Time flies like an arrow. March 24, 2021 marked the anniversary of the official lockdown in India due to Covid-19 but twenty years ago it marked the launch of Mac OS X. Love it or hate it, Mac OS X has been part of many lives for a long time now. Over the years many changes have been made and some users now feel that the iOSification of Mac OS started with the last couple of versions. Whether that is good or bad, time will tell. But along the way everyone seems to have developed their own favourite tips, tricks and shortcuts to make the OS the most useful to them. Here are my dirty dozen tips and tricks, some old, some new and some just quirky.
This is a super useful and powerful feature of Mac OS which has been around for a long time. Every iteration of the OS has seen more features being added and the current state of Spotlight is that it is not just a simple search bar as it may have been originally but a whole mini application in its own right. Spotlight is invoked by the keyboard shortcut “Command + Spacebar” or from the little lens icon on the top menu bar. A little grey box appears in the middle of the screen and you can use it to search you disks for files, launch programs, search the web for stuff and even things like getting quick information on the weather, flights and other fun stuff. If you are looking at doing simple math or conversions, there is no need to fire up the calculator, Spotlight does it for you rather rapidly and well. Many users extend the power of Spotlight by using additional apps but I find the built-in functions more than sufficient for my needs.
As a long time user of virtual desktops, I find Spaces a total life-saver. It is one of the first things I set up on any machine. I normally start by creating at least five distinct Spaces and then restricting applications to a specific Space. My first desktop is where I open up Finder, a terminal window, the App Store and a few other apps. My second desktop is dedicated to browsing. All my browsers and browser windows are forced to open up on this desktop. I keep my third desktop for my office suite, the fourth desktop for media, music and photo-editing and finally my fifth desktop for my email client. Everything has its place: full-screen windows are opened up as separate desktops. The best part is you can switch between desktops in multiple ways – trackpad gestures, a three-finger swipe takes you to the desktop in the direction in which you swipe, a three-finger swipe up brings up “Mission Control” which gives you a bird’s eye-view of all the desktops and you can select the one you want to switch to. Finally, you can set keyboard shortcuts, I have set Control + n where n is the number of the desktop to directly switch to that space. So if I am reading mail on desktop 5 and quickly need to check something on the browser, a Control + 2 brings me to the browser desktop and I can happily browse away. Spaces in my opinion is a neglected feature and I find very few users take the time to understand and set this up. However, it is a total productivity enhancer and must not be ignored.
I first started using Text Replacement on an iPhone. It is only later that I realised that due to the iCloud sync the Text Replacement shortcuts that you create are available across all your devices that are signed-in with the iCloud account. I find Text Replacement incredibly useful and often miss it on Android and Windows. While some of it can be down on Android phones, there is no easy way to sync the shortcuts you create. So what exactly does Text Replacement do? It basically lets you create shortcut phrases which can expand to longer sentences or even a paragraph if you so need. One that I use all the time is “addr” to quickly provide my complete postal address. You can also use things like “@@“ to fill-in your primary email address. I have dozens of replacements set up and yes, they very comfortably work on all my devices- phone, tablet and laptop.
The Apple Watch apart from being one of the top smartwatches in the world is also a great security device. The watch can be used to unlock your MacBook and in some cases rather than entering a password you can also double-click the side button to approve the login. This works even on a MacBook without a touch-id. In order to set this up, the watch needs to have a passcode. Yes, entering a passcode on the watch can be a pain, but that’s where your iPhone comes to the rescue. You can set the phone to automatically unlock the watch when it is in proximity and worn. I guess that’s what they call the Apple eco-system. Once your watch has a passcode, head over to “system preferences” and select “security and privacy” and then just tick the box for “use your Apple Watch to unlock apps and your Mac” and you are all set.
In the days of old, capturing and annotating screenshots always required a good third-party utility. Over the years, Mac OS refined this to a fine art. Now you can capture your screens in whichever way you want, a single window, a particular area, the entire screen and even screen-recording. This is best done with the keyboard shortcuts assigned for this function.
Shift+Command+3 gives you an instant shot off the current screen. While that is useful, sometimes you want a little more control and that’s where Shift+Command+4 comes into the picture. You can select the specific area of which you wish to take a screenshot and if you have a Touch Bar you get options on the touch bar area for various selections. The Touch Bar also allows you to select a directory in which the screenshot should be saved. Finally, if you use Shift+Command+5 you get an on-screen control panel with options for entire screen, selected portion, specific window and two options for screen recording, the entire screen or selected portion. You also get an options menu with a save to location, a timer setting and a few additional options to control. This is extremely useful to get quality screenshots whether it be for documentation, training or trouble-shooting or just to share what’s on your screen. (Fig. Screenshot with options)
Windows users have always been proud of the way they can switch apps easily. Well, Mac OS has never been far behind. You can not only switch apps easily but if you want to quit an app you can use the same technique. Command + Tab brings up all the running apps into a window in the centre of the screen, keep the Command key pressed and cycle through the apps from left to right by pressing the Tab key. You can also go from right to left with Shift+Tab while the Command key is still kept pressed. To close a particular app, once it is highlighted, keeping the Command key pressed also press Q and the selected app will shutdown. Quick and easy and very accessible. Saves a lot of time.
How cluttered is your desktop? That temp folder which not only has become permanent but is also growing in leaps and bounds occupying tons of disk space. The important spreadsheet that you need to access today and never got around to it and you suddenly see that there are many more now living on your desktop. Images that you want to share and after a few days you forgot to delete them or you are still looking for a permanent home for them. Sound familiar? After a lot of discipline I managed to clear my desktop and not store any files on it at all, everything in its rightful place. But there is an easy way to organise the clutter if you are still battling with it. Enter Stacks right-click on the Desktop and select the option “Use Stacks” you will find that auto-magically all files seem to vanish from the desktop into folders grouped by file type. All the PDFs in one folder, all the images in another and all those spreadsheets in a third, neat, clean and very manageable. You can also group the files by various date options and if you use tags, then by tags as well.
Preview is the Swiss-army knife of Mac OS. It lets you, as its name suggests, to preview files. The file types supported are many and it is actually not just limited to previewing them. In some cases you can do much more. Specially, with PDF files. You can use Preview as a PDF editor, join multiple PDF files, move pages around, add images to the PDF and of course, one of the most useful features is to use Preview to fill-out PDF forms and even sign them. The best part of signing a PDF, while you can use the trackpad and mostly make a mess of it, the better option is to use an iPhone or iPad and take a photo of a signature on a paper which gets pushed into the right place. Very neat indeed.
Ever had the need to rename a bunch of files at the same time? I have that problem every now and then. Every time I travel and return with thousands of photos, I dump them in a folder with the travel destination name. But then inside the folder the files are all usually DSC_somethingortheother.jpg and ideally I would like to rename the lot to include the trip name and date and then specific photos can be individually named as needed. To rename a batch of files, the process is simple. Open Finder, select the files that you would like to rename, right-click and choose the option rename from the dialogue box. You can then choose to replace text, add text to the beginning or the end of the file names. Quick and easy.
If you ever need to quickly print a file which is already on the desktop, then this tip is for you. Setting this up is easy, all you have to do is go to system preferences and select the printer that you have configured and drag and drop it onto your desktop. Now whenever you want to print a file just drag the file on to this printer icon and away it goes.
While on the subject of printing, here’s another nifty little tip. In your address book, if you are diligent enough and have filled out the complete address of your contact, then you can very quickly print an envelope addressed to that contact. All you have to do is open that contact’s card and Command + P will bring up a printer dialog box which will show your name and contact details on the top left as the sender, and the your contact’s information in the centre as the receiver. No need to struggle with formats, just print and go.
Sometimes Emoji is the only way to convey feelings in written text and looking for the appropriate emoji has now become quite the task. At one point, emojis were simple they were mostly composed of a brackets symbol, a semi colon, a dash and a colon and combinations of these characters. Nowadays, there is literally an emoji for everything! On Mac OS it is easy to bring up an emoji keyboard complete with search and quickly solve the issue of the best emoji for the job.