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Dr. Mac: Rants & Raves

Saving Time, Saving Money
December 19th, 2003
Episode #8

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to save time using my Mac. Whenever I have to perform a task more than a few times I start looking for ways to do it faster, or to automate it completely.

I love stuff like QuicKeys' Shortcuts, Photoshop's macro-like Actions, Microsoft Word's customizable menus and toolbars (and macros, though they're pretty messy), and I have spent countless hours diddling with all of ‘em.

This week I'd like to share a few of my favorite time saving techniques starting with one that, assuming you are a Panther user, won't cost you a penny and will almost certainly save you some time and effort.

The Drag and Drop Exposé

This first technique combines good old drag and drop with Panther's fantastic new Exposé. It goes like this (in words and pictures):

So there I was, slaving away at this column when I realized I wanted to include a clipping about this technique I grabbed on MacInTouch, containing information I want to include in this column. But, being Dr. Mac, with my whopping 1.5GB of RAM and 6 big disks, I've got 16 apps running… and 40 or 50 windows on my screen.


Figure 1

Figure 1: From left to right: Finder, MacReporter, LaunchBar, CopyPaste, URL Manager Pro, QuicKeys, Retrospect, Spell Catcher, iTunes, Word, Software Update, Safari, Address Book, Mail, StickyBrain, System Preferences, Photoshop CS, Trash.

So dragging a clipping from a Finder window to this Word document, in the old days before Exposé, would require at least a small bit of window-rearrangement. But now, with Panther's Exposé feature, it's ever so much faster and easier.

Watch…

First, I press F11, which is the Exposé keyboard shortcut for its "Desktop Only" mode, which hides all the open windows leaving only the desktop and any icons on it. I then open a new Finder window, navigate to my Clippings folder, click the clipping file I want, and begin dragging…


Figure 2
(Click the thumbnail for the large screen shot)

Figure 2: Since all other windows are hidden, I have no place to drag the clipping…

While I'm dragging, I press F9, Exposé's "All Windows" shortcut (F9 by default), to quickly arrange and display every window currently open on my screen simultaneously and with no overlapping.


Figure 3
(Click the thumbnail for the large screen shot)

Figure 3: Exposé's "All Windows" mode.

Next, I drag the clipping onto the window I believe is the Exposé representation of the Word document.


Figure 4
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

Figure 4: I drag the clipping onto the window that looks like the correct one…

Notice that, at least in Figure 4, I see the circle with a slash cursor, which implies that I can't drag the clipping to this window. I also see that this is the window I desire—Rants&Raves8. The secret is to wait a second or two -- the window springs open and becomes the active window…


Figure 5

Figure 5: Dropping the clipping on the now-active Rant&Rave8 window…

And now, here's the text from the clipping:

From: MacInTouch Home

Mike Retondo notes a nifty application of Panther's Expose feature:

Found this by accident. I dragged an address from Safari. While dragging I pressed F9 to invoke Expose. I happened to drag my mouse over a unsent e-mail window and I paused there for a few seconds. Then just like spring loaded folders Expose brought the e-mail window to the foreground so I could drop my address into it. I had no idea you could use Expose to drag and drop items from window to window. It's been less then a week and I don't know how I lived so long without Expose. Way to go Apple.

It took much longer to explain than it did to drag and drop the clipping, but I think you can see what a time saver this little technique can be.

In closing, I'd like to thank MacInTouch, Mike Retondo, and Exposé. This has been a major timesaving technique and I've come to love it madly and use if often.

Finding Needles In Haystacks…

I don't know about you, but I've been somewhat lax in my file naming conventions. For example, I have tons of folders that look something like this:


Figure 6
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Figure 6: I have many folders full of similarly-named Word files, like this…

It's not so bad if the files are graphics -- as you can see in Figure 7:


Figure 7
(Click the thumbnail for a larger version)

Figure 7: I have many folders full of similarly named TIFF and JPEG files, too, but they're easier to deal with because their icons offer a preview of their contents…

I found myself wishing I could preview Word files without opening them. And wouldn't it be even better if I could preview them in the Finder without opening them? Not merely an icon preview -- which would probably be too hard to read anyway -- but a fully readable preview.

Turns out there are at least two different ways to get my wish. Allow me to show you both:

Way 1: Microsoft Word X has it built into its Open file dialog box. It's sort of a hidden feature, so here's a look at how you use it:

Choose File-->Open or use the keyboard shortcut Command+O to bring up the Open file dialog box, and then click the Find File button.


Figure 8
(Click the thumbnail for a larger version)

Figure 8: Click the Find File button in Word's Open file dialog box.

When the Search window appears, click the Advanced Search button.


Figure 9
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Figure 9: Click the Advanced Search button in the Search window.

When the Advanced Search window appears, click the Location tab at the top, then use the Add and Remove buttons to choose the folder(s) or disk (s) you wish to search:


Figure 10
(Click the thumbnail for a larger version)

Figure 10: I want to search the Dr. Mac 2000-2003 columns folder so I added it to the list as shown.

Now click the Summary tab and type a keyword or two into the Containing Text field, and then click OK:


Figure 11
(Click the thumbnail for a larger version)

Figure 11: I want to search for the keyword "Unsanity," so I typed it into the Containing Text field, as shown.

When the Search window reappears, you have the option of saving this search for re-use in the future by clicking the Save Search As… button and naming it, and then clicking OK.


Figure 12
(Click the thumbnail for a larger version)

Figure 12: This step is totally optional.

When you click OK in the Search window, the Find File window appears. Select Preview from the Search window's View menu if it's not selected already, and then click on a file name:


Figure 13
(Click the thumbnail for a larger version)

Figure 13: The Find File window gives you a small preview of what the file contains.

You can select multiple files using the Shift or Command keys. When you click the Open button, the file or files you've selected are opened.

Now, this technique has a couple of nice attributes. First, it's free if you already own Microsoft Word. Second, it's fairly fast, even searching folders with hundreds or thousands of .doc files. But it also has some drawbacks like the fact that it's not resizable, and the previews can take several seconds to appear after you select a file. Its biggest flaw is that it only works if Word is open, or, you have to launch Word before you can use this trick.

So, here's a second way you can preview Word files. This one works from the Finder (or any other application); provides a decent-sized preview, draws the previews quickly, and has a bunch of other stuff up its sleeve as well. Like this:


Figure 14
(Click the thumbnail for a larger version)

Figure 14: The preview appears almost instantly when I select an item in the menu…

It's called WorkStrip, and it's the work of company known as Softchaos, on the other side of the pond in jolly old London, England.

Of course that's not all Workstrip can do -- it also offers a number of useful, time-saving features. But I'm running out of space and it's almost bedtime, so I'll show you a couple of ‘em and then I'm outta here.

The first is something I think Mac OS X ought to offer, at least as an option -- a universal Windows menu.


Figure 15
(Click the thumbnail for a larger version)

Figure 15: I can choose any window in any running application with Workstrip's Windows menu.

Another feature I use often and adore is the return of the desktop trash can, provided by Workstrip:


Figure 16
(Click the thumbnail for a larger version)

Figure 16: Workstrip lets you have a Trash icon on your desktop, just like in the good old (Mac OS 9) days.

OK… two more cool things about it before I have to make like a tree…

You can dress up (and rename) your desktop Trash any way you choose.

and

Workstrip's desktop Trash tells you how much stuff is in it:


Figure 17
(Click the thumbnail for a larger version)

Figure 17: Not only does Workstrip bring back the desktop Trash icon, it lets you customize it any way you like and tells you how much stuff it contains. Neat!

The only downside is that having all this joy will cost you precisely £22.951 for the electronic (i.e. download only) version, or £39.992 for the retail (boxed) version with a CD.

1 Which translates into something like US$37.

2 Which translates into something like US$50.

Bob "Dr. Mac" LeVitus has been a Macintosh user for a long, long time and has written 49 computer books including Mac OS X Tiger For Dummies and GarageBand for Dummies. He also offers expert technical help and training to Mac users, in real time and at reasonable prices, via telephone, e-mail, and/or unique Internet-enabled remote control software. For more information on Bob and his services, visit www.boblevitus.com.

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