Your top questions to Mac 911—and some answers

Many people write in with similar problems. Here's a super-FAQ to help solve the most common iOS 9, iCloud, and El Capitan issues.

thinkstockphotos keyboard question mark

We love being the place you come to in order to find answers to nagging problems. While the Mac 911 name predates iOS and iCloud, we’re open to answering questions related to any Apple hardware, software, and services. But we can help save you some time if you have one of the most common situations that we receive email about.

This super FAQ provides brief answers to issues that represent a good three-quarters of all the email we receive, along with links to our full-length columns with more details.

Focus on Photos and iCloud Photo Library

Apple’s transition from iPhoto to Photos in OS X starting with a beta release in early 2015 through multiple versions in Yosemite and El Capitan led to lots of confusion and grief. Many folks have leapt over the divide or firmly decided to stick for as long as possible with iPhoto (or Aperture).

Along the way, iCloud Photo Library’s launch managed to add even more variables, as people tried to sort out where the master copy of their media “lived,” and what happened when they wanted to delete or sort images and video.

As a general tip, if you’re looking for help manages Photos for OS X libraries, I highly recommend Fat Cat Software’s PowerPhotos, which I reviewed December 2015. While it costs $30, that includes a copy of iPhoto Library Manager, which can help prep or manage older iPhoto libraries, too. PowerPhotos is the only tool that can merge Photos libraries, and works with Apple’s database format to find and remove duplicates.

We’ve seen these four questions asked most frequently about Photos and iCloud Photo Library:

Mac hardware: Erase, restore, and Wi-Fi

The runner-up category at Mac 911 is anything related to OS X, particularly dealing with cleaning up a system for sale or restoring one that seems to have gone kaput.

  • “I’m selling my Mac. How do I wipe it properly before sale?” I recommend making at least one, if not two, complete tested backups, and then follow our instructions, “How to make a bootable OS X 10.11 El Capitan installer drive.” Once you’ve booted into the OS X installer, you can erase the startup drive, and then install OS X.

  • “I accidentally deleted my drive. How can I restore it?” If you deleted files you need, you have to resort to a Time Machine or other backup; if you don’t have any backups, you can try Data Rescue 4. If you’re trying to reinstall OS X, and not restore files, you can either start with “How to make a bootable OS X 10.11 El Capitan installer drive, if you have access to another Mac; or use Apple’s instructions to use OS X Recovery, which can download and install the Recovery HD and OS X, depending on what’s needed.

  • “My Mac won’t boot.” If you get a flashing question mark, your drive may have failed or become damaged. Try to boot into OS X Recovery. If that fails, you may be able to use Apple’s instructions to reinstall the Recovery partition and then use Disk Utility while booted into recovery to repair or diagnose the drive.

  • “My Mac says Wi-Fi not installed. Why?” This one is a poser, as it could be a network configuration corruption problem in OS X, a hardware failure, or something else entirely. I have some advice in “What to do when OS X says Wi-Fi hardware isn’t installed,” in which I note that if all else fails, you can get an inexpensive USB-based Wi-Fi adapter for OS X.

  • “I’m following your instructions to unenroll from OS X beta releases, and it’s not working.” While we have instructions at “How to leave the OS X beta program,” several readers haven’t been able to get this to work.

  • Can I delete files from my drive securely in El Capitan? No. Apple removed Secure Empty Trash because it can’t promise that with SSDs, which balance wear across memory locations and can leave data exposed. The broad recommendation is to use FileVault, which effectively prevents reconstructing deleted files. See “How to replace El Capitan’s missing Secure Empty Trash.”

Sorting out Apple ID issues

We’re so very many years into Apple using a unified Apple ID for its services and stores, and yet the company still can’t seem to manage letting us merge accounts and purchases. We get two distinct questions associated with Apple IDs all the time.

I have two Apple IDs (or my partner/spouse/etc. and I each have one): Many people have wound up with two Apple IDs that manage different parts of their Apple experience because of how Apple launched different services. I use one account that was registered first as an iTools account, for all of my synchronization, while another, which started as my personal email address, for iTunes and App Store purchases.

Many people also write in because two or more people in their family grouping (whether a couple or including children or parents or others) have unique Apple IDs and they want to share purchases or information among them, wondering if Family Sharing is a good option.

There’s really nothing you can do about any of these situations, but people who have been told this in the past by Apple and supposed gurus like yours truly continue to ask, because it’s so frustrating and seems unreasonable.

I do have some general advice, however:

  • If what you’re doing is working but annoying, you should learn to accept it, because it seems unlikely Apple will ever change this. I am often frustrated in setting up new devices or dealing with unexpected password requests for iCloud, the App Store, and other Apple properties due to my two-account situation, but it does work reliably. I haven’t lost any data, and I can always access my purchases.

  • If you’re using email via iCloud with one account, and have all your purchases on another, you can transition everything except email to your purchasing account, and switch to have everything sync through that account for iCloud. You can tie iCloud in iOS and OS X to the purchase account, and set up an email-only connection for your email-focused iCloud account. I suggest a plan in “Can you merge synced data from multiple Apple IDs?

  • Family Sharing may work in some cases, though I don’t love the implementation. Chris Breen wrote up a transition suggestion in 2014 that still works, but not for everyone.

I have an Apple ID in one country; how can I change the country for that Apple ID’s registration? You can, but you lose access to all your purchases. You can maintain separate Apple IDs that are registered in different countries, but that can be problematic when you want to switch among them to access different purchases or data, as I explain in “How to use different iTunes accounts for different languages.”

No, Siri, no!

Siri has limitations around correctly spelling things you speak and correctly pronouncing words and names. There are some workarounds.

  • “Siri won’t spell something correctly.” Siri may transcribe a name or word incorrectly. You can add the correctly spelled version of the word or name to a contact name, and that can fix things. You can also swipe down on the Siri screen and type to correct misspelled words in its version. It’s supposed to get better over time as you make those corrections, but Siri still transcribes “Offie” instead of the app “Authy,” no matter how many times I correct it.

  • “Siri won’t pronounce my name or someone else’s name correctly.” You can tell Siri that it got it wrong, and Siri provides alternative pronunciations from which you can pick, or you can add a word or name to a contact and use a hidden phonetic field in Contacts to provide the correct way to say it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work, either, to judge by reader reports.

Hey, Mac, that’s no keeper

The single top question we’ve received for years running is how to uninstall MacKeeper, software that in itself provides a legitimate (if overpriced) function, but because of its advertising, affiliate, installation, and removal issues, we haven’t and do not recommend here at Macworld.

MacKeeper’s original owners agreed to pay a settlement in a class-action lawsuit. The new owners, as of two years ago, seem closely associated with the original firm, but we have received substantially fewer complaints about its practices and the software’s removal. Emails still outpace those on any other topic, but there are far fewer of them.

I still regularly see MacKeeper pop-up ads that state that the website has run a diagnosis (not credible), and that the diagnosis reveals something’s wrong with my Mac (also not credible). These ads also use a discredited technique that, on attempting to close a window, allows a page to show a pop-up confirmation dialog warning against closing it.

(If you’ve paid in the past for any software that has a recurring charge, or have relatives who have done so, now’s a good time to ensure you don’t have such a charge reappearing even after you’ve canceled a subscription and uninstalled the software.)

Since executive editor Susie Ochs wrote an updated guide to removing MacKeeper in December 2015 based on some changes the company had made, complaints and queries have tapered off even further. If you can’t get MacKeeper off your computer, follow her directions.

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