11 Things You Might Not Know Your Mac Can Do

2001 – I find that casual users of the Mac OS do not investigate the features of the operating system as thoroughly as necessary to achieve the greatest efficiency. Perhaps that is because Mac users tend not to read the manuals for their computers (if there is a manual to read), or maybe it is just they’re so focused on the product being created with the computer that the computer as an object of study in and of itself is not so interesting.

Then there are things you can do in any OS to make your life happier, such as backing up your computer, organizing your files and saving them in the proper location, and so on. Everyone knows the basics, but are there tips gained through experience?

Here are 11 user-efficiency tips for Mac OS users. You may know all of these. If so, what others do you know? If you don’t know them all, well, here you are, right where you need to be.

1. Popup Folders

Drag any window to the bottom of the screen and it’s title becomes a little popup drawer. This is a great desktop-clutter-reducing tool. It has a tremendous advantage over menu-based organizers like the Windows Task Bar and the Apple Menu in that the drawers look exactly like a regular window, which supports icon placement, button views, and so on.

(Mac Lab Report Parenthetical Comment: I’ve often thought that one of the primary flaws of the Mac OS and Windows is that file dialog boxes don’t look like the windows users see when organizing files. Newbies have to therefore learn two conventions for organizing files, which is confusing. And who wants to use List Views for everything?)

2. Put Your Hard Drive in the Apple Menu

Let’s suppose you do want to use List View for everything. Your life won’t be complete unless you make an alias of your hard drive and place it in the Apple Menu Items folder. Now you can access your entire drive (at least several folders deep) from the Apple Menu. If you’re reasonably well organized, you can maneuver straight to an application or a particular document with a single click!

3. Select Files by Typing Their Names

Like to use icon views for large numbers of items? Faced with a list of files so long it is difficult to scroll? The quickest way to have the Finder select such a file is to simply begin typing its name. If you type the first few letters of Funny Microsoft Story, by the time you get FUN typed, you’ve probably selected the file. This only works, however, in the active window or the desktop – not the entire computer’s hard drive at once.

4. Take a Screen Shot of a Selected Area Straight to the Clipboard

Avoid cluttering your root directory with dozens of screen shot files named “Picture x” by using the key combination control-shift-command-4, which brings up a cursor you can use to define an area of the current screen that will be copied to the clipboard. Then just paste the picture into your current application and move on with your life. A very nice reader pointed that one out to me several weeks ago.

5. Put Something in Your Startup Items Folder

Start your day the same way every day? I do: I boot up the computer, take a look at Low End Mac, log into our attendance server at school, and review the agenda for the day that is posted on my class website. I do these things every day. So, just drop in some saved URL files dragged to the desktop from Netscape, an alias from the attendance app, and I can fire up the machine, walk away, and do some work. When I return, I just type a password and go. (To be honest, it doesn’t take as much time to boot up and get ready as it used to. My new 500 MHz dual-USB iMac boots a lot faster than everything except my Quadra 700 running Mac OS 8.1.)

6. Print Something Quickly

If you drag a document onto a desktop printer icon, it prints one copy on that printer. Don’t bother opening the application unless you have other things to do with it.

7. Make an Alias of a Remote Server

Do this, and you’ll never need to use the Chooser and AppleShare again (until they “upgrade” the network). Double-clicking on a server alias will skip the steps Open the Chooser, Pick AppleShare, Select the Zone, Choose the Server, Select the Shared Item You Wish To Mount and Oh God Please Don’t Check That Little Automount Box. It goes straight for the password and then mounts the item.

8. Make a Shared Links Folder

If you have multiple accounts, multiple users using the same computer, or use multiple browsers, you have probably suffered from Missing Links Syndrome: You know, you bookmarked a site, but you don’t remember where. If there were a folder on the desktop called “Shared Links” you could drag the URL icon into it each time you find a great site. (Say, like Digigraphica – I’m not above a little bootlicking here at the Lab Report.)

9. Edit a Button Bar

Most applications that use button tools, such as AppleWorks or Microsoft Word, allow the user to edit the button bar. If you haven’t tried it, go ahead and dive in. Remove the stuff you don’t use. Add the stuff you can never find when Microsoft moves the menus around. In AppleWorks, click on the large downward-pointing triangle button to get access to the edit button bar tools.

10. Use a Template

Find yourself sending the same message repeatedly? Create a master document and save it as stationery. I have new students joining my online class at odd times, and I simply send them the same generic orientation message with all the links, references, and a short FAQ needed to get started.

11. Create an Application Installer Archive

Do you download patches, updates, and utilities? If they’re not on a CD like the venerable and soon-to-be thinly populated MacAddict CD, then keep all those .bin and .sit and .hqx files in a separate folder and back it up along with your Documents and Preferences folders.

Got any other tips to share? Drop them off in the message board.

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