Ten things every new Mac user should know

Just got your first Mac? Wondering how to make the most of it? Too busy and important to read manuals or support documents, and just want someone to tell you ten cool things you can do to make your life easier? We’re here for you. Here are some top tips from the massive Apple nerds who populate our offices.

 1. Sort out your gestures and shortcuts

If you’re new to OS X, one of the first things you’ll notice is that your keyboard shortcuts are different, and your Track Pad/Magic Mouse responds to a strange new collection of ‘gesture controls’ that you’re more used to using on your phone. If learning a new set of shortcuts sounds like a drain on your time, mind and will to live that you’d rather avoid, try Keyboard Maestro, which allow you to remap keyboard shortcuts into your preferred positions, and BetterTouchTool, which lets you add custom gestures to your Track Pad or your Magic Mouse. You can also set up useful triggers like having your computer shut down automatically at 5.30, if you’re not as wild about unpaid overtime as we clearly are.

2. Get your folders and files in order

Noodlesoft bill Hazel as a “personal housekeeper” for your Mac, silently organising and cleaning up file and folder structures while you get on with your work. As they explain it, “Hazel watches whatever folders you tell it to, automatically organising your files according to the rules you create. It features a rule interface similar to that of Apple Mail so you should feel right at home. Have Hazel move files around based on name, date, type, what site/email address it came from (Safari and Mail only) and much more.”

That “much more” includes an App Sweep feature which makes sure that when you delete an application, all its lingering support files go with it, integration with iTunes, iPhoto and Aperture, and integration with Spotlight so you can search for files based on Hazel rules as well as the usual attributes.

Download Hazel here.

3. Get someone to remember your passwords for you

Coming up with one memorable password and using it for every site, application and system you log into is a tempting but terrible idea. Instead, try 1Password from AgileBits. This clever app automatically generates secure passwords for every account you add to it, and then stores them securely behind a “master password” that only you know. When you need to log in to a site, simply hit the 1Password icon in your browser, enter the master password, and 1Password will identify the service you’re connecting to and log you in. Best of all, it syncs between devices, so there’s no more trying to type passwords in on your phone’s tiny keyboard. Here’s a cheerful explanatory video:

Download 1Password here.

4. Find your cursor

Lost your cursor? Using OS X El Capitan? All you need to do is shake your mouse or wiggle your finger on your trackpad, and your cursor will grow to an enormous, easily findable size. So simple! So useful! (If shaking your mouse is part of your everyday working practice, you can turn off shake to find by going to System Preferences > Accessibility > Display and unticking the box marked “Shake mouse pointer to locate.”)

5. Get rid of unnecessary menus

Bartender allows you to hide, rearrange and  consolidate the apps in your menu bar, to give you a less cluttered computing experience. You can display the full menu bar, set options to have menu bar items show in the menu bar when they have updated, or have them always visible in the Bartender Bar. You can then search for menu items rather than clicking blindly through every option, use the keyboard to navigate through menus, and arrange the menu bar applications in any order you want and place the Bartender bar whenever you want. Find out more here.

6. Organise your clipboard (yes, it can be done)

Kelly Hodgkins’ rave review in Engadget was all the convincing we needed to try out Collective, a powerful clipboard manager from Generation Loss Interactive.

Collective keeps track of everything you copy and paste (it can handle hundreds of instances) and allows you to search your clipboard for any of those items, then re-copy them, remove formatting, change fonts and see full size previews of files on the clipboard. If you don’t like copying and pasting, you can give up on that keyboard shortcut entirely, and simply drag an item into Clipboard to copy it and out to paste it. This is an absolute must for anyone who’s ever spent fifteen minutes searching a server for that one graph from the one report that you definitely saw last week and which must be saved somewhere.

7. Sync tabs between devices

As we explained in a former Mac tip of the month, iCloud Tabs is a great way to keep the tabs you have open in Safari up to date on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Mac. Just sign into your iCloud account on all the devices you want to sync. Then on your iOS devices, head to Settings > iCloud and make sure the Safari option is turned on (it’ll be green if it is). This will allow your browser permission to beam your open tabs to your other Apple devices signed in to your iCloud.

If you want to get your Mac/OS X devices involved too, you need to go into System Preferences > Safari and make sure iCloud is turned on here. Now, as long as you’re signed in to the same iCloud account on your other devices and you’re using Safari, you can switch between reading something on your iPad to reading it on your iPhone or back to your Mac. If you close a tab on one device, it will shut it down on all your devices.

Whether you’re using Safari on a mobile or desktop device, tap the Tabs icon (the two layered rectangles) and scroll down (if necessary) to see your open iCloud Tabs. iCloud Tabs will only show the tabs that are currently open on your other Apple devices, not the tabs that are open on the device you’re currently using.

8. Learn how to record your iPad screen on a Mac

Ever since the arrival of OS X Yosemite, you’ve been able to mirror your iPad screen to your Mac and record the results. This is fantastic if you want to run through a presentation or process you have on your iPad with colleagues, as you can record everything you’re doing on screen, as well as your voiceover explaining any details, then package it up and share it as one file. Here’s how to go about it.

9. Learn how to recover lost drafts

Saved over a draft you wanted to keep? Need to check amends have been made correctly? With Pages’ Versions feature, it’s easy to see the previous incarnation of any of your documents. Here’s how to do it.

10. Forget all your action:searches and use natural language terms

The most recent iterations of OS X have added lots of new functionality to Spotlight, your Mac’s search facility. One particularly useful one is support for natural language searches. If you’re not comfortable building search terms like “Mac news from:Lucy” to find that update Lucy sent you, or “training kind:document” to find your notes from a training session, you can now type “emails from Lucy with attachments” or “photographs from last Tuesday”, and Spotlight uses natural language processing to figure out what you want. Having tried it out ourselves, we can report it’s surprisingly accurate and a really powerful way to search, especially if you’re scared of Boolean.

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