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by Kyle D'Addario
& Wincent Colaiuta


Miscellaneous OS X Tips, Tricks, & Hints
June 1st, 2001

In my nearly nine months of using Mac OS X, I have picked up a few random tips and tricks that I figured I would share with you. If you are a long time OS X user, many of these will be familiar to you. If you are a newer user, however, there may be some valuable tidbits in here to help make your OS X experience much better. None of these items warrants a column of their own, but they are worth mentioning. So, without further ado (what DOES that mean, anyway?), here we go...

Random Mail Tips:

I spent the last two columns giving an overview of Mail, but there are a couple of tricks that did not quite fit, or I simply forgot about, that users of Mail.app should be aware of.

Bounce Feature - Mail includes a "Bounce" command along with the typical Reply, Reply All, and Delete commands. The Bounce command can be very helpful in trying to combat SPAM for two reasons. One, you get to send the offending SPAMmer an annoying message cluttering their Inbox like they do yours. Second, if that SPAMMER is paying attention, they will see the message returned as "Undeliverable" and maybe, just maybe, take you off of their mailing list. You can access the Bounce feature from the Message menu or by placing the Bounce icon in your toolbar.

Locked Mailbox Error - If using more than one e-mail account, and you have all of your accounts set to download new mail into the same Inbox, you may get a strange error that says something like, "Mailbox is locked, can open as a read only file. Do you wish to override?" You are also given a warning that overriding may cause damage, and that you are not recommended to do this. An easy way around this is to create a separate Inbox for each account you have. Yes, it is annoying to have to deal with more than one location for new mail, but it is less annoying than getting that error all the time. This solution has worked flawlessly for me so far.

Dock Icon - For some reason, the Dock icon in mail will only count new messages when it displays them if they are dumped in one of your designated Inboxes, and will not "count" them when it tells you how many new messages you have if you apply some rule to them and move them to another folder. It is our best guess that this will be fixed in the next major Mail revision.

Random Finder/Dock Tips:

Window management -
There are a number of commands that make working with the Dock and OS X's windowing system much easier. For example, if you Option+Command+Click an application in the Dock, all windows for that application come to the front while all other windows hide. This is the easiest way I have found to instantly clear desktop clutter.

If you simply Command+Click an icon in the Dock, a new Finder window will open to the location of that icon, whether it be an application, document, or folder. I used this today when I downloaded the new version of OmniWeb to quickly find the old version, send it to the trash, and install the new version in that location. Very cool.

If you Option+Click an application in the Dock, it brings that application to the front while also hiding only the last front-most application. Another way to minimize screen clutter.

Finder Window - I have found it best to ALWAYS keep a Finder window open, set up the way I want it (column view, icon size, etc...) even if I always have it hidden or minimized. For some reason OS X does not remember how you had your last Finder window set, or at least I've not found a way to make it remember, and by closing and opening new Finder windows all the time you waste time resetting the window to work the way you want it to. I have a 3 column, Column View Finder window always ready to go. I find that this saves me, of the course of a few days, a ton of time.

Interactive Dock Icons -
If you do not have Dock icons of your hard drives, stop reading this and put them there now. This allows you to easily "dig" through layers of folders to find the application or file you are looking for. Many times this feature can eliminate a trip to a Finder window completely, and this one click access reminds us of the old Apple Menu, or Windows or GoMac's Start menu.

You can also act on applications from their Dock icons. You are able to, obviously, launch applications from the Dock but you can now also quit them from the Dock. Think about it this way... Lets say you are working in Mail, and have had the wonderful instant messaging client Fire open all day also. You get done sending your e-mail for the evening, and you want to log off of Fire by quitting the application. If Fire is hidden behind one of your windows, not an unrealistic likelihood if you have been working in a number of apps throughout the day, you would first need to move your mouse down to the Dock, click on Fire to bring it to the front, and then move your mouse all the way back to the top of the screen to select Quit (or use the keyboard shortcut of Command-Q). That might not sound like much, but do this a dozen or so times a day, and all of that extra mouse movement quickly adds up. Save the trip back to the top by quitting the app right from the Dock. You can do that by clicking and holding the mouse button down, or Control+Clicking on an icon in the Dock, or "right clicking" if you have a multi-button mouse.

Random, Uh, Random Tips:

Repairing an OS X Disk - While OS X's UNIX core gives it a Man of Steel type of exterior, there are occasions when your OS X disk can get damaged, especially with an improper shut down. Remember, UNIX was more or less designed to almost NEVER be shut down, so the process of pulling the plug on OS X without giving the system time to do whatever it is that it does when you shut it down goes over rather poorly with the OS. However, OS X includes a rather powerful system repair utility, called File System Check, or fsck. Getting to it is a scary proposition for some, but running fsck on your system from time to time will keep things working much happier. There are two ways to do this.

The first is to start OS X in Single User Mode, which you do by restarting the system and then holding down the Command+S keys until some rather frightening DOS like text starts to fill your screen. It's actually Unix-like because it is BSD text, but most of us have seen more DOS than Unix. Once you get a prompt, most likely saying "localhost" (unless you manually changed something) you simply type "fsck -y" (without the quotes, of course). You will see the system run through a few disk checks, and you will be greeted with one of two outcomes. The first will tell you that "***THE FILE SYSTEM WAS MODIFIED**" while the second is a more gentle "The volume appears to be OK." If you get the former, run fsck again, and again, and again, until you finally get the "OK" message. Once you do, type "reboot" (again, without the quotes), and you will be whisked out of the command line world and back into OS X's Aqua goodness.

The other way is to boot from your OS X install CD by putting that CD in the drive, restarting, and holding down the C key while the computer restarts. Once you get to the OS X Installer screen, from the Installer menu in the menubar, choose "Open Disk Utility." From there you can run OS X's graphical Disk Utility application which, from what I can tell, just performs the fsck command from a pretty interface. Be good to your disk and your disk will be good to you.

You want to use OmniWeb as your browser but every time you click something IE launches - This is easy to fix. Simply open your System Preferences, choose Internet, and then choose Web. You have options there to define your default browser. "But I already did that!" you say. Probably, but if you have installed any of the three OS X updates, your default browser will be reset to Internet Explorer. Fishy stuff, I know. Also if you have, say, OmniWeb picked, and you download a new version of OmniWeb and delete the old, the system will become confused when trying to find a version that no longer exists and again default to IE. You would think Microsoft invested some money in Apple or something...

Juice up Text Edit - You can give Text Edit a more powerful feel by launching the program, going to Format -> Text -> Show ruler, or by the Command+R keystroke. Suddenly you have a more Word/AppleWorks like toolbar and you can feel like you are working in a real word processing application rather than a glorified Note Pad.

That is about it for this week. As I stated, many of you have probably seen many of these tips before, as I no longer remember where I heard or read them all, and what ones I discovered by simply spending way too many hours in front of this OS. For a wonderful collection of almost daily updated tips, you can visit Mac OS X Hints.

If you have any hints that you think others will find useful, please feel free to post them in the comments below. Until next time...

-Kyle D'Addario

You are encouraged to send Richard your comments, or to post them below.


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Kyle D'Addario is the assistant editor of The Mac Observer and has logged about as much time on Mac OS X as is humanly possible. Kyle studies Computer-Mediated Communication, whatever that is, at the graduate level, and was a founding member of the original Webintosh team.


Wincent Colaiuta runs Macintosh news and criticism site, wincent.org, and joined The Mac Observer team as a contributor in March 2001. He has worked with computers since 1984, and his interests in that area include Macs, PHP programming and security.



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