Dock typing, AirPort, and sidebar tips for Leopard

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Another Tuesday, another handful of OS X 10.5 tips: Today we’ll learn how to keep our hands on the keyboard more when using the Dock and Stacks, find out more information about AirPort connections, and create sidebar shortcuts from unexpected places.

The Dock and the keyboard

If you’ve been reading my tips over the years, you’ll know I’m a huge proponent of the keyboard; I use it whenever possible instead of the mouse. One of the nice changes in OS X 10.5 is that the Dock is now more easily used via the keyboard. In prior releases of OS X, you could activate the Dock by pressing Control-F3, use the Left and Right Arrow keys to select an icon, then press Return to open that item (or the Up Arrow key to show its Dock menu).

While this still works in 10.5, there’s a better way that doesn’t require nearly as much key pressing. After pressing Control-F3 (assuming you’ve previously enabled full keyboard access by pressing Control-F1), just type the first letters of the program (or file/folder on the right side) whose icon you’d like to select. The Dock will highlight matches as you type. The matching is based on the full name of the program as shown in the Finder, so you may want to do some renaming to make this easier—for instance, removing the word Microsoft from the names of the Office 2004 applications will let you just type Exc , Powe , or Wor to select those icons (otherwise, you’d have to type out Microsoft , or use the arrow keys to get to the icon you want).

Once the Dock is active, you can use the keyboard to not only select items, but also entries in their Dock menus—or in the case of Stacks, the Stacks’ content. For example, press Control-F3, type Down (assuming you’ve got a Downloads stack in your Dock), then press Return. The Downloads Stack will pop up out of the Dock, and you can now use the same “type a few letters of the item’s name” trick to select something in the Stack. Once you have an item selected, press Return to open it.

More AirPort information

The AirPort icon in the 10.5 menu bar contains quite a lot of good information, but you might not know that at first glance, as it’s hidden by default. The next time you use the AirPort menu, hold down the Option key before you click the icon. (You can release it once the AirPort drop-down menu is visible.) For your connected network, you’ll see some detailed information below the network name: the MAC address of the wireless station you’re connected to, which channel is in use, a measure of the signal strength (more on that below), and an indication of the data transmission rate.

Regarding the signal strength, what you’ll see is probably a negative number. A perfect connection would be represented by 0; as the numbers become more negative, signal strength is lower. Sitting here about 15 feet from my Base Station, my connection indicates a strength of -54; my laptop downstairs, about twice as far away horizontally (plus 10 or so feet lower) shows a -67 (both, though, show four bars in the signal strength meter).

There’s one more hidden trick here, and it’s related to other wireless networks. Once you’ve activated the menu with the Option key down, press and hold it down again, then move your mouse over one of the entries for a different network. Hover there for a second—with the Option key held down—and you’ll see a tooltip pop-up showing the network’s signal strength and what type of security is in place. This can be very useful info if you’re out and about somewhere with lots of wireless hotspots; you can find the public connection with the strongest signal at a glance.

Create sidebar shortcuts from open/save dialogs

The sidebar has always been a convenient place to stash things, and now 10.5 makes it even easier to add things to the sidebar: you can do so (to the Places section) from any Open or Save dialog. Just drag and drop the object you’d like to add into the Places section of the sidebar. I use this trick to temporarily add directories I’m working with on a given project—the first time I go to save something, I can just drag the folder to the sidebar, and then future saves (if I ever navigate out of the destination, of course) are made easier via the sidebar. When the project’s done, I just remove the folder from the sidebar.

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