Thursday, May 03, 2007

Useful tools for Macs

I was thinking about certain blogging buddies who have recently switched away from the Dark Side, and it occurred to me that there are probably many clever little tools and tricks that I use daily which they don't know about. Without further ado, here are sixteen seventeen pointers for new Mac users:

1) Investigate the "Services" menu, which is part of every application. Many useful things can be found here, for instance you can mark text in any application (e.g. while composing this blog piece in Safari) and have the Mac automatically create a new TextEdit file and put the marked text into it.

2) Depending on your work habits and the size of your monitor, you may find Stickies useful. This programme puts little yellow (red, green, ...) Post-Its on your screen.

3) Clean up the dock! Dock space is limited and too valuable to waste on programmes that you don't use regularly (especially if you have TigerLaunch installed (see below). To remove an item from the dock, click and hold on it, and pull the item out of the dock into mid-screen, then let go. You can add items to the dock by dragging them into it: existing items move aside to make a place for it. You can also get any currently running app to remain in the dock: click and hold on the item until a context menu appears, then select "Keep in dock."

4) Use the Keychain to keep track of your accounts and passwords; allow the browser to save and recall these. However, if you do this, then you must:

5) Set a really good password (more than six characters, lower-case AND upper-case AND numerics AND graphic symbols) for your login account, and disable the automatic login feature. This prevents someone who steals your laptop or walks into your office in your absence from getting at your online banking or whatever. [Updated] Warning: use only characters and symbols that appear on a standard American-English keyboard (i.e. no ä or ß or ñ characters). If the computer crashes and damages your preferences, it may start with an American-English setup on which such characters are not available or in different positions.

6) You can jump between running applications by pressing Apple-Tab. This is faster and more convenient than clicking in the Dock or searching for the other app's open windows.

7) Learn to use Exposé to reveal all currently open windows, or to temporarily hide all windows to show you the desktop.

Here are a few recommended programmes:
This is a configurable equivalent to Windows' Start menu: a simple list of all programmes on your computer for easy access. Unlike the Start menu, it is easily user-configurable: you can add or remove programmes from the list, and specify which folders it should include.

A very useful addition to the "Services" menu, it performs mathematical calculations in context, in the middle of your e.g. Word document, so that you need not reach for the calculator. You type e.g. Mark owes me 18*3.5+3 Euros and select the expression, then choose "Evaluate expression" from the Services menu. The answer is appended to the expression: Mark owes me 18*3.5+3 = 66 Euros, you then delete the original calculation if no longer desired.

Menu calendar clock
This puts a pop-up monthly calendar in the menu bar, linked to entries in your iCal calendar.

Net News Wire
A simple and very comfortable RSS feed viewer.

I wrote about this previously. It's the opposite of iTunes, it copies music files from your iPod to your computer and (optionally) enters them into your iTunes library. Obviously one would only use this to make a backup copy of the iPod, not to "obtain" music from a friend's collection.

Tea Timer
A very simple timer app, which bongs a reminder at a specific point in time (15:33:07) or after counting down a number of hours/minutes/seconds. I use this daily to remind myself that something's in the oven.

Makes configurable screen shots of the entire monitor, a specific window, a region defined by two clicks on the diagonal, or after N seconds (which allows you to take a screen shot with a menu open). It's very useful to me when I'm writing user guides for or answering questions about my software. Unlike the built-in screen shot capability (Apple-3 for the entire monitor, Apple-4 for a region) the results can be saved in one of several image formats, or can even be drag-and-dropped directly into an open e-mail message.

Spam Sieve
A spam filter, in case your Internet provider doesn't offer one or their price is too high. Simple, very effective, good value for money.

Super Duper!
Cheap and effective backup software. The basic version is free; the full version (22 Euros) can be made to run backups automatically at specific times, e.g. in the middle of the night. Ya gotta make backups!

The Finder has a built-in FTP browser which can display storage areas on the Internet as though they were normal hard-disks attached to your computer, but if you often work with FTP you will want something more controllable. Cyberduck is simple to use, cheap and very effective.

Lets you view Windows Media Viewer (.wmv) clips in QuickTime.

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Anonymous antonia said...

thanks for this, udge, this is indeed geekjoy and lots of things to find out on rainy sundays or so :)

May 4, 2007 at 8:24:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger rb said...

wow, thanks!

May 7, 2007 at 3:10:00 a.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Udge said...

My pleasure. May the Steve be with you.

May 7, 2007 at 10:43:00 a.m. GMT+2  

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