Mac OS X Hints & Tips

  • If you have a Bluetooth-enabled phone that iSync supports, take the 10 minutes that’s necessary to set up a sync profile with it. iSync works very well with its supported devices. (Syncing between Macs is still sucky because .Mac is a pile of crap, but that’s not relevant here.) Your first sync can merge the data on both the phone and your Mac OS X Address Book and Calendar together, so you won’t lose any information. It’s serious peace of mind having your full phonebook backed up on your Mac thanks to iSync.
  • All Mac applications will store your password in a central “password repository” named the Keychain. This means that every single password you type in a Web form, all those login passwords for your email servers in Apple Mail, all the WEP password you need to join AirPort networks etc are all stored in the Keychain (securely, of course!). You can use the Keychain Access utility in your Applications -> Utilities to inspect your keychain, reveal passwords to yourself, and add new items to the keychain yourself if you like. MacWorld has a good tutorial on how to use the Keychain, and there’s another Keychain tutorial on Most of My Mac.
  • If you’re a desktop background (a.k.a. wallpaper) hound like me, you can tell the Desktop & Screen Saver System Preference to pick a folder full of pictures for a random desktop background. I swap them every 5 minutes simply because it looks cool, and it saves you the mental hassle of having to pick just one desktop picture of your collection of 500.
  • If you hook up your Mac to a TV to watch videos or whatever, it’s worthwhile to do a bit of colour calibration so that, you know, the picture actually looks kinda nice. Go to System Preferences -> Displays -> Color tab -> Calibrate button, and enjoy a bit more shininess.
  • I personally don’t make my main account an administrator one, just because it’s a little bit more secure. If you’re a UNIX guy, add yourself to the /etc/sudoers file with visudo. Enable a separate Administrator account for those pesky installers.
  • To use the Tab key to navigate between all the different controls in a dialog box, go to System Preferences -> Keyboard & Mouse -> Keyboard Shortcuts -> Full keyboard access: All Controls.
  • I often operate my Mac with the sound muted, just because I prefer a quiet environment. Unfortunately, then you tend to miss out on alert noises. Never fear, you can enable a nice flash-screen effect whenever an alert is sounded: System Preferences -> Universal Access -> Hearing tab -> “Flash the screen when an alert sound occurs”.
  • Don’t clutter up your menu bar too much with all those silly computer monitoring things such as memory measurement utilities: they’re just distracting and consume extra computing resources. Zen, baby! You really don’t need to know what’s going on with your computer all the time. If you find that you’ve added some new menu bar item that you don’t use very much, just remove it. You can always add it back in later if you really want to.
  • Command-H — the shortcut to Hide the current application — is your friend: use it. A lot. Command-H combined with Exposé are the two main reasons why I don’t miss virtual desktops on UNIX that much. The two used together really make window management a moot issue for me, and is the main reason why I don’t miss my 24” monitor that much whenever I’m using a much smaller 15” screen on the road. You can also Option-click an application on the Dock to switch to it and minimise every single other application’s windows immediately, a feature I use pretty often.
  • For UNIX command-line folks, you can use the open command from the Terminal and pass it a filename as a parameter. It will open up the filename as a document in whatever Mac OS X application usually handles that file type. e.g. open *.mov will open all the current movies in QuickTime Player, by default. (It’s more-or-less the same as the Windows cmd.exe start command). man open for a couple of extra goodies.