Friday 16 January 2009

Take a bigger bite out of your Apple

How to get the most out of OS X

Recently I stumbled upon an article about Google's latest desktop search interface, the Google Quick Search Box for Mac. This looks like an interesting new tool that could be of some use - and it's quite refreshing after Chrome's PC-only launch to see Google launch something only for the Mac. I was more intrigued to read though, that it's made by the creator of the OS X quick launching application, Quicksilver. Quicksilver is something I'd read a little about before, and I soon started digging via some links on the page to find out more. Quicksilver is one of a growing set of applications that are designed to make your life easier, but are completely new types of application - and therefore very hard to get your head around. If you tell me you've got a great new spreadsheet or diary application, I can easily picture what that is, but if you say you've got a launcher, the thought that occurs is "What the heck is that? Why would I want one?". Quicksilver had definitely caught my interest but I'd never quite got my head round it. Which brings me to the main point of this post:

I would like to highly recommend The Apple Blog if you've ever been interested to get more out of your Apple Mac. Myself, ever since I moved from Windows to Mac 2 years ago, I've thought that OS X offers far more effective ways of getting things done than Windows; unfortunately though, 15 years of using Windows has drummed the Windows way of thinking so heavily in to me that I find it hard to know how to do things "the Mac way". I have had the nagging sense that I'm just using it like Windows and missing out on quite a lot. If you've ever had these kind of thoughts, or are just interested in moving from "beginner" to "power user" then I think you will find this site to be a veritable gold mine.

Let's begin with Quicksilver. The Apple Blog make a variety of screencasts, and thanks to their excellent Quicksilver for Beginners screencast, I completely understand what Quicksilver is, and how it could save me a vast amount of time, doing things in a few keypresses instead of squirreling through multiple hierarchies of folders to find what I want. If a picture speaks a thousand words, then a video must speak a million! And if that wasn't enough, they also have further guides and tutorials on Quicksilver, and many many posts on advanced features too.

But it's not all about Quicksilver. You can learn a lot about the features that you already have in OS X from reading The Apple Blog. Did you know that Spotlight can be used as a calculator or a dictionary? Did you know that you can hit spacebar on any item to preview it? Did you know that this feature (Quick Look) has other useful abilities too? Like previewing all the images in a folder, or activating a slideshow?
Or maybe you want to learn a bit more about the command line and how it can help you achieve things more quickly - e.g. by using "textutil" to convert files between different formats, such as to prepare an e-book for your e-book reader. Perhaps you've reached the point where you want to install some other pieces of software that can give you more than the ones that Apple ship. In that case, you might be interested to know that there are at least 16 different browsers available for the Mac, or you might like to look at this list of 5 recommended background apps for your MacBook.

Perhaps you're a parent. Do you know how to take advantage of Parental Control settings in OS X? Would you be interested in an application to help you improve your vocabulary?

If you've been experimenting with virtual machines or running Windows alongside OS X on your Mac, you may be interested in the latest update to Parallels which can run Windows 7 on the Mac

If you're a blogger, and you liked the screencasts on the Apple Blog, you might like this tutorial on how to create your own screencast.

Maybe you've recently jumped on the iPhone bandwagon and are mourning the loss of the ability to send picture messages, you may find this article useful. GTD (Getting Things Done) enthusiasts with iPhones might also like to take a look at Daylite, a GTD app for the iPhone. There's also a Top 5 iPhone apps of 2008

Another topic that the Apple Blog dedicates a lot of time to is the idea of metadata, or tagging, as it is more commonly known. OS X allows users to add tags to every file, and with the help of a couple of applications you can download, you can start using tags instead of folders to organise your files, something I've been wanting to do for a long time. If you'd like to be able to quickly find your files based on what they relate to without having to know what folder there in, you may well find something of value in the Apple Blog's metadata series [1,2,3,4,5,6] or this screencast about using TagBot to tag your files.

The Apple Blog has over 40 contributors and so it also has a great selection of opinion pieces such as a comparison of Apple & Microsoft sales models or speculation about the future of the MacWorld Expo shows. They also have regular news round-ups so you can keep up with what's happening with all things Mac.

All in all, The Apple Blog is a site I'll definitely be adding to my RSS reader and going back to time and again. I hope if you're a Mac or iPhone user that you find it as interesting and useful as I do.

Comment: In case anyone should think otherwise, I have not been paid or rewarded for this post and I am not connected with the Apple Blog - I found the site genuinely useful and wanted to do more than just say "this is great, take a look" but rather to give some specific examples of the interesting things you can find there. Enjoy!