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30 Must-Have Tweaks For Your Mac

In one of the recent posts, we looked at some reasons why some developers switch to the Mac1. If you’ve decided to make the switch yourself, you can do a lot to make the transition smoother. We will take a look at some must-have software, configurations and hacks that can make your life easier as you switch and that can get you up to full productivity (and maybe beyond) in no time at all.

We have tried to find as many free solutions as possible, but you have to pay for some applications to get their full functionality. If we have missed a configuration, hack or piece of software that you found helpful when switching, please post it in the comments.

You may also be interested in the following related posts:

Configurations Link

Right-Clicking Link

One of the most visible differences between Macs and other computers is the former’s lack of a second button on the mouse. The Mac mouse harkens back to the original mouse invented at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, which also had only one button. Eventually, Windows grew to ubiquity, touting its two-button mouse, and the world became comfortable with that configuration. As a switcher, you’re used to that handy right-click, and lucky for you, the habit doesn’t have to end.

Picture 1

All Macs support right-clicking, and it works just as it does on a Windows system, popping up menus and extras. Without messing with your settings, you can always hold “Control” and click to active a right-click on a Mac, but this gets tedious pretty quickly. To make the experience more seamless, go into your preferences and activate “Tap to click” and “Secondary click,” which will allow you to tap the trackpad with two fingers simultaneously to trigger a right click. It may sound odd, but it takes only a few minutes to get used to. You can also just hold two fingers down on the trackpad and click the physical mouse button to get the same effect. Of course, plugging a two-button mouse into a Mac is another way to get your right-click back.

Tweak Mouse-Tracking Speed Link

The mouse tracking on a Mac feels quite different from that of Windows because it does not accelerate. This can be partly alleviated by turning the tracking speed all the way up. But if you really pine for that Windows feel, you can try SteerMouse5, albeit for $20.

Turn Off Screen-Dimming Link

Picture 2

While some people want their screen to dim after a period of inactivity, it can quickly become annoying for others. This feature can be turned off in the preferences under the options for “Energy saver.”

Turn on the Firewall Link

Picture 3

Macs include two firewalls: a packet-filtering firewall called IPFW6 that filters traffic based on type, port number, origin and destination, and a socket-filter firewall (new in Leopard) that filters based on the application making the request. While the socket-filter firewall in OS X is disabled by default, you can go into “Preferences > Security > Firewall” to enable it. IPFW is short on configuration options, but that can be remedied by downloading either NoobProof7 or WaterRoof8, which give you more security options.

Log-In Items Link

Picture 4

Setting applications to start upon logging in is actually quite simple on a Mac. If the application you want to start at log-in is on your dock, simply right-click its icon and choose “Open at log-in.” You can also go into “Preferences > Accounts > [your account] > Log-in items” and add applications manually there. Keep in mind that the more applications you set to open at log-in, the longer your systems will take to boot.

You can also change the background for the main log-in screen on your Mac. This handy little piece of freeware takes whatever your desktop background is and mirrors it onto your log-in screen. Or you can use the following command in your terminal to change it to any image you want:

sudo defaults write /Library/Preferences/ DesktopPicture “/Library/path_to_your_pic/your_pic.jpg”

Hot Corners Link

Picture 5

Hot corners allow you to set up each corner of your screen to be a hot spot that triggers an event whenever you mouse over it, such as shuffling active windows to off screen to show the desktop or displaying widgets. This gets interesting when combined with the “Expose” and “Spaces” features.

Expose spreads your windows out on the screen so that you can focus on a new one. Once you get used to it, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. To make it really useful, set up a hot corner to activate it. Additionally, Spaces allows you to display multiple desktops from a bird’s-eye view. Add this to another corner and you’ve got something really special. You’ll be able to show the desktop, drag a file, switch to a different space, find a window that’s hidden behind several others and drop the file into that window, all with one mouse click. Check it out in the video below:

Play around with different hot corner configurations to find the one that best suits you. I recommend using three of the four for the “Expose All Windows” and “Show Desktop” functions and Spaces. If you have a laptop, setting one of the corners to put the display to sleep is handy because no button or key does that otherwise.

Configure Spaces Link

Picture 6

Having multiple desktops to work from can be a boon to productivity. Spaces allows you to create up to 16 different desktops, enough to satisfy even the most spastic multi-tasker. Along with these desktops, you can specify that certain applications only open in certain spaces, as well as specify that some apps display no matter which desktop you’re working in. Here are a few applications we suggest displaying in all spaces: Chat applications (Adium, iChat, IRC), movie players (VLC, QuickTime, DVD player), Twitter clients and any application useful in more than one context. I have a space for general Web browsing, iTunes and iPhoto, email and communications, Photoshop and design, coding and development, Windows virtualization, notes and reminders and one that I keep clean just in case.

Add Activity Monitor to the Dock Link

Picture 7

Activity monitor is the equivalent of the task manager in Windows. Certain items, when added to the Dock, take on a few extra behaviors. In the case of the activity monitor, those items can display helpful information instead of their icons while sitting in the dock: such as a pie chart showing how much memory is being used, a live graph of processor activity and more. While you can always pop up a window and hit Command + Option + Esc (your new Ctrl + Alt + Delete) to force quit an application, you don’t get any information about programs that are running. Clicking on the activity monitor gives you the force quit option and a wealth of information about your processes.

A Smarter Finder Link

Picture 9

Finder is a file explorer that people either love or loath. You can do a few things to make it more useful, though. Right-click on the top part of the finder window, much like you would to edit a toolbar in the browser, and you’ll see that you can configure the buttons in the finder window. Choose “Customize Toobar” and add the “Path,” “Delete,” and “New Folder” buttons, along with any others you desire.

In the left sidebar of the finder, you’ll see a list of favorites, including your home folder, main disk drives, any attached drives and the most used folders (photos, music, sites, etc.). You can customize this list by dragging folders and other items onto the sidebar. You can also add “smart folders” (File > New smart folder) that filter files based on a set of rules. For instance, one smart folder I keep in my sidebar is a list of all files over 100 MB, in case I need to free up some hard drive space. If you want to add separators to the sidebar, there’s a neat little guide on how to do that here9.

You can download toolbar scripts for even more functionality. For instance, you can add a button that opens the terminal in whatever folder you are currently browsing. Check them out here. Of course, if you end up hating the finder, you can try an alternative, like Cocoatech’s Path Finder10

Hacks Link

Widgets on Your Desktop Link

Picture 10

Widgets are Apple’s version of Konfabulator (now Yahoo! Widgets), but unlike Konfabulator, they are doomed to exile in the dashboard (a “second desktop” that pops up when you hit the right keys or hot corner). The problem with Dashboard is that the more widgets you have running, the longer they all take to pop up the first time you activate it after a restart. If you prefer to have your widgets available on demand on the desktop, enter the following command into your Mac terminal:

defaults write devmode YES

To place a widget on the desktop, open up Dashboard, start dragging the widget and close the dashboard. Unfortunately, widgets will stay on top of all your windows. Frustratingly, the only way to override this behavior is to get a paid application called Amnesty Widgets, which makes OS X’s widgets more like Yahoo Widgets. Of course, you could just use Yahoo! Widgets and forget OS X’s widgets altogether.

Change Command to Control Link

This is an adequate configuration for most, but an absolute lifesaver for some. It took me a while to get used to using Command instead of Control, but I eventually broke the old habit. Some people have been known to give up on the platform because of this issue. For those of you who have a hard time adjusting, simply map the Command key to Control. doublecommand11 and fKeys12 are popular utilities that let you do all sorts of custom mapping to make your switch easier.

Maximize Your Zoom Link

One of the weirdest quirks to get used to when switching to the Mac is the behavior of the “Zoom” button on windows (the green button in the top-left corner of all windows). Instead of sticking the four sides of the window to the very edges of the screen, Zoom will simply expand the size of the window to fit the screen but the window will remain draggable. Often it doesn’t even do this and instead changes the size of the window in unexpected and frustrating ways. Luckily you can download a handy little plug-in13 to force Zoom to use the window’s maximize function. Other than using this plug-in, you’ll have to get used to dragging the bottom-right corner of the window to force it.

Hidden Applications, Hidden Files Link

If you ever need to find files that are hidden by default, type this into the terminal:

defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE

You can hide windows by hitting Command + h, but you get no indication that a window is hidden once it’s gone. To make the application icon more transparent in the dock when it is hidden, type this into the terminal:

defaults write showhidden -bool YES
killall Dock

Quick Look Expanded Link

Picture 11

Quick Look can save you precious seconds by showing you a preview of a file before opening it in its default program. Simply hit the space bar on a file to activate it. This is limited to certain files, but a few handy plug-ins out there give you Quick Look functionality for folders, Zip files and more. has compiled a great list of fours such plug-ins.

Safari Debugger Link

Picture 12

Safari offers a great browsing experience, despite what you may have heard. It’s quick, clean and powerful, although not that easy to customize. You can apply a few neat hacks to make it a little more useful though. To enable the surprisingly rich Web development debugger tool, type this into your terminal:

defaults write IncludeDebugMenu YES

For a wealth of Safari hacks and plug-ins, check out Safari Hacks14 and Pimp My Safari15. SAFT16 is a great extension for Safari that provides a lot of great functionality for $12.

Customize Your Dock Link

Picture 13

Apple has very definite feelings about how the Dock should look because it does not give you many means of customization. To mess with the look and feel of the Dock, you can try Mirage17, which removes all styling, Candybar18, which gives you a variety of styling options, and Leopard Docks19, a website dedicated to custom Dock stylings.

When the Dock is on the left or right side of your screen, it goes from a 3-D look to 2-D. If you prefer the 2-D and bottom-screen configuration, type this into your terminal:

defaults write no-glass -boolean YES
killall Dock

As far as the Dock’s behavior goes, here’s a must-have hack you can apply. Add a “Recent files” stack to the Dock by entering the following in your terminal:

defaults write persistent-others -array-add ‘{ “tile-data” = { “list-type” = 1; }; “tile-type” = “recents-tile”; }’
killall Dock

Open-With Defaults Link

Picture 14

If you want a certain file to open in a certain program, right-click on a file of that file type and select “Get info,” which will bring up a box with all sorts of information about the file. We’re interested here in the “Open with” section, where you can choose its default program. Once you’ve selected the proper program, click the “Change All” button to make it the default program for all files of that file type. One suggestion: make TextEdit your default program for .doc and .docx files: it opens them much faster than Word or OpenOffice.

Software Link

While the software library on the Mac pales in comparison to the one on Windows in terms of sheer volume, it does have quite a bit of polish. This polish, however, often doesn’t come without a price. Free software for the Mac does exist out there, but it’s not nearly as widely available as you’re probably used to with Windows. That being said, there are quite a few apps, both free and paid, that you should install on your Mac to make the experience much more enjoyable and productive. Here are a few to get you started:

Multimedia Link

  • Flip4Mac20
    Install the free version to play WMV with QuickTime.
  • Perian21
    Every codec you’ll ever need for QuickTime.
  • VLC22
    The de facto media player for the Mac. Not only does it eliminate the need for the two pieces of software mentioned above, it provides more features than you’ll probably ever care to use. Use VLC instead of the built-in DVD player as well. VLC integrates nicely with OS X, and you can even use your Apple remote with it. Just download it.
  • Connect36023
    If you want to stream movies, pictures and music to your Xbox 360, this is a great solution for the Mac; some claim it works better than Microsoft’s implementation.
  • Transmission24
    A very lightweight and solid bit torrent client for the Mac. It fits in very well with OS X, style-wise.
  • Songbird25
    Not everyone wants to use iTunes to manage their music collection. Many prefer Songbird, the much-loved open-source alternative.

System and General Purpose Link

Picture 19

  • Growl26
    If having uniform system-wide notifications for all your applications sounds intriguing, you’ll want to check out Growl. It works with a vast array of software and is extremely customizable. Some notifications you’ll receive let you know when new email, instant messages or Twitter messages arrive, when your downloads are complete, when your computer has been unplugged and when a new song is playing on (complete with artist and details). Growl has a myriad of useful plug-ins and uses. Take, for instance, the growl notification that tells you when your tests have passed in your Web application: a must for any Mac user.
  • Unplugged (unplugged)
  • Quicksilver
    While OS X does have the “Spotlight” feature, which allows you to quickly find files and launch applications, it pales in comparison to the snappiness and customizability of the application-launcher Quicksilver, which is very similar to Firefox’s Ubiquity. Much like Growl, you can install tons of useful plugins to tailor the experience to your needs. When you start using Quicksilver regularly, you’ll find yourself going to the Dock less and less to launch and interact with your applications. It’s lightening fast and quite powerful. Imagine hitting a keyboard shortcut, typing “email,” “tab,” “compose,” , and “enter” to send a quick email to somebody. Another must have.
  • Fluid27
    If you’re anything like me, you spend a lot of your computer time interacting with Web applications rather than client-side applications. You may miss the neatness of applications existing independently of your Web browser, too. If you do, then Fluid is the solution. It takes any Web page you specify and contains it within its own Mac application, complete with icon and windowing preferences. Imagine having a dedicated app for your Google documents, Facebook, your favorite Twitter client, your Web analytics and more. It draws on the same idea that Adobe is pushing with Air. Fluid is as extensible and customizable as Growl and Quicksilver.
  • The Unarchiver28
    You’re going to want a program that can handle StuffIt, RAR, ZIP and other compression file types with ease, and the Unarchiver is it. Free and straightforward.
  • smcFanControl29
    Macs tend to be a bit more of a walled garden than other computers, but that doesn’t mean they have to be. With the right amount of research, you can usually find a piece of software or terminal hack that bends the Mac to your will. smcFanControl is one such application, made for those who want to control just how hot their laptops get.
  • Carbon Copy Cloner30
    If you ever need to transfer your hard drive to another machine, and you will, Carbon Copy Cloner is truly the best solution to the problem. It’s rock solid, simple to use and makes the whole process extremely pain free.

Communications Link

  • Adium31
    Adium is the de facto chat client for the majority of high-end Mac users out there. It covers more networks than are worth listing here. This is another must-have app.
  • Colloquy32
    Probably the best IRC client for the Mac. Well designed and extremely extensible.
  • Thunderbird33
    A great alternative to the default Mail application.

Productivity Link

  • Gimp
    Because the Mac doesn’t come with built-in image editing software of any kind, Gimp, the open-source alternative to Photoshop, is a handy install.
  • Textmate34
    Probably the most popular text editor for the Mac. It’s a hefty $50 but worth every penny.
  • Sketchbox35
    An improvement to OS X’s Stickies.

Conclusion Link

So, there you have it, some configurations, hacks and applications that will make your transition easier. As you make your way on your journey switching over, remember to seek out other Mac users, specifically other switchers, when you have questions or need advice. And as always, check Smashing Magazine regularly for more helfpul Mac guides, articles and resources.


Footnotes Link

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Mark Nutter runs a web development shop in Minnesota. You can follow him on Twitter where he occasionally says something worthwhile.

  1. 1

    This makes me insanely jealous…I need a Mac!

    Great post, if I get a Mac, I’ll be sure to use these!

  2. 2

    I wouldn’t like to have widgets on my desktop and I don’t understand anyone wanting them to be there. It looks so “Windows”. I prefer an uncluttered desktop and my widgets in my dashboard.

    Oh … and you should install NetNewsWire … very nice RSS reader for mac. You can synchronise your RSS feeds with your online account so they are accessible from every computer.

  3. 3

    Great post! Very useful indeed.

    But there’s a better way to enable the Safari debugger in Safari, right? At least, it worked for me… I think it’s better than the firebug on FireFox (without the extensions that is ;-))

    And if you just drag your widgets to your desktop, they’ll stay there, too…
    But the QuickLook expansion is very useful for me, thanks!

  4. 4

    Hey great list! Don’t forget the awesome ‘Launchbar’ productivity utility –

  5. 5

    David Airey

    June 4, 2009 8:49 am

    Hot corners is one I wasn’t aware of that I reckon will be most beneficial for me. A quick way to “show desktop”.

    Thanks Mark.

  6. 6

    Alpha Kenny One

    June 4, 2009 8:54 am

    Really great article. Especially like the “Configurations” section. Thanks for posting.

  7. 7


    June 4, 2009 8:55 am

    Great post – as a someone who loves apps, I knew about most of this but there were are few great surprises. Loving the tweak for the zoom button!


  8. 8

    Vincent Ouellet

    June 4, 2009 9:01 am

    Straight to bookmarks ! Getting a mac soon so this is gonna be useful Thx !

  9. 9

    Benjamin Dobson

    June 4, 2009 9:12 am

    Although the zoom button was one of my pet peeves at first, once I found out how it’s meant to work I grew to love it. The zoom button is meant to resize the window to the optimum size for its content. Try it in Safari.

    Unfortunately, many apps don’t bother doing this and instead use the Windows behaviour. This just makes things really, really confusing.

  10. 10

    I use the hot corners on my mac to hide all programs and show the desktop.. that’s the biggest thing i miss working on my PC at work.

  11. 11

    SteerMouse can do more the just adjust the speed & acceleration. If you just need to tweak those two you can save the 20 bucks and go for the free “mouse acceleration preference pane”.

  12. 12

    That’s great… it’s nice to see stuff for Mac I was doing in Windows ages ago. Kidding aside, Expose is one of the greatest features I’ve ever seen.

  13. 13

    Thomas Flight

    June 4, 2009 9:52 am

    You can also change your dock’s style with Dock Library: It’s free.

    @thomasflight on twitter.

  14. 14

    Instead of Quicksilver, better try Quick Search Box for the Mac aka QSB, by the same creator of QS but now as a Google proyect :)

  15. 15

    Nobody makes a piece of software to control the iSight cam built in the macbook?

  16. 16

    You can enable the Safati debug/developer menu via Preferences/Advanced since Safari 3 came out of Beta.

    Other software I can’t live without – DropBox (set it up as your documents folder and don’t worry about synching laptop and desktop) and also DockSpaces (which lets you have a different Dock per Space – so you can use Spaces to actually mean something – like a Development space, personal space, etc).

    Personally, I think that switching Ctrl and Command is always a bad move, given that the Command key is logically situated close to the A,S,Z,X,C, and crucially V keys – CTRL-V is always a big stretch on most keyboards – and I’d agree with the comment on full-screening. Once I got over the habit, I’ve actually found myself frustrated with how difficult it can be to compare 2 documents in different apps in Windows, when you have multiple documents open.

  17. 17

    naved ahmad

    June 4, 2009 10:44 am

    great list thanks for sharing all these tweaks and hacks ;)

  18. 18

    Excellent article, I especially liked the Recent files and Activity monitor tips!!

  19. 19

    I’m getting my first Mac the 12th of June, at the latest according to the store, so this came just in time =)

  20. 20

    ditch textmate for bbedit (or textwrangler, the free version). Opens all files in tabs rather than making you designate by project which means you never get window clutter from it.

    Does anyone still use thunderbird? It’s kind of clunky.

    Other than that, great article.

  21. 21

    Thanks for posting! I am a long time windows user that has switched over to mac at a new job so this is helpful for me :)

  22. 22

    That’s why I love my mac!! I’m surprised you didn’t mention Parallels and Bootcamp (Parallels was the last push I needed to switch).

  23. 23

    It might be helpful to point out which of the tweaks are laptop-specific (like the right-clicking tip, screen-dimming, utilities like Unplugged, etc.)

    @Paul, TextMate TextMate vs. BBEdit BBEdit is really a matter of taste, but BBEdit does cost more than twice as much (they do offer TextWrangler, though, which has some of the same functionality, for free).

    Postbox appears to be the up-and-coming email client for OS X, though until it gets better at importing mailboxes from other clients, I’m not switching to it, myself…

  24. 24

    I am a windows user, and I liked and like it. All this troubles I had because of the macs in several offices I had to work. There is so much software not available for Mac I need.

    The best safari tweak is to switch to Firefox or Opera.

  25. 25

    Calum Brodie

    June 4, 2009 12:09 pm

    6 More

    Bean (free)- A great lightweight word processor (I use it to create pdf files for documentation)

    Silverback ($50, month full trial)- Usability testing for developers

    File Juicer($20) – Extracts all files from PDF’s

    OmniDazzle(free) – Great for presentations, creating documentation and screencasts

    Dropbox (basic version free, Mac and PC) – Never use your USB Pendrive again. (Everyone should use this great service, sign up for a paid version and show the developer some love!)

    iSquint (free)- Video Format Converter and Compressor

  26. 26

    I’d recommend SuperDuper! instead of CarbonCopyCloner

  27. 27

    Great Post, Thanks from a MacBook Noob!

  28. 28

    Daniel Errante

    June 4, 2009 1:15 pm

    Expose is essential! I don’t really know how I would switch windows or view my desktop with out it. My screen is usually filled with over 30 windows at a time so it helps me a ton!

  29. 29

    I don’t need the configurations or hacks because I’m not a switcher (I like “command” being right where it is, TYVM!) and I’m not on Leopard, but I’m impressed by the recommended apps and utilities. I use quite a few of them myself, and in the cases where there are options, I feel you’ve chosen the best one.

    Most heavy Mac users will wind up with most of the apps listed, so you’ve done good!

    I’m also putting in a shout for TextWrangler as a free alternative to TextMate. Not quite as pretty, but seems to do the job and feels full-featured, but then I’m not a heavy-duty coder.

    Keep up the useful Mac posts! :)

  30. 30

    Roman Bercot

    June 4, 2009 1:25 pm

    I love Growl, but I can’t seem to make it work with Entourage. I’ve tried several AppleScripts I found on the web, including one on the Mac Office site. But I don’t have any experience with AppleScript.

    Anybody know how to get this working with Entourage 2008?

  31. 31

    Right click is also supported on the unibody Mac mouse. Just turn it on in the mouse settings. The mouse senses when you’re right clicking, even though it doesn’t technically have a 2nd button.

  32. 32

    Jeff Greenberg

    June 4, 2009 2:03 pm

    doublecommand and fKeys aren’t necessary to move control/command (and other modifier keys.) It’s built into your system prefs. keyboard tab.

  33. 33

    Yeah! Thanks SM! Tomorrow my new (and first own) mac will be delivered! This post’ll make my switch-sweeter!


  34. 34

    Thanx for all the tips! I love my new Macbook pro, but two things that irritates me is:
    – The “Delete” button.. where is it? (the one that i can erase to the right)
    – I have i webcam in my new Macbook pro and all my friend are using MSN. But that dosent work with MSN for mac. So i downloaded aMSN but i cant get any sound…

    Help anyone?!!!

  35. 35

    Wow, no post by Kumar@instantsh*t?!!! Ha!
    Sorry, just wondering. Probably an apple machine is too expensive for him.


    It looks so “Windows”

    Yeah, and windows is so bad because it’s cheap! Cheap stuff is bad! No, my friend, products which are mass-produced and have a larger public-appeal are cheaper because the manufacturing process is made more efficient, like, for example, handing the hardware part to other manufacturers.

  36. 36

    When I’m creating websites, the Inspect Element function in Safari is a life-saver. (It’s pictured in your article, but not mentioned.)
    Right-click on any element of a web page, and choose “Inspect Element.” You can troubleshoot your code easily, the Inspector shows all the rendering information for that element including CSS information. Excellent and helpful. And free.

  37. 37

    Thunderbird? Really? I really prefer PostBox PostBox . Same foundation, much better product.

  38. 38

    Tweaks for a mac?

    …pass me a sledgehammer!!!!

  39. 39

    Brian Temecula

    June 4, 2009 3:18 pm

    I found that getting rid of the mighty mouse is top priority for any Mac user. I like my Mac, but what were they thinking when they made the mighty mouse? I use a Logitech LX7, and it is awesome compared to the mighty mouse. Does anyone actually prefer the mighty mouse?

  40. 40

    a pretty good list, tho not all of them ‘tweaks’

    you should have included how to remap the home/end keys to behave in the same fashion as every other OS ever produced. Command + R/L arrow key is cumbersome (and frankly, stupid), especially when adding in shift. It’s not a perfect remap tho…but it helps in most instances.

  41. 41

    Needs WAY more opensource. I would think that because OSX is based on Debian there would be more open source, yet every single app for Mac seems to be a paid applicaiton. Which really sucks.

  42. 42
  43. 43

    @DavidYell: “I would think that because OSX is based on Debian” <- You must be kidding!!!!

    About Open source:
    and which is the most similar thing to debian dpkg system.

  44. 44

    The screen shot with the IE icon on your Mac dock made me vomit in my mouth……

  45. 45

    @Shine – The Forward Delete you are looking for is accomplished with Fn + Delete if you have a macbook or pro. Not sure if the full-size keyboards have the Fn key.

  46. 46

    very useful! Didn’t know about activity monitor dock behavior. Thanks

  47. 47

    Michael Scofield

    June 4, 2009 8:04 pm

    When I purchased my mac I had high expectations too. However it’s turned out to be not so bright experience afterall. These are the most frustrating things about mac os in my opinion:

    1. Default single-button mouse itself and the way it glides on the screen because it does not accelerate. Even if you change the tracking speed it is still not good. I have 24′ mac and before I purchased a normal mouse from Microsoft and SeerMouse it was a really dodgy experience.

    2. You can’t resize windows from anywhere except the right-bottom corner. This is really inconvenient, especially if that part of the window is out of the visible area of the screen.

    3. There is no file cut-and-paste. Macs don’t have cut command for files whatsoever. There is a hack software for it, but its not working all the time and sometimes moving the files to trash bin instead.

    4. There is no print screen button. You can break your fingers if you try to “Command-Control-Shift-3”

    5. Dragging files in Finder to move them is awful, if you want to drag a file from one directory to another, but you can’t see the target directory in finder (it’s above the visible area), moving it to the top of the screen won’t scroll the list of directories, so you can only copy that file and then delete it from the original location (because there is no cut command), thus doubling the time it would take to do such a simple task on Windows.

    6. There is no notepad++ for mac. None of the text editors for mac highlight the enclosing html tags, including Textmate and Coda. I find this feature really useful. Crossover (Windows compatibility software) doesn’t support notepad++, so it doesn’t run unter Mac.

    So, I only use Mac os for fun and entertainment. For work, I have to run Windows XP via VMWare within Mac os.

    In conclusion, despite the fact that I had my Mac for the last 2 years, I think Microsoft provides a much better usability and a user experience than Mac os. Plus for the cost of Mac you can build yourself a much faster PC. But Macs are much more secure and stable, better looking and immune to viruses and adware.

  48. 48

    At the point “Log-In items” you refer to a freeware for using the desktop wallpaper automatically for the login-in screen:

    “You can also change the background for the main log-in screen on your Mac. This handy little piece of freeware takes whatever your desktop background is and mirrors it onto your log-in screen.”

    Well, I did not find any link, mention of a software title or other reference there?

  49. 49

    Michelle Conlon

    June 4, 2009 8:26 pm

    Great post… I knew about the Force Quit but didn’t realize that there was an Activity Monitor. Thanks

  50. 50

    Hmm great post…Very useful indeed.. just try the software called Voila it has many features.
    Using this you can capture a screen in different ways,annotate it and Share the images…its 30day trial version.
    @Michael Scofield:
    Hey you can change your system shortcut keys in the System Preference’ to capture a fullscreen default system keys are Cmd+Shift+3 and for Selection capture its select a active window hit Space key after pressing Cmd+Shift+4. it captures the current window..

  51. 51 and iPhoto (comes with every modern Mac) can do image editing, cropping, adjustments just fine… at least they’re better than Paint.

    @ Michael Scofield; If you hate it so much then don’t use it.
    1. It may look like a single button mouse but the Mighty Mouse does do “right clicks” by default.
    2. Windows doesn’t resize windows “intelligently”, and i doubt if you’d like to expand your windows to the full 24″ space of your display.
    3. command drag
    4. Windows only gives you the screenshot for the whole screen, not like a Mac where you can select certain areas using keyboard shortcuts without having to open a stupid “Snipping Tool” in Vista. Oh yeah, powerusers adapt, they dont whine.
    5. haven’t you heard of SpringLoaded folders? Geez.
    6. Are you absolutely sure?

  52. 52

    Christopher Poulsen

    June 4, 2009 8:52 pm

    Thanks for all the useful tips. I love my Macbook Pro but know there are many things I still haven’t discovered on it! This will help greatly! I appreciate it! Thank you!

  53. 53

    Michael Scofield.. great points i totally agree, imo all this Macs usability is way overrated and windows, especially from vista provides way better experience. I tried windows 7rc and loving it already. Macfanatics will cry, almost feel sorry for them ;) all those improvements from MS seem to bother them so much, pathetic

  54. 54

    without getting in details of each OS (obviously both got good pros/cons)… i wonder why so many people are actually using windows instead of Mac’s if windows is so bad?

  55. 55

    Michael Scofield

    June 4, 2009 11:07 pm

    @Spirytus: It’s just had for some people to admit that the money they spent on Macs were not worth it, therefore clear usability disadvantages in Macs become “differences” for them, like “just have to get used to it”.

    Apple an image of interface experts after it’s released iPhones and iPods, and so people thinking they make the same user-friendly computers, but it’s not quite right. Mostly it’s a great marketing campaign that Apple has succeeded in.

    Again, there are pros and cons, the build quality that Apple has is awesome, as some of their software. I’m just surprised how they didn’t get it right with such small but important points like “cut files”, window resize, mouse and etc..

  56. 56

    Tommy Holiday

    June 4, 2009 11:18 pm

    at last i have to test quicksilver, i’m not sure if it will improve my productivity… spotlight does his work very well for my opinion!

  57. 57

    Thanks for this great list!
    I have to admit that I already knew most of the tips and software.

    I’m a enthusiastic user of the Hot-Corners. The seamless and perfect integration into the desktop of Mac OS X is just awesome. I use it every day.

    Some time ago I had to conduct a presentation in our client’s premises.
    The basis was a PC, driven by Windows XP. Within the time of the presentation I accidentally tried nearly 100 times to find a hot corner with the mouse’s cursor. Afterwards the technical manager asked me to unplug the mouse, it was an optical one, and wanted to replace it. He thought the mouse was broken and in a row the mouse cursor jumped autonomous from one corner to another.

  58. 58

    @ Michael Scofield and Spirytus:

    1- Agree, i use a Logitech mouse myself, but still, mouse-acceleration? There’s no need for that if you use a pen-tablet!
    2- In the top-left corner there are three coloured circles, try the yellow and green one just for the sake of it… you’ll be surprised!
    3- try control-command-drag, that should help you. And if you try alt-command-drag you can create a shortcut and command-drag you can duplicate! Wow, what a miracle! Just try before you cry please!
    4- There’s more to that than you think: command-shift-3 is the printscreen, not your silly combination! If you hit command-shift-4 there’s another option, try it because you might like it! But wait, there’s more: if you hit command-shift-4 and then hit the spacebar… wow! Instant magic!!! Jeez… is that so hard to figure out?
    5- Indeed: spring-loaded folders! Just wait a second and voila, you target-folder magically opens up! Try before you cry!
    6- Hahaha!!! I Bet you never even tried those apps because you are soooooo wrong! Hahahahahaha, can’t stop laughing at you!

    Well, there you have it, i bet you’re a young boy, still wet behind the ears playing around with daddy’s Mac… i’ll forgive you for now but please: don’t buy something when you know you don’t like it and stop complaining. Do your research!

  59. 59

    Customizing toolbar in your way is not a good idea. I think you will loose a lot in aesthetic and usability. You only need the default set. If you need Path button functionality you can always right-click (or command-click or control-click) on folder name in title bar or select View/Show Path Bar in the menu. All other actions are available in action menu.

  60. 60

    Instead of using the system preferences to turn off Screen-Dimming I recommend a tiny program called “Caffeine”
    It puts a little button in your task bar next the clock. This way you can easily turn off screen-dimming when you are reading a long article or watching a video, but still have the benefits of powersaving, without having to go to system prefs all the time.

  61. 61

    Nice article. Extra tip for Zoom: you can alt drag and/or resize your window in every application and the green + circle (top left) will switch between the sizes you’ve made. Handy.

  62. 62

    Great in the end there was still 1 app I didn’t have but is useful for me.. sketchbox! nice and simple!

    But I have a QUESTION: Is there a way to send you screenshots to a different map than your desktop??


  63. 63

    To keep the screen for dimming there is an excellent tool called Caffeine that allows you to enable/disable the dimming of the screen with one click.

  64. 64

    To be honest… this is not the kind of article I would like to see on SM.

  65. 65

    When I try and put the code for the ‘Recent Files folder in the toolbar’ into the Terminal I get the following message: -bash: syntax error near unexpected token `}’

    I am not that familiar with terminal so I might be doing something wrong… any ideas?

  66. 66


    June 5, 2009 3:27 am

    @62. Bram

    I totally agree.
    I just know there’s gonna be a flame war everytime I see one of these mac-loving posts.

    SM: just stick to what you do best.

  67. 67


    June 5, 2009 3:39 am

    @Shine fn+delete erases to the right of the character.

  68. 68

    I can’t believe how easy setting apps to open on login was.. and why i never realized that. duuuh!

  69. 69

    I was wondering if anyone knows an application for Mac to edit XML files (like XML notepad in Windows). I’ve been searching without any luck :S.

    PS: Good post! It is really useful for me as I’ve been working most of my time on Windows and I switched to Mac recently.

  70. 70

    I’m really thankful for this article, even though it’s “not the norm” for SM… as a longtime PC/*nix developer jumping on the iPhone bandwagon with everyone else :) the functionality of the Home and End keys makes me just INSANE. I know that it used to go to the top and bottom of the document and as for key names, that makes sense, but I’ve gotten used to them going to the beginning and end of a line and it’s insanely frustrating to want to go the front/end of a line and instead go to the front/end of a document. The maximize things also makes me crazy. And I use a PC keyboard for the macbook and the PC (with a kvm switch) so I’m really, really thankful to find a way to make all those shortcuts work again by programming the option key back to the control key (instead of the windows keys on the pc keyboard, which is what it is now).

    And all that stuff is fixed having read this article. Again, I’m very appreciative for it.

  71. 71


    June 5, 2009 8:00 am

    I recently got a job that required me to use a Mac for the first time in my life, and at first I was skeptical, being a PC user for years. After a little while of using it, I was adjusting quite well and even started to prefer Mac over PC. In fact, I probably would have instantly been sold if it wasn’t for the Mighty Mouse, it took a while to get used to the way it moved vs. my Logitech mouse on my PC at home. I then discovered something that pretty much made me want to go out and buy a Mac right then and there:

    Exposé and hot corners are the best features I have ever seen

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a window stuck behind another on my PC, or I was leaving my house (but leaving my computer on) and wanted to turn on my screen saver, or wanted to see what the temperature was, or use the calculator, and instantly went to the corners of my screen before realizing “oh yeah, Windows doesn’t do that”

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Mac Fanboy. I realize Macs are not immune to viruses (being the minority in a Windows world doesn’t make you immune, just makes you under the radar). I have witnessed a Mac crash on multiple occasions. Does this make me not want one? Not at all, I’ve got a 17″ MacBook Pro on my to-buy list. Am I going to completely switch from PC to Mac? No way. I still like PCs for certain things (like gaming especially) and I don’t see why people think they can only be a PC user or a Mac user.

    Plus, putting the usability of the programs aside, Mac programs look so much better than most PC programs. If I’m going to be using a program a lot, why can’t it look good *and* be useful?

  72. 72

    don’t forget the much better equivalent of Thunderbird, POSTBOX!

    incredibly fast!

  73. 73

    Love the fullscreen function!!!! Finally. Now, what about the need to constantly expand my file content bar to fit the contents? So annoying with longer named files!

  74. 74

    Jennifer Meller

    June 5, 2009 9:35 am

    Love SM and love this article.

    Loath is an adjective meaning “unwilling.” It ends with a hard th and rhymes with growth or both.

    Loathe is a verb meaning “to hate intensely.” It ends with a soft th like the sound in smooth or breathe.

  75. 75

    Amazing post…. I use 70% of these all of them are awesome… I will surely check the remaining….

  76. 76

    i’m tired of reading about how macs don’t have the right click function. now, the above mentioned solution for the right click is true for laptops if you are solely using the track pad, but if you are using a tower and monitor or decide to buy a mouse you can choose to buy a mac mighty mouse which has a right click (it just doesn’t look like it because there are no visible buttons on the mouse) or you can use any mouse that has a right click button on it. that’s right, plugging in any mouse on a mac works. at least it has for me every time.

  77. 77

    This is a great post for anyone switching to a Mac! Took me forever to figure out the “right click”, and am so glad to have it now.

    Also exposé – I still use a PC occasionally and I’m really not a PC hater, but I find myself going to a screen corner all the time and I totally miss exposé!

    As for software, I would also recommend Neo Office as a free office suite.

  78. 78

    i’m tired of reading about how macs don’t have the right click function.
    Same for me, it just drives me mad.
    when you tell some PCist that after 13 years of Windows you finally discovered something that suits you much better, you can hear “yeah but mac mice only have one button”

    yeah… 10 YEARS AGO, WAKE UP !

    I remember the round mouse with one button and this was just a stupidity but it was years and years ago an people still remember it, it’s just incredible.

  79. 79

    I cannot understand how it is possible, that someone who switched from Windows to Mac has anything to whine about. The only thing that works better on Windows next to viruses and spyware are video games, which I rather play on a PS3.

    I switched last year, and will never go back.

  80. 80

    If you guys wanted an alternative to VMWare or Parallels, try VirtualBox by Sun,

    Just installed it for browser testing, i could scrub the bootcamp partition now.

  81. 81

    Callum Chapman

    June 6, 2009 1:44 am

    Great post, I’ve almost got enough for a maxed out macbook now, but i’m still wondering whether I should save a a few more hundred to get a macbook pro… Screen size doesn’t matter to me, the smaller the better because it’s lighter to carry around, when I’m designing I’ll be using a 24″ apple cinema display!

  82. 82


    June 6, 2009 3:20 am

    Great! some I allready used, but a few I didnt know about. Thanx!

  83. 83

    The mouse does accelerate on the Mac.

    Try moving your mouse really slow a certain distance. The pointer will move only a little.
    Moving the mouse faster the exact same distance will make the pointer travel a much longer distance. More than 5x as much (in my own experiment I just did).

  84. 84

    Bjørn Friese

    June 6, 2009 5:29 am

    I definitely think that Little Snitch and iStat menus should have been mentioned in this article. They are much better alternatives for the Firewall and Activity Monitor apps that comes with Leopard.

  85. 85

    A few of my favorite utilities:

    Textexpander – auto-replaces any key combination with text or graphics of your choosing, or auto execute Apple and Shells scripts – (unfortunately, no longer free, but worth the investment)

    Butler – incredibly powerful app launcher and all round cool utility, I use it a lot to access to a history of clipboards contents, but haven’t even scratched the surface of what it can do. If you do a lot of repetitive tasks, it can be life saver. (Free)

    Sidenote – handy notepad that hides away at the edge of your screen when you don’t need it (free)

    Scribblet – another handy notepad that comes and goes at the touch of a hot key (free)

    Busysync – keep your calendars synced between different Macs and Google Calendar (not free)

    Interesting to hear that people go nuts for Expose. I never use it.

    Also, one config you shouldn’t miss is Time Machine. Just hook up an external disk drive and let Mac OS X take care of all of your backups. Great for peace of mind.

  86. 86

    Don’t forget MenuMeters, you can have your CPU, network and memory meter right in your tool-bar.


    – Dax Hansen

  87. 87

    Great article! Just got myself lots of tabs open here, ready to check them all :)


  88. 88

    Thank you for nice tips!

  89. 89


    it doesn’t work cause if copied and pasted it used the wrong type of tick marks/quotations. go here to the link below and copy/paste it

  90. 90

    thanks a billion. i knew about most of these, but a few came in handy for sure!

  91. 91

    Just thought I’d post my favourite widget here, if you’re a web or graphic designer this is a must to replace the stabdard Lorem Ipsum dummy text

    Some clients haven’t even noticed that when you read it, it makes no sense!

  92. 92

    leandro araujo

    June 8, 2009 6:56 am

    the SMCFanControl is no more necessary, since Apple launched an update that makes proper management of fans velocity.

  93. 93

    I do love the VLC on many platforms but for osx I’ve found it very buggy, I’d suggest mac osx extended.

  94. 94

    wow, thank you! this made my day.

  95. 95

    Dear god people!! This is basics – Mac 101.

    If you own a Mac and DIDN’T know these already then you should be ashamed of yourselves.

  96. 96

    enrique r grullon

    June 14, 2009 2:48 am

    I’ve written a toolbar script for the mac that shows & hides hidden files for those who sometimes need access to hidden files (like .htaccess for web developers).

    Its called showHidden and you can download it at

  97. 97

    THis is a great compilation. Even if I do not agree with you with all your suggestions, the list of apps, and tweaks speaks for itself. It cost me several hours of research to find these over the 2 years since I’ve been a mac user now. :) Again, for someone new to the mac this list is gorgeous (and they will spend a *lot* of time trying all these out… hehe)

  98. 98


    June 22, 2009 5:05 pm

    Thanks a bunch SM! Liked the quicklook addons.

    Leigh…Dear god people!! … If you own a Mac and DIDN’T know these already then you should be ashamed of yourselves.

    @Leigh; Go annoy your ‘toy’ girlfriend with your super mac skills. Maybe she will be impressed. Doubt it…

  99. 99

    you should’ve mentioned smultron , it’s a really useful text/code editing app

    • 100

      For text editing, I use Komodo Edit. Everyone in my comp sci dept uses it too. :) It’s the mac alternative to Notepad++.

  100. 101

    Hola bueno el articulo, pero lo mas importante es que Mac es un sistema que siempre esta ¨listo para trabajar¨, ist a sistem ¨always ok for work, work concentrate, work with fluid creativity, simple, simple, slow running with ours brain and ours imagination,
    windows always have a problem, a imprevist, always stressing this moment.

    I work with mac since 1987,

    and the color fine consistence is great with Colorsynch, no its over windows

  101. 102

    Pierluigi Rotundo

    August 3, 2009 11:55 pm

    great post!!!!

    Pierluigi Rotundo

  102. 103

    I didn’t see Haxie’s Windowshade listed. I’ve bought almost a dozen macs (I was a book publisher for two decades) and that was the first tweak I added to every machine. Mac’s current minimize is worse than ever, jamming it in the lower right corner of the screen…a nightmare if you have five applications and a dozen screens open at once. Windowshade takes care of all that, and includes a lightning fast “hide the program you’re working on” handy for office cheats.

  103. 104

    great post! useful! thanx

  104. 105

    Macs are not as good as they’re made out to be. However, I wouldn’t go back to a PC. The ridiculous PC track pad, all the bugs closing down your program because it has done something illegal. Hmmm…. I wonder if there is anyone out there who has ever managed to find something with the windows finder and that stupid dog. I hate that damn paperclip too (they must think all you PC users (not me anymore) are a complete bunch of twats).

    It takes some time to get used to a mac. If your good at remembering shortcuts and your fingers and thumbs are double jointed so much the better. I do miss the home and end key on a windows computer though, …. it bugs me the way I have to use the arrow keys or take my hand off the keyboard to use the mouse.

    Concerning screen print, the options for a mac are a million times better, the end result is even in focus wow,…. but I agree with the guy up the top that if it scrolled when you were at the bottom, it’d be a lot better.

    Expose, spaces and the trackpad are the dogs bollocks. The Mighty mouse scroll ball take time to get used to,… at first I didn’t like it. On the subject of how many buttons it has two.

    All in all, everything considered, pcs are shit.

  105. 106

    I just got my first Mac and found this articles. What a lovely coincidence…

  106. 107

    Very nice article. I’m switching soon from Ubuntu to Mac – already ordered my mini. This is a great start for a newbie which I’m again, switching from DOS to Windows to Linux to Mac. Can’t wait to get it :)

  107. 108

    Great article. Thanks. Definitely help my transition from Windows to Mac. I was getting frustrated for a bit there before I came across this article. Cheers

  108. 109

    Wow, excellent tutorial indeed.


  109. 110

    broken Gimp link… extra space in there

  110. 111

    how do you undo the dock settings?

  111. 112

    how do you undo something once you have used terminal to change it?

  112. 113

    The mouse developed for the Alto computer at Xerox PARC had 3 mouse buttons.

  113. 114

    I wish someone would find a solution for:
    “Automatically Resize Finder Columns To The Longest Filename”
    This is a real problem most of the time.


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