Make Leopard leap: Time-saving tips for OS X 10.5

Find menu items and commands

Another helpful piece of Spotlight technology can be found in the Help menu of any Leopard-aware application. Not only can you search for information included in an application’s help documentation, but the Help menu lists available menu commands as you type, making it quick and easy to find commands without searching through every menu and submenu (which can be quite a chore in many applications).

Also, don’t forget that right-clicking (or control-clicking) on virtually any item in any application will reveal a context menu with both application-specific and more general Leopard commands that apply to that item.

Make the Finder work your way

Many users leave the Finder environment largely as Apple designed it. While there’s nothing wrong with this, there are a few things you can do to make the Finder more helpful and intuitive. First and foremost is to customize both the toolbar and sidebar.

Customize the Finder toolbar. The Finder toolbar, which displays at the top of each Finder window, contains a handful of buttons, including a trio for adjusting the view of the window, one for activating Quick Look without using the space bar, a gear menu (which offers access to features also found in context menus and the menu bar) and a Spotlight search box.

You can customize this to include a wide range of additional (or fewer) buttons using the Customize Toolbar option from the View menu in the menu bar.

Although there are a number of commands included in the Customize Toolbar dialog (Eject Disk, Burn Disk, Delete and New Folder, to name a few), most people don’t realize that when this dialog is displayed, you can actually drag any application, file, Automator workflow or script to the toolbar, turning it into a launching pad for any manner of individual items or automated tasks.

Use the path bar. Another option in the Finder that makes overall navigation of your system easier is the optional path bar (choose View Path Bar from the View menu). The path bar displays the file path to your current location along the bottom of the Finder window. To go up one level (or five levels) in a folder structure is as easy as clicking the appropriate point in the path bar.

Go directly to the folder you want. For users already familiar with navigating based on a file path, there’s also the Go To Folder command (command-shift-G from the keyboard or under the Go menu in the menu bar), which allows you to enter a file path to any point on your Mac’s hard drive. Although this is fairly common knowledge, most people don’t know that it also works from inside Open and Save dialogs, providing an excellent way of quickly changing your open or save location without having to navigate the entire file system.

Go beyond the Finder. If you really want quick navigation and access to certain commands and features, there are some great third-party alternatives to the Finder. The very popular Quicksilver, for example, provides a completely different menu-driven method to access Finder-related features and to browse the contents of your Mac. Other similar options worth checking out include Butler and LaunchBar.

Use Automator to speed up repeated tasks

Since I’ve touched on the idea of using Automator workflows in the Finder toolbar, it’s worth mentioning this powerful tool. Automator allows you to string together actions from the Finder and other applications to create reusable workflows.

Read more Automator tips from Macworld

Actions, each of which performs a specific task such as selecting an item, come packaged with Automator and many third-party applications (including Office 2008). Using them, you can string together both simple operations (such as selecting or opening an item) and complex operations (such as locating and extracting text from a PDF file or combining photos into a slide show or movie) to create complex workflows quickly and easily.

The effect can be much like a powerful scripting language, but one that is extremely simple to use. Just select your actions from any applications and drag and drop them together.

Check out the following resources for more information on Automator, additional actions and sample workflows:

Use Dashboard to the fullest

Introduced in Tiger, Dashboard allows you to quickly access mini-applications known as widgets with the click of a button. Since widgets are typically very light code (written in the same technologies used to build Web pages and Web applications), they load very quickly and provide access to any number of useful features, such as calendar and to-do items, Web searches, a calculator and much more.

With Dashcode (the widget development environment Apple released with Leopard), making widgets is much easier than it was in Tiger, and the range of available widgets has ballooned into the thousands, including many devoted to productivity tasks. Apple provides a thorough listing of widgets to browse through.

Leopard also introduced a feature known as Web Clip that allows you to turn any section of a Web page into a custom widget. If you use any Web-based tools on a daily basis, this provides a quick and easy way to access them.

Tips for working with text

Applications built specifically for Leopard offer a couple of useful text-selection and copy-and-paste features that can be helpful for anyone who works with text. First is the option to select text in blocks rather than lines.

When you select text in an application (such as TextEdit) built with Leopard’s development tools, try holding down the option key while selecting text: Rather than the standard line-by-line text capture, you’ll see a cross-hair (similar to the one used to select sections of a photo for cropping) that you can use to select text in blocks.

The second option is for pasting unformatted text. At one time, copying and pasting text typically didn’t preserve the formatting of the text. Today, most applications format pasted text as it was in the application from which it was copied or cut. By pressing command-shift-option-V to paste (instead of the traditional command-V), however, you can still paste unformatted text into most applications.

Work smarter with keyboard shortcuts

Throughout this article, I’ve mentioned various keyboard shortcuts that exist in Leopard, from the commonly known to some that are a bit obscure. These keyboard shortcuts provide some of the biggest productivity boosts in Leopard, though they may take time to master and you may want to change some from their default settings.

The Keyboard Shortcuts tab of the Keyboard & Mouse pane in System Preferences shows you all the standard keyboard shortcuts built into Leopard.

This provides a great place to start learning about shortcuts for Mac OS X and the Finder. You can also use this tab to change the shortcuts to something easier for you to type.

There are hundreds of keyboard shortcuts built into Leopard and its accompanying applications. Here are some of my most frequently used time savers.

To learn about even more shortcuts, including those used to manipulate text and other data within applications, check out UsingMac’s guide to over 200 keyboard shortcuts.

[Ryan Faas is a frequent Computerworld contributor specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues.]

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