Become a Mac Power User: System Preferences


The great thing about using Apple (s aapl) computers (loaded with OS X of course), is that some of the tasks that can be frustrating and difficult on another operating system are simple and possibly even fun. So assuming you’ve got a handle on using that Mac of yours, it’s probably time to step it up, and work even smarter with your Macintosh. Here are five System Preferences tips that should start you well on the road to becoming a Power User.

Spaces (look for: Exposé & Spaces)

spaces_iconExpand on the workspace available to you, and organize your work all at once. Spaces gives you multiple desktops (also known as ‘virtual desktops’) with which to group your open applications. Some people like to group by activity (work, play, etc) while others may group by application (internet, documents, graphics, etc), and still others may group by project (website, movie, photography). There’s no hard and fast rule that requires you to categorize in any of these ways (I don’t), so figure out what works best for you. Spaces can be configured via the System Preferences application, and you can assign hotkeys and edges of your screen for navigation between your desktops. Oh, and there’s even a twenty-thousand foot view, where you can see all desktops at once, complete with the open windows in each.

Exposé (look for: Exposé & Spaces)

This remains (in my experience) one of the ‘Wow!’ factors of OS X. Exposé gives you the ability to spread all open windows out for viewing at once, application specific windows only, or just move them all aside to check out the computer desktop. As with Spaces, you can assign hotkeys to trigger these actions, or (as I’ve done) use the corners of your screen to initiate Expose. When there are a lot of windows open at once, Exposé can make it infinitely more powerful to find what you’re looking for in short order. As mentioned in Spaces, you can view all desktops at once — couple with Expose=é (using hot corners) and you can view all open windows on all desktops too!

Keyboard Shortcuts (look for: Keyboard & Mouse)

Using keyboard shortcuts (also called key-bindings or hotkeys by some) such as CMD+S for saving, CMD+C and CMD+V to copy and paste (respectively), and so on, should be at least vaguely familiar to everyone. While many applications have settings which allow you to assign key bindings to certain app-specific actions (both Spaces and Exposé do, for example), the Keyboard & Mouse Preference Pane lets you review and assign operating system-wide hotkeys. (Further still, are third-party programs like Quicksilver that let you set Trigger actions that can be mapped to any system action and key combination you choose.)

Multi-Touch Gestures (look for: Trackpad)

trackpad_iconTo preface, this one’s only for the MacBook and MacBook Pro users. Other than setting your Trackpad preferences, there’s not much to configure here. It’s most useful to look at the different Multi-Touch gestures that you can use to perform different actions. For instance, you can rotate images in iPhoto and Preview by twisting two fingers, or navigate forward or backward in Safari. Though the one item I will point out is the “Screen Zoom” listed under “Two Fingers.” Setting this up allows you to zoom in on any part of your screen when combining a key press and two-finger ‘scroll,’ which can be very useful (and cool).

Preference Pane Plugins (look for: “Other” section of System Preferences)

The core functionality of OS X can easily be extended (even more) by third party System Preferences add-ons, which are called Preference Panes. The options are seemingly endless, and I find myself doing a lot of house-cleaning to keep it from getting out of control. But a few highlights that you may like to look into further are Growl, Hazel, TextExpander, GeekTool, and iStat Menus.

These five tips have only focused on leveraging your System Preferences. By no means do you need to embrace all of these tips at once, but be aware of them. Over time you’ll gain a level of comfort and add to your repertoire of ways that you can interface with your Mac. Before you know it, you’ll be doing things on your Apple computer that will cause friends to stop you, and inquire as to how you did it. Consider yourself, Power User.