30+ Super Secret OS X Features and Shortcuts

Think you know everything there is to know about OS X? Here’s a list of secret features and shortcuts known only by the most elite nerds. Test your knowledge and see if you are a good candidate to stand at the Genius Bar and wear a clever T-shirt.
We’ll start with some simple features before moving on to the more obscure. Topics covered include downloading YouTube videos using Safari, accessing an entire second clipboard, placing widgets on your desktop, and taking control of your system volume!


Everyone knows that OS X has built-in screenshot functionality, but few are aware of how deep the functionality actually runs. Here’s a rundown of all the shortcuts:
⌘+Shift+3 (Full Screen)
⌘+Shift+Ctrl+3 (Full Screen to Clipboard)
⌘+Shift+4 (Selection)
  • Hold option to grow selection from center
  • Hold shift to lock in the vertical or horizontal position
  • Hold space to move the selection while locking the aspect ratio
  • Hold shift + space to lock in horizontal or vertical while moving the locked selection
  • Hit “esc” or ⌘+Period to cancel
  • Hit space to grab a window
⌘+Shift+Ctrl+4 (Selection to Clipboard)
  • Hit space to grab a window
  • Hold option to grow selection from center
  • Hold shift to lock in the vertical or horizontal position
  • Hold space to move the selection while locking the aspect ratio
  • Hold shift + space to lock in horizontal or vertical while moving the locked selection
  • Hit “esc” or ⌘+Period to cancel
To change the format of the screenshot, type the following into Terminal:
defaults write com.apple.screencapture type png
killall SystemUIServer

The default is png, but you can replace this with jpg, pdf, tiff, etc.
To change the default location of the screenshot file, type the following into Terminal:
defaults write com.apple.screencapture location /Users/Josh/Documents/Screenshots
killall SystemUIServer

Just replace the path with your own desired destination.

Animation Slow-Mo

 Hold shift while minimizing a window (works with most default OS X animations including those for spaces, dashboard and stacks). Nearly useless, but good for a solid 6 seconds of repeatable entertainment.


 To move text, select it and drag it to a new line. Drag it to your desktop to get a snippet that can be saved and inserted anywhere later. Double click to open it or just drag it into the text field where you want it to go. Sure you could just copy and paste, but that’s sooo PC isn’t it? 

Quick Define

 Some writers possess such an august vocabulary that one can’t help but label their words as the esoteric drivel of a haughty sesquipedalian. In these circumstances, mourn not at your own lack of education and command of the English language. Instead, simply highlight the word in question and hit ⌘+Ctrl+D. This will give you instant and discreet access to discover what in the world someone is trying to say.

You might want to try it out on the above.

Quick Math

I’ll admit it, that last one wasn’t all that secret. Though few remember the feature exists, it was at least widely published by Apple when it was first implemented. However, there is similar functionality for basic mathematical calculations that will surprise even the most knowledgeable of self-proclaimed OS X gurus.
First type the numbers you would like to perform the operation on, say 867*765. Now select the text and hit ⌘+Shift+8.
Voila, the answer magically appears! C’mon admit it, you definitely didn’t know about that one.

OCD Friendly Volume Controls

If you’ve ever turned up your volume by a single click and thought “Hmm that was just a bit too much…”, you’re probably a crazy control freak. Fortunately for you though, the OS X programmers are also a little fanatical about their volume. Here’s a quick rundown of the hidden volume shortcuts:
  • Adjust Volume in Smaller Increments: Shift+Option+Volume Keys
  • Volume Adjustment Without the Clicking Sound: Shift+Volume Keys
  • Open Sound Preferences: Option+Volume Controls

Widgets On Your Desktop

Once upon a time there was an application called Konfabulator. This little marvel introduced widgets to the OS X community. It had a variety of features including the ability to view widgets right on your desktop without entering any sort of dashboard.
Fast forward a few years and we all have Dashboard pre-installed and therefore have no need for some obscure third party widget engine. Konfabulator is now Yahoo widgets and only resides on the most diehard of old school widget fan’s Macs. However, with this change has come the loss of the ability to put widgets where you can actually see them: on your desktop. Enter “devmode.” Try this:
Type defaults write com.apple.dashboard devmode YES into terminal (type NO to reverse the command).
Now either relaunch your dock (killall Dock in Terminal) or log out and back in. You now have the amazing ability to drag widgets onto your desktop. Just start to drag a widget around within Dashboard and hit F4 (or whatever your dedicated Dashboard shortcut is) and you can release the widget right onto your desktop! Amazing right?
Not so fast. Another great feature that the Konfabulator guys thought of was the ability to keep widgets behind all other applications so they would indeed seem to be a part of your desktop. However, devmode keeps your widgets as the frontmost application. This means that they are permanently in the way and really more of an annoyance than a handy feature. I know what you’re thinking, “Well then why the heck did you show me this?” Hey – it’s still a cool trick.
If you’re looking for a good way to get your Dashboard widgets on your desktop without the annoyance of them constantly floating in your face, you may want to look into Amnesty’s Widget Browser. This great app does the trick just fine, but you’ll have to fork out $20 to get your hands on it.
Or you could just go get Yahoo Widgets and skip Dashboard altogether. It’s completely free, cross-platform, and has all the goodness of Konfabulator.

Second Clipboard

Ok, you might have known about the screenshot shortcuts and the dictionary shortcut and are currently patting yourself on the back for being such an OS X whiz-kid. But did you know that you have access to an alternate clipboard?
As far as I can tell, these super secret shortcuts are a carry-over from Linux. Wherever they’re from, they are extremely handy!
Kill: Ctrl-K
Yank: Ctrl-Y
With text selected, Ctrl-K works as a secondary “cut” command by removing the highlighted text without replacing what is currently residing in your clipboard (cool!). To bring the text back, hit Ctrl-Y.
“Kill” has a special use beyond that of the “cut” command. If you place your cursor at a given point in a paragraph and hit Ctrl-K, all of the text from that point forward will be cut. This is a great way to quickly grab and move an entire paragraph of text.
Ctrl-K only seems to work on editable text (like in TextEdit and Mail). For instance, you can’t “kill” text on a web page. 

FTP with Finder

You don’t need a fancy shcmancy FTP application like Transmit or even a free app like Cyber Duck to access an FTP server. You just need to know one little Finder shortcut:
⌘+K (Menu: Go>Connect to Server)
This will give you a window to type in the address of the server you want to access. Just precede the address with ftp:// and you’re good to go.

Download YouTube and Other Videos

 This one is a gem. Ever wanted to download a YouTube video to watch later? No need to purchase third party applications or plugins, this feature comes built right into Safari. Start the video in Safari and hit ⌘+Opt-a to bring up the activity window. Then simply find the largest file (usually multiple MB) and double click it. It’s as easy as that!

This trick usually results in an .flv video file. If you want an .mp4, try appending your YouTube url with &fmt=18 or &fmt=22 to get an HD mp4.

Summarize Text

I only recently discovered the summarize feature and can’t honestly say that I’ll ever use it. I suppose if you ever find yourself in a desperate situation involving thousands of words and only seconds to sort through them you might find it useful. Maybe if you just really suck at tweeting and need something to help you get down to 49 characters, this could be the tool for you.
Select a paragraph of text and click on “Summarize” under the services menu. You’re presented with the option to summarize sentences or paragraphs with a simple slider that reduces the length of the selected text by trimming unnecessary bits. I’m not sure how it goes about this but it does a surprisingly acceptable job of it.

Search Google


Did you know OS X has an integrated global Google search feature? Just select some text and hit ⌘+⇧+L to jump to the Google search results in Safari. Nifty, no?


Like shortcuts? Click here for a thorough list of OS X shortcuts straight from Apple. LOVE shortcuts? Here’s Apple’s step-by-step instructions on creating your own!


I have now imparted my most sacred knowledge of hidden OS X tricks and shortcuts to you to carry on for generations to come. Now it’s your turn. Use the comments below to tell me your favorite tricks so I can learn a few new ones!
Feel free to send me a tweet @secondfret if you have any questions. Read more...

Making The Most of Activity Monitor

Many Mac users likely haven’t even opened this application before, and those that have were probably scared off by all the numbers and confusing words. I certainly was. But if you understand how it works and what it can be used for, Activity Monitor can be a great way of keeping an eye on what’s going on inside your computer.
This how-to will explain all the ins and outs of Activity Monitor, and how to get the most out of it. It will also give you some tips on how to speed up your computer a bit.

The Interface

Activity Monitor can be located inside the Utilities folder, which is in the Applications folder on your computer. Fire it up, and you should see a window similar to the one here.

Activity Monitor is a great application to find out if something is really slowing your computer down. To understand your way around Activity Monitor, I’ll let you know what all of the various buttons along the top do:

Quit Process

This button is used for when an application or process is slowing your computer down a lot and you need to kill it. You’ll probably know that you can already force quit stubborn applications for the Force Quit menu found under the ‘Apple’ logo at the top of your screen. However if there is something you can see here that doesn’t usually show up in that menu, you can select it and hit the ‘Quit Process’ button. Make sure you carefully read the dialogue box that pops up, and make sure you never quit something unless you know what it is.


Use this button to find out more information on a selected process or application. This basically gathers all of the information found in the button bar at the bottom and groups it for the selected process. It also contains some other advanced information that only a programmer would probably be able to understand.

Sample Process

Used for finding out specific information on what a process is performing at that time. This is pretty confusing unless you can read code.

Pop Up & Filter

This is actually surprisingly useful. By default, it should be set to “All Processes” which will show you everything. If you change it to “All Processes, Hierarchically”, it will list them so that if one process was created by another, you can see that. This is important because if you quit a parent process, you could also loose other important processes. Have a look through the other options as well for different ways of sorting them. The search Filter is just used for searching for a specific process.

Processes & Applications

All of the important information on processes can be found in the very center of Activity Monitor. You’ll probably notice, depending on what you are sorting by, that the list keeps changing. This is because the processes and their tasks are continually changing while your machine is running even if you aren’t doing anything.
To add or remove columns just right click on the top of them and tick the ones you want. Here’s how to decipher all of the main columns:

Process ID

This is a number assigned to every process and application that runs on your computer, and as a new process is initiated, it is assigned a new number in increased value. This is particularly useful if say you’ve noticed that your computer has suddenly slowed down dramatically. You could sort by Process ID (by clicking it’s header) and the processes at the top should be the ones last opened.

Process Name

This is the name of the process. The names don’t always clearly refer to the actual process though, so don’t mess around with any you aren’t sure about.


This lets you know what percentage of CPU each process is taking up. Usually, this shouldn’t be too high unless you’re performing some intensive tasks. To see what I mean, open iTunes. After it’s finished opening up, the CPU for it should be 0 or close to it. Now start playing some music. You should notice that the CPU jumps up to around 4. Now start the Visualizer. These are very intensive on your computer, and so depending on the one you’ve got running, the CPU should jump massively to somewhere around 90. Maybe thats a good reason not to use visualizers if you are trying to use your computer at the same time.

Real Memory & Virtual Memory

This is the amount of RAM (real memory) and artificial RAM (virtual memory) being used up by each process. Real memory is much faster than virtual memory, but virtual memory is created to perform multi-tasking.


This tells you under which user the process is being run. Useful if you have multiple accounts logged in. Any unusal usernames such as ‘root’ are simply system ones.


This tells you whether the process is Intel or PowerPC

The Buttons Bar

Down the bottom of Activity Monitor you can find useful information on the system as a whole.
The CPU graph shows you how much of the CPU you and the system are using up on the computer. If you want to see a larger graph of this, in the menu bar go: ‘Window’ > ‘CPU History’.

The System Memory gives you a nice pie chart of how your RAM is being used. It’s fairly self explanatory, but ‘Wired’ memory is “information that can’t be cached to disk, so it must stay in RAM. The amount depends on what applications you are using” according to Apple.
Disk Activity is not so useful for the ordinary user, but Disk Usage is helpful for viewing how much space you’ve used up on any Hard Drive or USB stick for example.
Finally, Network lets you know how much data is coming in and how much is going out. For example, if you are streaming a video you should notice that the Data Received/Sec (in green) will be quite high.

The Dock Icon

One clever feature of Activity Monitor is that you don’t even need to have the window open to get an idea of what’s going on inside your computer.
Just right click on its icon in the dock, and under ‘Dock Icon’ tick one of the different options. My favourite one is ‘Show CPU Usage’, as this gives you information on how much each of the processors on the computer are working.

You can also get a floating window of the CPU Usage if you’d like it. With Activity Monitor selected, in the menu bar go: ‘Window > Floating CPU Window’.
If you would like to have a quick overview of this information, there are also dashboard widgets such as iStat Pro which may be suitable.

Example Use

One of Activity Monitor’s most useful features is simply the ability to Quit processes. If you’ve been noticing that your computer has been lagging a lot lately, you may wish to take a look inside and see if you can spot anything which might be causing it.
Any processes which show up in red means that they are not responding, and, if they’ve been like that for a while may need to be killed. You may have had the Dock freeze up on you before. If this happens, it may help to restart it by using Activity Monitor. Another example of a good reason to quit a process is if it’s taking up too many of the systems resources.
For example, if you take a look back at the first image of Activity Monitor’s interface, you’ll notice that at the very top of my CPU usage is ‘HP Communications’, consuming 52.4% of my CPU! This could well have been one of the reasons that my computer has been running rather slowly lately, if its constantly using that much. It’s obviously the connection with my HP Printer, and I have no print applications presently open so there is no reason for it to be so high. For this reason, and because I felt confident that I knew what it was, I selected it, and pressed ‘Quit Process’. My printer still prints fine without it running, but that has freed up my resources a lot!
Have a look yourself and see if there’s anything you can do to speed up your computer. Again, make sure you don’t mess with anything you don’t know about though!


As you can see, Activity Monitor can be a little confusing, but with the right understanding it can boost your computers performance and help you work out what’s causing problems, and which applications and processes have the most impact on your system. It certainly can make a difference, as I’ve found after quitting the HP Communications process!
Let us know any tips for using Activity Monitor that you’ve found useful, or how you use it on your Mac. Read more...

An Introduction to Exposé on OS X

With it’s ability to run so many different applications at the same time in Mac OS X, it can often become a task of its own just to locate the specific window you may be after. This is where Exposé comes in… Possibly one of the most productive features that OS X yields under its belt, Exposé allows you to access any window you like instantly in a user-friendly way.
Exposé can be used to efficiently flick between open windows, and to swiftly reveal the Desktop when you need to. This article will cover all of the basics of Exposé, and give a few tips and tricks. It will also offer a way in which to unlock a few extra features of Exposé which Apple decided not to include.

Exposé Preferences

To get Exposé up and running so you can experiment with it in the next step, fire up the System Preferences and locate ‘Exposé & Spaces’. Select the ‘Exposé’ tab and you should see the same as the picture below if you’re running OS X Leopard.

The first section is Active Screen Corners. These corners, when active, allow you to slide your mouse into the corner of your screen, setting off a corresponding action. Click on one of the pull down menus and choose an action such as ‘All Windows’. Experiment with the corners until you’re happy with your set-up. If you’d like to disable a screen corner, just choose the “-” at the bottom of each menu.
The second part of this window contains all of the keyboard and mouse shortcuts for activating Exposé. The defaults for these are F9, F10, and F11. However, you can customize these to whatever you like. If you use a keyboard where these keys are already occupied by other functions (such as volume control), you may need to hold down function (fn) while pressing the shortcut key.
You can also assign mouse buttons for Exposé. Just for the purpose of trying things out, I’d recommend setting up either Mouse Button 3 (middle button) or Mouse Button 4 (side squeeze on Mighty Mouse) to ‘All Windows’ or ‘Desktop’.
Finally, whilst not a part of the preferences, Exposé can also be activated from it’s application icon which can be located in your Applications folder. Drag this into the dock for a simple one-click way of using it.

Exposé Explained

Exposé serves a number of different purposes. All allow you navigate your way around the system with ease.

All Windows

The most common use of Exposé is to show ‘All Windows’. This gracefully slides all of your open windows around and arranges them so that you can see all of them at the same time. This allows you to simply find that window your were after that was hidden deep within the piles of other ones.
Try it out now, using whichever method you’ve set up above. By default, F9 should work for this. You’ll notice that as you hover your mouse over a window it highlights it and tells you the name of it. You can select windows either by clicking with the mouse, or using the arrow keys on the keyboard, followed by the ‘return’ or ‘space key’.

Most people do already know this. You may not know however, that from the ‘All Windows’ mode, if you press ‘tab’, you are able to cycle through of the different application windows open. By pressing the ‘tilde’ button (~) or ‘shift + tab’, you can reverse the order.
If you’re just looking for a quick way to change applications, try pressing ‘command + tab’ on your keyboard to switch quickly.

Application Windows

Another use of Exposé is to use the ‘Application Windows’ action. This simply reveals all of the open windows in your current application, and darkens all other windows in the background. This is great if, say you’ve got lots of windows open in Safari of Finder, and want to bring forward the one you are after without looking at all the other windows on your screen.

Show Desktop

The final main use for Exposé is to ‘Show Desktop’. By default, F11, this incredibly useful feature gives you instant access to the Desktop beneath all of your clutter. This can be useful if for example you would like to drag and drop an image from Safari onto the Desktop; simply begin dragging the image, then activate ‘Show Desktop’, drop the image on your desktop, and that’s it! The same applies in reverse, if you need to drag something off the Desktop into a document.
 Note that for all of the above methods, if you hold the Exposé button down (rather than just tap it), Exposé will only remain active for as long as the button is held. This can be especially useful if you have set up something like ‘All Windows’ on Button 4 on a Mighty Mouse or similar. Now, simply squeeze the mouse and hold, before dragging the curser over the window you’d like to bring to front. Then release the mouse, that window will come right forward. Easy! Not even a need to click.
For an extra cool effect to show off to your PC friends, hold down ‘Shift’ while performing any of the Exposé actions. Slow Motion! This actually also works with minimizing and Dashboard.

Example Uses

Despite it’s obvious uses of letting you switch to various windows with ease, here’s a slightly more obscure application of Exposé. Often when you are dealing with saving files to locations (eg. Saving a Photoshop document) you have to work your way through the save interface down multitudes of levels to get to the folder you’d like to save to. I often find that when saving to such folders, I have already had them open in the Finder.
With this in mind, from the Save Interface, we can active ‘All Windows’ in Exposé, locate the actual Finder winder, and select it. Now, grab the folder you’re after and begin dragging it. Whilst still dragging, re-activate Exposé and hold the folder over the Save Interface. Using OS X’s spring loaded feature, the Save Interface should flash and then come to the front, allowing you to drop the folder into the Save Interface. This will automatically locate the folder allowing you to save it there. Sounds complicated, but give it a try, and you’ll realise just how fast this method actually is.

Hidden Secrets

When Apple developed Exposé, they left out a few (possibly buggy) features. These can be hacked by those brave enough to open Terminal, or for others, there are free applications such as Deeper which allow you to enable extra features. These include:
Show Active Screen Corners
This reveals little quarter-circles in any of the corners on your screen that are active.
Show Exposé Blob
This enables a small blue ‘blob’ which sits anywhere on your screen. When clicked, it activates Exposé. Holding option while clicking performs a different Exposé function.

Minimize Desktop
This is an alternative to the ‘Show Desktop’ action, which minimizes the current windows into a small little box which can be placed anywhere on your screen. Whilst this looks cool, many have reported having problems with it so this feature is not really recommended.
All of these features can be unlocked in the ‘Exposé’ tab of Deeper’s main window.


If you’re not already using Exposé regularly, give it a go, and you’ll be amazed at the benefit it can add to your workflow. It truly is a fantastic feature of Mac OS X which, once harnessed, will be a struggle to live without.
So have a play with the preferences until you have it set up just the way you want it, and see if any of the extra features which can be enabled through apps such as Deeper take your fancy. Let us know how you use Exposé to speed things up! Read more...

Using Screen Sharing in OS X Leopard

An intriguing but widely overlooked feature released with Mac OS X Leopard is the ability to share screens wirelessly with other computers in a super fast and easy way. This can be incredibly useful when you want to collaborate on a project together with someone else, or if you’re running several computers in different rooms around the home or office.
In this tutorial I will explain how to set up screen sharing, ensure security is fully considered, and outline how it can be done even if you don’t have a WiFi connection available.

Setting up Screen Sharing

To get Screen Sharing up and running, we’ll have to enable this feature on all of the computers that you wish to share. To do this, launch System Preferences, and open up the ‘Sharing’ pane under Internet & Network.
At the top of this window, you may want to give your computer a name. This will just make it a lot easier to find later on. In the list of services down the left hand side, locate Screen Sharing, and tick the check box next to it. You’ll see that Screen Sharing is now turned on.
 Click on ‘Computer Settings…’ to access some privacy controls. Tick the first box if you’re happy for anyone to request screen sharing, but I’d highly recommend that you enable a password to keep you’re computer a little safer. With that done, click ‘OK’.

You’ll also notice that in this Screen Sharing window, you have the ability to restrict access to only a select few users. This is great if you know that you’d only like to share with a couple of other computers and no others. If this is the case, click on the plus sign and locate these users. Be aware though that if you’d like to view your screen through an iPhone or iPod Touch, you’ll need to make sure you have this option set to ‘All users’, otherwise it will not work. As long as you have a secure password set up, then you should be safe.
Make sure this is also done on all of the other computers you wish to share screens with, and you’re done!
What’s this about iPhones? Some applications from Apple’s App Store actually allow the iPhone and iPod Touch to share the screen with your computer, so you can control your computer wirelessly from anywhere in the building. Such apps include RemoteTap, Jaadu VNC, and Mocha VNC. They’re not cheap, but do a great job as long as you’re prepared to accept a slight lag.

Sharing Screens with Another Computer

To share screens, you’ll need to make sure that both computers are on the same WiFi network. Once confirmed, open up a Finder window on the computer you’d like to use. Below ‘Shared’ down the left hand side, you should find the other computer you are looking for. Select it, and then in the following options, click ‘Share Screen…’.
This will launch the Screen Sharing application which comes bundled with Leopard, and should show you the screen of the computer you are trying to view. If it asks you for permission, just type in a valid username and password for the other computer.

 If you’d like to find this Screen Sharing application on it’s own, you can find it hidden within: /System/Library/CoreServices/Screen Sharing
You now have full control over the computer that you are accessing, and can move your mouse freely in and out of the other virtual screen. The small pair of binoculars in the menu bar show you that the screen is being shared. This way, if you are using the screen you can see if anyone is watching you or not. By clicking on this item, you can easily disconnect the viewer.

What if I don’t have WiFi?

Not to worry! If you’re stuck in a place without access to a WiFi router but you’d like to share screens, it’s a quick fix to create your own wireless network. Simply click on the little Airport icon in the menu bar, and then select ‘Create Network…’

 Give your new network a name and password and hit ‘OK’. On the other computer, you can now go up to the same Airport icon in the menu bar and then select the name of the network you’ve just created. Now your two computers are linked via a network, as if connected to each other through a wireless router. This method is incredibly useful when you need to access other computers without a WiFi router handy, and should give you no troubles setting up screen sharing as described above.


As you can see, Screen Sharing only a matter of minutes to set up. Once initiated once, it will continue to work immediately time and time again, providing fast and easy access to other computers around the home or office.
This is ideal for collaborating on a project with someone else – be it a presentation, website development, or producing a film. You could even use it for something simple such as showing a whole bunch of different people a slideshow at the same time based on what is on your screen.
Feel free to let us know how (and whether) you use screen sharing. Is it a tool you find particularly useful? Read more...

An Introduction to Spaces on OS X

Spaces was a new feature introduced in OS X Leopard, designed to offer a user friendly front-end to a virtual desktop system. This allows you to run more than one computer “desktop”, flipping between them with a key combination.
You can use different spaces for various tasks e.g. one for business, one for personal work, and one purely for video/music. They offer a handy solution for visually separating different applications. This article will provide an overview of how Spaces work, explain how you can add extra functionality to them, and offer a few examples of when they come in handy.

Spaces Preferences

To use Spaces, you’ll need to be running the latest incarnation of OS X – Leopard. The main preferences window to turn Spaces on and off can be found in System Preferences > Exposé & Spaces:
 Getting started is as simple as ticking ‘Enable Spaces’. You can configure the number of different spaces you have (and their location) by adjusting the number of rows and columns towards the top of the window. It is best to keep the setup simple at first – stick to just two or four spaces at the outset.

Assigning Applications to Spaces

 One of the particularly useful features of Spaces is the ability to have an application automatically open in a particular space. This can help to keep different tasks separate from one another without requiring you manually move windows around.

The section entitled ‘Application Assignments’ will list all the configured applications, along with the space they are assigned to. Clicking the + icon will bring up a list of recently used software to allow quick assignment of an application to a space. You can click ‘Other’ to browse manually if the desired application isn’t present in the list.
If you decide that an assignment isn’t working as well for you as expected, clicking the minus icon will stop Spaces from automatically moving windows for that app.

Switching Between Spaces

For a virtual desktop system to work well, it’s important to make switching between spaces very simple. Three methods exist for doing so in OS X:

Via the Menu Bar

Clicking the Spaces icon in the menu bar will bring down a list of the available desktops to switch to. The icon will also show the number of the desktop currently open. Swapping is as simple as selecting a different number from the menu.

Via the Spaces Interface

Hitting the F8 key (or a different key if you’ve altered the assignment) will switch to an Expose style view, showing each available space and the windows currently contained within it:

You can either click a space to move into that desktop, or drag and drop windows around between spaces.

Via a Key Combination

The third and simplest method is to use a key combination. Pressing a modifier key (specified in the Spaces preferences above) along with one of the arrow keys will move you to the adjacent space – either up, down, left, or right. A small display will appear, illustrating which space you’re currently viewing and where it lies in relation to the others.


By default, it can be difficult to customize Spaces on OS X. One notable request was the ability to have a different wallpaper background for each space. Fortunately, a third party app called Hyperspaces has sprung up to allow just that – along with various other features such as labeling and colors.
A free demo is available for customizing up to three spaces. Any more than that, and you’ll need to pay $12.95 for a full license. Not cheap, but it can make Spaces considerably more enjoyable to use.

Uses & Conclusion

The idea of “virtual desktops” is certainly not new, and has been present in various Linux distributions before development of Leopard began. The implementation in OS X is remarkably simple, and it makes running multiple spaces a simple and visually appealing feature.
If you’re wondering how Spaces could really benefit you, here are a few examples of situations where they can come in useful:
  • Separate “work” and “play” to ensure you aren’t distracted when trying to focus on a task
  • If you’re working on several projects at once, running a separate space for each means that you won’t need to open and close Finder windows (or apps) as often
  • Children in the house? How about running one space for them so they don’t mess up everything else you’re working on.
Enjoy running multiple desktops, and feel free to share any other novel uses in the comments. Read more...

Sharing Your Internet Connection via Wi-Fi

One of the lesser known features of networking in OS X is the ability to share an ethernet connection via Wi-Fi. Essentially turning your Mac into a wireless access point, it can provide a great way to share an internet connection with other computers or a mobile device.
This how-to will walk you through the process from start to finish, and outline a few of the more advanced features available for configuring the wireless network.

Setting up Connection Sharing

The first thing to note is that you need to be connected to the internet via an ethernet cable. In this example we’ll be sharing a wired connection via Wi-Fi; the reverse is possible, but isn’t quite as useful. To get started, open System Preferences and click on ‘Sharing’.
Look for the entry entitled ‘Internet Sharing’ to the left, and click the title to access further settings:

The settings to the right are a great example of how user-friendly OS X is. The available options are very self explanatory, asking you which connection you would like to share and how you would like to share it. To share an ethernet connection wireless, select the options as shown above.
When completed, tick the box to the left of ‘Internet Sharing’ to enable the service. This will grey out the previous options, enable Internet Sharing, and alter the Wi-Fi icon in your menu bar to illustrate that a connection is being shared.
Simple! You’ll now be able to connect to the new wireless network from another Mac, an iPhone, or any Wi-Fi enabled device.

Advanced Configuration

There are a number of advanced settings you can configure if you’d like a little more control over how your Wi-Fi network operates:
  • Network Name: Choose a name that you’d like to represent the connection
  • Channel: This allows you to avoid conflict with existing networks
  • Encryption: It’s a good idea to turn on some form of security, to prevent others connecting to the network you create


A few different uses for this functionality spring to mind, and it can be far handier than is immediately obvious. How about creating a stronger Wi-Fi network in your office for connecting mobile devices (where 3G may not be available)? Alternatively, have you ever considered establishing a small Wi-Fi network in a hotel room where only ethernet is available?
A whole range of scenarios exist for using your Mac as a handy wireless access point, and it can be a useful trick to have up your sleeve. Read more...

Creating Disk Images with Disk Utility

Disk Utility is an excellent OS X utility for managing hard drives and removable storage. If you’ve ever installed OS X, wiped a hard drive clean, or needed to re-format a USB stick, there’s a good chance that you’ll be familiar with the app. Whilst managing disk images is undoubtedly Disk Utility’s forté, it can also be used to good effect for creating images.
This how-to will walk you through how simple this process is. We’ll illustrate how to create a simple disk image for storing files, a few of the uses that images can have, and also investigate how images can be encrypted to keep your files secure.

Creating a New Image

When opening Disk Utility (found in the Applications > Utilities folder), you’ll be presented with a screen which looks similar to the following:

Don’t be intimidated by the impressive technical jargon – what we’re going to do is very straight forward! Disk Utility has the ability to perform all manner of complex operations on a hard drive, but today we’re only concerned with one button on the toolbar: ‘New Image’.
Clicking ‘New Image’ will bring up a dialog with several different options – essentially the recipe for what will be included in the new storage space we’re creating:

At first glance this can seem a little confusing. Here is a simple explanation of how to handle each different option:
  • Volume Name: This is simply the name which will be given to the image when mounted
  • Volume Size: A disk image needs to be a specific size. A range of popular values (e.g. for a CD or DVD) are already available to choose, or you can enter a custom size.
  • Volume Format: If you have a specific format requirement, feel free to change this – otherwise leave it as the default.
  • Encryption: You can choose between two types of encryption, and this option is covered in more detail below
  • Partitions: Here you can select whether you’d like to make a DVD/CD image, regular image, or one which can be booted by OS X
  • Image Format: Generally stick with the default here, unless you have advanced requirements
 After filling in all the various options, click ‘Create’. The time it takes to make the image will depend upon the size selected, though it should be a fairly quick process. When Disk Utility completes it will automatically mount the new image on your desktop, open and ready to have files added.
When you have added the desired files, dragging the mounted image to the Trash will ‘Eject’ it. The disk image can then be moved around or copied between computers safely.

Dealing with Encryption and Security

One of the most useful features of a disk image is the ability to create a secure area for storing confidential information. They can be encrypted with either 128-bit or 256-bit security (which is stronger, but takes longer to encrypt files). If this option is selected when creating an image you will be presented with the following dialog to enter a password:

If ‘Remember password in my keychain’ is selected, you will never be asked for it when using the image in your current user account. Moving the image to another computer (or attempted access by another user) would require the password to be entered. I prefer to leave this unchecked, as it means that the files contained within the image are extra-safe.
When opening the image (having not checked ‘Remember…’) you’ll be asked to enter the password previously specified:

Disk Image Uses

A number of functions exist for disk images, and – despite what many Mac users think – they aren’t just used when downloading a new application. For me, the level of security they provide is essential when storing information on a USB stick. It means that you don’t need to worry about it being lost or stolen (unless the thief in question has the computing power of a government agency!).
Another interesting use is to create a disk image of a physical CD or DVD. This means it’s possible to mount the CD from an image stored on your hard drive – without ever again needing to find the physical disk.
Disk Utility is an incredibly powerful tool and we have simply scratched the surface of what it can do. If there are any features of the app you would like to see explored in the future, please let me know in the comments! Read more...

Visually Organizing in OS X

I’m a very visual person and, due to the nature of the Mac environment, I’m sure there are many like-minded people in the OS X community who share my optical tendencies. We tend to think the wallpaper has to be just right, the icons in the dock and on the desktop have to be organized by category, and we take time to find just the right icon for our removable media.
DId I just hear an ‘amen?’
No matter how OCD you may be about your computing environment, we can all agree on the importance of creating some organizational structure on our computers so we can be more productive. Thanks to the features of our chosen OS (and some free or inexpensive software), there are some very simple ways to maximize our productivity in the most geeky way.

The Sea of Blue

When you go searching for a file, you start looking in folders. If you’re like me, your ‘Documents” folder can just look like a pile of blue folders. Finding that Pages document or PDF you haven’t accessed in a while can mean just looking through a series of alphabetically arranged folders- unless you make certain folder stand out.
 The first thing we can do is as simple as add some color to the list, giving us an easy way to visually pick out certain kinds of files. By just applying a labeling scheme, it’s easy to add a visual highlight to folders or files so that they stand out against the normal sea of blue. It’s as simple as right clicking (or CTRL-Clicking) the folder you want to label. Pick a color you want to use and you’re done. Now the name of the folder has color behind it to help it stand out. You can use this system for any file or folder

You can take this approach a step further by creating a system-wide naming technique for all those colors. If you open the Finder preferences window (open any Finder window, click on Finder in the menu bar, then click on Preferences)
From here you can change the names of the labels to suit whatever system you are most comfortable. Whether you use colors for categories, importance, delegation, or just to make your finder windows more colorful, you can find the system that works best for you and make it work.

Change the Icon

After coloring the folders and files, you may need to go a step further- change their individual icons. There are a slew of ways to do this, and I’ve tinkered with many of them. Let’s focus on the folders first.
One of the quickest ways to change the look of a folder is to just add an image on top of the normal folder icon in OS X. There is an awesome and free app that I use called Telling Folders by OMZ Software
Telling Folders makes it simple to add an image (icon, logo, or anything you want) to your folder list. You simply drag the folder you want to change to the workspace and then drag in the image you want to use (you can use a white border so it looks like a picture or you can go without).

In my experience, I’ve been able to drag JPG, PNG, PDF, Photoshop, and Illustrator files and it works perfectly. In my case, I use the logos of my clients on their particular folders, but I’ve also:
  • Put application icons on the folder (VMWare fusion icons for my virtual OS’s or WireTap studio icon for my recordings)
  • Use family members pictures for ‘user’ folders
  • Downloaded various icons online to add a visual cue to various folders-from archived files to reports. 

Sometimes, it’s even more helpful to change the icon altogether. There is a world of open icons out there to use (most are free for personal use- always check with the author and designer). I’ve used many from Interface Lift and The Icon Factory that look great and add that extra visual cue to help keep things organized. Both of these sites have some stunning icons you can use, plus you can find any number of other freely available icons by searching online. You’ll want to be sure that you can get the larger icon sizes since OS X supports up to 512×512 pixel artwork.
The easiest way of changing icons is to copy and paste. If you have a folder or file where you want to change the icon, hit COMMAND I (or Right/CTRL click and click on Get Info) to bring up the Get Info window. Now, find an icon that you want to use in it’s place (in the example I’m using, I downloaded “Ive Drives” by Louie Mantia from the Icon Factory site. Use the same technique to bring up the Get Info Window.

Now, on the window for the icon you want to start using, click on the icon in the top left– notice it now is highlighted. Hit Command C to copy.
In the other Get Info Window (the one you want to change) click on the icon to highlight it. Now hit CTRL V to paste it and it should now have the new icon. If you ever want to revert back to the old icon, just click to highlight the icon and hit the Delete key and it will go back to the system default.
As easy as that might sound, it doesn’t always work. The icon preview in the top left has to be the preview icon- sometimes you’ll go to use it and find it’s just the default icon for a jpg, png, or whatever file you’re looking for. Fear not- as they say “there’s an app for that!”
Pic2Icon is a free app that will give your image an icon preview. For instance, lets say you have a folder image that you want to use as an icon and when you check the Get Info window- there is no icon preview for that image. Open up Pic2Icon and drag that image into the window- in less that a second, it’s done. Now when you check the Get Info window, you’ll find that you now have an preview that you can copy and paste onto your file, folder, or drive that you want to use.

The icon it creates is 128 x 128, so it is not ideal, but if you’re working with the icons set to that size or smaller, the icons look great!

The Drives

So we’ve got our folders and files labelled, colored, and re-iconified; now what? Well, what about all those USB drives you keep plugging in. Ever forget which one you’ve got plugged in? Where, we can use some of the same techniques here as well. You can color your drive label, and you can change the drive icon using the awesome Candybar app from Panic Software. Candybar will let you change more than just your drive icons- it’s a great program!
However, I really like another freebie for changing the drive icons. SetIcon from digital pardoe makes it so easy to change your drive icons- and the developer has some awesome icons for those of you using Western Digital external drives (the icon in the figure I have used is from the same site).

After you download Set Icon, run it and you’ll see a simple window which includes some very nice labels to assist you. Simply pick the drive that has the icon you want to change, then drag your new icon into the image well- click the “Set Icon” button, type in your password for OS X, and the finder reboots- you’re done! (One item I’ve noticed that users should be made aware of- be certain that the Set Icon window is the active window when dragging the icon in- if it’s not, the new icon is not applied. To be sure, click on the Set Icon window just before dragging your image into the well).


Really, this is just the beginning of what you can do to organize your life on your mac in a very visual way. It’s important not to get too wrapped in just increasing the eye candy for the sake of a prettier desktop environment, but more about developing a system through which visual clues can help greatly improve your productivity and enjoyment of using your computer.
What methods do you use to visually organize your data? Read more...

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