100 more things every Mac user should know: Finder

Macworld Staff
20 May, 2013
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Two years ago, in our July 2011 issue, we ran an article called ’100 things every Mac user should know’. The idea was to compile a bunch of titbits – keyboard shortcuts, Finder techniques and the like – that we thought every savvy Mac user should understand and feel confident when using.

Not ABC beginner stuff and not truly esoteric expert-level manoeuvres, but the kinds of things that mark you as experienced and informed.

Of course, there are a lot more than 100 such things. So we decided to revisit the idea, coming up with another hundred pieces of Mac-related information we think users should have at their command. So, yes, you now have 200 things you need to know.

As we said back in 2011: we’re sure you know a lot of the things we’ve listed here. But we bet that very, very few of you, if you’re really being honest, can say you know them all. And we’ll kick with the first 21, all related to Finder.

Nine things you can do with a Finder Info window

Click an icon in the Finder and press Command-I, and you’ll be presented with the associated item’s Info window. There you can perform a number of useful tasks, including the following nine.

1 Change the file’s icon

Copy an image into your Mac’s Clipboard, select the icon in the Info window’s top-left corner and choose Edit > Paste.

2 Add keywords 
to Spotlight Comments

Enter keywords in the Spotlight Comments area, such as Awesome, Business and Yum; afterward, you can use these keywords to search for files with Spotlight.

3 Create stationery pads

Turn the file into a stationery pad. These elements behave much like templates: When you open a file that you’ve designated as a stationery pad, you’ll be working with a copy of the document, rather than with the original. To turn a file into a stationery pad, enable the Stationery Pad option.

4 Lock a file

To make a file uneditable, enable the Locked option in the General area of the Info window.

5 Learn more about the file

Click the More Info triangle for details about the file – a lot or a little, depending on the kind of file. Choose an image file, for example and this section will list its dimensions and (if available) some of the image’s EXIF data (camera model, focal length, f-stop and exposure time).

1-9 Manage the icon, Sharing Permissions and more from the Finder Info window.

6 Rename the file

In the Name & Extension area, you can rename your file and choose to show or hide its extension.

7 Open the file with a different application

Occasionally you may want to open HTML files with a text editor instead of using a browser. Go to the Open With area and select the app you want to use to open that file; if you want to use that app for all files of the same type, click Change All.

8 Preview your file

In the Preview area of the Info window, you can play music and video files and see thumbnail images of graphics and text files.

9 Change permissions

At the bottom of the Info window, you’ll find the Sharing & Permissions area, where you can specify the privileges a user must have in order to access and edit a file or the contents of a folder.

To alter the permissions settings, click the lock icon, enter your username and password and then click in the Privilege column to change an access setting – from ‘Read & Write’ to ‘Read only’, for example.

To add other user accounts or groups, click the plus (+) button, choose a user or group and then click Select.

If you’ve chosen to change a folder’s permissions, you can apply the revised permissions to the items within the folder by choosing Apply to enclosed Items from the Tools menu.

Two ways to change your account’s short username

For whatever reason – maybe you were in a rush when you first set up your Mac, maybe your name has changed – you may someday want to change your short username.

(That’s the one that gives a name to your home folder in the Finder – 
the no-spaces name that you use in various places in OS X, not the longer username found in the Users & Groups pane of System Preferences.)

Here are two effective ways to change the shorter username.

10 Use an alias 

This method will work if you want to be able to enter a shorter name in name/password dialogue box fields or when logging in to your account.

So if your name is Englebert Rumplestiltskin and the OS X Setup Assistant kindly made your short username ‘englebertrumplestiltskin’, you can create an account alias of ‘rumple’; then, whenever you would normally type ‘englebertrumplestiltskin’, you can type ‘rumple’ instead.

Open the Users & Groups pane of System Preferences from any administrator account. If the lock icon in the lower-left of the window is locked, click it and provide an administrator username and password.

In the list of accounts on the left, right-click or Control-click the name of the account that you want to modify and then choose Advanced Options. In the Advanced Options screen, click the plus (+) button under Aliases and then type your desired account alias. (Don’t make any other changes.) Click OK and restart your Mac.

11. You can change the short account name in the Users & Group preferences.

11 Change your actual short username 

If an alias isn’t enough – if, for example, you want to change the name of your home folder and your short username – you can change the actual name.

A couple of caveats: First, some apps and services store settings based on your short username or on the path to your home directory (/Users/username); if you change that username, those apps or services may get confused. Second, because OS X’s Time Machine tracks files based on paths, if you change the name of your home folder, Time Machine may conclude that it needs to back up everything again. That said, here’s how to proceed with the alteration.

Disable Automatic Login (in the Users & Groups pane of System Preferences) for the account you’re modifying, if it’s currently enabled. Log out of the account that you want to modify and then log in as a different user who has administrative access. (If you don’t have an extra administrator account, you can create one in the Users & Groups pane.)

Open the Users & Groups pane. If the lock icon in the lower-left of the window is locked, click it and provide an administrator username and 
a password.

In the list of accounts on the left, right-click or Control-click the name 
of the account you want to modify; then select Advanced Options from the resulting menu. In the Advanced Options screen, delete the account’s current short username in the Account Name field and type in the new one.

Change /Users/oldusername in the Home Directory field to /Users/newusername. Make note of the original and new paths and then click OK and close System Preferences.

Next, open Terminal, type the following text on a single line and press Return:

sudo mv 

When prompted, provide the password of the administrator account you’re using and press Return again.

Now restart your Mac. Once you’ve done so, your short username and your home folder name will be changed. If you find yourself forgetting your new name and typing the old one, you can create a new alias, using your old name as an alias to the new one. (For more on this, see ‘Use an alias’, above.)

difference between ‘Arrange By’ and ‘Sort By’

12 Sorting files

One way to sort files in Finder windows is to select View > Arrange By, followed by a find criterion (‘Name’, ‘Kind’, ‘Date Added’ or whatever). Your system will use that criterion to sort files and folders in the parent folder you’re viewing. Later, when you add new files to the folder, they’ll appear properly in the file hierarchy.

For less long-lasting results, hold down the Option key while opening the View menu and Arrange By will become Sort By. Select that and it will sort all files that are currently in the folder in the specified order. But this method won’t continue to apply the sort criterion to new files; instead, such files will be placed hap
hazardly, regardless of name, kind and so on. To bring later additions into order, you must use Sort By again.

Two methods for creating aliases and symlinks

If you’ve been using a Mac for a while, you know that an alias is a tiny file that points to – and acts as – another. For example, an alias on your desktop might provide quick access to a file buried in your user folder.

As a Unix-based operating system, OS X also supports symbolic links (also variously known as symlinks or soft links), which are essentially Unix’s version of aliases. You should understand how they differ and how to create both.

Oversimplifying a bit, an alias acts as an enduring reference to an item such as a file, a folder or a volume. If you move the target item, the alias will still point to it. If you rename the target item, the alias will still point to it. OS X ‘remembers’ the original file.

In contrast, a Unix symlink acts as a reference to a particular location. (A symlink is a text file containing the path to that particular location.) When the OS opens a symlink, it reads the file path named in the text file and opens the file at that path. If you move the target item, the symlink will no longer work. If you replace the target item with another one with the same name, the symlink will point to that new item.

Most OS X apps are built to work with aliases. But if an app isn’t a native Mac app, it may see an alias as nothing more than a useless little file. On the other hand, any app can work with symbolic links: As far as the app is concerned, a symlink is its target file. And if you want to replace the original file with a different version, a symlink will still work, whereas an alias won’t.

One app that treats aliases and symbolic links differently is Dropbox. If you put an alias to your personal Library folder (yourusername/Library) in your Dropbox folder, the service will treat it as a document and sync just the alias file.

If instead you put a symlink to that Library folder in your Dropbox folder, the service will treat that symlink as your actual Library and thus sync the entire folder across your computers. Now let’s look at how to create aliases and symbolic links.

13 Create an alias

Select the file in the Finder and choose File > Make Alias (or press Command-L, or right-click or Control-click the file and select Make Alias from the contextual menu).

14 Create a symbolic link

Open Terminal and type ln -s /path/to/original/file/filename /path/to/link/linkname. Let’s say that you have a file named ‘testfile.txt’ located in your Documents folder and you want to put a symlink to that file on your desktop. To do so, type ln -s ~/Desktop/testfile.txt ~/Documents/testsymlink.txt. (If you don’t specify a destination path, the symlink will by default appear in the original file’s directory.)

If you anticipate that you’ll often be creating symlinks, you can use SymbolicLinker (free; seiryu.home.comcast.net), an OS X service that automatically adds a Make Symbolic Link command to the Finder’s Services menu.

Six ways to reclaim disk space

Running out of disk space? It’s easy to do, especially on a laptop Mac that has limited flash storage available. When you need more space for your apps and data, try taking these steps.

15 Empty the Trash

Simply dragging files to the Trash doesn’t free up the disk space that they occupy. To clear the space completely, you must also choose Finder > Empty Trash. (Remember to go back and empty the Trash again after performing the other tips in this list!)

16 Restart

Restarting can free up a bit of space by clearing virtual memory swap files, certain caches and a few other items.

17 Clean out your Downloads folder

Your Downloads folder (at the top level of your home folder, by default) can easily become clogged with clutter. Drag anything you find there that you no longer need to the Trash.

18 Delete duplicates

Don’t waste your Mac’s precious disk space storing multiple copies of the same file. To find duplicates that you may not even know existed, try a utility like Ruotger Skupin’s Chipmunk ($15.99 from Mac App Store) or Hyperbolic Software’s Tidy Up (US$39; www.hyperbolicsoftware.com).

Regain some currently occupied drive space on your Mac by deleting caches.

19 Clear caches

Caches generally help your Mac run faster, so delet
ing them can slow it down – and they’ll quickly rebuild themselves anyway. Still, in a crunch, clearing caches might give you some breathing room.

The easiest way to find and safely delete caches is to employ a utility such as Titanium’s Software’s OnyX (donation requested; www.titanium.free.fr). Otherwise, you can navigate to your username/Library/Caches folder and have at it.

20 Try an uninstaller

Because many apps are not self-contained, a well-designed uninstaller can help you find and delete all of the scattered pieces of unwanted apps that came aboard your system.

‘Arrange By’ 
keyboard shortcuts

21 Take a shortcut

In any Finder window, you can press the following keyboard combinations to sort files by different criteria.



Part 2: 100 More Things Every Mac User Should Know: Desktop & Dock

By Christopher Breen, Dan Frakes, Joe Kissell and Dan Miller, Macworld

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