A collection of favorite Mac OS X Hints tips

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Typically in this spot, you’d be reading an installment of the thrice-weekly Mac OS X Hints blog. Today, though, it’s something a bit different, as this is actually the final Mac OS X Hints blog entry I’ll be writing for Macworld.

Starting next week, I’ll be transitioning to a new career outside the hallowed halls of Macworld—after nearly 10 years of running macosxhints.com (and almost five with Macworld), I’m joining Peter Maurer at Many Tricks to help run the business (more details here, including contact info for my new job).

While I’m leaving Macworld, I still hope to contribute articles on topics that aren’t in conflict with my new job in the software development business, so I think you’ll still see my byline around here going forward—but it won’t be associated with the Mac OS X Hints blogs.

So for this, my final Mac OS X Hints blog, I thought I’d pick out a sampling of my favorite blog entries from the last five-ish years—with a special focus on the older hints that still work in Leopard and Snow Leopard. These aren’t necessarily the best hints, or the most popular hints, but ones that I just find personally interesting and/or useful. In no particular order, here they are.

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  • Run a screensaver as your desktop background: This one is still my all-time-favorite hint for showing off the power of OS X. It lets you run a screensaver as your desktop “image,” complete with full motion. When I first wrote about this, this trick took 50% of the CPU power of a G4/733MHz machine. Now it takes around 1% to 3% of my 2.66GHz MacBook Pro’s CPU. Very fun!
  • Quicker custom icons: A simple timesaver to ease creation of custom icons. On a related note, I also really like the Easily view an application’s icons hint, which explains how to quickly see all the icons—including the glorious 512x512 versions—for any application.
  • The color picker: The color picker—that small dialog that appears when you want to pick a color for fonts, boxes, and so on—is amazingly powerful, but surprisingly few people know all of its tricks. Secrets of the color picker revealed many of those tricks. Later, I explained how to use images in the color picker.
  • Safely modify Apple’s widgets: I love to muck about with stuff in the system, and Dashboard widgets are a favorite target. Because they’re mainly HTML, CSS, and Javascript, it’s possible to change how they look and work with some minor tweaks. The linked hint explains how to do that safely, and includes links to a sampling of modifications.
  • Display info in the login window: You may know you can cycle the information you see in the login window, but did you know you can permanently change what appears there? I have mine set to show the date and time, which seems much more useful than the machine name.
  • Change the login window background: While I love Apple’s desktop pictures, I’d really rather see one of my own when I’m on the login screen. This hint explains the safest way to change it in OS X 10.5 and newer.
  • Limit the bash shell’s prompt length: If you spend much time in Terminal, and navigate into deeply-buried folders, the path that shows as part of the prompt can get really long. This hint explains how to limit its length. Note the instructions are a bit out of date—you’ll be editing .profile, not .bash_profile, but the rest should work as described.
  • Terminally fun Friday: A couple fun examples of completely non-productive things you can do in Terminal. If you want even more Terminal fun, how about a text-based adventure game?
  • Force Mail to go ‘old school’: Old school as in nothing but monospaced text. This hint forces Mail to ignore all formatting commands in e-mails and display them in plain text…the way all us old fogies prefer to read our e-mail.
  • Hints about sound levels: There are two volume-level hints that I really like. The first is an odd, but definitely not-a-bug, behavior of the Mute key on your keyboard: you can use it to set a super-quiet volume level—something above Mute but below the first bar of the onscreen slider showing volume levels. Speaking of the onscreen slider, you can change that in fine-grained increments, instead of one full block at a time.

That’s ten of my favorite older hints blogs, all of which should still work fine in 10.5 and 10.6. And with that, I’m officially handing the reins of the Mac OS X Hints blog over to Macworld. For now, there will probably be an assortment of guest editors writing the entries until someone is hired to fill my spot.

I’ve had an amazing five years here at Macworld, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything. With any luck, you’ll still see my name around these parts on occasion, just not with the same regularity, and not here in the land of hints.

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