As a recent convert, I had some initial hiccups, while getting acclimatized to my Mac. My single most defining character as a programmer, is my laziness. I absolutely detest repeating my daily tasks. So I took my time to understand the various productivity features in OS X and have taken the time to document it.
Some of the few key things about your Mac:
1- Uniformity – Most Apps in Mac behave similarly. There is uniformity running across Mac. We will learn to take advantage of this later.
2- Self Organizing – Mac is extremely stable and as a user, you do not have to perform routine maintenance activities , that you were forced to do in windows.(defragmentation …).
3- Scripting ability – Most of the apps in Mac are script-able using a very user friendly scripting language “Applescript”. Even if you do not get comfortable with Applescript ( I highly recommend it), you can still leverage the power of scripting using Automator or using productivity apps like “Quicksilver”
4- OS X is extremely keyboard friendly – Hence a productivity treasure trove.
5- Limited yet well behaving apps – You have been warned, the amount of apps in for OS X, does not compare with Windows platform and most of the good ones are paid apps. But most of them behave well, thanks to the slightly closed nature of the platform.
Note: Most of the blog is aimed at Lion, but it is appropriate for Snow Leopard also.
OS X is a very keyboard friendly environment. Although I do not hold against people who use mouse a lot, I personally believe that judicious usage of keyboard is a definite productivity boost. (Keyboard vs Mouse is a very serious argument and I am not going to go there, but for those who are interested this article in coding horror will be informative).
So the first thing to get out of the way are some of the key symbols in your Mac keyboard.
(Command key) – On some Apple keyboards, this key also has an Apple logo ()
(Option key) – “Alt” may also appear on this key
(Caps Lock) – Toggles Caps Lock on or off
fn (Function key)
Apart from these keys, the most important key that you should remember is the “fn” key. I have sprinkled some of my commonly used keyboard shortcuts,but it is in no way exhaustive enough and the chances are, each one of you will find your own set of most useful shortcuts. The following link provides a comprehensive list of shortcuts.
For starters, you will do well to remember that the apple command key is almost equivalent to the control key in windows. Most of the common key sequence that you had used in windows, like ctrl + F and ctrl +c, could be used with the Command key.
Tip 1: One of the things that I like to do, is to make the function keys perform its standard functions. If you buy a Mac Book Pro, the chances are the function keys will be overloaded with more multimedia centric functionalities and to use your function keys for standard purpose, you need to press the “fn” key. I prefer to restore my function keys to its former glory. For that you need to click on the Mouse Preference and choose “Use all F1, F2 etc keys as standard function keys”.(pictured below).
1. Stop Mousing Around:
Irrespective of whether it is productive or not, using the Mouse is the easiest way to get accustomed to an new environment. There are a few gotchas here…
The first among them is the right click, or context click option. By default OS X does not support right click in your mouse. Context menu is opened using “ + Left Click“. But if you want to use the right click, then you can set it up that way, using the Mouse Preference Panel and enabling secondary click and choosing click on right side.(Fig 1.b)
Tip 2: In case if you are wondering how to navigate to Mouse Preference, then it is under the system preference. Chances are that the system preferences is in your Dock.. But there is a quicker way to open these applications. Click on Cmd +Space, this will activate spotlight; Mac OS X pre-built search engine. Once activated start typing “Mouse Preferences” and you will get incremental search result and the top hit would be the one under system preference. Click it. You can save a lot of time if you leverage the power of spotlight.
Mouse Vs TrackPad: If you are getting your new Mac Computer, then I suggest that you get your wireless trackpad, instead of the Apple Magic Mouse. The magic mouse is an work of art , but its functionality is severely limited. Magic Mouse and trackpad, both support multi touch. What multi touch buys you is more options. But Magic mouse only supports two fingered multi touch, trackpad supports up to four fingers and starting from OS X Lion, they have introduced more complete gesture management, that could be key in getting the most out of your mac. For more advanced gestures supported by your Mac, click on gestures tab of your Mouse and Trackpad preference or you can find it here.
You will also learn that your Mouse have an important part to play in the effective navigation between various windows in the form of hot corners.
2. Finding your Mac:
One of the biggest surprises for a new Mac user is the limited functionality available in Finder. Finder is the Mac file Explorer. Of course if you are developer, then you will not mind this at all and fire up the terminal window instead, but for a normal user, it is important to get comfortable with Finder. Irrespective of how limited it feels, there are workarounds to make your finder feature rich and it comes pre-built with some hidden gems.
Note that there are lot of new enhancement to Finder in OS X Lion and some of the things discussed below may not be appropriate anymore.
So what are some of the limitations of Finder?
- It does not have a Visible Address Bar.
- There are no options to cut and paste finder items.
- There is no one step solution to copy file path.
- There is no option to a create New file in finder.
Workaround for your finder problems:
The simplest workaround is using a replacement finder program like “PathFinder”. PathFinder is a paid program that comes with all the bells and whistles that you would expect in a File Explorer and more. If you do not wish to shell the extra pennies, then there are simple enough workarounds.
Where is my Address bar?
The fact that there is no visible address bar, gives an impression that the Finder is limited in its use as a File Navigator. In fact Finder is very capable when it comes to Navigations, we just need to unlearn some of the things that we were taught by other operating systems.
Using File Navigation in Finder:
Lets say that you want to go to a folder location, You have the path of the folder in your clipboard. In finder press “CMD+ SHIFT +G” or Go To Folder. You will be shown an prompt, for you to paste your path information. You can use this trick, while navigating to a folder path even from within a program. I have seen people struggle a lot, while attaching files in mail. Even from within your external program like Mail, you can invoke Go To Folder, to navigate to a particular folder.
Finder also comes predefined with a pre-built set of Navigation shortcuts. The following are a selected few.
CMD + SHIFT + H -> Go to Home
CMD + SHIFT + A -> Go to Applications
CMD + SHIFT + D -> Go to Desktop
For a whole bunch of finder options click on “Go To” menu in your finder window.
Cut and Paste?
You can finally Cut and Paste finder items in Lion. To do that, you need to copy items like usual and while pasting to the destination folder, hold down “Options” and perform context click. You will see a “Move Items Here” option.
But if you have not migrated to Lion and do not wish to get pathfinder, then you still have some options.
The following are your options:
- Open terminal and execute an mv command.
- Drag and Drop, Dragging and dropping is technically a move. Just highlight the finder item using your mouse and drag to your destination folder. While dragging remember the following combinations.
- drag = move
- option+command+drag=make alias(shortcut)
- Use quicksilver: More on this later.
- Leverage existing Applescripts. (Google “Applescript for cut and paste”. The script depends on the version of the OS X).
Create New File:
You might be wondering, why there is no New file creation option. In fact it makes sense to not having to create a new file. We hardly need to create a new file, outside of an program. But just in case, if you have an habit of creating lot of new files, then you can have it your way.
- NUFile: NewFile is an utility that adds a whole bunch of New Files options in the Finder Context Menu. I think it is versatile and it is free. ( May not work with Lion).
- Use Automator to create a new workflow.
- Use Quicksilver.( I know its becoming a repeated theme. Its intentional )
Copy File Path;
Copy file path looks like a simple enough requirement, but unfortunately there is no simple enough way to do it. There are a couple of not so complex way though.
- I have seen my Friends who use Mac, used to copy paste their folder to Terminal window and copy the path from the terminal window. I think you will agree, that this is a bad workaround.
- CMD + I, is a get info button. Click on CMD +I after highlighting an finder item. You can copy the folder path from this info panel.
- Write your own AppleScript.
- Use utilities like FileXaminer. Its a very versatile utility that provides many of the missing functions that we have discussed in this blog.
Other Useful Finder Features:
Customizing the Finder toolbar: The Finder toolbar is customizable, Context clicking the toolbar provides an customize option, Here we can decide on the items that are visible in the toolbar.
Customizing the Sidebar: We can choose what items need to be displayed on the finder side bar. Invoke the preference panel (“cmd+ , “). You can also add custom sidebar items by dragging the finder items to the side bar.
Rename: Finder items are renamed by pressing “Enter ( or Return)” button.
Get Info: To get info of finder item is by pressing “Cmd + I” (after highlighting the finder item).
Navigation: Move up a folder is “Cmd + Up Arrow“, move down a folder is “Cmd + Down Arrow“. “Cmd + [ " for going to previous folder and "Cmd + ] ” for next folder.
Quick Info: If you want to have a quick look in to a finder item, like pictures or text document, you can press “Space” button. This will open an modal window, with the quick preview of the file.
Open and Close: New Finder window is “Cmd + N“, Close a finder window is “Cmd + w ” . Close all finder window is “Cmd + Options + w“.
Change View Options: Finder provides a standard set of view options. Icons, List, Columns and Cover Flow. To switch between the views, you can press Cmd + <1..4>. Cmd + 1 stands for icon view and so on.
3. Launching your Application:
One of the primary function of the operating system is to provide seamless access to your programs and this is where OS X shines brightest. I have seen Mac with a cluttered desktop and I absolutely detest that. Being an minimalist, I think there are better ways to find and manage your programs.
1. The simplest way to launch application is using your dock. But its not the most productive way to launch an application. Besides Dock has some other interesting functions.(Dock is the application bar that typically floats around at the bottom of the screen. Although its position could be changed.)
2. Using LaunchPad: LauchPad is an new utility that is introduced in Lion. The launchPad is typically available in your Dock and the best possible way to invoke it is using the trackpad gesture.(one more reason why you should invest in a wireless trackpad). But without the ability to perform incremental search, you need to still rely on the Mouse based navigation to launch the application.
3. Using Spotlight: Most often than not, spotlight is probably the best way to launch an application. “Cmd + Space” will activate the spotlight and you can type in the application’s name. Depending on how adept the user is at using the keyboard, this may or may not be the fastest way to launch applications.
4. The best possible way for launching application is using Quicksilver. Quicksilver is free and is one of the most important productive apps in Mac. More details in a future posting.
4. Customizing and using your Dock:
I have used an condescending tone while describing dock as an utility to launch application, but It does have some important productivity enhancing functionality. First, we will talk about customizing your dock. First open the dock preference.( remember what we already learned about launching applications).
1. First you can position your Dock. By default dock is at the bottom and you can position it to left or right.
2. I also like minimize window to application icon. If this option is not selected, then there would be one application icon and the open windows of the application will be minimized to a separate dock item.
3. Show Indicator light is a cool feature that helps us keep an visual registry of the open applications.
4. If you want to add more application to your Dock, open the application, an Dock Item corresponding to the application will be added to your dock. Right click (context click or Cmd + click) on the dock item and choose “Options”->”Keep in Dock” option.
Use your dock for…
1- Keeping a registry of all the running application: By default all the running application will have a small light indicator below it. I find it very useful to have a visual indicator of all the open apps.
2. Open the physical location of an application: More like the “Which” option in unix, we can navigate to the source folder of any dock item by, holding on the Cmd button while clicking on the dock item. (CMD + Click to open installation folder of Dock item).
3. Just maximize a particular Application: If you just want to keep an particular application maximized ( and all other open items minimized), then you could Option + Click on the dock item. Only that particular application will be visible in the desktop. Its like “Show Desktop” with only a particular application.
4- Assigning application to desktops; If you have multiple desktops (Spaces in older version), then you can use the Dock to assign applications to a particular desktop. Right click on the dock item and “Options”->”Assign to”.
5- To uninstall Application: You could drag the Dock Item to trash to uninstall the application.
Before we move on from Dock, there is one more useful tip concerned with Dock. Ctrl + F3 will move the focus to the first dock item. Then you could use the arrow keys to navigate to other dock items. This is an useful way to access the dock item, if you do not want to use the mouse.
5. Three Fingered Salute:
The famed three fingered salute Ctrl+Alt+Delete in windows is not present in Mac. But Mac does offer other comparable options.
If you were used to using the three fingered salute to recover from a frozen system, then there is good news for you. Mac rarely stops responding completely. In the rare case, if one (or few) of your applications are misbehaving, then you could use Option+Cmd+ Escape. This will open an dialog listing all the running apps. You can select one or many of the application and then press “Force Quit”.
How about just plain locking your computer. This could be accomplished best using hot corners. I have discussed about hot corners in the Mission control section, but to avoid switching context, here is how…
Open Mission Control Preferences and Click on Hot corners. (Expose for those who have not yet migrated to Lion), and choose one of the hot corners to start a screensaver.( or you could choose sleep)
We need to ensure that the system will prompt for password. Open the “Security and Privacy preferences”.We need to check the “Require password <?> after sleep or screen saver begins”. To avoid accidental screen saver invocation, I usually provide a small latency, instead of the immediately option.
6. How to Uninstall Application?
The simple answer is, you just move the application to trash. You can move the dock item of the application to Trash or you can navigate to your application folder and move the entire folder to trash. (In fact, you could move the items from lauchpad, which probably is the fastest way to access application for uninstall).
For purists, this may not be the best possible solution, since there might be some lingering files that were left behind. In that case, the following are the options.
1- Use the vendor installation file: Most vendors will package an uninstaller with the installation .dmg file. So run the .dmg file to see if there is an uninstall option.
2- In case, if you do not have the .dmg file, then look for uninstaller scripts. Some vendors package an perl or python uninstaller scrips with the application files.(any file with unistaller.xx pattern).
3- Use third party uninstallers like AppZapper.
7. Shift Delete Options:
OS X is pretty defensive and hence there are few point of no returns. Shift + Delete definitely qualifies as one. Deleted files will always go to trash. But there is an simple enough shortcut. Once you deleted an (finder) item (Cmd +Delete), then you can click on Cmd + Options + Shift + Delete. This will empty the trash. (Note that a finder window must be active while performing this shortcut.)
8. Embrace the Uniformity:
I had already mentioned that the uniformity of the mac app is an very elegant feature. Once you are comfortable with an Mac app, the learning curve to understand other apps are considerably sharper. But the uniformity goes beyond the visual similarities and controls. The following are the common functionalities that I find very useful.
Open and Close: Not very unique to Mac, opening a new windows in any application is usually Cmd + N and closing is Cmd + W. In case of tabbed application, Cmd + W, will close the active tab.(in browser). Closing the entire application window is Cmd +Q. Cmd + T is new tab in tabbed applications.
Ask for Help: Help in a mac application is more interactive. Usually help is accompanied by a visual cue, indicating the item in the menu bar. To invoke help in almost all application is “Cmd + Shift + /“. For instances, lets say that you are using a blogging tool (like MarsEdit) and you need to know how to do a block quote. We can invoke the help (using Cmd + Shift + /) and type in block quote, you will be led to the menu item.
Preferences Panel: For most applications, invoking the preference of the application is by using “Cmd + ,” ( command + comma) . In some applications, you can even use “Cmd + ; ” (command + semi colon) to invoke more localized properties. For instance in Intellij IDEA, you can use Cmd + ; and the project property panel will open.
Get Info: To get info on any item is usually “Cmd + I “. This works universally in all applications.
Scrolling with Joy: In most apps, primarily used for reading, (like browser, preview and adobe reader), scroll down is accomplished by “Space” button and scroll up is “Shift + Space”.( page down and page up correspondingly).
9. Mission Control or How to Organize your work space:
To organize your work space, OS X, provides you with Spaces and Expose. They are an ultimate productivity boosters. In Lion, they are presented under a single umbrella called Mission Control. Mission control is not all that different from the older Spaces, but there are subtle differences.
So if you are already used to Spaces and Expose in snow leopard, the following are the general differences:
1- Spaces and Expose are unified under a single umbrella.
2- Assigning applications to Desktops, option is removed from the preference panel and is now only available through the dock item of the application.
3- The individual desktops are more customizable, starting with having separate wallpapers for each one.
4- Adding more desktops is removed from the Preference panel and is available as part of the mission control tiled view.
5- Some application could be assigned across desktops using the “Assign to All Desktop” options in the context menu of the Dock item.
6- Enhanced gestures (multi touch) for accessing Mission control.
So enough with differences, how to leverage the power of Mission Control.
If you want to switch across application or navigate to different desktops, you will use mission control, if you just want to navigate to different windows belonging to same applications, you will use App Expose.
Mission control will tile all the open application in the current desktop and also will tile all the available desktops. You can also add more desktops, by moving to the corner of the desktop tiles and you will see a “+” button (in the right edge) for adding more desktops.
1. The best way to invoke mission control is using the Gestures. Open your trackpad preferences and switch to more gestures tab. You can choose the gesture for mission control. By default its swipe up with three fingers.( I have changed to four fingers, but its a personal preference.)
3. Mission Control can also be invoked using Ctrl + Up Arrow.
4. Navigation between Desktops, is best accomplished using Ctrl + (left and Right) buttons. If you know the exact desktop number to navigate to, we can use Ctrl + <Desktop Number>. Lets say that I have four desktops. Ctrl + 3 will take me to the 3rd desktop.
App Expose is primarily used to navigate across two windows of the same applications. Its provides a snapshot of all the instances of an single applications.
1. You can invoke App Expose, using Gestures. By default its “Swipe Down with Three Fingers”, you can change that in trackpad preferences -> More Gestures.
2. You can use Ctrl + Down arrow.
You can assign behavior to mouse positions or more precisely the four corners of your desktop. Mission Control and App expose, could be assigned to top left and top right corners respectively.
By creating multiple desktops and assigning each desktop a general theme, we can organize our work flow. For instance, I have five desktops and I use the First one for Dev Tools, second one for organizers, third one for Finders and terminals, Fourth one for readers (Kindle App, Preview, iPhoto etc) and finally the last one for internet. (browser, iChat etc.)
I find Ctrl + Arrow keys to be the fastest way to access Mission Control features. But depending on preferences, some may like gestures more.
Finally, I had liberally mentioned Quicksilver in this article. If you want to learn how to use quicksilver, then head to the “Getting started with Quicksilver” article.