Mac OS X is packed to the brim with clever little tricks that will enhance the way you work and help you save time. But so much of the operating system is easy to use that you could hardly call yourself a pro.
However, that's all about to change. We show you just how easy it is to become a Mac OS guru with the best collection of power tips for a wide range of tasks.
From Finder shortcuts to image manipulation, we've got all the techniques you need to get even more from your Mac use. We will even demystify the obscure apps lurking in the Utilities folder that you may never have used.
While the majority of tips found in this feature will focus on the OS in general, we've also included some sections that cover pro tips for media and other files as well as a good bunch of tweaks to be found within System Preferences. We take an expert look at making your own icons and walk you through speakable commands.
We also offer up some handy tips for AirPort Utility and Boot Camp Assistant. And we even show you how to enjoy iTunes through Spotify and add more radio stations. With so many powerful nuggets of information available across the next few pages, you're bound to become the Mac master in your household in no time at all, and soon you could be the one people turn to for all Apple-related advice.
Pick out the tips you need and save this feature for future reference or settle down and read each one to achieve that ultimate pro status…
Mac OS X timesavers
1. Add your own icons
You don't have to stick to the default Mac OS X icons. Select the app or folder you would like to give a new icon to and press Command+I to bring up the Get Info screen.
Now find the icon you would like to use and open it in Preview. Press Command+A to select the image and hit Command+C to copy it.
Now head back to the Get Info screen for the folder or app you want to adjust and select the small icon image at the top of the display before hitting Command+V to paste your new icon image.
2. Make your own shortcuts
If there's a command you use frequently that doesn't have a shortcut assigned to it, you can create one yourself.
In System Preferences, head to Keyboard and click on the Keyboard shortcuts tab. Now click on the Application Shortcuts option from the pane on the left and pick your app from the drop-down menu.
Now you can fill in the Menu Title field and create your shortcut. Make sure you pick a memorable command so you can remember it easily next time you need to access the function.
3. Quit from Switcher
When you have a bunch of applications open you can jump between them using Command+Tab or Command+Shift+Tab to invoke the Application Switcher, which enables you to pick the icon of a running application and move to it.
You can also quit apps from the Application Switcher by keeping the Command key held down, pressing the Q button when you have selected the app you want to close. Keeping the Command key held and moving between the Tab and Q key will enable you to close multiple apps quickly.
4. Open with…
If you right-click or Control-click on a file you can choose to open it in any compatible application from the Open With menu. If you want to set all files of this kind to open in a specific app, simply select the file and hit Command+I.
From the Get Info window, select the app you want from the drop-down menu under Open with: and then click the Change All… button. Now all files of this type will open in the application you selected.
5. Events from emails
Say your friend invites you for dinner at a restaurant on a specific date at a set time via email. When you receive the message you can click on the date and time, and opt to create a new iCal event from it.
All time and date entries in Mail offer a drop-down menu that enables you to add information to the event and add it to iCal without having to leave Mail. You can also check your events on a specific date from within Mail so you don't create conflicting appointments.
6. Choose custom system sounds
If you're a little bored of the standard Mac OS X system sounds you can add your own to the mix.
As long as they're nice and short (and in the AIF or WAV format), you can drag and drop audio files into the MacintoshHD/Users/"your username"/Library/Sounds folder and then apply them to any application that makes use of the system sound library, such as Mail or iChat.
There are a bunch of sounds available to download for free online, ready to freshen up your audio experience.
7. Quick Email Links
If you're browsing the web and decide you want to share a link with a friend via email, you don't have to bother with the hassle of copying and pasting. Simply press Shift+Command+I to open a new message with the link and subject included for you.
8. Speakable commands
Save keystrokes, mouse clicks and a whole load of effort by controlling certain commands with your voice. Head to System Preferences and, under Speech, turn Speakable Items on. You can now speak simple sentences such as "Get My Mail" and your Mac should react accordingly.
Make sure you're in fairly quiet surroundings to avoid accidental inputs or use a hot key to set when you want to speak a command. You can also set a keyword that triggers your Mac to begin listening for commands so you can preface a sentence with "computer" to avoid confusion.
9. Grab your screen
There are a number of shortcuts in Mac OS X that allow you to capture an image of your computer's screen. Pressing Shift+Command+3 will take a full screen grab as well as a grab of any secondary displays you may have attached.
Pressing Shift+Command+4 will allow you to select a portion of the screen to grab or, if you press [Space] before selecting an area, you can hover over individual windows and click to snap an image of just that. Screenshots are stored to the desktop.
10. Address Book type
If you have difficulty when viewing a contact in Address Book, try clicking on the phone type (Mobile or Home, for example) next to the contact's number. You can then select Show in Large Type to view the number at an easily readable size as you dial.
11. Login Items
You might know that you can set applications to launch when your Mac boots using the Accounts pane of System Preferences, but did you know you can hide an app after it has launched in this way? Simply check the box next to the app's name.
12. Mail To Dos
If you have a whole bunch of things to be getting on with during the day, you can add a set of To Do notes using the button at the top of the Mail interface. You can check off each task as you go from within Mail or iCal.
13. Stick to your sites
Safari's Top Sites feature is an extremely handy way to jump to your recently viewed websites. But if you want one site to always feature you can pin it to the Top Sites screen to keep it there permanently. All you have to do is simply click on the Edit button and then the Pin next to the page.
14. Quick spell check
If someone sends you an email with a word you're not sure you understand, simply hover the cursor over the word and press Shift+Command+D to check out the dictionary definition. This works in Text Edit as well as a number of other Apple apps.
15. Schedule sleep
If you're inclined to work too late or you keep forgetting to shut your Mac down, head to the Energy Saver screen within System Preferences. From here you can schedule your Mac to sleep, wake and even start up and shut down at specified times.
16. Dock folders
You can drag and drop any of your folders to the right-hand end of the Dock to keep it there permanently. This is particularly useful when used in conjunction with the Applications folder so you can access apps right from your Desktop.
17. vCard signatures
If you want to make sure everyone has your correct details, you can include a vCard in your email signature that can be added to most address books. Simply locate your card in Address Book and drag it to the signature space in Mail Preferences.
18. Bring back the Fs
In System Preferences select to return the F keys (!, @ and so on) back to their standard functions - handy if you keep adjusting the volume or brightness when you want to use a shortcut…
Effective tips and tricks to make life on the Mac even smarter
19. Preview Fonts
If you want to change the font you're using, it's not necessary to wait until you apply changes to see what your document willl look like. This can be fiddly and annoying when you are trying to work, especially if you are on a deadline.
To solve this you can get a live preview as you browse. Start by tapping Command+T to bring up the Font Viewer in compatible apps, which include Mail, iWork apps, Text Edit and more. Now, simply drag the small dot at the top of the display down to show a preview of the currently selected font.
You can also view the preview by clicking on Show Preview from the drop-down menu at the bottom of the Fonts pane.
20. Make use of Disk Utility
Some of you might have used Disk Utility to repair permissions and verify disks before, but it has plenty of features that a lot of people don't know about. It is possible to quickly erase and partition any drive attached to your Mac and you can even burn discs from within the interface.
Disk Utility is also very handy when it comes to creating images of existing discs to copy or burn to a new drive or disc. It's worth taking some time to experiment with Disk Utility and you'll soon find it's a whole lot more than just a first aid tool.
21. Use Mail as an RSS reader
Apple's own email app is full of useful tricks. As well as receiving new emails from friends and co-workers, Mail can also be a source of updates for websites you're interested in. By adding any RSS feeds to your inbox you can be notified of new posts and breaking news in the same way you receive emails.
All you have to do is set Mail as your default RSS reader in Mail Preferences and then add your favourite feeds. You can set Mail to check for updates every day, hour or 30 minutes and opt to remove them manually or automatically after a set period of time to prevent things getting too clogged up.
22. Document properties
If you want to make sure people know who wrote a document or where it came from, you can embed certain information into your rich text documents with Text Edit.
Head to Text Edit's Preferences pane and fill out the Properties section to include Author, Organisation and Copyright details to your document before you save it.
Now, even when you email or share the document, others can select Show Properties from the File menu to see the information you added. Note that this isn't a replacement for copyright but it can certainly help your case.
23. Empty Trash securely
You've been beavering away on work projects, which have sensitive information included in them. You're done so you send the early drafts to the Trash. Once you empty the Trash your work's gone forever, right? Wrong.
All Mac OS X does when it empties the Trash is allocate the space those files take up as free. Until they're overwritten it's possible these files could be recovered, which is less than ideal if they contain confidential information.
As an alternative, you might want to consider using the Secure Empty Trash option from the Finder menu. This will completely clear the Trash without leaving a trace of your deleted files and folders and provide you with peace of mind.
24. Advanced MobileMe sync
Apple's suite of online services MobileMe provides a particularly handy icon included on the Mac OS X menu bar, which will show you how things are ticking along. If you click on it you can find out lots of useful information, including when the last sync happened and if there are any conflicts.
If there are conflicts you can instantly review them. However, if you hold down the Option key and click on the icon you will receive even more detailed information, including when each individual sync took place.
You'll be surprised at how handy this type of information can be, especially when you're troubleshooting. You can also start iSync, open Sync Diagnostics and reset Sync Services directly from this menu without having to open the System Preferences pane.
25. Advanced audio control
The volume control on your menu bar looks like a simple slider but becomes a far more powerful menu if you hold down the Option key when you click on it.
A new menu will now appear and enable you to make changes to your speaker setup as well as microphones. For example, you could change your speakers from the Mac's built-in system to a USB option, or change the microphone input from the default to your headset's option. And all this from one little button on your desktop. Brilliant.
26. Quickly find content
In most applications on the Mac you can hit Command+F and enter a word to search for and Safari is no different. Hit Command+F with a page loaded, type the word you're loking for into the search field and every instance will be highlighted on the page. You'll find this is a really handy tool, particularly for large documents.
27. Investigate packages
Most Mac OS X apps aren't executable files but merely folders full of content and resources. If, for any reason, you want to dig around inside an app, to access its icon image for example, you can treat it as if it was a normal folder.
Simply right click or Ctrl-click on the app's icon and choose Show Package Contents. From here you can browse all of the files within as you would a folder. Make sure not to edit, move or delete anything without making a backup first, though.
28. Customise Spotlight
Spotlight's System Preferences pane offers handy ways to customise and improve your search experience. This includes removing specific items from your searches and blocking files and folders from appearing in results. You can also adjust the shortcut to invoke a Spotlight search.
29. Quick File Moves
If you look at the top of any application you're running, you should see a small file icon situated next to the name of the document. This image can be dragged over like any other regular file in order to copy it to a new location or open it in another application.
30. Save any files as PDF
When you open up the print dialog for any document you have open, you should also have the option to save the file as a PDF. Just click on the PDF drop-down menu to save the file, email it or send it to an application for editing.
31. Force Quit
If you have any unresponsive applications, you can force them to quit by pressing Option+Command+Esc to open the Force Quit window, but you can also kill individual apps right from the Dock. If an app stops responding, click and hold its icon until you see the Force Quit option.
32. Drag and drop links
You can drag and drop links between applications and even share them in emails. Try dragging a URL or a link from a web page on to your desktop or onto the Mail icon for a quick way to share websites.
33. Quickly resize icons
If you're using a laptop or a desktop Mac with a Magic Trackpad, you can quickly adjust the size of your desktop icons. Select the desktop and then use a two-finger pinch gesture to set the icon size.
34. Dragging tabs
Safari tabs can be dragged and moved within the browser's interface but you can also create a new window by simply dragging a tab away from the main window. If you want to add a page to an existing collection of tabs, drag it onto the tab bar.
35. Get info about files
Do you need to find out information about a bunch of files rather than just a single one? If so, rather than lump them all into one folder, select them all and press Option+Command+I to show information for the entire selection. This includes information on size and more.
36. Annotate in Preview
You may not realise it, but Preview isn't just for looking at images and documents on your Mac. You can also use it to make notes on your PDFs and other files. Just go to the Annotation options, which can be found in the Tools menu. Add text, highlights, arrows and even links and then share them with others.
OS X media tips
37. Access media from Finder
If, when you work, you find yourself opening up your Pictures, Movies or Music folders frequently, you might want to consider adding them to your Finder sidebar. It's really easy to do - just open up a new Finder window and right-click or Ctrl-click on the sidebar and select Open Sidebar Preferences.
From the pane that appears you can select which items are shown, including searches for Images and Movies. When clicked, these icons will search for all movie or image files on your Mac.
Alternatively, you can drag over your Music, Movie and Pictures folders straight onto the sidebar to create a shortcut.
38. Backup iMovie projects to DVD
iDVD isn't seeing the upgrades of other iLife apps of late, but that doesn't mean you can't make really good use of it. For safekeeping as well as sharing with others, you can create a disc of your iMovie projects using iDVD with a slick interface and convenient menus.
Launch iDVD, select the movies you want to add and, when you're done, commit them to DVD. You'll find not only will this save much-needed space on your hard drive but you can always rip the movies back to your Mac from the DVD at a later date if need be.
39. Quick media previews
Many Mac owners don't realise it is unnecessary to launch a native audio or video app in order to check out a file in Mac OS X or even play the whole thing through. Compatible audio and video files can be played in Quick Look by simply selecting them in the Finder and hitting the spacebar.
A small controller appears at the bottom of the Quick Look window allowing you to move to specific sections of the file, and you can even jump between multiple files in a folder with Quick Look activated by using the up and down arrows on the keyboard.
40. AirPlay From iTunes
Apple's new AirPlay feature isn't just for iPad and iPhone users. While playing music or movies in iTunes you can use the drop-down menu at the bottom right of the interface to select which speakers or devices you would like to send the media to.
Connections can be made via Ethernet or Wi-Fi, and you can even control the output using the Remote app on your iPhone or iPad.
A number of devices are compatible with AirPlay, including systems from Denon and JBL.
41. iTunes in Spotify
If you listen to music with Spotify but also enjoy songs in your iTunes library, why not merge the two for a more seamless experience?
Under the Local Files section on the left of the Spotify interface you can import your existing iTunes library, which will then become available alongside streamed music.
With both Spotify and your iTunes music working together you can build playlists that include both Spotify tracks and your iTunes music, and share them with friends online. Spotify also won't play ads when you listen to your local music through the app.
42. Convert files in QuickTime
Any file that can be opened in QuickTime can be saved in an alternate format. This works for audio and video files and allows you to quickly make compatible versions of your media for particular apps or for the web.
Load your file and then select Save As from the File menu to select the output format. Alternatively you can select Save For Web from the File menu to create a web friendly version of your file that will load quickly when viewed online.
43. Add more iTunes radio stations
You probably already know that iTunes comes with an impressive selection of streaming radio stations pre-loaded. But, did you know you can add even more to your library extremely easily?
The best source for radio stations is Shoutcast, where you can browse a number of genres from New Age to Jazz, from stations all over the world. Clicking the station should normally load it in iTunes automatically, or alternatively you can Ctrl-click on a station and download its link as a PLS file to drag into iTunes.
However, be aware these files will be added to your library and not the Radio section, but you can build playlists from them for easy access.
44. Move your iTunes library
If you want to move your sizeable iTunes library to an external disk in order to save space, it's possible in a few simple steps.
Start by selecting Preferences from the iTunes menu and moving to the Advanced tab. Check the Keep iTunes Media folder organized box and click OK. Now click the Change button and set a new location on your external drive for your library.
Select Organize Library from the File menu and click OK to copy your library. You can now delete your old iTunes library from your Mac.
45. Record your screen
This is really handy for whether you need to show someone something on your screen or are creating a screencast. QuickTime offers a brilliant feature for recording video of your screen.
Select New Screen Recording from the File menu to begin. Get to iTunes quickly When viewing iTunes media in the List view, hold down Option and click on the disclosure triangle next to a title to view all instances of a band, show or album in your library. Hold down Command to view all entries on the iTunes Store.
46. Edit in Preview
If you just want to make a really quick adjustment to an image, you don't have to wait for iPhoto to launch. Simply open up your chosen picture via Preview and use the Adjust Color pane from the Tools menu to make any basic changes.
47. Trim in QuickTime
QuickTime offers a really convenient way to edit your video and audio clips, if you want to remove sections you don't need anymore. Just open up your chosen file in QuickTime and select Trim from the Edit menu. You can then drag the yellow marker over the area in the project you want to keep.
48. Remote control
You can use the Apple Remote to control a number of apps on your Mac including Front Row, iTunes and even Keynote. The remote can be paired up with your Mac to avoid accidental use and is ideal for moving through slides in a presentation.
49. Quickly to YouTube
If you have a video on your Mac that you want to send to YouTube, you can bypass the site login and upload screens and do it all from the QuickTime interface. Select Share from the QuickTime menu to begin uploading.
50. Switch tracks fast
Most Apple keyboards have shortcuts included along the F1-F12 keys. Media shortcut keys enable you to move between tracks in iTunes, adjust volume, and play and pause tracks. These keys also work in other media apps such as Spotify.
51. QuickTime URLs
Rather than watch a movie through your web browser, you can opt to open it in QuickTime if you have its URL. Most links ending in .Mov, .MP4 and so on will play when you paste them into the Movie URL box found under the QuickTime File menu.
52. Add pics to iPhoto
When viewing images in QuickLook there's a handy button that enables you to send the selected file to iPhoto. Select an image in the Finder, hit [Space] to view it in QuickLook and then hit the Add To iPhoto button.
Handy OS X applications
53. Migration Assistant
If you're upgrading your Mac or moving to a new computer, Migration Assistant is one of the most useful tools you can find. Tell the software whether you want to send your data to a new computer or add it to your existing machine and it will gather all of the files and place them as they were on your original system.
You can even make a copy of your Mac, copy it to an external drive and then use Migration Assistant to restore from that copy.
54. System Profiler
You can quickly find out detailed information about your Mac by launching System Profiler from the Applications > Utilities folder or from the About This Mac window.
From the application you can learn the model and manufacturer of all your drives, check various connections and investigate how much RAM you have and how many slots are available.
This is one of the first places a tech-support person will point you to in order to gain information about your system too. Get to know your Mac better by browsing the various sections of System Profiler.
55. Audio MIDI Setup
If you're an advanced digital music maker you can make use of Audio MIDI Setup to configure your MIDI devices, but for the rest of us, you can also make adjustments to your speaker and microphone settings so they work just the way you want.
56. Apple Loops Utility
If you use GarageBand, Logic or Soundtrack you can have a more detailed look at the Apple Loops you use with Apple Loops Utility.
By adding new tags you can better organise the files you use in your projects and adjust the tempo and key information so they can be better matched with other loops. This is a little more involved than simply previewing sounds and music in the GarageBand loop library but it could help you organise your project more easily.
57. Bluetooth file exchange
If you use a Bluetooth device with a hard drive or even a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone, you can quickly transfer files to it using Bluetooth File Exchange.
Start by selecting the file or folder you want to send and then select the Bluetooth device to send it to from the list of connected or available devices. You can opt to remember a specific device so it appears in this list each time you launch Bluetooth File Exchange Alternatively, you can use the app to browse devices connected via Bluetooth.
In Leopard, you could right-click on a file and under the contextual menu's More option, opt to send a file to a Bluetooth device. In Snow Leopard, this option is missing by default, but it's easy to get back. Navigate to Finder > Services > Services Preferences, and click the box marked Send File to Bluetooth Device.
58. Boot Camp Assistant
Macs can run both Windows and Mac OS X from the same hard drive. Boot Camp Assistant is your first step in the process and enables you to set how much space you dedicate to the Windows partition of your hard drive and then install the Windows operating system.
59. AirPort Utility
While most wireless features work with an Apple AirPort base station, the AirPort Utility is there when things don't work quite so well.
As well as diagnostic and setup work, you can also use AirPort Utility to create guest networks that provide only an internet connection without networking features and also to share USB devices over the wireless network to more than one Mac.
If you're having trouble with your base station or need to make changes, this is the tool you need to use - it will find all AirPort devices within range of your Mac.
60. AppleScript Editor
AppleScripts are pieces of code that perform various tasks on your Mac, from shortcuts to folder actions, and can be used in menus or toolbars. AppleScript Editor enables you to open and adjust AppleScripts or create them from scratch.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to start a new recording from the main interface and then perform a task. Once done, AppleScript Editor will build a script based on your actions. This action can then be saved and added to a menu or placed on the Dock.
61. Keychain Access
Every password you use on your Mac can be stored in your Keychain if you give it access to do so and you will often be prompted by Mac OS X to store information to it. Opening the app, you will find your password info as well as secure documents and certificates.
If you can't remember a password, find the app or service in Keychain Access and then enter your administrator password to view it. You can also view the strength of a password within Keychain Access.
62. System lookout
System behaving a little sluggishly? Open up Activity Monitor and look at which processes are using up your CPU resources to diagnose the slow-down. You can even close down apps from this window for a quick speed-boost.
63. VoiceOver utility
If you use Mac OS X's assistive technology VoiceOver to speak information to you, you can fine-tune it with VoiceOver Utility. Adjustments include voice types, reading speed and a number of controls to change the way VoiceOver works.
The Terminal in Mac OS X is a rather scary-looking command prompt but, with a little know-how, it can be a very handy tool to have. Simple commands enable you to make system-wide changes that would normally take a long time. Google some useful ones and give it a go.
65. Network Utility
Network Utility enables you to monitor your networks, be they Bluetooth, wireless or Ethernet, and can also help provide diagnostic information for tech support teams. It also enables you to perform a 'Whois' lookup on domain names to discover the owner of a URL.
66. DigitalColor Meter
Have you ever wanted to find out the exact value of a specific colour but not been able to locate it? DigitalColor Meter enables you to mouse over any pixel on your screen and discover the Red, Green and Blue values quickly.
67. Get more from Expose
To get really nifty in Snow Leopard, in System Preferences you can set different corners of your screen to trigger Exposé. These hot corners will show all open windows, the Desktop and more by simply moving the cursor to the relevant area.
68. Switch to a Space
Set a Spaces shortcut in System Preferences to switch to the desired space when you press the Command key with the corresponding Space number. You can also use Option and Shift as the modifier key.
69. RAID Utility
If you are using a Mac Pro with more than one hard drive or Mac OS X Server, you can make use of RAID Utility to improve disk speed or create a failsafe drive should one fail. A definite tool for the pros, but useful nonetheless.
70. ColorSync Utility
ColorSync Utility is an advanced tool that is used for managing colour profiles on your Mac. Many Mac owners find that one of its best uses is for performing first aid on profiles to make sure colours appear as they should. If you have installed new graphics software it's worth running the test.