100 Things Every Mac User Should Know

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Mac essentials: keyboard, mouse, drives

You might not give your keyboard, mouse, or hard drive much thought. But using them intelligently is the key to working efficiently on your Mac. Here are thirty things we think every smart Mac user should know how to do with these core peripherals.

Customize Keyboard and Mouse Settings

There's no reason to live with the default settings for your keyboard, mouse, and trackpad. To change them, go to the Keyboard pane in System Preferences. Settings to consider changing: Click the Modifier Keys button in the Keyboard tab and assign different (or no) functions to the Caps Lock, Control, Option, and Command keys. (For example, I set Caps Lock to No Action.) In the Keyboard Shortcuts tab, assign keyboard shortcuts to commands and applications.

The Mouse pane is useful for changing the mouse's tracking, scrolling, and double-click speeds; lefties can use it to select the left or right side of the mouse button as the secondary click. One more useful but often overlooked option is that you can choose to zoom the display with the scrollwheel by holding the Control key and pushing the scrollwheel forward.—Christopher Breen

Set Up Your Own Keyboard Shortcuts

Tired of digging three levels down in a menu for a command you use all the time? Assign it a shortcut key: First, go to the app in question and find the exact name of the menu item you want to assign. Then go to the Keyboard preference pane and open the Keyboard Shortcuts tab. Click on Application Shortcuts in the left pane and then on the plus (+) button. Select your app from the Application list. In the Menu Title field, enter the exact name of your menu item. (If that name contains an ellipsis, insert a real one by pressing Option-semicolon.) Then click in the Keyboard Shortcut box and assign a key combination. (Some combinations are reserved, so be prepared to try a few.) Once you're done, you must quit System Preferences and relaunch the app you've just modified before your new shortcut will work.—Jason Snell

The 10 Most Useful (and Least Used) Shortcut Keys

Dan Rodney is a certified Adobe instructor who has taught hundreds of Mac users. These are the ten most useful keyboard shortcuts that, he says, the fewest of his students know.

Command-Delete Move a file/folder to the Trash
Command-Shift-Delete Empty Trash
Command-click Open a folder in the Sidebar in a new window
Command-Tilde (~) (next window);
Command-Shift-Tilde (~) (previous window)
Switch between windows within an app
Command-D Select Don't Save from a standard Save dialog box
Option-click on another app's window
or Dock icon or on the desktop
Hide the app you're leaving
Command-Option-click app icon in Dock Hide all apps except the one you're clicking on
Command-Option-Control-Eject Shut down immediately with no confirmation
Command-Control-Eject Restart immediately with no confirmation
Control-Eject Display a Restart/Sleep/Shut Down dialog box

Set Up Hot Corners

In the Exposé & Spaces preference pane, you can specify actions that will trigger when you move your cursor to the four corners of your display (also known as Active Screen Corners); this can be a really handy way to control what's happening on your screen. Actions include: Show all currently open windows; show all windows of the current app only; display the desktop or Dashboard; start or disable the screensaver; or put the display to sleep. You can specify keyboard modifiers (Shift, Command, Control, Option) if you'd rather not trigger those actions inadvertently.

If you set one corner to trigger your screensaver, you can use that to lock your screen: In the Security preference pane, put a check in the box for requiring a password after the screensaver begins. That done, if you move your cursor to the screensaver corner, your Mac will be locked until you enter the password—Kirk McElhearn

Hot corners
In the Exposé & Spaces preference pane, you can specify what happens when you move your mouse corner to the corners of your screen.

Nine Useful Things to Do by Right-Clicking

No, Apple doesn't make a two-button mouse. But Mac OS X does support right-clicking (or Control-clicking). Here are nine of the most useful things you can do with it:

  1. In the Finder, select a file (or multiple files), right-click, and choose Compress "nameofitem" (or Compress X Items, if you chose more than one file) to create a .zip archive of the file or files.
  2. Still in the Finder, quickly burn files and folders to CD or DVD by selecting them, right-clicking, and choosing Burn "nameofitem" To Disc.
  3. Right-click on folders in the Dock to display them as a folder or stack and in fan, grid, or list view.
  4. Right-click on the iTunes icon in the Dock to control playback and to rate tracks.
  5. Right-click on the Dock's Mail icon to go to the currently selected mailbox or to quickly generate a new message window.
  6. In Safari, right-click on a link to open it in a new tab or a new window, or to bookmark it.
  7. If a link in Safari is connected to a downloadable file, image, or movie, right-click on it to download it rather than open it in your browser.
  8. In iTunes, quickly burn a playlist to disc by right-clicking on it and choosing Burn Playlist To Disc.
  9. Right-clicking on an individual track in iTunes enables you to do all kinds of things, such as adding the track to an existing playlist; showing all the playlists the track belongs to; creating a Genius playlist based on the track; rating the track; and converting the track to the format selected in iTunes' encoding preferences.

Partition Your Hard Drive

Splitting one hard drive into two partitions has many uses. Among the most common are to run Windows with BootCamp; to have separate data and apps; and to have a scratch partition for editing video. Disk Utility makes partitioning easy. Open Disk Utility. Click on your drive and then on the Partition tab. Under Volume Scheme, choose the number of partitions you want and then click on each one and enter a name and size. Choose the appropriate format—Mac OS Extended (Journaled) for Mac partitions, or MS-DOS (FAT) for BootCamp. Click Apply.

Ideally, you should partition your drive when it's empty, or just after setting up Mac OS X. Disk Utility can sometimes partition a drive that already contains data, but back up first. Disk Utility can't partition your startup drive; you'll need to boot off your Mac OS X installation disc to do that.—Kirk McElhearn

Seven Ways to Eject a CD or DVD

For whatever reason, CDs and DVDs don't always eject properly. If one of these tricks doesn't work, try the next one.

  1. Press the Eject key.
  2. Drag the disc to the Trash.
  3. Launch Disk Utility, select the disc, and click the Eject button.
  4. In Terminal, type drutil eject.
  5. Restart your Mac, holding down the left mouse button.
  6. Restart your Mac, holding down the Option key. When the bootable volumes appear, press the Eject key.
  7. Shut down the Mac. Poke a thin piece of cardboard into the drive so it's wedged between the disc and the top of the drive. Start the Mac. After attempting to spin up the disc, the drive should eject it.

Senior Contributor Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just Macs on his blog, Kirkville. His most recent book is Take Control of iTunes 10: The FAQ (TidBits Publishing, 2010).

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