10 tweaks for Mac OS X

Get that little bit more from OS X and smooth away some rough edges with 10 sneaky little tricks and tweaks

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  • 1 Select text
  • 2 Add a password
  • 3 Quick View
  • 4 Create a Start menu
  • 5 Speed-up Safari
  • 6 Print selected text
  • 7 Scroll to expand stacks
  • 8 Get a desktop dashboard
  • 9 Make the Dock tiny!
  • 10 Keypad as a launcher
  • More stories
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Select text like a Pro

Here’s a neat trick that lets you tap Alt+W (Option-W on some keybaords) to select the current word under the text cursor, and Alt+P to select the current paragraph. Open TextEdit, click New Document, and click Format > Make Plain Text. Then paste the following:

{

"~w" = selectWord:;

"~p" = selectParagraph:;

"^~w" = (selectWord:, cut:);

"^~p" = (selectParagraph:, cut:);

}

Click to save the file. In the dialog box, tap Shift+Cmd+G, and then type ~/Library. Create a new folder called KeyBindings. Then save your file to the folder, calling it DefaultKeyBinding.dict. Log out and back in again. Note that this trick won’t work in Microsoft Office apps (with the exception of Outlook 15.6), sadly, but works in most other apps.

[Read about the New Word, Excel & PowerPoint coming soon: how to get your hands on the preview of the next version of Word, Excel and PowerPoint for Mac]

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Next Prev 1

Here’s a neat trick that lets you tap Alt+W (Option-W on some keybaords) to select the current word under the text cursor, and Alt+P to select the current paragraph. Open TextEdit, click New Document, and click Format > Make Plain Text. Then paste the following:

{

"~w" = selectWord:;

"~p" = selectParagraph:;

"^~w" = (selectWord:, cut:);

"^~p" = (selectParagraph:, cut:);

}

Click to save the file. In the dialog box, tap Shift+Cmd+G, and then type ~/Library. Create a new folder called KeyBindings. Then save your file to the folder, calling it DefaultKeyBinding.dict. Log out and back in again. Note that this trick won’t work in Microsoft Office apps (with the exception of Outlook 15.6), sadly, but works in most other apps.

[Read about the New Word, Excel & PowerPoint coming soon: how to get your hands on the preview of the next version of Word, Excel and PowerPoint for Mac]

 

Add a boot-time password

Some PC users add a password to their computer so that nobody but them can boot it. Macs allow this too although if you have FileVault enabled you’ll only see it when you attempt to boot from something other than the main boot disk.

To enable the boot password, restart your Mac and just before the Apple logo appears, press and hold down Cmd+R to boot to the Recovery System.

Click Utilities > Firmware Password Utility and follow the instructions.

Be extremely careful when typing your new password and note it down somewhere! If you forget it then only Apple can unlock your computer. This is probably why this feature is not a default setting.

[Find out what to do if you have forgotton the password for your Mac: what to do if you've forgotten your OS X admin password]

 

Quick View inside zips

Quick Look is a jewel in the crown of OS X’s features but it has a glaring omission: You can’t Quick Look zip files to see what they contain. You’re forced to decompress them each time.

Luckily, the folks behind BetterZip provide a free add-on that fixes the problem. You’ll need to download the file (and unzip it), then open a Finder window, tap Shift+Cmd+G, and enter /Library/QuickLook. Then drop the file into the folder (click Authenticate and type your password when prompted) and reboot.

[Here's another tip: Read how to select and copy text from Quick Look Preview in OS X]

 

Create a Start menu

Microsoft Windows is hardly a shining example of operating system excellence but the Start menu, which provides quick access to all apps, is certainly an efficient concept. You can create your own ersatz Start menu on the Dock via the following steps.

Open System Preferences, click the General icon, and change the Recent Items dropdown list to 30. Then open Terminal (it’s in the Utilities folder of Applications), then copy and paste in the following, which is all one line:

defaults write com.apple.dock persistent-apps -array-add '{ "tile-data" = { "list-type" = 1; }; "tile-type" = "recents-tile"; }' && killall Dock

The Dock will slide out of view, then return. Somewhere within it a new icon will have appeared, titled Recent Items. Click it and a list of recently-used apps will fan out. It might contain only a small number of apps but it will grow as time goes on. This is a stack like any other so right-clicking will let you turn it into a fan, or a list. You can drag it to anywhere on the Dock. To delete it, just drag it up, as you would any other Dock icon.

 

Speed-up Safari

Modern browsers employ many tricks to shave milliseconds off the time it takes to load a web page. One of them is DNS prefetching, whereby the numeric IP address of each server used to construct the page, or which is linked to, is grabbed before it’s required.

Enabling prefetching by default is bold because for a minority of users it can actually make things slower. Apple provides guidance on disabling prefetching but in a nutshell you can do so by quitting Safari, opening a Terminal window (it’s in the Utilities folder of Applications), and then pasting in the following which is again a single line:

defaults write com.apple.safari WebKitDNSPrefetchingEnabled -boolean false

Give it a try. It can be surprising the difference it makes.

Read: Tips for using Safari on the Mac

 

Print selected text

One feature curiously missing from OS X is the ability to highlight some text on a web page or in an email and then choose to print only that. However, the feature can be added easily.

Download the free Print Selection Service add-on and install it (you’ll need to right-click the installation package and select Open). Log out when prompted, then open Terminal (it’s in the Utilities folder of Applications) and paste in the following, which is again a single line:

sudo cp -r /Library/Services/Print\ Selection.service ~/Library/Services/

Type your login password when prompted, then log out and back in a second time. Open System Preferences and click the Keyboard icon. Click the Shortcuts tab and then the Services entry in the list on the left. Put a tick alongside Print Selection.

From now on, simply select the text you want to print, right click the selection, select the Services submenu, and select Print Selection. Alternatively, tap Shift+Cmd+T.

[Read how to install AirPrint on any Printer]

 

Scroll to expand stacks

Here’s a neat little hack that lets you activate stacks within the Dock by hovering the mouse cursor over the icon and scrolling up (scrolling down closes the stack). It also lets you instantly activate App Exposé for an app in the Dock by scrolling up on its icon. To activate it, open a Terminal window (it’s in the Utilities folder of the Applications list), and type the following:

defaults write com.apple.dock scroll-to-open -bool TRUE;killall Dock

Then test it out on a stack or Dock icon. To turn the feature off if you wish, enter the following in a Terminal window:

defaults delete com.apple.dock scroll-to-open;killall Dock

[Read: Top tips for the Mac Dock]

 

Get a desktop dashboard

Imagine the built-in Dashboard feature of OS X but redesigned by geeks. That’s what GeekTool is, and it allows you display data and images on your desktop. The data can be the output of shell commands, or simply a file that changes frequently such as a log file.

If this sounds like double-Dutch to you then you’re perhaps not the kind of person GeekTool is aimed at (although it can still be useful), but for a percentage of the Mac userbase GeekTool is the ultimate desktop hack.

Geeklets are readymade items you can simply install, and are collected on some websites, where you’ll also find instructions on how to use GeekTool. 

 

Make the Dock tiny!

You can shrink or enlarge the Dock by clicking and dragging the bars that separate the applications from folder stacks. However, this will only take you so far. To make the Dock really small, which can be helpful on smaller screens like older MacBooks, you need to open the Terminal (it’s in the Utilities of Applications) and paste-in the following:

defaults write com.apple.dock tilesize -integer 8;killall Dock

If you want a really, really small size, try a 4 rather than 8 in that command. Obviously turning on Dock magnification in System Preferences helps make this trick feasible in day-to-day use! To restore the Dock to its normal size, just click and drag as described above.

[Read: How to use System Preferences on Mac OS X]

 

Use the numeric keypad as a launcher

If you’ve a full-sized external Mac keyboard and you never, ever use the numeric keypad at the right of it, you can turn the keypad into a specialised launcher that activates OS X features whenever numbers or symbols on it are pressed – just like the keys along the top of the keyboard.

This is possible because OS X sees the numeric keypad as a separate range of keys. As far as it is concerned, hitting 3 or the equals sign on the numeric keypad is not the same as hitting 3 or the equals sign on the main keyboard. To create shortcuts, open System Preferences, click the Keyboard icon, then click the Shortcuts tab.

Then select any feature for which you’d like to create a keypad shortcut, and double-click it at the right. Now press the key on the keypad you want to use. The only numeric keypad keys you can’t use are the Enter key, at the bottom right, and the Clear key at the top left (the key that’s a box with a cross in it).

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