Mac OS X Hints

Assign custom icons more quickly

OS X lets you create custom icons for your files and folders, which is not only fun but also useful—you can, for instance, place a custom icon on all of a project’s folders to make them easy to identify at a glance.

You can freely download countless types of icons (see screenshot) from sites such as The Iconfactory and InterfaceLift. Or you can use an icon editor, such as Uncommonplace’s Icon Machine ($25) or Mscape Software’s Iconographer ($15), to create your own.

The problem is that assigning custom icons is rather tedious. First, you have to click on the file with the icon you want and choose File: Get Info (Command-I) in the Finder. Next, you click on the small icon in the Get Info window and copy it (Command-C). Then you click on the destination file, open its Get Info window, and paste the icon (Command-V) into the right spot. That’s a lot of clicks, especially if you’re changing multiple icons.

So here’s a time-saver (for those of you running OS X 10.3.3 or later): don’t use the Get Info window when you’re copying the custom icon. Instead, just select the source item in the Finder and press Command-C to copy the icon. Now select the destination, press Command-I to open the Get Info window, click on the small icon image, and press Command-V to paste.

Indy Icons By using custom icons, such as this set from The Iconfactory, you can give your files and folders a look that makes them easy to spot among the background clutter.

Play to Spotlight’s strengths

Yes, Spotlight can dig out the proverbial needle from a haystack (that is, a file), but it can also find and open applications on your hard drive with just a few keystrokes. Want to launch a somewhat-buried application such as Disk Utility? Press Command-space, type

Disk Uti
, and wait a bit, and you’ll soon see the Disk Utility application at the top of the results list. Click on it, and Disk Utility will open.

Unfortunately, the “wait a bit” portion of the process can get old quickly. If you have a big hard drive, you might wait several seconds, during which time Spotlight bores you by spitting out irrelevant results. That’s where third-party launchers can help. The three best-known programs are Objec-tive Development’s LaunchBar ($20, for home use), Peter Maurer’s Butler ($18), and Blacktree’s Quicksilver (free). These programs all work in a similar manner: you type a keyboard shortcut, enter a few letters of the application or document’s name, and press return to open the highlighted item (or use the mouse to choose it from a list of results). Unlike with Spotlight, these searches happen nearly instantly—they don’t try to maintain a live index of all files and their contents on your hard drive—so there’s no annoying wait.

What these utilities generally don’t do as well is look inside files for bits of data (some of them don’t do this at all). In an ideal world then, you’d use Spotlight to search for information within files, and one of the launcher applications to open files and documents. (Make sure to remap any conflicting keyboard shortcuts—LaunchBar and Spotlight, for example, use the same one.)

No problem. After you’ve picked and downloaded your launch application, open the Spotlight preference pane, choose the Search Results tab, and deselect both the Applications and System Preferences options. Now Spotlight will no longer search for applications or system preference panes. What’s more, you should see better performance when you use Spotlight for other searches.

Pump Up the Volume When you need a little extra volume, QuickTime’s preview player lets you “turn it up to 11.” On the left, you see a clip with the normal volume-control slider. On the right, the same clip is playing with an enhanced volume slider.

Give QuickTime previews a volume boost

You’re probably aware that the Finder can preview QuickTime audio and video files—just click once on a QuickTime clip in column-view mode, and you’ll see the movie appear in the Preview column, complete with QuickTime controller for easy playback.

But what do you do for those times when a video’s audio is too quiet to hear? You could import the clip into iMovie and increase the volume, or reach over and crank up your speakers. But there’s a simpler method: hold down the shift key before clicking on the volume-level icon. When you do, QuickTime gives the volume slider more range than it usually has (see screenshot). (Bonus hint: Command-click on the left-facing arrow at the end of the progress slider to see the video play backward.)

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