03 December 2011

I do a few things to every OS X installation to make them more useful. Most of the things I mention below are things you can do to OS X itself, some are third party applications that are generally useful. I hope they help you, but really I'm listing them here so I don't have to rediscover this stuff again next time I'm doing a fresh OS X installation. ;-) My hope is that these are general, generic and useful enough to be applicable for everybody, not just software developers with a penchant for photography like myself. I've put all the things I could remember here, but I'm sure I've probably forgotten a few, too. I'l follow up if I think of anything.

  1. Enable Remote Login Go to System Preferences > Sharing > and then enable Remote Login. This will give you SSH access to your machine, which of course should need no justification.
  2. Add a Login menu to the Finder Go to System Preferences > Users & Groups > and select the Login Options item on the left, with the picture of the house next to it. Then, choose Show Input menu in Login Window and select Show fast User Switching Menu as [Full Name]. This is useful as a quick way to lock the screen, as well as change accounts. You can, of course, use Hot Corners to trigger the login screen, but I found I kept accidentally triggering them.
  3. Show a Full Date Go to System Preferences > Date & Time > and then choose Show the day of the week, Show date, Use a 24-hour clock, and Display the time with seconds. I also uncheck Flash the time separators.
  4. Make the Dock Less Obtrusive Go to System Preferences > Date & Time > and select Minimize windows into application icon, Automatically hide and show the Dock, and Show indicator lights for open applications. Finally, drag the divider - it looks like a broken, vertical line that narrows towards the top - between the dock and the rest of the icons and make the dock as small as you're comfortable seeing with and could still reach with some accuracy with a flick of the mouse.
  5. Know Your Shortcuts While OS X's Finder is pretty shortcut-phobic, it does have some pretty useful ones.
    Home Directory   COMMAND + SHIFT + H
    Applications Directory   COMMAND + SHIFT + A
    Utilities Directory   COMMAND + SHIFT + U
    Desktop Directory   COMMAND + SHIFT + D
    Computer window   COMMAND + SHIFT + C
    For more, consult this useful Apple support doc.
  6. Clean the DockRot Drag Everything on the dock away that you're not absolutely sure you're going to need. I try to keep mine as an indicator of the applications that are open, so I remove about everything except the Trash, Launchpad, and Mission Control. There are lots of ways to still get to your often used applications. You can of course use something like Spotlight, but there are even better (albeit third party) tools like QuickSilver and Alfred that can make all applications trivial to access. I know I implied I wasn't going to mention third party applications, so let me also remind you that you can get at your applications very quickly by using Spotlight or the two commands mentioned above - COMMND + SHIFT + U (for the Utilities folder) and COMMAND + SHIFT + A (for the Applications folder).
  7. Disable Spotlight Since I don't ask much of the Dock, and since I use things like Alfred or Quick Silver, it's useful to reuse Spotlight's keyboard shortcut for those alternative application switchers. While there are a lot of ways to disable Spotlight more effectively, for my purposes it is enough to simply disable the key command and render Spotlight partially inert. Go to System Preferences > Spotlight, and uncheck every checkbox there under the Search Results list. Uncheck the two options below, Spotlight menu keyboard shortcut and Spotlight window keyboard shortcut.
  8. Speak Truth (About) Power You can view detailed information about your Mac's power consumption (if you're on a laptop variety) by going to System Preferences > Energy Saver and then selecting Show battery status in menu bar. In the menu bar, right click on the power icon, and choose Show > Time (to see how much time you've got left before the charge runs out) or Show > Percentage to see how much battery power you've got left.
  9. Switch Resolutions on the Fly I end up plugging into projectors and into various monitors a lot in my work, so keep in mind this might be more valuable to me than it is to you. Go to System Preferences > then select Show displays in menu bar. This will install a menu in the menu bar that you can use to quickly switch resolutions and access monitor settings.
  10. Install a better browser I've always installed as many browsers as possible. It used to be because I wanted to have a better developer-friendly tool to develop web applications with, or because I wanted to have a browsers to test the rendering of my web applications, but these days I'd recommend anybody do it because the default browsers in all operating systems usually leave something to be desired. OS X and Safari, in my humblest of opinions, is no different. I'm using Chrome pretty happily these days, but that's not to say you need to. Next week Firefox might be back on top again! Who knows. Either way, get yourself a better browser.
  11. SWitch it up Switching between applications with the COMMAND + TAB shortcut in OS X is tedious. If you are using an application like Chrome which can have multiple document windows, then you will simply be returned to the application itself, not any specific document in that application. Similarly, if you have minimized a window, COMMAND + TAB'ing to that window will not "activate" and focus on it. So, I sought another option and the intertubes pointed me to Witch. It fixes all of these problems, and more, although be warned it costs (USD $14, as of this writing).