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Seven Mac OS X Tips

by Derrick Story

What better way to start off the New Year than to try something new in Mac OS X? Here are seven tips to help you get the most out of your operating system.

Tip #1 -- Scale Not Genie. Using the "Genie Effect" to open and close items from the Dock is fun -- for the first time or two. But after the novelty wears off, you'll most likely discover that it draws more processing power than it's worth.

In Mac OS X 10.1 you have a new option called "Scale." It's still cool looking, but it's more efficient CPU-wise. To enable Scale, open the Dock Preferences panel and choose "Minimizing Using Scale Effect."

Switching to Scale doesn't mean that you can't still impress your friends, however. Hold down the SHIFT key while minimizing to create the slow-motion effect that you've seen performed in Apple demos.

Tip #2 -- Create a PDF file. Many people don't realize that you can create an honest to goodness PDF file from nearly any Mac OS X file. What's the advantage of this? PDF files can be opened by Adobe's Acrobat Reader, which is available for nearly every platform on the planet. You can send PDFs to your Windows, Linux, and even Palm OS friends, and it reads exactly the same as it does on your Mac. They're easy to make once you know how.

Open a document in your favorite application and then choose PRINT. At the bottom of the Print dialogue box you will see a button that reads PREVIEW. Click it and it will process your document and open the Preview application that's included with Mac OS X.

You'll notice that when your document is displayed in Preview, it already looks like a PDF file. Now all you have to do is choose FILE, then Save As PDF, and Mac OS X will convert your document into a real live PDF. Now you can send it to anyone, anywhere.

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Tip #3 -- Access iDisk via AirPort. In Mac OS X 10.1, you might have a hard time accessing your iDisk while connected to the Internet using AirPort. The solution? Get the IP address that your ISP uses and enter it in the Domain Name Servers box in the Network Preferences Panel. This trick also works when you're having a hard time connecting to a public network via your AirPort card.

Tip #4 -- Go International. Mac OS X has more than 20 languages built right into it, and you can set up your computer to operate in any of these languages via the International Preference panel. If you really want to maximize this benefit, set up different user accounts in different languages. That way, you can decide which language you want to use when you're logging-in.

Tip #5 -- Show Off Your Pictures. Mac OS X has one of the best slide show applications ever created, and it's built right into the OS. Apple has cleverly disguised this gem as a screen saver. But don't let that fool you. You can use this application to show off your best images anytime you want.

Create a folder within the "Pictures" directory in your User account. The path is: Users --> Your Name --> Pictures. Give your slide show folder a descriptive name such as "Yosemite Vacation," and add a dozen or so images to the folder. The best size for these pictures is 1024 pixels wide.

Now open the Screen Saver Preference panel and choose "Slide Show" from the list of available options. Select the "Configure" button and you'll be greeted with a dialog box that allows you to choose your folder of pictures that will be the source for your slide show. If you want to preview your presentation, hit the "Test" button.

Finally, click the "Hot Corners" tab and indicate which corner of your display activates the slide show. When you want to show off your pictures to your friends, simply move the mouse pointer to your hot corner, and the slide show begins. Try it; it looks great!

Tip #6 -- Use Print Center for Hassle-Free Printing. Hidden deep within your "Utilities" folder is Print Center, the hassle-free application that connects your Mac with any available printer. Just make sure your printer is connected to your Mac, or to the network your Mac is connected to, then launch Print Center and choose your printer. It's that easy.

Tip #7 -- Make Classic Your Friend. As of Mac OS X 10.1, Classic launches with reasonable speed and puts many of your favorite "older" applications within reach. To make this process easier, try this handy tip.

Reboot your Mac so that it launches with Mac OS 9.2 (you can select this in the "Start Up Disk" Preference panel). Then load your favorite System 9 applications into the System 9 application folder. Launch them and get them configured the way you like. Then reboot again choosing Mac OS X.

Now that you're back in Mac OS X, configure Classic to your liking in the Classic Preferences panel and launch it. Once Classic is running, all you have to do is find your System 9 application -- in the Applications (Mac OS 9) folder -- and double-click it. The program will launch and appear on your monitor.

Once it's running, you'll see that the OS 9 program has placed an icon on the Dock. Hold down the CTRL key and click on the icon. You'll see a pop-up menu that gives you the option, "Keep in Dock." Highlight that option.

Now your favorite System 9 application will stay on the Dock alongside all of your brand-new Mac OS X programs. To launch the program, simply click on its icon on the Dock. Classic will automatically load, followed by your old program launching. It's as simple as pie.

Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit

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