Help! My screen’s turned upside down!

Yoga and LaptopYou probably won’t find this blog of use today (unless you are an office wag – see below), but if ever you see that the contents of your screen have turned upside down (or sideways for that matter), then just remember that you read about it here. You can then just visit and use the search facility on any web or blog page to find “inverted screen”. That should find this blog post for you.

Probably once or twice a year I get a panic phone call from a computer support client saying that they can’t understand what’s happened, but their screen has turned upside down. When this happened just a few weeks ago I facetiously suggested to the client that he might like to stand on his head to use the computer. He replied that he had thought about it, but he would need his arms and hands for support so wouldn’t be able to use the keyboard or mouse. That makes sense, so here is the more appropriate solution.

It happens from time to time that a user types a combination of keys accidentally that have unintended consequences. Since, by definition, it happened by accident, there isn’t any way of relating the action to the consequences so the solution to the problem – typing the same or similar combination of keys – doesn’t occur to the perplexed (and even panicky) victim.

This can happen on both Macs and on Windows PCs. I’ll leave it to you to work out why it isn’t a problem with tablets and smartphones.

Cursor Direction Keys

The two sets of cursor direction keys on my Samsung laptop

Windows PCs

The orientation of the screen contents is changed by depressing the Ctrl (“control”) key and the Alt key at the same time and then, while these are depressed, hitting one of the “cursor direction” keys. Some keyboards have two sets of cursor direction keys. In such cases, there will probably be one set of keys dedicated to the direction function (ie there will be nothing else on the key tops) and one set will probably share the function with the numeric keypad (ie the number keys towards the righthand side of the keyboard (not the number keys near the top of the keyboard)). In such cases, trial and error will show which set of cursor direction keys you need. On the Samsung laptop I’m using at the moment, it’s the “dedicated” cursor direction keys that do the trick.


I don’t think anyone’s ever appealed to me for help with this problem on a Mac and maybe it’s not so easy to do it by accident. Nevertheless, it is possible to change the orientation of screen content on a Mac so let’s cover it here. To change the orientation:

  • Depress the Cmd and Option keys at the same time and keep both keys down
  • Go to System Preferences (by clicking on the apple at the top left and then left-clicking on the System Preferences option)
  • Click on “Displays”
  • You will now see the Displays options exactly as you would have done without the digital gymnastics of holding down keys at the same time, except that there will be a new option that you don’t normally see – “Rotation”. You can now let go of the other keys and simply click on the up/down arrows next to that option to reveal the four orientation options. The normal one is called “standard”
  • Close the Displays window in the usual way

Normal Mac Display Options Window

The normal window with Mac Display options does not show the option to change the screen’s orientation

Mac Display options with rotation

The Mac Display options window including options for rotating the screen’s contents

Even if it’s not possible (or, at least, it’s very, very difficult) to turn your screen over by accident on a Mac, it’s worth knowing about these techniques as the world is full of office wags who think that turning someone’s screen over when they’ve left their desk for a minute is rather a jolly jape.

And if you are such an office wag, don’t blame me if you get a biff on the nose for playing a trick that you just learned here!

I’m still struggling to like Apple Macs and here’s one reason why

Heathrow Airport

A real airport

One of the many things I find irritating about Macs is that Apple have an annoying habit of giving things completely stupid names. Take the “Airport”, for instance. Now an airport used to be one of those big sprawling places where aeroplanes take off and land. So what possessed Apple to name its wifi devices “airports”? It really makes you think of a marketing meeting, full of smarty pants execs in their 20’s, all trying to outdo each other. “I know”, says one, “we are transmitting (porting) stuff via the air, so instead of calling it a WiFi device let’s call it an airport”. “Yea, cool” – not. Technology is confusing enough already, without confusing us even further with such nonsense.

Apple Airport

Apple’s idea of an airport. Spot the difference

Another example is “stationery pad”. Actually, this one’s not quite as bad, but there are other, more prosaic and accurate, names that could have been used. The pity is that this silly name hides a useful feature in Macs.

We often need to create a new document (word processing, spreadsheet, whatever) based upon one that exists already and we don’t want to replace the old one: just start a new one that’s based on the old one.

The “normal” way of doing this is to open the old one (the template), and then to save it with a different name,thereby preserving the template unchanged. It’s easy, though, to forget to change the name, so your template gets changed.

Now, the clever feature in Macs (cunningly hidden by a stupid name) is that if you right-click on a file and then left-click on “get info”, you will find an option called “stationery pad” with a tick box next to it. If you click in this box, the file becomes a “stationery pad” (or, as normal people would call it, a “template”). Henceforth, if you double-click on this file then it won’t open. Instead, a copy of it will open (together with a default name – eg “fred.copy.docx”) that you can rename later if you wish.

Stationery Pads

Real stationery pads

OK, I agree that this name isn’t quite as stupid as “airport”. Even my poor imagination can conjure up a pad of preprinted template sheets that could just about be called a “stationery pad”. Nevertheless, I’m sure that more people would have stumbled on this useful feature if it had just been called something sensible – like “template” for instance.

Stationery Pad Option

“Stationery pad” as used by Apple. Fred,docx is now a template

And just in case I nearly lost you earlier by referring to a “right-click” when using a Mac, it’s always surprised me how many Mac users have never realised that you can enable a right-click on a Mac mouse and/or trackpad by going into the Mouse/Trackpad options of “System Preferences”.

Have you ever downloaded a new program onto your Mac, only to be told by the operating system that it can’t be opened because it’s from an unidentified developer?

Gatekeeper LogoMac OSX computers are more protective than Windows computers when it comes to what’s allowed on your computer and that has obvious security benefits. Nevertheless, it looks rather over-protective when it won’t let you start a program that you want to run!

This situation comes about when you try to run a program (or “app” or “application”) that hasn’t been vetted by Apple and checked to be malware-free. I don’t understand why Apple choose to offer you the misleading information that the “app can’t be opened” because it can. All you need to do is to have the control key pressed as you click on the program to open it.

Here is an example of the “error” message:

Gatekeeper Message

Once you have opened a program this way, the operating system will add it to the list of approved programs on that computer, so it shouldn’t happen again for that program.

If you encounter this situation often, and/or can never remember how to over-ride the veto on opening a program, then you can change the settings so that the message is not displayed at all. This is probably not a particularly good idea as it would be much easier to install software that has malware in it if your system is not even asking you to think about whether the program is safe.

However, if you do want to go ahead and change the settings for ever:

  • Click on the Apple logo (top left of any screen)
  • Click on “System Preferences”
  • Click on “Security & Privacy”
  • If the padlock at the bottom left of the window is locked, click on it and enter the administrator’s password for the logged on user
  • Click on either the second or third “radio button” in the list headed “allow apps downloaded from:”
  • Click on the padlock again to lock it
  • Close all dialog boxes

This security feature in Mac OSX is called Gatekeeper. It has been around in Macs since the Mountain Lion version. You can learn more about it by clicking on the link to Gatekeeper.

By the way, there was a time when I was naive enough to think I may be able to offer any instructions like those above for all the different versions of operating systems. I can’t. There are far too many versions. So, whether we are talking about Macs or PCs, I will only offer details for the current version. At the moment, that is Windows 10 or Mac OSX El Capitan.

TeamViewer logoIt used to be that I tried to keep old laptops around that were loaded with different operating systems so that I could check on differences and offer telephone support to clients using older systems. Luckily, that requirement has almost completely disappeared since I started using Teamviewer to remotely support clients by actually seeing what they can see on their own computers. This is much, much less stressful than providing computer support and advice by a phone call alone and trying to keep track of what the client is looking at.

Now, there’s a question I’m often asked…

There’s no doubt that Mac users (and users of other Apple devices such as iPads and iPhones) are much more fiercely loyal to the brand than owners of computers and devices that run Windows or Android.

Most PC owners hardly give a thought to the brand of their computer, other than when making the buying decision. Not so with Mac owners. They are forever conscious of the fact that they have bought something different, something beautifully designed, something expensive. And they are not backward in coming forward when it comes to making recommendations:

Macs never go wrong
Macs can’t get viruses” etc etc.

MacBook Pro 2012

MacBook Pro 2012

Well, these statements are not strictly true, although I’ve never had a single complaint from my four year old Mac Mini (despite my upgrading the memory and the hard drive, which we are strongly encouraged not to do).

It’s probably true that Macs are inherently more secure than PCs when it comes to viruses and malware, but the real reason that they “don’t get viruses” is that the nasty people out there writing software to exploit or damage our computers are not stupid. They’d rather spend their time developing nasty things that can attack the 90% of the computers that run Windows than the 10% that run Mac OSX.

Frankly, that’s the main reason that I, myself, took so long to start learning about Macs. Why double my workload to increase my potential clientele by 10% (ok, 11.11% if you want to be pedantic)? The reality, of course, is that it’s not doubling my workload: a great deal that I’ve learned about PCs over the years is directly applicable to Macs and doesn’t need learning again. And that would also apply to you if you were thinking of making the change.

Anyway, back to the main point. Let’s forget about the mystique that’s grown up around all things Apple. Let’s just consider the practicalities if you are thinking of jumping ship from a PC and, as a client of mine put it, “going over to the dark side”.

Downside of changing to Macs

  • There’s much less choice in the model you buy, but that may be less important than it used to be as most computers these days are capable of handling anything the normal user will demand of them.
  • Macs are much more expensive than PCs of comparable power. True, but you get what you pay for and nothing else comes close to the build and finish quality of a Mac.
  • If you are looking for specific software that is not “mainstream” then it may not be available on Macs. Microsoft Office is available for Macs and so are the main accounts programs for independent professionals and small businesses (eg Quicken and Sage). This is probably not the problem that it would have been 10 or 20 years ago. Nevertheless, if you have many different types of programs (particularly old favourites that are no longer being updated/supported) then it may be worth carefully checking each one that is important to you before plunging into change.
  • You may have to carefully consider how you are going to get your existing data into equivalent Mac programs. This may be easy, it may be impossible, or it may be possible with the help of someone like me.
  • If you have previously been a PC user then there’s no doubt that you have a learning curve to face. You will need to adapt to the way that Apple works. In general, it’s probably fair to say that Macs are a bit more intuitive to use than PCs, but that doesn’t help much at the beginning if you are shouting at the screen because it doesn’t understand your old PC way of trying to do something.

Upside of changing to Macs

  • There’s no arguing with the fact that Apple computers and devices are consistently more “desirable” and beautifully designed and manufactured than anything else.
  • Macs seem to last longer than PCs. Whereas a PC is usually thought to be on its last legs at five years old, Macs go on for longer. I’ve just bought a four year old MacBook Pro from a client. She kept it in immaculate condition and it seems to me that I’ve bought a new computer rather than a middle-aged one (mind you, I could have bought a new, low-end, PC laptop for the same price).
  • The screen image on a Mac is usually much better than on a PC. I was amazed at how much better my photographs look on a MacBook Pro than on any PC/monitor combination I’ve ever had before.
  • If you are starting from scratch, Macs are almost certainly easier to get to grips with than a Windows PC.
  • The inbuilt “Time Machine” backup system on the Mac is far superior to anything I’ve ever found for a PC. It is reliable and easy to use. You will, of course, still need an external backup device.

In summary, I would say that if you can answer “yes” to all the following questions, then it’s certainly worth thinking about changing to a Mac:

  • Can a Mac provide the software you need?
  • Can you get your essential existing data across to a Mac?
  • Will your peripherals (eg printer, scanner) work with a Mac?
  • Are you prepared to pay the price premium for a Mac?
  • Are you prepared to re-learn some of the ways that you do things?

Picture of brick

Typical Windows laptop

In practice, my experience is that almost all of my clients who have made the change have been happy and wouldn’t go back. The two exceptions I can think of are one friend and one client who both thought that the Mac was taking away some of the control they felt they had over their PC.

I’m often asked whether I support Macs in my capacity as a Computer Support Consultant. The answer is that my Mac knowledge is growing all the time as the number of Mac clients that I have increases. Also, I have had my own Mac Mini for nearly four years and have now acquired a MacBook Pro. So, my experience is growing and I am certainly happy to discuss any issues you may have with your Mac. I don’t think, though, that my Mac experience is ever going to catch up with my PC experience (thanks to a 25 year head start!)

At least I am now trying really hard to get out of the habit of saying “that would work on a proper computer” when my PC assumptions are thwarted on a Mac.

© 2011-2015 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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