Mac OS X Hints

Display full file paths in search results, search more quickly for software updates, have some fun with Pong, make hidden apps look hidden in the Dock, see who's accessing your Mac, and more.

Make Hidden Apps Look Hidden

The easiest way to hide an application's windows is to press 1-H. But when you do this, the hidden application's Dock icon doesn't change -- which may lead you to accidentally activate the hidden windows by clicking on the application's icon. With one simple Terminal command, you can command the Dock to differentiate between hidden and nonhidden apps. Just open a new Terminal window, type the following, and then press enter:
defaults write com.apple.Dock showhidden -bool yes.

Although you've told the Dock to give your hidden applications a unique look, you won't see the effect until you restart the Dock. Launch Process Viewer in 10.2 or Activity Monitor in 10.3 (both in Applications: Utilities), find and click on the Dock entry, and then select Process: Quit to restart the Dock. From now on, any application you hide will have a semitransparent icon. To get things back to normal, just repeat the above command with no at the end, and then restart the Dock.

Take Ink's Font for a Spin

Are you addicted to fonts? Always looking to add another freebie to your collection? In OS X, Apple includes a font called Apple Casual for use with the Ink handwriting-recognition system. But even if you don't have an input pad, you can benefit from the Apple Casual font.

In the Finder, go to System: Library: Components: Ink.component: Contents: SharedSupport. Control-click on InkServer and select Show Package Contents; then go to Contents: Resources. The first item in the list will be AppleCasual.dfont. Open your user folder in a new Finder window, go to Library: Fonts, and copy the AppleCasual.dfont folder into your Fonts folder. The next time you start up applications, Apple Casual will be available for use.

Search for Software Updates Faster

Most people check for the latest and greatest Apple software in OS X 10.2 by clicking first on the Software Update preference pane and then on the Check Now button to see what's out there. Here's a simple time-saver for the next time you want to find new and updated apps -- hold down the option key while clicking on the Software Update panel, and the Check Now process will begin. Panther users, you've got two even simpler methods of checking for software updates. You can either use the Software Update menu option under the Apple menu, or you can click on the Software Update button that you see when you select About This Mac from the Apple menu.

Play the Oldest Video Game in the Newest OS

Have a few minutes to spare for a game but not enough time to fire up Unreal Tournament 2003 or The Sims? Try a quick game of Pong, the original video game. Just open a new Terminal window and type emacs; this is one of the more powerful Unix text editors. When the editor opens, press the escape key and then the X key, type pong, and press return.

You'll find a rudimentary Pong game on your screen. There's no computer opponent, so you'll have to use the left and right arrows to control the paddle on the left, and the up and down arrows to control the paddle on the right. When you're done being amazed at how far video games have come in the last 20 years, just press control-X followed by control-C to return to the Terminal prompt -- and the present day.

Banish the Tilde from Users' Site Names

With OS X's built-in Personal Web Sharing (found in the Sharing preference pane), every user on your Mac can have a personal Web site that others can access at a URL such as http://your.ip.number/~user_name.

If you don't like having the tilde in the URL, however, you can easily remove it with Terminal and an admin password.

Open a Terminal window, and then type
cd /etc/httpd/users
to switch to the directory that Apache (the built-in Web server) uses to manage the user sites. If you're unsure of your users' short names, type ls to see a list of the available configuration files. Say you want to modify the settings for a user named Alice: type
sudo pico alice.conf
and enter your admin password when prompted to do so. Once the file is open, type the following above the first line (the one that begins with
Alias /alice "/Users/alice/Sites".

This Alias command acts just like an alias file in the Finder -- it tells Apache that someone looking for a page at the /alice URL should be sent to Alice's Sites folder instead.

Once you've added the line, press control-X to exit, and then press Y when pico asks if you'd like to save the modified buffer -- this will write your changes to the file.

Return to the Sharing preference pane, and turn the Personal Web Sharing feature off and then back on. This restarts Apache, which will then read the modified configuration. From now on, you can skip the tilde and just type http://your.ip.address/alice to get to Alice's Web site. Repeat this process for any other user URL you'd like to modify.

Display a File's Real Path

When you use the Find command in OS X 10.2's Finder and then select an item from the results, the item's path may not be clearly visible. To see the full path, you can drag up the bar that separates the search results from the path until you have designated a large enough display space. An easier method is to double-click on the divider bar, which forces the results to display in the smallest possible space. Double-click again, and you'll see a hierarchical path display. In OS X 10.3, Apple has fixed this problem, and the item's path will display correctly -- though you can still drag up the divider bar to create the hierarchical path display.

Unix Tip of the Month

If you use the Personal File Sharing feature in the Sharing preference pane, you may wonder how you can tell who's accessing your machine. The Network Utility in the Applications: Utilities folder will give you detailed information on everything that's happening on your network, but its output can be hard to read unless you're well versed in the language of networking. To quickly see who's out there, type this command in Terminal:
netstat -na | grep 548.

The command's output shows you who's connected to your machine. The first output line displays an established connection between the host machine (IP address 192.168.1.150) and a guest machine (IP address 192.168.1.225). The last line shows a second connection from a machine with an IP address of 192.168.1.55.

If you see any IP numbers in your output that you don't recognize, it's possible that unauthorized users are using your shared folders, and you may wish to investigate further with your network's administrator or your ISP -- and consider disabling Personal File Sharing until you figure out the source of the unknown connections.

Change Desktop Pictures

When you want to get a new collection of desktop images, you may think that you have to select Choose Folder from the Collection pop-up menu in the Desktop preference pane, and then navigate to the folder of your choice. But it's much easier to drag a folder from the Finder into the preview area near the bottom of the Desktop preference pane. When you do that, the Collection pop-up menu will change to reflect the folder's name, and the preview area will display the images in that folder. (You can also drag an individual picture icon from within a folder to change the available collection and set the desktop picture at the same time.)

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