20 tips to help you work smarter with OS X
27th Sep 2008 | 07:30
Unlock the power of your Mac
MacFormat magazine has reached its 200th issue and to celebrate, they've published 200 unmissable Mac tips. Here are 20 that caught our eye. For the full 200, pick up a copy of MacFormat in your local newsagent's - on sale now.
1. Disk Utility
Disk Utility, located in the Applications > Utilities folder, is more versatile than it at first appears. Not only does it let you run disk verification and repair, it's also able to burn CDs and DVDs and erase rewritable discs. In addition it's where you erase, rename and partition hard drives and set up RAID systems.
Disk Utility can create byte-for-byte clones of existing drives or discs as well as creating blank disk images for you to populate with content. It's a perfect way, for example, to create backup copies of software install discs.
2. Disable automatic login
When you first set up your Mac and create an account, it assumes you are using it at home and makes you an Administrator. It also sets itself up to log you in automatically to save time. For some people this isn't suitable as the Mac may be in a public area, or contain important information that you want to keep away from prying eyes.
Go to System Preferences > Accounts and choose your account. Then select Login Options and uncheck Automatically log in as:. Now when you start up you are presented with a login screen for you to enter your details, which is much more secure.
3. Get Info window
You can right-click on any item in OS X or select it and choose File > Get Info. You are then presented with a window showing important information about the item, such as its size, location, creation date and owner permissions.
If you Get Info (C+[I]) on more than one item, two windows will open unless you hold the O key during selection, in which case a different window is shown displaying the collective properties of both items. Get Info windows are contextual, so with one open you can select further items and the window will update to show their details automatically.
4. Organise the Desktop
Let's face it, we all tend to drop files and folders on the Desktop for convenience and this can quickly become cluttered. If you go to View > Show View Options, you can alter the way Finder displays items. Controls include changing icon sizes, label positions and whether text information is displayed as part of a folder.
Most importantly, you can choose to snap items to a grid, meaning they will stay equally spaced and not overlap. Also in the View menu you'll find a Clean Up command, to auto-tidy any selected items, and the option to sort selected items by criteria like name, size or date created.
5. Stay secure
With an increasing amount of personal information stored on our Macs, it's important to be mindful of security. In System Preferences > Security, you can beef up your protection by setting Master and FileVault passwords to encrypt your documents on-the-fly.
If that's more protection than you need, consider the other options, the most useful of which is the option to lock the computer when it's put to sleep or when the screensaver is activated. Only your Administrator password will unlock it, making it great for leaving your Mac on but unattended.
6. Manage Dashboard widgets
Widgets can be useful but it's easy to install a lot and then forget about them, resulting in a cluttered Dashboard interface. To delete widgets, invoke Dashboard, click on the white + sign then click Manage Widgets. The widget manager appears, and if you uncheck a widget it is hidden from the list. If you want to actually delete it altogether, click on the red - sign by its name and it will be moved to the Trash.
This also applies to any Web Clip widgets you may have created from Safari on Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard). Note that widgets that come with the system can't be deleted. To close an open widget, mouse over it, hold the O key and click the x symbol that appears.
7. Customise application toolbars
More or less every application running on OS X has a toolbar where certain key controls and buttons will live. To modify the items that appear in a given application's toolbar, right-click or [Ctrl]-click on the toolbar and choose Customise.... You should now be able to drag existing buttons and fields out and new ones in to reflect the way you like to work. There is usually an option to restore the default set if you change your mind later. This process will only affect the application you perform it on, not any others.
8. Use the sidebar
Every Finder window in OS X has a sidebar – a panel running down the left which contains links to local and networked computers and hard drives, as well as shortcuts to your Home folder and its contents. To remove any locations from the lower part of the sidebar, drag them out or right-click and choose Remove.
To add an item, drag it in. Drives can't be dragged in this way from the upper part of the window, but you can eject connected drives by clicking the arrow that appears next to them. Internal hard drives can't be ejected but they can be removed from the sidebar by right-clicking.
9. Customise your Mac
OS X looks great but many people like to make it their own by customising it. To do this, start by going to System Preferences > Appearance where you can alter the colour scheme of windows to an extent. Then go to Desktop & Screen Saver. Here you can choose any image file on your Mac to use as a backdrop, and also specify a folder of images from which to automatically choose a new picture at certain intervals.
Your iPhoto library and Events are available here, too. If you're feeling adventurous, third-party programs will let you use screensavers as animated Desktop backgrounds, though they tend to use a lot of CPU power.
10. Time Machine backups
OS X 10.5 comes with Time Machine, a backup program that's built into the heart of the OS. By connecting an external drive and specifying it as the backup drive, you can perform an initial backup of your whole system which will be bootable should you suffer a hard drive crash.
Specific items can be excluded from the backup by choosing to ignore them in the Time Machine setup. The clever part is that each subsequent backup you make to the same drive will be incremental, meaning only items changed since the last backup will be copied. By invoking Time Machine you can also step back in time for any folder to view and access its contents at any backup point, even if it's since been deleted.
11.Search and spell
In many applications you can highlight a word or block of text, right-click and choose Search in Spotlight or Google, or Look Up In Dictionary to make sure everything is correctly spelt.
12 .Dock setup
In System Preferences you can choose the size, location and behaviour of the Dock, plus set it to either magnify when you scroll over it or not.
13. Quick find
Finder windows have a text field at the top right-hand corner. Type in it to instantly search your Mac for files or folders that you need to locate.
14. Quick copy
Hold the O key while dragging an item to duplicate it. Hit [esc] if you wish to cancel the copy before releasing the mouse.
15. Safari tabs
Drag a tab by its title bar out of Safari and it will be opened in a new window. You can also drag tabs around to re-order them.
16. Remove Preference Panes
To quickly remove third-party preference panes in System Preferences, right-click on them and choose Remove.
17. Automated folders
To make working with multiple folders easier, you can attach Automator actions to specific folders, so that any file dropped in the folder has the action applied to it automatically.
In Mac OS X 10.5, folders can be dragged to the Dock and opened as Stacks. Their contents will be displayed as a list or in a grid so you can see what's inside without opening it.
Contextual menu items in 10.5, once installed, appear under the More section that appears when you right click on any part of the Desktop.
20. Network connections
OS X 10.5 spots any Macs on your local network and displays them under Shared in the sidebar. Connect simply by selecting one.
First published in Macformat Issue 200