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Giving the gift of the painfully obvious

Earlier this week I offered suggestions about how you might lend a technical hand to your loved ones during the holidays. I covered the basics—backup, screen sharing, Facetime, cruft clean up, software updates, and iOS organization. But I left out one important thing—the small, cool features of the Mac OS that are so obvious that the technically inclined almost always forget to mention them. I’ll start with my list. If you’re nice you’ll add to it in our comments.

Dock folders: I use dedicated launching applications so the dock is of little use to me. But it’s worth keeping in mind that for “normals” this is their primary way of accessing their documents and applications. You can help by making that dock more manageable by creating folders in the dock for routinely accessed items—the Applications folder, for example. In most cases you can forget Fan and Grid view—they’re clumsy when a folder has a lot of items in it. Right-click on the folders and choose Folder and List so that your pals can easily navigate through a hierarchical list of the folder’s items.

Desktop printer: There are people in my life who have acquired a printer for one reason only—to print photos. And many of those photos come from me via email. Because these same people seem to be allergic to the Print dialog box, I’ve made it easier for them by creating a desktop printer. That way, all they have to do is drag the image file on top of the printer icon on their desktop and the image prints.

In case you’ve forgotten how to do this, just launch System Preferences, choose Print & Fax (pre-Lion) or Print & Scan (Lion), select the printer that you want, and drag it to the desktop.

Stickies: Just this morning I was ready to invade my printer’s paper tray for a scrap on which to scribble a note. Halfway through “Man, I wish my Mac had something to…” I recalled Stickies. I so rarely use Stickies that I’d forgotten about it. I fired it up, tapped out my task list for the day, and placed it on my second monitor where it would be noticeable but not overtly so. While you may have more elegant (and complicated) ways to jot down reminders and notes, I’ll bet your less savvy friends and relatives will find this feature helpful.

Smart folders: This is yet another feature that I rarely use as I have other ways of locating my data, but I’ve set up smart folders for my friends and family and they use them all the time. Suggested folders—images, movies, music, large files, documents with “Important” in their name.

Right-click: I’m routinely shocked by the number of people who don’t know that wonderful things can happen when you press on a mouse’s right button or tap with two fingers on a trackpad (or, very well, Control-click). Demonstrate the usefulness of right-click and you’ll keep a friend forever.

Spotlight: I use LaunchBar ( Macworld rated 5 out of 5 mice ) and DragThing ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ) to move from place to place on my Mac so Spotlight doesn’t get the workout it once did, but I’m an advanced user. After watching a relative dig down through folders searching for one document or another, I realize that many Mac users don’t understand the power that search brings to their computers. And not only is Spotlight good for searching for files, it’s also a useful launcher, avenue for searching the Web and Wikipedia (under Lion), and calculator-in-a-pinch.

Quick Look: Tell me that you don’t use this feature a dozen times a day and I’ll tell you that you need to spend more time with your Mac. It’s a brilliant feature and one that should be shared.

And more: Finder preferences, Finder view options, column view, keyboard shortcuts, gestures, Option-clicking menu bar doodads, screen zooming… the list goes on and on. If you’d like to add to that list, you know where to go.

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