Mac OS X Hints

Take a look at some ways to see more in Finder windows, tweak your iChat messages so they contain multiple lines, print pages to PDF, assign multiple genres to iTunes tracks, know how much is in your Trash, take advantage of Unix's redirection command, train Mail only once, and more.

Enhance Your Column View

If you'd like to see more data in Finder windows, open a window in Column view and then type 1-J, or select View: Show View Options.

At the top of the window, select the Windows option, and pick an 11- or 10-point size instead of the default 12-point. Unlike List and Icon views, Column view reduces the size of icons when you choose a smaller font. A simple one-point reduction in font size lets you see many more items at once, with almost no loss in readability -- ideal for monitors with lower resolutions.

Create an iChat Message That Spans Multiple Lines

If you ever want to send a multiline message to someone in iChat AV, just hold down the option key before you press return. You can now type multiple unique lines, pressing option and return simultaneously each time. The message won't be sent until you press just the return key.

View Album Art for the Current iTunes Track

For some reason, the default iTunes setting for displaying album covers is to show the artwork for the selected song, not the currently playing song. But you can eliminate this frustration. If you just click on the Selected Song title bar at the top of the cover-artwork box, it will change to read Now Playing. Now, iTunes will display the artwork associated with the current song for good -- unless you click on the Now Playing title bar to change it.

Print Pages to PDF

One of OS X's oft-overlooked features is its ability to turn any on-screen element into a PDF file, through the Print dialog box. Select File: Print from any application, and click on the Save As PDF button to create the file. This maneuver is perfect for sending a FileMaker Pro report to a colleague, saving online Web-store receipts, or creating a document that you can send to people on multiple platforms with the knowledge that they'll all be able to open, view, and print it. This feature is even great for browsing Web sites -- when you find a tidbit of knowledge you'd like to retain, just save it as a PDF file on your hard drive, and it will be instantly available when you need it.

Prevent Safari from Autocompleting

Safari, like many other browsers, tries to help by autocompleting URLs as you type them, basing its choices on your prior viewing habits. While this is useful most of the time, it's frustrating when you want to load a site's home page and Safari takes you to the subpage you last viewed. If you'd like to limit these autocompletions, start by choosing History: Clear History, and then quitting Safari. In your user folder, go to Library: Safari and locate the history.plist file. Select the file, choose File: Get Info, and then click on the Locked option. Now close the window.

When you relaunch Safari, autocompletion will still work as expected on bookmarks, and it will also work for URLs you visit in the current session. But the next time you quit and restart Safari, the autocompletion data will vanish -- it can't be written to the locked .plist file. To return to normal autocompletion, deselect the Locked option in the history.plist file's Get Info dialog box.

Display All Your Preference Panels

In System Preferences, certain preference panels, such as Bluetooth and Ink, display only when the applicable hardware is available. To access these panels at any time, just drag them into the System Preferences toolbar. Once they are on the toolbar, you click on their respective icons to load the panels, even if you don't have the proper hardware attached.

Zip Through iTunes Songs via the Keyboard

Want to use your keyboard to fast-forward or rewind a song in iTunes? With iTunes as the active application, press and hold down both the 1 key and the option key; then press and hold the left- or right-arrow keys to rewind or fast-forward, respectively. This little trick saves you time and mouse movements.

Pick Multiple Genres for iTunes Songs

iTunes 4 lets you place a song into any genre for easy sorting and searching. But did you know that you can assign multiple genres to a single song? Highlight a song in your iTunes library, and then select File: Get Info. In the dialog box that appears, click on the Info tab and type your genres, separated by commas (Rock, Pop, for example), in the Genre box, and then click on OK. A future search or Smart Playlist for a particular genre will now show all songs with that genre in the Genre box. (Note that this will not work when using iTunes to browse by genre.)

How Big Is the Trash?

One OS 9 feature missing from OS X is the ability to easily see how many files are in the Trash, as well as the total amount of disk space they use. But this information is useful when you want to perform a quick safety check. If your Trash contains 38.6GB of data, you probably want to verify that you didn't accidentally drag your iTunes Library into the Trash.

An easy way to get this information in OS X is to open the Trash by clicking on its Dock icon, type 1-A to select everything in it, and then type 1-I to open the Get Info window. The Get Info window will reveal the number, type, and size of the items in your Trash. If the file count and size match what you expect, then go ahead and empty the Trash. If they don't, maybe you should dig in the Trash for some buried treasure.

Unix Tip of the Month

When you're in OS X's command line, you may find the Unix redirection feature useful. Redirection is nothing more than taking the output of a program and sending it to somewhere other than its default location. For instance, if you'd like to save a full directory listing (created with ls -al) into a text file, you have two choices. The typical Mac solution is to select the on-screen output, copy it, switch to a word processor, paste the contents, and save the file. The Unix redirection solution is much simpler. Just type ls -al > dirlist.txt, where dirlist.txt is any file name you want to use. The > symbol redirects the output of ls from its usual destination (the screen) to the specified file. This will create a new file or overwrite an existing file with the same name. If you have an existing file to which you'd like to add more data, replace the > with >>.

In addition to directory-list files, you can use redirection to create a list of all the MP3s in a certain directory (find ~/Music/ -iname "*.mp3" -print > mytunes.txt) or a running log of your machine's uptime and CPU load (uptime >> myuptime.txt), or to capture the output of any other Unix command.

Share Mail's Junk Rules

Apple's Mail application has a great junk-mail filter. To get the most out of it, though, you'll have to spend a few months training it to distinguish your good e-mail from your junk e-mail. If you have multiple machines, or multiple users on the same Mac, you don't have to let all that work go to waste. In your user folder, open the Library: Mail folder and copy LSMMAP to the same location in the other users' folders (or onto another machine entirely). Now when you run Mail as the other user, you'll have the benefit of all those months of training.

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