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Put PDFs in Their Place with PDF Services

If you’re taking advantage of all that OS X has to offer, you’re already “printing” things to PDF. Just press Command-P and click on the PDF button in the Print dialog box. It’s a great way to store tidbits of information—from funny e-mail messages to online receipts—without killing a tree in the process. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could create a PDF and automatically file it in the right folder, without navigating through your entire file system to do so? Here’s how:

First, set up folders (Receipts, Funny E-mails, Recipes, and so on) where you’ll archive this stuff—within your Documents folder, perhaps. Next, navigate to your user folder /Library and create (if you don’t have one) a folder named PDF Services.

Now make an alias of each of these storage folders and put the aliases in the new PDF Services folder. The quick way to do this is to select all your storage folders and then press and hold Command-option. The cursor will change into a small arrow inside a circle (the alias symbol). Drag and drop the aliases into the PDF Services folder.

That’s it; you’ve enabled the hidden PDF Services feature of OS X. Select File: Print in any open document, and when you click on the PDF button, you’ll see that the Save As PDF pop-up menu now includes your folder aliases. Select one of them, and your PDF will print and be saved directly to the chosen folder (See top screenshot).

This tip just scratches the surface of what PDF Services can do for you. Try putting an alias of Mail (or even Microsoft Entourage) in the PDF Services folder, for instance. Now when you pop up the Save As PDF menu and select Mail—voilà! You have an instant Mail message, complete with an embedded PDF of the page you were viewing. For more on PDF Services, see Apple’s Printing & Print Center page.

Use iTunes to Organize PDFs

Looking for a different way to organize a massive collection of PDFs? Use iTunes. That’s right, iTunes. When Apple released The Complete U2 digital box set last year, it distributed the collection’s liner notes as PDF files. To make sure people found them, Apple modified iTunes to handle PDF files in its library. The side effect was that iTunes (thanks to its Smart Playlist feature) also became a good way to organize large PDF collections.

To test this out, just drag and drop a PDF (or several) onto iTunes. It will show up in your library, with its Finder name listed as its song name. To organize your PDFs, use smart playlists. Create a new smart playlist (File: New Smart Playlist) and set the conditions to Kind Contains PDF. Select the Live Updating option and click on OK. Now you have a playlist that contains all your PDFs (See middle screenshot). If you name your files following a certain pattern, you can add rules to the smart playlist to further sort your PDFs. Make a Recipes smart playlist that gathers all files whose names (“song” names) start with Recipe. Or create a medical-journals smart playlist that gets all the files with the prefix Med_.

And you can combine this hint with the previous one: Put an iTunes alias in your PDF Services folder. Now you can choose iTunes when you use the PDF button in the Print dialog box, and your PDF will immediately be stored in your iTunes library.

Cycle between Tabs in Firefox

Sure, you already have Safari on your computer, but there’s a whole world of Web browsers out there. Take Mozilla Firefox (free). It’s a great browser, and it benefits from a ton of plug-ins. If you’re ready to try it out, note that, just like Safari, Firefox supports tabs, which let you load multiple Web sites in one browser window.

Keyboard power users like to cycle between those tabs without touching the mouse. In Safari, you’d use Command-shift-left arrow (or right arrow). In Firefox, it’s Command-1 through Command-9, at least for the first nine tabs. (Somewhat confusingly, these are the same shortcuts that Safari uses for selecting the first nine bookmarks on your bookmarks bar.) But what if you have more than nine tabs open? You can’t jump directly to more than nine in Firefox, but you can scroll through them all using control-page up and control-page down. For more Firefox tips, go to Help: Help Contents. In the Contents pane, choose Using Mozilla Firefox: Navigating Web Pages: Tabbed Browsing.

Stop Terminal Trip-up of Keyboard Viewer and Adobe Apps

Have you had trouble with the shift and option keys not working in Adobe applications when you use them as modifier keys? Likewise, when you use Keyboard Viewer (under the flag icon in the menu bar), are you unable to see a font’s special characters when you hold down Command and shift? If so, you’ve discovered a subtle side effect of an OS X security feature.

Terminal’s File menu contains an option named Secure Keyboard Entry. It’s turned off by default, but you may have enabled it at some point, thinking it would make Terminal more secure. That it does, but at the cost of some compatibility. Basically, this option makes it impossible for other applications to detect or record what you type in Terminal. If Terminal is running, you’ll run into problems with Adobe applications and Keyboard Viewer.

The fix is easy—just make sure you don’t select Terminal’s File: Secure Keyboard Entry menu option. If you’d like to learn more about this feature’s extremely technical specifics, read’s very thorough write-up.

Protect Your Laptop with Personalization

It’s relatively easy to change the image displayed behind your login window, and doing so might increase the odds of getting your laptop back if you lose it.

To change the login window’s backdrop, navigate to the /Library/Desktop Pictures folder and find the Aqua Blue.jpg file, which contains the image displayed behind the login window. Before you do anything else, duplicate this file in case you want it back later.

If you just want to replace the image with one of your own choosing, delete the Aqua Blue.jpg file. Then drop in any other JPEG image file and name it Aqua Blue.jpg. On your next login, you’ll see your custom picture. A more interesting use of this screen, though, is to add information that will help a Good Samaritan find you if you lose your laptop. (This trick won’t help much if a thief steals it, though.)

Open the Aqua Blue.jpg file in your favorite image editor (or modify the image you intend to use). Add some way of contacting you (See bottom screenshot). Save the modified file as Aqua Blue.jpg in the specified directory and log out. Now your handiwork resides behind the login panel. Make the ownership information as big and obnoxious as you can stand; this increases the odds of someone seeing it. After all, you don’t spend much time looking at the login window.

Quickly Open AppleScripts

Ever wanted to add some text to a bunch of file names? Or view a sample of all your installed fonts? Or count all the messages in all your Mail mailboxes? You can use an OS X feature called the Script menu to do all this and more. The OS X Script menu, which you activate by running Install Script Menu (in the /Applications/AppleScript folder), puts a large number of useful AppleScripts under an icon on the right side of your menu bar. These scripts are not only useful but also a good way to learn more about AppleScript.

If you open scripts with the Script Editor (also found in /Applications/AppleScript), you can see exactly how they’re built. Ordinarily, you’d do this by navigating in the Finder to the top-level /Library/Scripts folder, then opening the folder containing the script you want to view, and then double-clicking on that script. But there’s a much faster way: just hold down the option key when you select a script in the Script menu, and it will automatically open in the Script Editor.

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

Using OS X’s hidden but powerful (and easy-to-implement) PDF Services, you can make printing to PDF and filing to a destination folder a one-step process.iTunes can store more than just music. If you have a large collection of PDFs, for instance, try using iTunes to organize it. You can even make smart playlists to further organize your PDFs.By placing some identifying text on your login window’s background image, you just might luck out and get your laptop back if you misplace it.
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