Built-in Utilities Every Beginner Should Know About

When I first started using a Mac I didn't even know what a utility was, much less where to find one, or what they did. Of course, back then they probably were not so well defined, but today they are and knowing about them can make your life much easier. There are four in particular that I think you find especially useful. They are Keychain, Disk Utility, DigitalColor Meter, and Grab.

Each of the utilities is stored in the Utilities folder inside your Applications folder. Or much easier, you can enter the name of the utility itself in Spotlight. If you find that you use one or the other of them frequently you can drag the icon from the Applications folder to your dock so you always have it at hand.


You can use keychains to reduce the number of passwords you have to keep track of. A keychain can store all your passwords for applications, servers, and Web sites; or even sensitive information unrelated to your computer, such as credit card numbers or personal identification numbers (PINs) for bank accounts. Keychain is one of the utilities that I keep in my Dock because there is seldom a day goes by that I don't need it. I can't remember my children's phone numbers, and I sure can't remember all my passwords.

The first keychain item that is created is your login password which you created when you logged in to your Mac the first time. This keychain is unlocked automatically when you log in to your account.

You can create new keychains to store passwords for different purposes (for example, one for work and one for online shopping), or you can make a copy of a keychain to take with you to other computers.

You can lock each and every entry in the Keychain so that it requires your administrative password to open, or you can require a password to open Keychain itself. (Keychain > Preferences > First Aid Tab).

Disk Utility

If your Mac starts to run slowly the problem can frequently be solved by repairing permissions on the startup disk. Open Disk Utility, select your hard drive, and select the First Aid tab.

Click Repair Disk Permissions. It may take awhile depending on the speed of your hard drive and your Mac.

Repairing permissions is also a good maintenance task after updating the system or installing new software.

I know it sounds like a simple thing, but it is really, really important and can solve a lot of problems for you and keep you from having to take your Mac in for repair. If it doesn't solve the problem you are no worse off and repairing permissions shouldn't harm your machine.

DigitalColor Meter

The DigitalColor Meter allows to exactly match colors down to the pixel level, and gives you the results as several different color space values. To use DigitalColor Meter you just open it and point your cursor to a color on your desktop. The results are automatic.

DigitalColor Meter Options

At first look you might think this is something that you will not need, but if you ever work with photos and start editing them you will be so glad to have access to this utility. I have used it numerous times to change the backgrounds of old photos or to add color to black and white photos. Once you get brave enough to make your first Web page you will find even more use for it.


Grab is another utility that I keep in my Dock and use almost daily. For those who have need of it, Grab is a wondrous gift. Primarily because of the Timed Screen function. It actually does four things.

  • Selection: Takes a picture of a part of the screen that you select.
  • Window: Takes a picture of a window you select.
  • Screen: Takes a picture of the entire screen.
  • Timed Screen: Lets you start a timer and activate part of the screen (such as a menu), and then takes a picture of the screen.

Timed Screen Image

You may find this extremely useful when asking questions or sharing problems with others since it is always more helpful when you have an image to discuss.

These four utilities can help you in your everyday Mac life. They can help you keep your Mac running smoothly; help you keep all your passwords, registration numbers, and credit card numbers in a safe, secure place; and let you take images and control color on projects. All without spending an extra dime.

More tips and hints can be found in my manual for beginners.

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