18 ways to do things Apple doesn't want you to do

4th Jul 2010 | 09:00

18 ways to do things Apple doesn't want you to do

Add more functionality to your Mac, iPod and Apple TV

Hacks and tricks for your Apple gear

Apple produces incredibly capable computers, but with a little tweaking, you can boost their functionality further still.

If you have a video format you wish you could play in QuickTime, sound files that are beyond iTunes or a peripheral that doesn't work under OS X, there might well be a means of getting around the problem.

Here we look at 18 interesting ways of taking control of your Apple device, giving it exciting new capabilities that aren't available out of the box.

1. iTunes FLAC and Ogg

Natively, iTunes is capable of playing five types of audio file: MP3, AIFF, WAV, AAC and Apple Lossless. But what about FLAC and Ogg files?

To play FLAC files in iTunes, you need to download an app called Fluke, which installs new components for QuickTime. After installing, restart iTunes and you can import FLAC tracks without converting them; just follow the instructions here.

To play Ogg Vorbis files, download a QuickTime component from here. Installation is manual, but simple. Just drag the bundle into your Components folder, as instructed in the Readme file downloaded with XiphQT.

2. Terminal tips to lift restrictions

There are several Terminal commands that lift Apple-imposed restrictions on how you can use your OS X applications. Just go to Applications > Utilities, launch Terminal.app and type in one of the following codes.

There are hidden debug menus in several applications that come bundled with your operating system. They're meant to be for developers only, but you can open them with these Terminal commands:


defaults write com.apple.safari IncludeInternalDebugMenu 1

Address Book

defaults write com.apple.addressbook ABShowDebugMenu -bool YES


defaults write com.apple.iCal IncludeDebugMenu YES

You may need to relaunch the app. The debug menu shows in the menu bar. To hide it, repeat the command replacing 1 with 0 or YES with NO.

This next code introduces a new stack into your Dock, showing recently used apps. To remove it again, just drag it out of the Dock.

defaults write com.apple.dock persistentothers -array-add '{ "tile-data" = { "listtype" = 1; }; "tile-type" = "recents-tile"; }'; killall Dock

Finally, if you want to increase the magnified size of your Dock icons, you can enable magnification in the Dock's System Preferences. Simply try this code:

defaults write com.apple.dock largesize -int 512; killall Dock

The icons are now up to 512 pixels large. You can substitute 512 with another figure if you wish, but don't go any higher than 512. To turn off this effect, go back to the Dock's System Preferences and move the Magnification slider. These tips all work with Snow Leopard and Leopard, but cannot be guaranteed to function with older versions of OS X.

3. Use almost any USB controller in OS X

01. USB Overdrive X

Overdrive 1

With USB Overdrive X installed, you can make full use of almost any USB mouse, trackball, joystick or gamepad. Programmable buttons can be used in OS X, even if the bundled software is Windows-only. The latest version (3.0.1) now offers 64-bit Snow Leopard support.

02. Controller configuration

Overdrive 2

Configuring your controller is easy, and you can assign an action to each of its inputs. Here we're configuring a gaming device, and assigning a key press to the controller. Pressing left on the gaming pad gives you the same function as pressing the 'A' key.

03. Application settings

Overdrive 3

You can configure your USB device for a specific application. Create a duplicate configuration setting for the controller in question, select the application you wish to configure it for and then set it up in the usual way. These settings only apply to that app.

4. Copy from iPod to Mac

By default there's no way of copying music from your iPod or iPhone back onto your Mac, but enterprising developers have found a way around this. Senuti lets you copy selected items or your entire music and video collection in this way, retaining playlists and track titles.


Alternatively, Clickfree Transformer for iPod lets you back up your Mac's data to an external drive, but can also copy from your iPod or iPhone back onto your Mac.

5. iPod without iTunes

If you love your music but can't stand iTunes, there are several third-party alternatives you could try.

Floola is free, and supports almost all iPods. You can play your media from within the application, copy from your iPod back onto your Mac, convert incompatible audio formats and even sync with Google Calendar. Floola runs on OS X 10.3.9 or later, which is great news for those using older Macs. It might look a little spartan, but it's just the thing for those who complain that iTunes is becoming bloated.

PixiApps Ecoute takes a similarly minimalist approach, but looks a lot prettier than Floola. If you're looking for a lightweight alternative to iTunes, Ecoute is definitely worth its $10 shareware fee.

6. A new OS for your iPod

There's a Linux distro for almost any electronic device, and the iPod is no exception. Installing Linux gives access to a wealth of open source applications created for the iPod.

You can get an installer that runs on the Mac and installs Linux on your iPod from www.tinyurl.com/666hu. There's also more information on iPod Linux at www.ipodlinux.org.

Also worth a mention is Rockbox, a free alternative operating system that works on a wide range of digital audio players, including many current iPods. Granted, it's not as attractive or instinctive as iPod OS, but it offers extra features such as an equaliser, visualisation and skins.

7. More movies

A couple of free components greatly increase the range of movie files playable using Apple's QuickTime framework. Perian supports numerous video formats. Flip4Mac offers WMV compatibility, and is completely free if you only want the Player version.

8. Magic prefs

By using MagicPrefs, you can greatly expand Magic Mouse capabilities, adding gestures such as swipes, pinches and Multi-Touch clicks.

Pimp your Dock, revamp your Finder and more

9. Take photos on an iPad

Apple has come in for a lot of criticism for not putting a camera on the iPad, but believe it or not, there's a way of taking photographs with your shiny new tablet device.

iPad photos

Developer Yusuke Sekikawa has come up with an ingenious solution, but you need an iPhone as well as an iPad. Sekikawa's cunning fix involves two linked applications downloaded from the iTunes Store.

Camera-A costs $1, and runs on your iPad. Camera-B is free, and is for your iPhone. At the time of writing, both are currently US-only, but are bound to be released over here when the iPad makes it to these shores.

By running both applications and connecting your devices over Wi-Fi or with Bluetooth, the iPad makes use of the iPhone's camera. Just point your iPhone at whatever it is you wish to snap, and control the picture-taking process through your iPad.

10. Unsupported devices

Not every peripheral is Mac-compatible out of the box. IOXperts has years of experience developing Mac drivers for PC peripherals, including a series of paid-for driver bundles.

For example, IOXperts Webcam Driver 1.1 for Mac OS X offers drivers for well over a hundred cams, and there's a high-end version for industrial cameras too.

IOXperts hasn't updated its drivers in a while, so some cameras listed as 'supported' might not actually work with the latest version of Snow Leopard. But as the unregistered versions work for 30 minutes before asking you to register, you've nothing to lose by giving them a try.

11. Pimp your Dock

DockDoctor, gives you all sorts of customisation options for your Dock. You can go 2D or 3D, make the icons for hidden applications opaque and even disable the Dashboard to save resources.


If you don't like the Dock's default colour, you can rebadge it in various shades, or apply a custom skin such as a chessboard. Custom skins are bundled with the app, and more are available to download online. DockDoctor is free, but a $2 (about £1.20) donation is requested to help with hosting.

12. Revamp your Finder

TotalFinder brings a wealth of new features to OS X's Finder. This Snow Leopard-only application gives you window tabs similar to those found in Safari.

Total finder

You can stop Finder littering shared storage drives with .DS_Store files, which are invisible to OS X but drive Windows users to distraction, and a dual-panel mode that enables you to open two folders in the same window. And there are more exciting features to come.

At the time of writing, TotalFinder is in Version 0.8 and free. When it reaches Version 1.0, however, beta copies will begin to expire and the app will cost $15 (around £9.75), which we think is well worth the money for what you're getting.

13. Hacking Apple TV

Out of the box, Apple TV comes across as a very limited device. For one, it's slavishly tied to iTunes. Not only that, it's very restricted regarding what video formats it can play. Also, the standard interface has been criticised for its lack of finesse. Thankfully however, there's a free, cross-platform home theatre application that's proving very popular with Apple TV users.

Apple tv hack

With Boxee installed, you can play just about any DRM-free video on Apple TV. Installing Boxee on your Apple TV is a straightforward task. Just follow the step-by-step guide on the application's website.

You begin by downloading an application called ATVUSB-Creator, which is available for both Intel and PPC Macs. This is used to turn a formatted USB flash drive (minimum size 512MB) into a Patchstick, a device used to hack your Apple TV. If your USB stick isn't being recognised, try pressing the Rescan button, or use another brand.

After creating a Patchstick, insert it into your Apple TV and switch on. The Patchstick runs the ATV boot loader, which gives you the option to install Boxee. Do so and restart your Apple TV.

For a comprehensive guide to everything you can do by hacking Apple TV, go to www.appletvhacks.net.

14. A better bin

Hyperbolic Software's Smart Trash adds a series of new features to OS X's Trash, the most important of which is the ability to empty it for selected volumes only; very useful if you want to clear some space on a flash drive without deleting items binned from your hard drive.

You can also set it up to delete locked items, keep a log of everything you've erased and sort trashed items according to the volumes on which they were stored. Smart Trash is $10 (about £6).

15. Smarter phoning

With its focus on the iPhone, Apple seems to have paid scant attention to helping OS X play nicely with other brands of mobile phone.

Thankfully, Nova Media has released several interesting applications that fill the gap very nicely. iSync Plugins brings sync capabilities to more than 270 mobile phones, enabling you to sync your contacts, calendars and more.

Phone Plugins gives you the option of typing an SMS message on your Mac, which can then be sent using your Bluetooth-capable phone.

16. Ripping DVDs

Watching DVDs on your MacBook takes its toll on the battery life, and any Mac with a fast optical drive is likely to prove too noisy for close and cosy movie viewing. Fortunately, there are a couple of applications that enable you to rip your DVD's contents to your Mac's Desktop, for viewing directly from the hard drive.

RipIt is incredibly easy to use, and bundles all the ripped files into a single packet, which can be viewed as if it were an optical disc. MacTheRipper is more versatile, but not as user-friendly.

Remember, ripping copyrighted DVDs that you don't own is illegal, and bypassing copy controls is a legal grey area, even if you own the disc. It's up to you to make sure you're acting within your country's law.

17. DiscRotate

As optical drives get faster, they also get louder. As mentioned in the last tip, this can be really irritating if you're watching DVD content on your Mac.

Luckily there's another solution available to you. It's called DiscRotate – a small preference pane that enables you to restrict the speed of your drive without interfering with the playback you view on the screen. It's accessible at any time through a handy menu bar icon, and you can reset it again when the movie's over.

18. Write to NTFS

Natively, OS X can read an NTFS-formatted drive, but not write to it. Paragon Software's NTFS for Mac OS X gives full read/write access, and fully supports OS X 10.6 in 64-bit mode.


First published in MacFormat Issue 222

Liked this? Then check out 40 cool OS X tips to save you time and effort

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