12 more classic Mac tricks that you don't know

4 February 2016, 08:05

You guys really enjoyed the last helping of classic Mac tips that you probably don’t know, so here’s twelve more.

Get the most from Spotlight
If Spotlight’s not part of your routine then the following quick tips might persuade you.

Spotlight’s an excellent way of starting apps without using the mouse. Just hit Cmd+Space to open the Spotlight search bar, then start typing the name of the app. Before you’ve typed more than a few characters the app will be highlighted in the list, and you can run it by hitting Return. Alternatively, trying typing the app’s initial letters – to start Disk Utility, you might type du, for example. To start Google Chrome, you might type gc.

You can filter Spotlight’s list of results by typing kind:, followed by a modifier word. To see only audio in the results you could type kind:music, before typing the search term: kind:music fleetwood mac, for example. Other kind: modifiers that are obvious by their names include email, contact, document, app, folder, movies, pdf, pic, presentation, and spreadsheet. Give them a try!

Create CD artwork using iTunes
You might already know that you can burn audio and MP3 CDs from your iTunes music collection – provided your Mac has a DVD writer, of course! First create a new playlist – select the tracks, right-click them and select New Playlist From Selection. Then select the new Playlist, right-click it, and select the Burn Playlist to Disc option.

But did you know that iTunes can print-off a high quality jewel case for your homemade CD? Again, select the Playlist, and click File > Print on the main menu. In the dialog box that appears, select whatever style you want from the Theme dropdown list. The “single cover” option produces something akin to a commercial CD’s jewel case, using the album art from the music files.

Find forgotten passwords
Often your Mac will ask whether you want to let it remember your login details for websites and even applications.

I make such heavy use of this feature that I often forget what the password was or even the account name in some cases. However, Macs make it easy to recover such details.

All passwords are stored in a secure keychain file, and you can use the Keychain Access program to get to it. It’s found in the Utilities folder of the Applications list within Finder. When the program starts, ensure All Items is selected under the Category heading on the left, and then simply type the name of the website or application into the search field at the top right of the program window. Then double-click the entry you want in the list of results.

In the dialog box that appears, put a check in the Show Password box. You’ll need to type your login password to authorize this, but once you’re done, it will appear in plain text (ensure nobody can see your screen at this point, of course). Your login name will be listed above in the Account text field.

Choose words from a list
Ever had one of those days where words seem to get stuck on the end of your tongue? Well, all you need to do on a Mac is start typing the first few letters of the word and then hit Esc. A pop-out menu will appear showing lots of suggestions. Then use the cursor keys to select the correct word and hit Return to insert it. Hit Esc again to close the list if you don’t want to choose one of the options.

This tip works in most built-in OS X apps, such as TextEdit or Safari, but not in Microsoft Office.

In some applications where Esc is already assigned to a function, such as in the address and search field of Safari, you’ll need to hit either F5 (Fn+F5 on MacBooks and those with aluminium external keyboards) or Alt+Esc.

Use modifier keys with Hot Corners
You can configure your Mac so that if the mouse cursor is pushed into any of the four screen corners then a particular function activates, such as putting the Mac to sleep or activating Mission Control. This feature is called “Hot Corners” and can be switched on by selecting Mission Control in System Preferences, then clicking the Hot Corners button before making a selection from the dropdown list.

What’s not at all obvious is that you can combine the Shift, Ctrl, Alt and Cmd keys with a Hot Corner so that pushing the mouse into a corner won’t do anything unless one of these keys is held down — useful for the not-so-rare occasions when the mouse can end up there.

Just press the relevant key(s) when the dropdown menu for the corner is visible. You can combine any or all of the modifier keys. The menu entry will change to show what modifier keys you’ve selected to use.

Read the full dictionary
One of my favourite built-in Mac apps is the Dictionary application, which you can find in the Applications folder of Finder.

It relies on the prestigious Oxford Dictionary for its word definitions, but it’s a little-known fact that the app contains all of the dictionary’s pages, including introductory chapters and reading guides. To access these, open the application, and click Front/Back Matter at the bottom of the Go menu. Then click the hyperlinks to individual sections within the Dictionary program window.

Check the health of Apple online services
iCloud not working for you? Just visit www.apple.com/support/systemstatus to see which Apple services are up or down. Unfortunately, iCloud reliability figures aren’t quite as stellar as Apple aficionados would have you believe, so bookmarking the site isn’t a bad idea.

Rip music from video files
Want to separate the audio from a movie clip so you can listen to it on your iPod or iPhone? Your Mac has it covered with its built-in tools. Just open the clip in QuickTime Player, which is in the Applications list in Finder, and then click File > Export and select Audio Only from the Format drop-down list. This will create an .m4a file compatible with all Apple devices and computers. Just import it into iTunes in the usual way, by double- clicking the new file.

Need the files in MP3 format for your non-Apple music player or phone? Just use an app like MediaHuman’s Free Audio Converter.

Tear off tabs
Some OS X apps, such as Safari, Terminal and Finder, make use of tabs. The standard keyboard shortcut in such apps to create a tab is Cmd+T. In most cases, the tabs can be “torn off” to create a new program window containing just that tab — just click and hold the tab, drag down, and then position the new window where you want before releasing the mouse button.

Make Launchpad useful
Launchpad is one of Apple’s big features in recent releases of OS X but it’s a love-it or hate-it affair. One way to make it potentially more useful is to alter a secret setting to make the icons bigger or smaller.

Let’s say you want to change the grid size to three rows by three columns of app icons, which will make for significantly bigger icons. Open a Terminal window (open Finder, select the Applications list, and then in the list of applications double-click Terminal within the Utilities folder), and paste-in the following three lines, the first of which refers to the number of icon rows and the second of which refers to the number of icon columns:

 defaults write com.apple.dock springboard-rows -int 3
 defaults write com.apple.dock springboard-columns -int 3
 defaults write com.apple.dock ResetLaunchPad -bool TRUE;killall Dock

To make the icons smaller, we simply increase the grid size. Increasing the grid size to 10×10 icons will shrink the icons significantly into a compact layout but still leave them usable. It can be done as follows by pasting these three lines into a Terminal window:

 defaults write com.apple.dock springboard-rows -int 10
 defaults write com.apple.dock springboard-columns -int 10
 defaults write com.apple.dock ResetLaunchPad -bool TRUE;killall Dock

To restore the default icon sizes, again open a Terminal window, and type the following three lines:

 defaults delete com.apple.dock springboard-rows
 defaults delete com.apple.dock springboard-columns
 defaults write com.apple.dock ResetLaunchPad -bool TRUE;killall Dock

Create a “drives” stack in the Dock
Here’s a neat little trick that will add a new stack to the Dock that, when clicked, will display any storage attached to your computer (things like USB memory sticks, FireWire/Thunderbolt drives, and SD cards). As an added bonus, it will also show any installation .dmg files you currently have mounted.

To set it up, open a Finder window or click anywhere in a blank spot on the desktop, and hold down Shift+Cmd+G. In the dialog box that appears, simply type /Volumes. Then click Go.

Ignore the contents of the Finder window. Instead, look at the title bar, where the folder name is listed. Click and drag the small folder icon to the stacks area on the right of the Dock. The other stacks will slide out of the way to make room for it. Don’t worry — you’re not copying the folder. You’re just creating a shortcut.

See who you’ve emailed
Want to see a list of people you’ve emailed over the last, say, two or three years — and in date order, to boot? Open Mail app then click Window > Previous Recipients. In the window that appears, click the Last Used heading.

The list on my computer goes back to 15 July 2011, which is when I bought the computer.

You can also select one entry (or several using the usual Shift/Cmd clicking) and click the Add to Contacts button, to create an entry in Contacts app using their name and email address. Note that you don’t get the chance to further edit the new card, although if you then double-click the entry in the list you’ll open Contacts with the new card showing.

Leave a comment...

I knew all of them. The title is just silly and obnoxious.

— Anndra · Feb 5, 04:47 AM · #

Aren’t you a clever sausage?

Keir · Feb 5, 10:40 PM · #

Awesome man! Thank you a lot!

— Daniel Brazil · Mar 7, 10:55 PM · #