Get to Work More Quickly with the Right Mac Login Items

by | August 14, 2017

There’s a French culinary phrase—mise en place—that means “everything in its place.” The idea is that, before you start cooking, you organize and arrange all the ingredients for the dish so they’re right at hand when you need them. In essence, mise en place is about being well-prepared for the task at hand.

You can, and we’d suggest, should do exactly the same thing on your Mac. After all, you probably switch back and forth between the same set of apps—perhaps Mail, Safari, and Messages, plus apps like Pages and Numbers—as you work. Most modern Macs have plenty of RAM to keep all those apps running at the same time. But when you restart your Mac or turn it on, do you launch every one of your standard apps by hand? There’s no need.

That’s because macOS has long had the concept of “login items,” apps that you’ve set to launch automatically whenever the Mac starts up.

 Meet Your Login Items

You’ll find the login items in System Preferences > Users & Groups > Login Items.

Login-Items-Users-Groups-pref-pane

You may already have some login items listed. These can be any apps that you want to have available right after starting up, and some utility apps may have added themselves to the Login Items list automatically because they need to be running at all times. For instance, your list might include iTunesHelper, which launches iTunes whenever you attach an iOS device.

 If you’re not sure which app a login item goes with, Control-click the login item and choose Show in Finder. Then in the Finder window that appears, look at the path bar at the bottom (choose View > Show Path Bar if it’s not visible). That will usually give you the necessary clue to find the parent app.

Login-Items-iTunes-Helper

Manage Your Login Items

Every so often, it’s a good idea to look through your login items and make sure they’re doing what you want. You can add new items for apps you’ve starting using regularly and remove items for apps that you no longer need running all the time. And you do want to remove unnecessary login items because they could be slowing your Mac down.

Here’s what you need to know about managing your login items:

  •  Add a login item. An easy way to add an app to the Login Items list is to drag its icon from the Finder into the list. But you can also click the + button beneath the Login Items list and choose the app from the Applications folder. Or, make sure the app is running, Control-click its icon on the Dock, and then choose Options > Open at Login from the shortcut menu. Also, some utility apps will ask whether you want to launch them at startup and add themselves to the Login Items list if you agree.
  • Remove a login item. To prevent an app from launching at startup in the future, select it in the Login Items list and click the – button under the Login Items list.
  • Hide a login item’s windows after startup. Some apps, like Adobe Photoshop and InDesign, fill your screen with their windows immediately at launch. If you don’t want to use an app right after restarting your Mac, you can reduce screen clutter by selecting its Hide checkbox in the Login Items list. That’s the equivalent of launching an app and hiding its windows by Option-clicking on another app.

 

It takes only a minute to put your Mac ingredients in place, and the next time you boot your Mac, everything will be ready to go!

 

Uncovering the Mac’s Hidden Menus

by | August 4, 2017

It’s easy to find and open the Mac’s standard menus—all you do is click a word or icon. But did you know about the Mac’s hidden menus? They contain many useful commands, but the Mac’s user interface provides no clue to their existence. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s in a Name?

Contextual-menus-Finder-icon

These menus go by a few different names. Long-time geeks call them contextual menus,but nowadays Apple prefers to call them secondary menus or shortcut menus. We’ll call them shortcut menus here because they generally provide shortcuts to commands that are also available elsewhere

Can I Just Click?

Sorry, no. You have to invoke these shortcut menus in a special way. The most foolproof method is via a Control-click—hold down the Control key on your keyboard while you click the correct spot. Try it by Control-clicking an icon in the Finder.

Before the Mighty Mouse appeared in 2005, all Apple mice had just one button, so the Control-click technique was the only way to go. Since 2005, however, all Apple mice have provided multiple buttons and since then, you’ve also been able to right-click to invoke a shortcut menu. Windows users who switch to the Mac are particularly accustomed to right-clicking, since Windows relies on it heavily. To right-click, click the target spot with the right-hand button on your mouse, or click the equivalent area on your trackpad.

 If that doesn’t work, open System Preferences > Mouse/Trackpad > Point & Click and make sure the “Secondary click” checkbox is selected. Also, note whether “Click in bottom right corner” or “Click in bottom left corner” (or similar) is selected. (When changing the settings for a non-Apple mouse or trackpad, you may see different options or need to use software that came with the device.)

Contextual-menus-system-preferences-two-fingers

Right-clicking is great, but trackpad users can avail themselves of another technique, the two-finger click. If “Click with two fingers” is selected in the Trackpad preference pane, you can invoke a shortcut menu with a two-fingered click anywhere on your trackpad. We prefer this two-finger-click method because, with either click-in-a-corner method, we sometimes click in the corner when we want a regular click, not a menu.

 

What Can Shortcut Menus Do, and Where Do I Find Them?

We already mentioned the shortcut menu that comes up from a Finder icon. Most of its commands also appear in the Finder’s File menu, but the shortcut menu saves you a trip across the screen. A few favorites from that menu are:

  •  Say you want to trash a file on your Desktop. You could drag the file to the Trash icon on the Dock, of course, but that can be a lot of mousing on a large screen! It’s easier to Control-click the file’s icon and choose Move to Trash from the shortcut menu.
  •  Another command on this shortcut menu, Open With, is perfect for opening a file in an application other than the default app. That’s handy if you want to open a text file in Pages instead of TextEdit.
  •  There’s also a Share command that lets you quickly add a photo to your Photos library, post it to Facebook, and more.

Shortcut menus abound in the Finder: Control-click the toolbar of a Finder window to get commands for customizing it. Control-click a sidebar item in a Finder window to get info about it or remove it, among other possibilities. For a Finder window in List view, you can add and remove columns by Control-clicking the column header bar. And of course, you can Control-click icons in the Dock.

Contextual-menu-toolbar

Most apps also offer shortcut menus, but the hard part is finding them. The trick is to Control-click any object or interface control you could conceivably customize or work on in some other way. To see what we’re talking about, Control-click a photo you’ve received in Messages, a message summary in Mail, or a graphic in Safari. Those examples are just the tip of the iceberg—try Control-clicking words, graphics, songs, icons, toolbars, sidebars, you name it!

Contextual-menu-Messages

Did You Know Apple Hid Huge Reference Books in Your Mac?

by | July 27, 2017

You’re probably used to Mac apps using red underlines to mark misspelled words, but did you know that macOS has long included a fully featured Dictionary app as well? It provides quick access to definitions and synonyms in the New Oxford American Dictionary and the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, along with definitions of Apple-specific words like AppleCare and MacTCP. But that’s far from all it can do.

First, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. Launch the Dictionary app from your Applications folder and then type a word or phrase into the Search field. As you type, Dictionary starts looking up words that match what you’ve typed so far—you don’t even have to press Return. If more than one word matches what you’ve typed, click the desired word in the sidebar.

Dictionary-Mac-lookup

Notice the lozenges below the toolbar, representing the references that Dictionary can consult, and no, your eyes aren’t deceiving you—Dictionary can look things up in Wikipedia if your Mac has an Internet connection. In short, Dictionary gives you instant access to a dictionary, a thesaurus, and an encyclopedia containing over 5.4 million articles in English alone! You can click a reference’s lozenge to limit your search, or select All to scan all of them.

Dictionary-Wikipedia

If you want to look up words in another language, or even just British English, Dictionary has you covered, with a long list of other reference works. Choose Dictionary > Preferences and select those you’d like to use. You can drag the selected entries into the order you want their lozenges to appear below the toolbar.

Dictionary-prefs

Once you’re in a definition, note that you can copy text for use in other apps—always helpful when wading into grammar and usage arguments on the Internet. More generally, you can click any word in Dictionary’s main pane to look it up instantly. If dictionaries had been this much fun in school, we’d have larger vocabularies! Use the Back and Forward arrow buttons to navigate among your recently looked-up words.

 

As helpful as the Dictionary app is, you probably don’t want to leave it running all the time. Happily, Apple has provided quite a few shortcut methods for looking up words

  • Press Command-Space to invoke Spotlight, and enter your search term.

Dictionary-Spotlight

  • Select a word, and then choose AppName > Services > Look Up in Dictionary to launch Dictionary and search for that word. This trick should work in most apps, but won’t work in all. If the Look Up in Dictionary command doesn’t appear, make sure it’s enabled in System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Services, in the Searching category.

Dictionary-Lookup-Service

  • Last but best, hover over a word or phrase with the mouse pointer and either press Command-Control-D or Control-click the word and choose Look Up “word.” If the app supports it, macOS displays a popover with the definition or Wikipedia article. If you have a trackpad, you can also do a force-click or three-finger tap on the selected word—make sure the “Look up & data detectors” checkbox is selected in System Preferences > Trackpad > Point & Click.

Dictionary-inline-lookup

Now that you know how to take full advantage of the reference works that Apple has built into macOS, it’s time to get in touch with your inner logophile (feel free to look that one up).

Finder Secrets: Navigating Your Folder Hierarchy with the Path Bar

by | July 3, 2017

Apple is known for creating clever little features that do a lot more than most people realize. Learn these, and you’ll be the master of your Mac. And more important, you’ll get your work done more quickly!

Have you ever noticed the Path Bar at the bottom of Finder windows? It may or may not be showing—if not, choose View > Show Path Bar to reveal it. The Path Bar has two basic goals in life:

 

  1. It wants to show where you are in your drive’s folder hierarchy. As you navigate into nested folders, it’s easy to get lost and not realize where you are. If you accidentally drag a file into a deeply nested folder, you might have trouble finding that folder later.
  2. It wants to help you navigate to and work with all the folders higher up in the folder hierarchy, so you don’t have to open a new window and laboriously navigate to the folder you want.

 

To make sure we’re all on the same page, here’s a quick look at how the Finder is organized. The top level of your folder hierarchy is your drive—call it Macintosh HD for the moment. Inside Macintosh HD are macOS’s standard folders: Applications, Library, System, and Users. Your home folder is inside Users, and inside your home folder are more built-in folders: Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Movies, Music, Pictures, and Public. All the files and folders you create go inside those folders in your home folder. The screenshot below shows this in Column view.

Path-Bar-folder-hierarchy

But what if you aren’t working in Column view, or your window isn’t wide enough to show the full hierarchy? Look at the bottom of the window, where you see the Path Bar. It shows the same folder hierarchy: Macintosh HD/Users/Guest (paths are always written with slashes between the folders). Now check out this next window, which shows a folder of flower photos inside the Pictures folder.

Path-Bar-flowers

Now that we’re in Icon view, it’s impossible to tell where in the folder hierarchy we are, or rather, it would be if the Path Bar wasn’t showing our exact location. It even identifies the selected file.

Here’s the thing even people who know about the Path Bar seldom realize: every item in it is live. Say you have another folder of photos sitting on your Desktop that you want to move into the Pictures folder. To make the move, simply drag that folder onto the Pictures folder in the Path Bar. Next, assume you want to open that other folder. Just double-click it in the Path Bar to open it. You can open any folder in the Path Bar this way.

There are three other things you can do with any folder in the Path Bar: open it in a new Finder window tab, show it in its enclosing folder, and get info about it. To carry out any of these actions, Control-click or right-click a folder in the Path Bar to get a contextual menu with those commands. (Similar commands appear if you Control-click a selected file at the end of the Path Bar, but it’s better to Control-click a file directly because the Mac offers more choices that way.)

Path-Bar-contextual-menu

 

Knowing how to use the Path Bar may not be necessary for managing files and folders on your Mac, but turn it on and keep it in mind—you’ll appreciate its convenient time-savers.