Hidden preference power

When you want an application to fit the way you work—for instance, you may want your Dock to appear on the left side of your screen, or prefer that Microsoft Word save files as Web pages—a trip to its Preferences dialog box often does the trick. But if the option you seek isn’t there, it might be time to roll up your sleeves and edit the preferences yourself.

These unassuming files (also known as .plist files) often hold the keys to hidden features. To edit your preference files, you can use Apple’s free utility Property List Editor. It’s part of the Developer tools package that comes on the Tiger installation DVD. Once you install this, you’ll find Property List Editor at the root level of your hard drive in the /Developer/Applications/Utilities folder.

Before making any changes to a .plist file, be sure to make a backup copy of it.

Change your screen-capture format

An upgrade of Mac OS would not be complete without Apple changing the graphics format for screen captures (the files you create by pressing Command-shift-3 or Command-shift-4). Apple did it again with Tiger, changing the default from Panther’s PDF to Tiger’s PNG. But you might prefer to have screenshots saved by default as JPEGs for your Web site or TIFFs for your book publisher. To change the format, follow these steps:

1. Use Property List Editor to open the com.apple.screencapture.plist file (in / your user folder /Library/Preferences). (If you can’t find this file, skip to the next set of steps.)

2. Select Type in the Property List column (to reveal it, you may have to click on the disclosure triangle next to the Root item). Replace the term png in the Value text field with the file format of your choice. For example, you could use

jpg, tif,
or
pct
. Three-letter abbreviations for file types work most reliably. Also, keep everything lowercase.

3. Save the file. You’ll need to log out and log back in for the change to take effect.

There is one hitch. If you’ve never changed the file format before, the .plist file may not exist. Don’t worry. You can create one yourself.

1. Open Property List Editor and choose File: New.

2. In the window that appears, click on the New Root button.

3. Select the newly created Root item and click on the disclosure triangle to the left of its name.

4. Click on the New Child button.

5. In the newly created property, replace the words New Item with

type
. (Make sure it’s lowercase.)

6. Type your desired file type (for example,

tif
) in the Value text field. Use the three-letter abbreviation, and keep everything lowercase.

7. Save the file in / your user folder /Library/Preferences with the name com.apple.screencapture.plist (see screenshot). Log out and log back in to see the changes.

Custom Screen Captures You’re not stuck with the default file format for screenshots. Use Property List Editor to edit the preferences yourself.

Hide your desktop

Say you want to temporarily conceal your desktop clutter, perhaps for a demonstration you’re giving or so you can take a screenshot without revealing your mess. Or maybe you’re looking for an April Fools’ Day prank to play on an unsuspecting friend. If so, try this:

1. Open the com.apple.finder.plist file (in / your user folder /Library/Preferences) in Property List Editor.

2. Select the Root item in the Property List column and click on the disclosure triangle to the left of its name. Click on the New Child button. Replace the words New Item with

CreateDesktop
. Select Boolean from the Class pop-up menu and No from the Value pop-up menu.

3. Save the file.

4. Hold down the option key and click on the Finder icon in the Dock. In the contextual menu that appears, choose Relaunch.

Everything on your desktop will vanish. Windows from other open applications may remain, but that’s it. You can’t even drag anything to the desktop. Don’t panic—all your files are still there. Check by clicking on the Dock’s Finder icon to open up a Finder window and then navigating to the Desktop folder in your user folder.

To make your desktop reappear, reopen the .plist file and change CreateDesktop’s No value to Yes, and then relaunch the Finder.

Make crashes more informative

When an application crashes, you typically get the all-too-familiar dialog box that says the app has “unexpectedly quit.” If you’re a developer, or simply like getting your virtual hands dirty, you might prefer to see the crashed application’s Console log file instead. That way, you get instant access to information that could be useful in determining the cause of the crash.

1. Use Property List Editor to open com.apple .CrashReporter.plist (in / your user folder /Library/ Preferences). If this file doesn’t exist, create one and save it with that name after you follow these instructions.

2. Select the Root item in the Property List column and click on the disclosure triangle to the left of its name. Click on the New Child button. Replace the words New Item with

DialogType
. Click in the Value text field and type
Developer
.

3. Save the file.

The next time an application crashes, you’ll see the initial part of the log file (otherwise accessed via the Console utility). If you ever want to revert to the default dialog box, open the .plist file and change DialogType’s value to

Basic
or delete the property altogether. (Note that you can also do this using the CrashReporterPrefs utility [/Developer/Applications/Utilities].)

Invert iTunes’ link arrow

You’ve probably noticed the little arrow icons to the right of song, artist, and album listings in your iTunes library. These act like a search function; for example, clicking on the arrow icon next to an album name takes you to the iTunes Music Store page for that album. (If you don’t see these arrows, go to iTunes: Preferences and select the Show Links To The Music Store option.)

What you might not know is that if you option-click on one of these arrows, you get a list of all matching items (such as all songs from the selected album) in your own library, rather than in the Music Store. If you find yourself option-clicking on these arrows more often than you click on them, all it takes is a trip to the .plist file to swap the default behavior.

1. Make sure iTunes is closed. Use Property List Editor to open the com.apple.iTunes.plist file (in / your user folder /Library/Preferences).

2. Select the Root item in the Property List column and click on the disclosure triangle to the left of it. Click on the New Child button. Replace the words New Item with

invertStoreLinks
. Select Boolean from the Class pop-up menu and Yes from the Value pop-up menu.

3. Save the file.

Launch iTunes and admire your handiwork. When you click on the arrows, iTunes will now search your library; when you option-click, it will search the iTunes Music Store.

1 2 3 Page 1
Page 1 of 3
Shop Tech Products at Amazon