Web & communication software

Mac OS X Hints - August 2006

Distinguish docked URLs

One handy OS X feature is the Dock’s ability to give you one-click access to Web sites. Drag a URL to the right side of the Dock (or to the bottom, if you orient your Dock vertically), and you create a spring icon that you can click on to go directly to the Web page. (This works with Apple’s Safari, Mozilla’s free Camino, and The Omni Group’s $30 OmniWeb. It doesn’t work with Mozilla’s free Firefox.)

This is a great time-saver if you have a few URLs you access often. The problem is that every site gets the same generic spring icon, so a casual glance at the Dock won’t tell you which site each icon represents; you must hover your cursor over an icon to reveal its title. Here’s a workaround that will let you apply a unique icon to each docked URL.

Start by creating a new folder on your desktop (or, if you don’t like a cluttered desktop, in your user folder /Documents). Name it Docked URLs. When you want to create a docked URL, drag the URL from your browser into the Docked URLs folder instead of directly to the Dock. This creates a Web-location file, just as dragging a URL to the Dock does.

Now look at the Web site you want to bookmark, and find a logo or an image that will help you identify the site. You’ll use this graphic as a custom icon. Once you’ve found it, press Command-shift-control-4. Your cursor will turn into cross-hairs; then click and drag to select the graphic, trying to make the selection as square as possible. Release the mouse when you’re done. The clipboard now contains the image.

In the Finder, open the Docked URLs folder and select the Web-location file you created. Press Command-I (File -> Get Info). Select the HTTP icon in the top left corner and then press Command-V (Edit -> Paste). You should see your custom graphic in the small square—OS X will automatically scale it as required. Close the Get Info window and move your customized URL to the Dock.

Puzzled by your docked URLs’ generic spring icons? Make them easy to identify at a glance with custom icons.

Get selective with Finder selections

Sure, you know how to select something in the Finder by clicking on it (see Master the Finder for a selection primer). But what happens if you select several files and then realize that you want the unselected items in that location instead? For example, say you’ve grabbed all the image files in a folder that contains image files and text documents, but then you decide that you want to leave the images where they are and move the documents to a new location.

You could start over, but that’s the hard way—at least if you use the icon or column view. Instead, just move the mouse to an empty area within the current folder, press and hold Command, and start dragging over everything in the window. (If you use the list view, you must begin dragging from the left of a file name.) As you do so, you’ll see your current selections become unselected while the previously unselected items are selected. (There’s a movie that shows this technique in action.)

Uncover missing Keynote animations

When Apple upgrades programs, it sometimes also downgrades them in certain ways (usually silently). Such is the case with Keynote 3 (part of the $79 iWork ’06 suite;   ). When I first looked at Keynote 3, I saw nothing but useful new features. But then I went looking for one of my favorite Keynote transitions—Motion Dissolve—and it was nowhere to be found. It worked fine in existing presentations, but I couldn’t add it to a new one. A bit of investigation revealed more missing effects—the Burn, Drop, Falling Tiles, Grid, and Twirl transitions, along with the Drop and Twirl build effects. Thankfully, recovering these effects is quite simple. Go to Keynote: Preferences, click on the General tab, and choose the Include Obsolete Animations In Choices option. That’s it—all the missing animations will appear back in their proper spots in the Build and Transition pop-up menus.

Use the Keyboard in Preview slide shows

Have a folder full of images you need to review? There’s no need to open them all in Apple’s iPhoto or Adobe Photoshop. The OS X 10.4 version of Preview (/Applications) includes a handy slide-show tool that makes quickly looking at several images a breeze.

Choose View -> Slideshow in Preview (Command-shift-F) to start the show. An on-screen controller lets you pause the slide show, view all the images as an index sheet, toggle between the Fit To Screen and Actual Size modes for an image, add an image to iPhoto, and exit the slide show.

If you prefer using the keyboard to using the mouse, you can employ the arrow keys to move between each image in your slide show. But Preview also offers a few other time-saving keyboard shortcuts. Press A to view an image at its actual size. Press F to resize an image so it fills the screen. Press I to view the index page. On the index page, you can use the arrow keys to select an image, and then press return to view the selected image.

Compare or merge the contents of two folders

Unless you create software for a living, you probably haven’t explored Apple’s Developer Tools. These free tools can be very useful, so they’re worth checking out. (You’ll find the Developer Tools package on your Tiger Install DVD. Once you’ve installed the package, you’ll see a new Developer folder at the root level of your hard drive.)

Consider FileMerge, which you’ll find in /Developer/Applications/Utilities. This program is typically used to compare two text files—drag files to the Left and Right drop zones in the Compare Files window, and FileMerge will display a comparison page that shows the differences between the two files. This feature is very handy if you do a lot of work with HTML, PHP, or other pure text files and often have multiple, nearly identical, versions of those files.

But not many people know that you can also use FileMerge to compare two folders. For example, say you have two folders of images, and you’d like the folders to be identical. You could invest in a synchronization utility such as Econ Technologies’ $30 ChronoSync (   ), but that might be overkill. Instead, give FileMerge a shot.

Use FileMerge (part of Apple’s Developer Tools) to compare two folders.

Launch FileMerge and then drag one folder into each drop zone in the Compare Files window. Once you’ve added the folders, just click on Compare. FileMerge opens a new window with a list of gray and black file names. A gray file name indicates that the file is in both folders. A black file name indicates that the file is in only one folder. Select a file to see a status message at the bottom of the window. If the message reads, “added to right,” the file is in the folder you placed in the Right drop zone. If the message reads, “added to left,” the file is in the Left drop zone’s folder. To simplify this view, use the Exclude check boxes. Select the Identical option, for example, if you don’t want to see files that are in both folders.

If you’d like to look at any of the files, click on the View button to display a drop-down menu of options. Choose Comparison (for text files only) to open the traditional FileMerge comparison window, or use the Left File or Right File option to see the actual text or images in the specified folder. The Ancestor and Merge views are for people using FileMerge to check code. (You can read more about these options in FileMerge’s Help file.)

If you wanted only to visually compare the two folders’ contents, you’re done. But you can also use FileMerge to merge the two folders into one new one. To do this, select all the files in the leftmost column (click on one and then press Command-A). Then select Combine Files from the Merge pop-up menu (or press Command-1). FileMerge will ask you for a new folder name and then merge the two folders.

Hide Mail messages from Spotlight

Are you an e-mail pack rat like me? If you were to peer into my copy of Apple’s Mail, you’d see more than 15,000 messages filed away. I can’t bring myself to delete them—just in case. Who knows when I might need something in that folder of messages from every person who registered for my e-book about OS X 10.1? Or what if a critical piece of information is in the folder containing press releases that date back to 2002?

In previous versions of OS X, having all this data stuffed in my Mail folders wasn’t a problem. But with the release of version 10.4, Spotlight entered the picture. Left to its own devices, Spotlight will index every Mail message you keep. For me, this meant that Spotlight searches would often return tons of irrelevant matches from archived messages. I don’t want to ditch these messages, but hiding them from Spotlight sure would be convenient.

If you keep a lot of e-mail messages in old folders that you don’t want Spotlight to search, omit the folders from Spotlight’s index by choosing them in the Privacy tab.

An anonymous tipster on the Mac OS X Hints Web site found a simple solution. Open the Spotlight preference pane and then click on the Privacy tab. Click on the plus sign (+) at the bottom of the window, and then navigate to your user folder /Library/Mail/ Mailboxes. Now just click on the folder you’d like to exclude, and then click on Choose. (You can select more than one folder at a time by holding down the Command key.) Each time you do this, the folder is added to the list of locations on your computer that Spotlight doesn’t index.

If necessary, navigate into the folders within the Mailboxes folder to reach subfolders. When you’re done, close the Spotlight pane, and that’s that. If you ever decide you want Spotlight to include a certain folder again, just return to the Privacy tab, select the folder, and press the minus sign (-) to remove it. As soon as you do so, Spotlight will update its index to include all the messages therein.

OS X: 101: Master the Finder

Need to move some files around or open a bunch of files in one application? You can save a lot of time by learning how to use key combinations in the Finder. Pressing the control, Command, option, and/or shift keys in conjunction with a mouse click or drag unlocks all sorts of special abilities that can help you get things done more easily.

Command-Click The handy Command key is right next to your spacebar—it’s sometimes called the command key, the cloverleaf key, the Apple key, or “that squiggly key.” This key lets you select noncontiguous items. In the list, column, or icon view, press and hold Command before clicking on an icon. Continue to hold down Command, and click on another icon. You’ll see that you now have two items selected. This is a good way, for example, to grab all the JPEG files in a folder even if they’re not next to each other. Once they’re selected, you can then drag and drop them onto your image editor or move them to a new location.

Shift-Click If you work in the column or list view, you can shift-click to select a group of contiguous files. Click on the first file you want to select, press and hold the shift key, move the mouse to the last file in your selection-to-be, and then click the mouse. Presto, all the contiguous files are selected. In the icon view, shift-click works the same as Command-click.

Control-Click When you press and hold the control key and then click on an icon in the Finder, you’ll see a pop-up window that’s called a contextual menu because the options it provides vary depending on what you’ve selected. Control-click on an application, and you’ll see Show Package Contents in the menu; control-click on a document, and Open With will appear in the menu. You can do all sorts of useful things from a contextual menu. For example, you can open documents in programs other than those that created them, open the Get Info window, or apply color labels to your folders.

Option-Drag By default, OS X moves files when you drag them from one spot to another on the same hard drive. To force the Finder to copy the file instead (so that you have a copy in both places) hold down the option key while you drag.

Command-Drag By default, OS X copies objects when you drag them from one hard drive to another. Drag a Word document from your hard drive to an external drive, for instance, and you’ll have a copy on each. But what if you’d rather just move the file? In that case, press and hold Command while dragging the file.

Command-Option-Drag If you press and hold both Command and option as you drag something, you’ll create an alias of the chosen file(s) in the destination folder. Aliases are a useful way to collect pointers to different files, in one location (see last month’s Mac OS X Hints column for more about aliases).

Power tip: Turbocharge mice and trackpads

Does your mouse or trackpad move slower than you’d like? If you’ve got your desktop spread across two 30-inch LCD monitors—or some other deluxe setup—reaching the File menu with your poky cursor can feel like a grueling event in the Elbow Olympics. And even maxing out the settings in the Keyboard & Mouse preference pane may not help enough.

One option is to switch to a third-party mouse. They usually include their own drivers, which may provide faster cursor speeds. But if you’re using a portable Mac, this may not be a desirable solution. Instead, you can use a simple Terminal command to give your built-in trackpad or stock Apple mouse a speed boost. Open Terminal (/Applications/Utilities) and type one of the following commands.

If you have a mouse:

	defaults write -g com.apple.mouse.scaling
	number
	

If you have a trackpad: defaults write -g com.apple.trackpad.scaling number

The number at the end of each command must be replaced by a number indicating the speed you’d like to use. The higher the number, the faster the tracking will be. The default value for maximum mouse speed is 3.0; maximum trackpad speed is 1.5. You might try a starting value of 5.0 for your turbocharged mouse, and 2.5 or 3.0 for a turbocharged trackpad.

The easiest way to make your changes take effect is to log out and then log in again (Apple menu: Log Out user name ). Upon login, you should have a more responsive input device. Just take it easy with the increases, as you may find that a superfast cursor is unusable. Also note that if you ever move the speed slider in the Keyboard & Mouse preference pane again, you’ll override your turbo settings.

[ Senior Editor Rob Griffiths is the author of Mac OS X Power Hound, Panther Edition (O’Reilly Media, 2004), and runs the Mac OS X Hints Web site. ]

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