous screensaver you used.

Anyway, moving on from the trials of OS upgrades, there are a few problems that just manifest themselves on a daily basis. The first is random screen choice for apps where I haven’t manually assigned them to a specific monitor. Now one would assume that when opening an app it would default to opening on the last screen it appeared on, so if Spotify was last open on the Dell monitor then when reopening it, Spotify would again open on the Dell monitor. Not so, it will revert to opening on the iMac or sometimes the Iiyama monitor. The only solution is to manually assign it to a particulr display (then enjoy the fun when that gets reset by an OS upgrade).

And so on to my final bugbear… the Dock! Now it seems that macOS has this handy feature where the Dock will move from the main display (my iMac) to a different display so that it is close to hand when working on a different monitor. Great, however the trigger for this is completely random! Sometimes all I have to do is move the mouse from one display to another and without so much as a click the Dock will jump to that monitor. The only way to get the Dock back to Display 1 (the iMac) is to:

  1. Move the mouse pointer up to the menu bar on Display 1.
  2. Click on the menu bar on Display 1.
  3. Click anywhere on the wallpaper on Display 1 (clicking on an open app on Display 1 doesn’t work).
  4. Finally move the mouse right to the bottom edge of Display 1

..at which point the Dock will return to Display 1. Why it is necessary to go through this rigmarole to get the Dock back to where it was when macOS moved it to another display merely because the mouse pointer was on that display is a complete mystery to me! Actually what would be nice is if there was a System Preference under the Displays section where you could tick a box that says ‘Do NOT move Dock when using multiple monitors’.

I have submitted bug reports to Apple but I dare say the number of macOS users out there using more than two external monitors with an iMac is fairly small and thus these bugs don’t rank high on their list of priorities. Shame really because macOS is supposed to be the pinnacle of ‘Ease Of Use’ when using a desktop OS and these flaws just detract from the overall experience.

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Mavericks and multiple monitors – I assume they didn’t test it?

Since buying this 27″ iMac and adding a second external monitor, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that Apple simply can’t have tested multiple monitor setups under Mavericks.

My reasoning behind this is that the behaviour of Mavericks on a 27″ iMac with a 24″ 1920×1080 external monitor attached seems to be completely random! Let me give you the evidence:

Case 1 – Any monitor will do. You would assume that when launching an application it will do one of two things. Firstly, it will try to open itself on the monitor it was last using, thus if I had Firefox open on Monitor 2, then when I lunch it again it will open on monitor 2 again. Secondly, it will observe whatever you have configured it for in the Dock. E.g. if I specify in the Dock that Firefox should use Desktop 1 then it should do just that. So far. my experience has been that the monitor on which an application opens is COMPLETELY RANDOM! Most days Firefox will open on the iMac, but about 30% of the time it will open on the external monitor for no reason that I can fathom. It’s not just Firefox, it’s 1Password, Readkit, Jump Desktop, you name it.

Case 2 – Window placement optional. Often when I open an application it opens with only half the window visible, i.e. half the window is off the edge of the screen. Even though when the application was last used the whole of its window was visible, next time around Mavericks decides that it’ll position the window half way off the screen!

Case 3 – Size is not important. Again, why is it so difficult for Mavericks to remember what size a window was when it was last open? I frequently find when launching an app that the new window is a tiny rectangle on the screen, rather than the size it was when I was last using it.

Case 4 – Out of sight, out of mind. Mavericks seems to have no idea where the boundaries of the screen are. I opened iFFmpeg only to find that its window opened completely off the screen. I could see it in Mission Control but no way could I get the iFFmpeg window on to a monitor where I could interact with it. Quitting the app and restarting it didn’t help and in the end all I could do was to reboot the iMac.

Case 5 – Sleep… all change. I have all my windows arranged across the two monitors and everything is finally how I want it. I step away for a while and Mavericks puts my iMac to sleep. On waking the machine, some windows have been minimized to just a title bar! Only way to rectify the issue is to quit the app and start again.

My guess is that Apple changed the rules surrounding multiple monitors and maybe didn’t tell the developers because the way Mavericks handles windows across two screen seems to be completely random!

Pick a screen, any screen…

For the past six years I have been using Macs and OS X as my primary way of computing at home. I used to build my own Windows PCs and must admit that I derived a certain amount of enjoyment from choosing and then assembling a bunch of parts into a working machine, however there was always a hidden cost to this… keeping the thing working. With Windows you always seem to have to work at maintaining the thing, keeping drivers up to date, keeping anti-malware software up to date and so on and so forth. Then there were the times when something that worked fine one day, refused to the next and having worked in PC Support I remember just how often I’d be faced with a machine that would bluescreen on reboot for no apparent reason or just lock up entirely. The joy of the Mac world was that things just seemed to work and you no longer had to worry about nursing the machine and OS along. The cost of time and stress saved by not having to try and figure out how to get the thing working… immeasurable. It’s fair to say that until I added a second graphics card to my early 2008 Mac Pro and installed Mountain Lion, I had a good five years with a machine that not once crashed, froze or panicked.

27" iMac (late 2013)

27″ iMac (late 2013)

So I was pretty confident that when the time came to upgrade and I purchased a late 2013 27″ iMac, I was going to enjoy a similar pain-free experience. After all, OS X Mavericks, installed at the factory on the latest greatest hardware – what could be better? Well seems not all is sweetness and light and this current setup doesn’t know that Macs should just work. For starters there’s Mavericks odd support for multiple monitors. I have the iMac hooked up to a BenQ 24″ monitor using an Apple Thunderbolt to DVI cable and for the most part it works just fine, except that Mavericks will randomly decide to open certain applications on the iMac screen one day, then the BenQ screen the next. You’d think it would always open the app either on the screen it was last open on, or on the ‘Desktop’ you specified on the application properties. Unfortunately not! For instance, I use Jump Desktop and under the Dock Options I have it assigned to ‘Desktop on Display 1’ i.e. the iMac’s built-in screen. For about 80% of the time it opens on the iMac main screen when I launch it, but often it opens on the BenQ monitor for no apparent reason other than it seems bored of doing it how I want. Sure, assigning it to a desktop has helped – before I did that it would seem to just pick a monitor at random, but why doesn’t it respect the setting I’ve given it?

Then there’s the windows that open half way off the screen. Certain apps like ReadKit and 1Password do this a lot – not always, but often enough to be irritating as I have to drag the window back into view, and this is after previously closing the app with the window fully on screen. It’s one of those problems that seems to have no obvious solution other than to wait for a fix from Apple. A quick search shows that it’s quite a common problem for Mac users using Mavericks and multiple monitors, so I shall keep my fingers crossed that Apple know about the problem and will be sorting it sooner rather than later.

Now as they say on all good TV stations… coming up in a future episode of Macbitz – an iMac that hangs on shutdown/restart and a DIY USB 3.0 4Tb external drive with UASP support (who needs Thunderbolt anyway?).

To Buy Or Not To Buy

2008 Mac Pro

2008 Mac Pro

My 2008 Mac Pro has done sterling service over the past 4 years 9 months. I bought it back in February 2008 with a single Quad-core 2.8GHz Xenon CPU, single 500Gb internal hard drive, 4Gb of RAM and a single nVIDIA graphics processor. Since then I have upgraded the RAM to 12Gb (primarily to support running multiple Windows VMs under VMware Fusion), have upgraded the internal storage to 2 x WD ‘BLACK’ 1Tb drives and 2 x WD ‘GREEN’ 2Tb drives, and have added a second graphics card to support three monitors in total. The icing on the cake is that Mountain Lion supports the 2008 Mac Pro, so I’m running the latest OS on a Mac that’s nearly 5 years old!

Daily work includes running the aforementioned Windows VMs as well as email, web surfing, hosting a very large music collection (around 250Gb of mp3’s), photo processing and graphics work as well as some iOS development. For the most part this all works pretty well, however I have noticed that in the last few months the machine hasn’t been quite as swift as it once was. iTunes takes a while to load as does iPhoto and this is despite me doing a clean install of Mountain Lion a couple of months ago. What’s more, over the first four and a half years I’ve not once had a single kernel panic, freeze or crash which is pretty remarkable for a computer that has all sorts of rubbish thrown at it. However, since upgrading to Mountain Lion about 3 months ago I have had two kernel panics and some other odd behaviour, e.g. Notification Centre freezes, some ‘double-take’ reboots and a few other miscellaneous app crashes. I get the ever so slight feeling that destruction testing Mountain Lion on the 2008 Mac Pro was probably not the focus of their attention when developing it, and that perhaps there are one or two Mountain Lion bugs with this hardware.

The launch of the new ‘slim’ iMacs has got me wondering whether now is the time to invest in a new 27″ iMac to become my main workstation and relegate the Mac Pro to being a workhorse machine for storage and running VMware? The one thing I have learned with iMacs is that certain parts (e.g. CPU, GPU and storage) can be very difficult or even impossible to upgrade at a later stage, so it’s best to go for as high a spec as you can afford up front. So that would mean opting for the 27″ model with a 3.4GHz Quad-code Intel i7 CPU, 16Gb RAM (Apple RAM prices aren’t nearly as scary as they used to be!), 3TB Fusion drive, 2Gb  GeForce GTX 680MX graphics processor. Unfortunately that little lot together with 3yr AppleCare comes to a whopping £2,597 and while Apple are currently offering 10 months interest free credit, that is still a huge amount to spend on a computer. Admittedly I could sell the Mac Pro and the going price even for a Quad-core 2008 model seems to be around £1,000, trouble is it’s been such a good machine for nearly five years that I’d find it difficult to part with! 2012_iMac

Alternative would be a new Mac Pro and it’s rumoured there’s a new one in the pipeline as drivers for it (or its likely GPU) have been spotted in recent builds of OS X. Main considerations here are firstly how far off is the new Mac Pro and secondly what will it cost seeing as the entry-level prices for Mac Pro’s seem to be much higher than they were back in 2008 – i.e. they have gone from enthusiast money to professional money.

Decisions decisions… I wouldn’t even be considering a new Mac if it weren’t for the special interest free finance deals (which probably won’t last beyond Christmas), but given how much I use the Mac and assuming I’ll get a good five years of service out of a new one, it’s mighty tempting. And yes I realize that for this kind of money I could buy some massively fast and highly spec’d Windows machine and still have money left over for a holiday in the sun, but I parted company with Windows as my main OS back in 2008 and I haven’t looked back since. Maybe that’s the price of being a Mac user, but the peace of mind for five years has probably been worth it alone 😉

Giving Google Chrome the heave-ho

Google Chrome Logo

Like it or hate it?

I won’t go into the reasons why you might want Google Chrome on your Mac in the first place, or the reasons you might have for wanting to remove it other than to say this app is a good example of the sort of junk that can get let behind if your way of uninstalling apps is simply to drag them to the trash.

This is just a short post for those who don’t have an OS X application uninstaller (like CleanApp) and who may want to remove as many traces of Google Chrome as they can from their Mac. So without further ado, here is the list of files that you will need to look out for and remove. Note than in the list you will need to replace <username> with whatever id you use when logging on to your Mac.

 

  • /Applications/Google Chrome.app
  • /Users/<username>/Library/Caches/com.google.Chrome
  • /Users/<username>/Library/Preferences/com.google.Chrome.plist
  • /Users/<username>/Library/Saved Application State/com.google.Chrome.savedState
  • /Users/<username>/Library/Preferences/com.google.Keystone.Agent.plist
  • /Users/<username>/Library/Application Support/Google
  • /Users/<username>/Library/Caches/Google
  • /Users/<username>/Library/Caches/com.google.Keystone
  • /Users/<username>/Library/Google
  • /Users/<username>/Library/Caches/ksurl
  • /Users/<username>/Library/Logs/GoogleSoftwareUpdateAgent.log
  • /Users/<username>/Library/LaunchAgents/com.google.keystone.agent.plist

If you use Little Snitch or Hands Off! then you can also go and delete any rules relating to Google Chrome for good measure, such as:

  • Google Chrome.app
  • GoogleSoftwareUpdateAgent.app
  • ksurl

The only thing to watch for is if you are using other Google software on your Mac such as Picasa or Google Earth as these might be sharing some of the common folders and agents. If in doubt, leave it alone is always a good motto!

Goodbye Steve

I can’t hope to match the many eloquent tributes to Steve that are appearing today, so I shall leave you to find and ponder those.

All I can say is that I never had the pleasure of knowing you Steve, but you knew me so very well in that way you knew most Mac users, and I thank you for that. It’s a sad goodbye.

Lion Upgrade Woes On A 2008 Mac Pro

The one thing that has really struck me over the past three and a half years is just how solid and reliable my early 2008 Mac Pro has been. It came installed with Leopard and when Snow Leopard came out I did a clean install of Snow Leopard without any problems. I’ve upgraded the RAM from the 2Gb it came with the 12Gb. I have upgraded the single 500Gb internal disk to two WD Caviar Black 1Tb drives and two WD Caviar Green 2Tb drives, as well as adding an NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 graphics card alongside the original NVIDIA GeForce 8800GT card. There’s also a three port PCIe USB card for good measure. Outside the box there’s a Lacie Quadra 2Tb firewire 800 drive, with a Voyager Q daisy-chained off that. USB-wise there’s a Logitech MX Revolution mouse, a Logitech diNovo Keyboard Mac Edition, a Logitech USB webcam, various iPad & iPhone docks, a Canon ip4000 printer, Fujitsu Scan Snap 300 and bringing up the rear some Logitech THX Z2300 speakers and a Magic Trackpad.

Mac Pro

2008 Mac Pro

Not bad for three and a half years of gradually enhancing my system. Snow Leopard has never flinched at all these extras, and when I fire up VMware Fusion and run three virtual Windows XP machines simultaneously, it still never skips a beat! In fact everything has been really impressive, until that is… I decided to install Lion.

Now rather than wipe out my Snow Leopard setup, I decided to install it on to a new partition so I have the choice to boot into either, thus a clean install of Lion was added to it’s own 500Gb partition. The Startup Disk feature works really well, I can boot into either Snow Leopard or Lion depending on what I want to do and the plan is (or rather was) to slowly migrate all my work across to Lion and eventually dump Snow Leopard.

First of all the pluses… Obviously booting into Lion the machine is a lot snappier presumably as there’s not two years worth of junk cluttering stuff up. Also there’s a few new features in Lion that I like although I have to say there’s nothing I couldn’t live without. However, the interwebs have been full of everyone explaining every new feature of Lion in painful detail so I won’t bother you with that here. Instead I’ll let you know what the downside has been… KERNEL PANICS.

Now I’ve heard of kernel panics, but as a Mac user I have thankfully been spared of this most troublesome problem. Now to be fair I still haven’t seen one first hand but that’s because my Mac Pro seems to panic at night. If I leave it running Lion when I go to bed, then in the morning I’ll see a message telling me that the computer has restarted because of a problem and I’m prompted to send the dump to Apple (which I do in the forlorn hope they’ll fix it). Ok there is a way around this – shut down the Mac before I go to bed, or just put it to sleep. However, choosing ‘Sleep’ from the Apple menu just causes the Mac to immediately crash and restart, so it looks like I’ll have to shut down every evening until they fix this (if they ever do). It is of course entirely possible that one of my many peripherals is causing the panic/sleep problem but I’ll have to try and figure that out by a process of elimination.

So what other problems are there?

  • Running Skitch 1.0.6 causes the mouse pointer to disappear. Perhaps a conflict between the Logitech Control Centre 3.4.0 software and Skitch and Lion somewhere?
  • When the screensaver kicks in, neither my Logitech mouse nor keyboard will prompt the Mac to  resume, I have to use the Magic Trackpad. Again a possible issue with the Logitech keyboard/mouse drivers.
  • My iPad 3G will no longer charge although it will sync. Strange thing is if I reboot into Snow Leopard then it will happily sync/charge using the same cable/USB port. Go back to Lion and it will only sync. Interestingly my iPhone 4 syncs/charges no problem using the same cable/port. I know the iPad has higher power requirements, too high in fact for some USB ports, but I’m using one of the Mac Pro’s built-in USB ports and it works fine under Snow Leopard so this must be a Lion issue.

Well that’s about it for now. I could live with the problems I guess and to be fair the panics/crashes don’t happen when I’m using Lion during the day (unless I try to manually put the Mac Pro to sleep). It does mean though that the Lion experience, and that the “it just works” mantra are a tiny bit tarnished at the moment. Maybe my only solution is to go and buy a new Mac?

If only I had the money…