Getting the Most from Mac OS X Applications and Utilities

Getting the Most from Mac OS X Applications and Utilities

As I mentioned earlier, Mac OS X comes with an impressive number of applications and utilities. Some of them you probably know well and may even use on a regular basis; others may be sitting on your hard drive unbeknownst to you. I'm going to talk about many of these programs, especially the gems that most people don't use but should.


Some of the OS X applications you're probably most familiar with are the "iApps" (iTunes, iPhoto, etc.), Mail, and Address Book. These are probably the most well-known and widely used OS X applications, and as such have entire books, websites, and mailing lists dedicated to them. Meanwhile, your Mac is full of other useful applications and utilities that rarely get mentioned. It's the latter group of applications I'm going to spend time on here. However, even though I don't talk about the iApps, Mail, and Address Book here in these pages, I still have some good tips for them. If you're interested, you can access these tips from the book's website:

To give this discussion some semblance of organization, I'm going to split the built-in applications into two groups: "applications" (non-iApps that aren't utilities) and utilities (loosely defined as any Apple-provided application that resides in /Applications/Utilities). Unfortunately, the sheer number of applications (and the fact that some of them are quite simple in what they do or how they work) means that I'll gloss over a few; rest assured that if I don't give a particular application its fair shake, it's probably because you can easily figure it out on your own, or because I talk about it elsewhere in the book.

Mac OS X Applications

The "applications" are those applications that are located in /Applications (in other words, not in the Utilities folder). In a few cases, an application will have its own sub-folder; I've noted where that is the case.


The Backup application actually isn't installed by Mac OS X; it's only available to subscribers to Apple's .Mac service. (If you're a member, you can download Backup by browsing to and going to the .Mac Downloads area.) Backup allows you to back up files, folders, or volumes to your iDisk or removable media such as CD-R or DVD-R. I talk more about using Backup (and other backup utilities) in Chapter 14.


The Mac OS has always included a basic calculator application, but Mac OS X provides a much improved, and much more capable version. Besides the normal functions you find on your average calculator, it provides three new features:

  • Advanced Functions By clicking the Advanced button, the Calculator application expands to a full-featured scientific calculator, replete with trigonometric functions, exponentials, memory registers, and log functions. (If only it provided an option for RPN entry.)

  • "Paper" Tape Click the Paper Tape button and a drawer expands with a record of any calculations you've performed using Calculator. You can copy any part of the tape for pasting in another application, or you can save the entire tape to a text file by choosing File Save Tape As.

  • Conversions Probably the coolest feature of Mac OS X's Calculator is its conversion functionality. Type in an amount (area, length, weight, temperature, power, etc.), then choose the type of conversion you wish to perform from the Convert menu. Calculator gives you a window to choose the unit of measurement you're converting from and the measure you're converting to, and then does the conversion for you. It will even convert currency using the latest currency exchange rate (choose Convert Update Currency Exchange Rates to make sure you have the most recent rates).


By clicking the zoom button (the green one in the upper left), you can reduce the Calculator to just the display; you can still control it using the keyboard, but you won't see the body of the calculator on the screen. In fact, if you're an awesome touch-typist, you can have Calculator read any total to you by choosing Speech Speak Total—you'll never even have to look at the Calculator application.


The Chess game lets you play against the computer, play against another person, or just watch the computer play itself (good for learning the game). If you play against the computer, you can choose (from the preferences dialog) how difficult the computer is to beat. You can view the board as a two-dimensional board, but using the three-dimensional setting shows off your Mac's graphics a lot better.

Chess also offers some nice extras. You can save your game in progress to finish it later. You can use Speech Recognition to play the game hands-free (e.g., "Knight b1 to c3"). Finally, if you're stuck, you can choose Move Hint to get a hint.


If you want to disable the speech feedback window, choose Chess Preferences, and then uncheck the Use Speech Recognition check box.


The Clock application is one of those applications that doesn't get used much because of Mac OS X's built-in menu bar clock. Many users figure that since they've already got a clock in the menu bar, why waste screen space with a floating clock? Here's a tip—with the proliferation of application menus and menu bar items, most of us could use a little bit of extra menu bar space. Turn off the menu bar clock (in Date & Time preferences), and set the Clock application (via its preferences dialog) to display in the Dock. You can choose analog or digital display, but the digital display has the advantage of also showing the date.

DVD Player

If you've ever watched a movie on your DVD-capable Mac, you've used DVD Player. Although most of the controls and preferences are fairly straightforward, there are a few functions and commands that most people haven't discovered.

At any time you can view information about the current movie (time elapsed/remaining, chapter/track number, audio information) by choosing Window Show Info. When the info window is visible, Show Info changes to Hide Info. You can control the color and size of the info window via the DVD Player preferences dialog.

Advanced Controls

One of the most common questions about DVD Player is how to take advantage of special controls such as scan, slow motion, and frame-by-frame advance. At first glance, it actually doesn't appear to provide such functionality, yet it really is there. To scan, simply hold down the forward/reverse track buttons; the speed of the scan is determined by the setting in the Controls Scan Rate menu.

To access other advanced controls (Figure 7.1), click on the three small dots at the edge of the controller (on the right side for a horizontal controller, at the bottom for a vertical controller). A drawer will slide out with six additional controls: Slow, Step, Return, Subtitle, Audio, and Angle (hold the mouse over a button to see a tooltip that tells you what the button does).

Figure 7.1: DVD Player's advanced controls

If you don't like showing and hiding the controller manually via the Window menu, check the Hide Controller If Inactive For box in the Player tab of the preferences dialog. Enter a time, such as 10 seconds, and the controller will disappear whenever the mouse hasn't moved for 10 seconds; to get it to reappear, simply move the mouse or press the escape key.

Playing DVDs Automatically

If you want a DVD to start playing automatically when you insert it into your Mac, the procedure isn't entirely clear. First, you need to open the CDs & DVDs pane of System Preferences, and select Open DVD Player in the "When you insert a video DVD" pop-up menu. Second, in DVD Player preferences, you need to go to the Player tab and check the box next to Start Playing Disc in the "On Startup" section. When you have both these settings selected, inserting a DVD video will cause DVD Player to launch and automatically start playing the disc.


If you tend to watch movies on your Mac at night, you may find the shareware iSleep ( useful. It works with DVD Player and allows you to choose any of a number of actions to be performed when the movie has finished, or after a certain amount of time: pause, stop, quit, put the computer to sleep, or shut down the computer.

Taking Advantage of DVD Player Scripts

Like iTunes and a few other Mac OS applications, DVD Player has its own script menu and includes several AppleScripts. From the script menu you can go directly to a specific chapter or a specific time on the DVD. Even cooler, if you have a favorite spot in a movie, you can use the Preferred Playback script to bookmark it—selecting Preferred Playback again will start the DVD at that spot. There are also a few other scripts for you to play around with, as well as a couple of AppleScript applets—scripts saved as standalone applications—available from the Applets sub-menu. The Preview Movie applet, for example, lets you view the first few seconds of each chapter of a DVD in sequence.


If you like the idea of bookmarking DVDs, check out DVD Navigator ( It allows you to create your own chapter catalogs for a DVD, and then lets you use those catalogs to navigate the disc. (You can still use the DVD's own chapter/scene selections, as well.)

Taking Screenshots of DVDs

Unfortunately, you can't take a screenshot of a DVD using the standard Mac OS X screen-shot functionality. However, you can do so using the freeware DVD Capture ( When launched, DVD Capture provides its own controller that allows you to play and pause the DVD (you should pause the DVD before taking a picture of it). You can choose to take a screenshot of the entire screen or of just the DVD Player window, and choose to save it to the clipboard or to a file. You can also choose to delay the capture for a few seconds, in case you want to include any menus or the controller in your picture.

Image Capture

Image Capture is used by iPhoto to automatically download pictures from your digital camera; however, most users aren't aware that you can also use Image Capture by itself—in fact, for some uses it's much faster and more convenient than iPhoto, and offers features not available anywhere else.

From the Image Capture preferences dialog, you can decide on the action you want Mac OS X to take when you connect your digital camera: nothing, open iPhoto, open Image Capture, or open another application. (You can make a similar decision if you have a supported scanner; you can choose what application to open when a button is pressed on the scanner.)

Once you've connected your camera, Image Capture provides you with several options. First, you can choose where you want images to be downloaded (from the Download To pop-up menu). Second, from the Automatic Task pop-up, you can decide what you want Image Capture to do with the photos once they're downloaded. The default is to do nothing, but you can have it create a slide show or web page, automatically resize the pictures to various dimensions, or Preview the images (using the Preview application). Click the Download button to download all the photos on your camera using the settings you've selected.

Where the more advanced features of Image Capture come into play are under the Options and Download Some screens. Click the Options button and you'll see several tabs. The Download Options tab lets you delete photos from the camera after downloading, as well as adding custom data (custom icons, Get Info comments, and ColorSync profiles) to photos as they're downloaded. You can also choose to have photos downloaded automatically upon connect, and to set your camera's date and time. The Device Options tab provides information about the camera or scanner that is currently connected.

The View Options tab provides some interesting settings (icon size, list view columns, etc.), but you may be wondering where this mysterious "view" is located? That's where the Download Some screen comes in. If, instead of clicking Download to download all the pictures on your camera, you click Download Some, you're presented with an advanced screen that shows (by icon or list view) previews of all the photos currently on your camera. If you choose list view (from the View toolbar item or the View menu), you're also provided with all of the columns you checked in the View Options dialog (Figure 7.2). Some of this information is incredibly useful, and not easily viewed anywhere else in Mac OS X (aperture, exposure, shutter, f-number, etc.).

Click To expand
Figure 7.2: The Download Some screen of Image Capture

In the Download Some window, you can also rotate photos left (counterclockwise) and right (clockwise) before downloading them. You have the same options available in the main Image Capture window (download locations and automatic tasks), as well as quick access to the Options dialog. To choose photos for downloading, command-click on them, or drag the mouse across multiple photos. Once you're ready, click the Download button to download the selected photos.


In the Download Some window, you can customize the toolbar to add a Thumbnail Size slider that allows you to dynamically resize the photo previews shown in icon view. You can also change the order of columns in list view by dragging the column header left or right, or sort by a column by clicking on the column header.

Internet Connect

Internet Connect is a catchall application for initiating dial-up, AirPort, and VPN connections. I'll cover each of these functions in Chapters 9 and 11.

Mac Slides Publisher

Like Backup, Mac Slides Publisher isn't installed by Mac OS X; it's only available to .Mac subscribers. I mentioned in Chapter 2 that you can publish photos on your iDisk to be used as a slide show by the Screen Effects preference pane. Mac Slides Publisher allows you to do this quickly and easily. Simply select a group of photos in the Finder or in iPhoto (make sure they're all in JPEG format) and then drag them onto the Mac Slides Publisher icon. It will optimize them for size and then upload them to your iDisk (using the member name and password entered in the .Mac tab of Internet preferences).

To subscribe to another member's slide show (or your own, for that matter), open the Screen Effects tab of System Preferences. Select the .Mac screensaver, and then click the Configure button. Enter the .Mac member name, choose your preferred Display Options, and then press OK. Since you'll be downloading the pictures from an iDisk, you must be connected to the Internet for this to work, but if so, you'll now have a slide show screen saver using the pictures the .Mac member has provided.


Preview is Mac OS X's universal graphics viewer and converter. It can view all of the following image/graphics formats: BMP, GIF, JPEG, JP2 (JPEG2000), MacPaint, PDF, Photoshop, PICT, PNG, QuickTime Image Format, SGI, TGA, and TIFF. In addition, using File Export, it can export to all of these formats except GIF. While viewing an image file in Preview, you can also zoom in and out, rotate it left or right, or flip it on either axis (making Preview a nice tool for quickly performing basic image editing functions).

If you open a multipage PDF file, or a multipage fax document, in Preview, a drawer will slide out of the Preview window, presenting you with thumbnail previews of each page of the document. You can choose to hide the thumbnail drawer by clicking the Thumbnail item in the toolbar. The thumbnail drawer is also helpful if you want to open multiple files. If you drag them onto the Preview icon one at a time, or use the Open menu item and select them individually, each file will open in a new Preview window. However, if you drag multiple files onto the Preview icon in the Finder or the Dock, a single Preview window will open, and you can switch between images using the thumbnails in the drawer.

One of my biggest complaints about the thumbnail drawer is that it really slows Preview down. Luckily, you can choose whether the thumbnail drawer provides an image of each page (and the size of the image), the page/graphic name, or both, from Preview preferences. I set mine to show only the page/graphic name, and Preview is much faster.


You can actually view animated image files (such as animated GIFs that are common on the Web) in Preview. Choose View Customize Toolbar, and add the Play button to the toolbar. Open the animated file in Preview and then click the Play toolbar item to view the animation. (When you view such a file in Preview, the thumbnail drawer will also show each frame as a separate thumbnail.)

Always Use Preview Instead of Acrobat Reader

Any PDF file created by Mac OS X or Preview will be opened by Preview. However, most PDF files you download from the Web or receive via e-mail will, by default, open using Acrobat Reader. Although Reader offers some features that Preview doesn't (text copying and form editing, to name a couple), many users prefer Preview for most PDFs. You can force Mac OS X to open all PDF files in Preview using a trick I mentioned in Chapter 5:

  1. In the Finder, select any PDF file that has an Adobe Acrobat icon.

  2. Choose File Get Info (or press command+I).

  3. Expand the "Open with" panel.

  4. Select Preview from the pop-up menu.

  5. Click the Change All button.

If you have a particular PDF file you want to open using Acrobat Reader, you can still drag it onto the Acrobat Reader icon, or choose File Open from within Adobe Acrobat.

Using Preview to Save Edited Adobe Acrobat Forms

Acrobat Reader includes the ability to fill in PDF forms for printing. However, it does not allow you to save the form, meaning that if you close the PDF file, the next time you open it you have to fill in the form all over again. If this sounds familiar to you, here's a time-saving tip. Fill out the form in Acrobat Reader, and then choose File Print, but don't click the Print button. Instead, at the bottom of the window, click the Save As PDF button. Choose where to save the file and click Save. The resulting PDF file will look exactly like the original form, but with your information saved. You won't be able to further edit the form using Acrobat Reader, but you still have the original for that.


Mac OS X's printing dialogs actually use the Preview application to save files to PDF format. I'll talk more about this feature in Chapter 12.

This ability, and the ability to re-save PDF files from within Preview, is not always a good thing from the point of view of a PDF creator. PDF files created by Adobe Acrobat can implement certain security features that prevent things like printing and copying text. Resaving a PDF file from within Preview, or (if printing is enabled) "printing" to a PDF file, effectively defeats many of these protections. Preview was actually a worse offender in Mac OS X 10.1 and earlier—it didn't honor any of these protections at all (you didn't have to resave a file to defeat its security).

QuickTime Player

QuickTime Player allows you to play multimedia files, including such common audio and video formats as MP3, MPEG-4, WAV, AIFF, AAC, and AVI (and QuickTime, of course). You can view or listen to multimedia files stored on your own computer, or you can play back streaming multimedia content over the Internet.


If you get annoyed by the promotional video for some new movie or game that always pops up when you launch QuickTime Player, open the QuickTime Player Preferences Player Preferences... dialog and uncheck the "Show Hot Picks movie automatically" box.

If you click on a link for a supported streaming media format in your Web browser, Quick-Time Player will open automatically and begin to play it. If you have the URL of a streaming media file, choose File Open URL in New Player and type (or paste) the URL into the dialog box. You can control playback options such as the size of the playback screen using the Movie menu, and you can save your favorite movies and streaming URLs as favorites using the Favorites menu.


Some AVI movies don't play properly on the Mac. You may be able to convert these problematic AVIs to QuickTime's .mov format using DivX Doctor II (

Each QuickTime Player window has its own volume and playback controls, but there are a couple hidden controls, as well. If you click the mouse in the progress bar in a Player window, you can jump directly to any part of the file. (If the file is located on your computer, playback will resume immediately at the chosen location; if it's a streaming file, it will take a few seconds to re-buffer the content at the new point of playback). If you have a mouse with a scroll wheel, rotating the scroll wheel during playback will enter frame-by-frame mode; you can use the scroll wheel to advance or rewind one frame at a time (click the play button or press the space bar to resume normal playback).

If you're playing a file with audio content, you'll see a graphical audio display on the right side of the progress bar. If you click on this display, the progress bar will switch to an audio control panel with balance, bass, and treble controls (click the display again to switch back).

Finally, if you find that you just can't get QuickTime Player to play loud enough, hold down the shift key as you press the up arrow key (volume up). When the volume slider is all the way to the right, keep pressing the up key and you'll find that the volume continues to get louder!


If you upgrade to QuickTime Pro, QuickTime Player provides additional editing and import/export options, video effects and codecs, and the ability to create your own Quick-Time files from scratch.

Script Editor

The Script Editor application is actually located inside the AppleScript folder (inside the Applications folder). It allows you to write, record, and run scripts, as well as to view the AppleScript Dictionary for any application that supports AppleScript. I talk about Apple-Script in the Online Bonus Chapter. If you end up learning how to write your own scripts, chances are you'll start out using Script Editor.


Depending on what version of the Mac OS you're using, Sherlock is one of any number of different applications or utilities—Apple seems to change their mind about what they want it to be with each system release. As of Mac OS X 10.2, it's Apple's Internet information search tool, which, when connected to the Internet, allows you to search for information via channels. Although it has an Internet search channel that scours a number of the major Web search engines, as well as a Picture channel that uses those search engines to search for images, most of the channels are, in fact, very topic specific (Figure 7.3).

Click To expand
Figure 7.3: Sherlock's channels

Some examples of information you can gather using Sherlock's channels are movie times and locations in your area (and even view movie trailers); the latest stock updates and news; business information using the local yellow pages, word definitions and translations; and items for sale on the eBay auction site. You can even get the latest flight status information from major airlines.

Sherlock doesn't do any of this searching itself; rather, it queries available search engines and then returns the results to you from within its own window. You won't get "better" results than if you used these engines yourself, but you get a nice, neat, all-in-one interface to many different search engines and data sources on your Desktop.

Sherlock sounds like a great utility, and it is; however, I really don't use it much. Overall, I prefer the shareware Watson.

My Dear Watson: A Better Sherlock

The shareware Watson ( is a utility that looks and works similarly to Sherlock; in fact, with their toolbars configured similarly, as in Figure 7.4, it's a bit difficult to tell them apart. Whereas Sherlock offers "channels," Watson provides "tools"—both being content-specific modules that allow you to gather information via the Internet. However, Watson offers most of the features of Sherlock, plus many more.

Click To expand
Figure 7.4: Watson, Sherlock's more capable twin

As Table 7.1 shows, Watson's tool list is quite extensive, and provides access to many additional types of information, from news to recipes to weather. Watson is also extensible via a plug-in architecture (some of the currently available modules were provided by third parties), so new tools are available regularly.

Table 7.1: A Sherlock and Watson Comparison

Sherlock "Channels"

Watson "Tools"


Google, Yahoo


Image Search


Stock Tracker



Yellow Pages

Phone Book (white, yellow, toll-free)


eBay Watcher











Baseball Scores


Epicurious (recipes)


Exchange Rates


Football Scores


Meerkat (tech news/information)




Packages (tracking for Airborne, FedEx, UPS, USPS)


PriceGrabber (shopping price comparisons)




TV Listings






What's Better? ( interface)


Zip Codes


Both Watson and Sherlock accept plug-ins to add additional search tools, so the feature comparison in Table 7.1 is by no means exhaustive.

The channel in which Sherlock has a clear advantage over Watson's tools is AppleCare. You can search and view the entire AppleCare Knowledge Base of articles, making Sherlock a quicker way to access this content than even Apple's own website (although if you click on a link within a document, it will open in your web browser). Sherlock's Yellow Pages channel also has a few nice touches. Once you locate a business, Sherlock downloads a local map showing you the location of the business, and (if you've entered your address in the preferences dialog), can provide you with specific driving directions. Finally, whereas Watson used to have its own airline flight status tool, it was removed in a recent version.

However, apart from these channels, I find Watson's tools to be either comparable or preferable. For example, Watson's Phone tool searches white pages, yellow pages, and toll-free directories; its Reference tool searches many more databases, and many more types of databases, than Sherlock's Dictionary channel; and its Translation tool lets you choose between multiple online translation engines, compared to Sherlock's one. Sherlock is free with Mac OS X, but if you do a lot of online searching and information gathering, Watson is well worth the price.


There's actually a bit of controversy surrounding Sherlock and Watson. When Watson was first released, Sherlock looked and worked much differently (truth be told, it wasn't very popular). Watson got rave reviews, and even won Apple's own "Most Innovative Mac OS X Product" award. Come OS X 10.2, Sherlock got a major makeover that left it looking (and working) suspiciously like Watson. The two utilities aren't exactly the same, but they're close enough to raise some eyebrows.

Using Sherlock Location Files

If you find yourself doing frequent searches using a particular Sherlock channel, you can actually create Sherlock location files that, when opened in the Finder, launch Sherlock to the appropriate channel and initiate your search. Unfortunately, I don't have the space to show you how to do this here; however, you can visit the book's website at for the juicy details.


The Stickies application is the Mac OS X adaptation of the old Mac "Post-It Note" standby. You can quickly create notes and "stick" them on the screen. Although many users consider Stickies to be something of a novelty with limited functionality, those who haven't yet used OS X's version may be surprised by what it can do.

As with Classic Stickies, you can create as many notes as you like, each with styled text and the "paper" color you choose. You can also import text from a text file or export the contents of a note to a text file (although in OS X's Stickies you can also export to RTF and RTFD, which is an RTF file with graphics).

However, the similarities stop there. Stickies now supports text colors, character-level formatting (the old version would only allow one format and font for an entire note), inserted graphics (drag any picture or graphic into a note), and unlimited note size (the old version limited notes to 8,000 characters). It also provides Find and Replace functionality that works within a single note or across all notes.

In addition, Stickies also sports some OS X touches. From the Note menu, you can make individual notes translucent, and you can also choose to make certain notes "float," meaning that they float above other application windows (making them behave like real notes stuck to your screen). Stickies also take advantage of OS X's Cocoa spell checker, available from the Edit menu. Finally, in any Cocoa or Services-compatible Carbon application, you can select text and then choose Application Name Services Make New Sticky Note to create a new note with the selected text as its contents. (I'll talk more about Services later in this chapter when I talk about working with text.)


If you upgraded to OS X from Mac OS 9, and used Stickies under OS 9, you can choose File Import Classic Stickies to import your old notes into the OS X Stickies database (the old database is located at MacOS9 System Folder/Preferences/Stickies file).


If you ever used SimpleText in Mac OS 9 or earlier, you know that it was (1) the built-in text editor; and (2) not very powerful or functional. TextEdit is similar to SimpleText in that it's Mac OS X's built-in text editor, but that's where the similarities end. TextEdit is an extremely powerful text editor with enough functionality to actually be called a word processor. It supports files of unlimited size, complex formatting (such as colors, kerning, ligatures, and super/subscripts), paragraph-level justification, find/replace, and graphics. It can open, edit, and save RTF formatted documents, supports Unicode text, text-to-speech, and can even render HTML and PDF files (drop an HTML document on TextEdit and watch it render the page, including linked graphics). Like Stickies, it supports Services and Mac OS X's spell-checking features, but unlike Stickies, you can enable on-the-fly spell-checking (via the preferences dialog), just like Microsoft Word. Finally, when working in rich text format, you can view and use a formatting bar and a ruler with tab stops and margin settings. You probably didn't even know about half of these features, right? Here are a few more tips.

Using Graphics in TextEdit Documents

To include a graphic in a TextEdit document, drag it to the desired position in the document. A bit counterintuitively, to apply justification to a graphic, select it in the document and then choose Format Text justificationtype. When you save the resulting document, the file extension will be .rtfd rather than .rtf. This signifies that the document includes graphics; in fact, it also signifies that the document is actually a package rather than a single file. You can control/right-click on the document and choose Show Package Contents from the contextual menu; you'll see that the package contains a standard RTF document along with any graphics included in the document.

Setting Up Default Document Attributes

Because TextEdit is so versatile, you need to decide what new documents will look like; you do this from the preferences dialog. You can choose between rich text (.rtf) and plain text (.txt). (Note that many complex formatting features are not available in plain text documents; if you are working with a document in one document type and want to change to the other, you can quickly do so by choosing Format Make Plain Text or Make Rich Text.) You can choose the default window size, word wrap, and fonts for new documents (including a different default font for rich text and plain text files), and you can choose what type of text encoding to use when you open and save documents (I generally recommend "Automatic" unless you have a specific reason otherwise). Finally, you can choose to enable or disable the toolbar ruler and OS X's built-in spell checker, and set your preferences for saving documents, which I talk about in the next section.

Options for Saving in TextEdit

The preference dialog gives you several options for saving files. By default, whenever you open and edit a file in TextEdit, it creates a backup of the original; when you save your changes, the backup file is deleted. By unchecking "Delete backup file," you can keep the backup as well as your newly edited version. You can also choose to overwrite files that have been marked as read-only (via Format Prevent Editing), and to save such files in writeable format.


If you use TextEdit to create or edit preference and/or configuration files (as discussed in various places in this book), make sure that before you save any changes to a document that TextEdit is treating the document as a plain text file. To be sure, check the Format menu—if it says "Make Rich Text," you know that the document is currently plain text. If it says "Make Plain Text," you should select that command to convert it to plain text. The reason for this is that rich text (.rtf) files contain formatting characters that will prevent your preference/configuration files from working properly.

Zooming in TextEdit

You can actually zoom in on and out of a document in TextEdit; this can be useful for examining small details or for seeing the big picture of how a document looks as a whole. (By zooming in, you can also see how beautiful text rendering is in Mac OS X—no matter how much you magnify text, is still looks sharp and smooth.)

To use this feature, choose Format Wrap to Page. The document view will change to a page layout orientation, and a zoom menu will appear in the lower-right corner. Select a zoom amount (from 10% to 1600%) and the page will be reduce or enlarged accordingly (Figure 7.5). To get back to window view, select the same menu item (which now reads Wrap to Window).

Click To expand
Figure 7.5: Using TextEdit's zoom function

The Utilities

I usually describe "utilities" as applications that let you change or monitor your Mac's behavior, or that help you better take advantage of your Mac's built-in capabilities. Although that's a good catchall description, for the purpose of this section we're going to use Apple's practical categorization of what a utility is: any application found in /Application/Utilities.

AirPort Admin Utility and Setup Assistant

These two utilities allow you to set up and manage AirPort networks. If you have a Mac with an AirPort card installed, the AirPort Setup Assistant walks you through the steps needed to join an existing AirPort network or to set up an AirPort Base Station from your computer.

The AirPort Admin Utility allows you to manage an AirPort Base Station. Using the Admin Utility you can restart your Base Station, upload firmware, upload a saved Base Station configuration file, set up an AirPort network password (Equivalent Network Password), and configure various other AirPort Base Station settings (e.g., DHCP, NAT).


The AirPort Setup Assistant requires you to have your AirPort settings set to DHCP; if you do not want to use DHCP you need to use the AirPort Admin Utility.

Apple System Profiler

Apple System Profiler provides comprehensive information about your Mac. The information available via Apple System Profiler is divided into six general areas:

  • System Profile Provides information on the version of the Mac OS your computer is running; the current user; general information about the computer itself; the amount of installed RAM and the RAM configuration; and the current network.

  • Devices and Volumes Provides information about the various buses on your computer (IDE, PCI, USB, FireWire, etc.) and the devices connected to each bus (including hard drive/volume information).

  • Frameworks Provides information on installed frameworks (function-specific portions of the OS), including version numbers and modification dates.

  • Extensions Provides information on installed kernel extensions, including version numbers and modification dates. The Get Info String column can sometimes be used to identify which kernel extensions were provided by Apple and which were not.


    Under OS X 10.1, the Extensions tab provided very specific information about which kernel extensions were provided by Apple and which were not. Strangely, under OS X 10.2, Apple removed this functionality.

  • Applications Provides details on every non-Classic application installed on your computer, including version numbers. This tab can be an extremely useful quick reference guide when you need to check on application versions.

  • Logs Provides quick access to system and application crash logs generated by the Console utility (see "Console," later in this section, for more details).

You may find that a developer requests an Apple System Profiler report if you request technical support for their products. You can save such a report (in several formats) via Apple System Profiler's File menu; you can also open and view saved reports.


You can actually access Apple System Profiler from the Apple Menu's "About This Mac" window. Just click the "More Info" button and Apple System Profiler will launch. (If you just need to get the serial number of your Mac, click the OS X version number in the "About This Mac" window.)

Running Apple System Profiler from Terminal

In addition to using Apple System Profiler via the application's own interface, you can also use it in a more limited manner directly from Terminal. Type AppleSystemProfiler > PathToFile <RETURN>, where PathToFile is the path to, and name of, the file you want the Apple System Profiler report saved to (e.g., ~/Desktop/Report.txt).

Bluetooth File Exchange

If you have a Bluetooth wireless adapter and another Bluetooth-equipped device (such as another Mac with a Bluetooth adapter), you can send files to the other device using the Bluetooth File Exchange utility:

  1. Make sure both devices are set as "discoverable" (in Mac OS X, from the Settings tab of Bluetooth System Preferences).

  2. Drag the file onto the Bluetooth File Exchange icon in the Finder or the Dock.

  3. Click the Search button to locate any Bluetooth devices that are in range.

  4. When the other device is found, click the Send button. (If the device is password-protected, you'll need to enter the device password to proceed.)

ColorSync Utility

The main function of the ColorSync Utility is to verify and repair any ColorSync/ICC device profiles on your Mac. These profiles, for displays, printers, scanners, cameras, and other ColorSync-compatible devices, ensure color accuracy across devices. You can verify or repair profiles via the Profile First Aid panel.

You can also view any installed profiles from the Profiles panel. Click on the disclosure triangle next to any group to view the contents of that group of profiles; clicking the small triangle in the upper-right corner of the Profile window allows you to group profiles by location, class, or space.

Finally, you can view information about connected devices from the Devices panel. Click on a device (a display, scanner, camera, printer, etc.) and you'll be presented with information about the device to the right. From the info area you can also select a different ColorSync profile for the device.


While your Mac is running, OS X is quietly keeping track of low-level system errors and messages. When you launch Console, the console.log file shows these errors and messages. (Don't worry—even though it looks like there are a lot of problems, it's normal for the log file to be filled with incomprehensible messages.) More importantly for most users, Console lets you track application crashes and view the logs of those crashes. This functionality is disabled by default, but I recommend enabling it, as it can often provide you with clues as to the cause of an application crash (useful if you're trying to track down a persistent problem), and many developers will request a crash log if you request tech support. To enable crash reporting, choose Console Preferences, click on the Crashes tab, and check the box next to "Enable crash reporting." You can also choose to have crash logs displayed automatically; I personally find this option annoying, because each time an application crashes, Console will launch and pop up a window with the resulting crash log.

After an application crash, you can manually view the crash log from within Console (choose File Open Log), from any text editor, or via Apple System Profiler. The log files themselves are located in ~/Library/Logs/CrashReporter, identifiable by the name of the offending application. (If a developer ever asks you to send a crash log, this is where you get it.) The log file will tell you what the "Exception" was (what caused the crash), and will tell you which of the application's threads actually crashed ("Thread # Crashed"). Most of the time this info won't make much sense to the average user; however, a couple times I've been able to make educated guesses about what the problem was (a corrupt font is one example).


Multiple crashes for the same application will be appended to the same log file (Mail.log for Mail, for example). You can identify details for a specific crash via the Date/Time tag.

CPU Monitor

CPU Monitor provides several graphical representations of the load on your Mac's CPU(s), which can be enabled from the Processes menu (Figure 7.6). The Standard window provides a single meter (0–100%) that rises and falls with CPU usage. The Expanded window provides a moving representation of CPU use over time, and separates processes (via color) into system, user, niced, and background processes. The Floating window provides the same data as the Standard window, but presents it in a thin, translucent meter that can be arranged horizontally or vertically. Since CPU Monitor is something you would probably have running all the time if you used it, you can also choose to hide its icon from the Dock via its preferences dialog.

Figure 7.6: CPU Monitor displays (left to right)— Standard, Expanded, Floating

You can orient the Floating window horizontally (via CPU Monitor Preferences), and drag it to the menu bar to get a menu bar CPU monitor. When I have it active, I have it set up vertically and place it at the very right edge of my screen.

DigitalColor Meter

Used mainly by those in the graphic arts and design fields, DigitalColor Meter allows you to translate colors anywhere on your screen into color values in RGB, CIE, or Tristimulus format. From the pop-up menu in the DigitalColor Meter window, choose the color value format, and then move the mouse over any item or pixel on the screen to see its color value. You can control the aperture size of the selector using the Aperture Size setting, and the degree of magnification of the DigitalColor Meter inspector window from the preferences dialog.

Once you've found a color you want to use, press shift+command+H to "hold" it—you can then copy the color using the Color menu, or drag it from the color swatch to the storage area in Apple's Color Picker window. You can also save the contents of the inspector window for later use. If you're a graphics professional, DigitalColor Meter has a number of other useful features (and you're quite likely to already know exactly what they are and how to use them).

Directory Access

The Directory Access utility is used to configure access to directory services such as AppleTalk, LDAP, SLP, NetInfo, and Rendezvous. If you're using your Mac at home and these terms mean nothing to you, don't worry. Directory access is pre-configured for use in small networks such as a home or small office, and you can safely ignore it. If you're connected to a larger network that takes advantage of such services, chances are your network administrator will tell you how to set up Directory Access, or will do it for you.

"Disc Burner"

If you're looking for this utility, you won't find it, because it's not really an application. "Disc Burner" is what Apple used to call the Finder's ability to burn CDs and DVDs directly from the Finder. It's really a function of the Disk Copy utility. However, since it works a bit differently (and more simply) than Disk Copy, I'm going to talk about this functionality separately.

If you have a Mac or Mac laptop with a CD-R or DVD-R drive, inserting a blank CD (CD-R or CD-RW) or DVD brings up a dialog box asking you what you want to do with it. If you choose Open Finder, the blank disc will appear in the Finder. You can drag items onto it (up to the point where you fill it to capacity), and they will be "copied" to the disc (they actually aren't being copied to the disc; they're being copied to an invisible image of the disc which will later be burned). When you're ready to burn the disc, select it in the Finder, and then choose File Burn Disc (Or, even easier, drag the disc to the Dock's Trash icon, which will turn into a "burn" symbol; dropping the disc on the symbol will burn it and then eject the finished product). You'll be asked what speed you want to burn the disc at (choose one equal to or less than the blank disc's speed rating, usually printed on the face of the disc), and then you can burn it.


CDs burned in the Finder are automatically created as hybrid CDs, meaning they are compatible with both Macs and Windows computers. DVD-Rs burned in the Finder are only compatible with Macs.

If you instead choose to open the blank CD or DVD in iTunes or (if you have a Super-Drive Mac) iDVD