Macs are fantastic machines for allowing users to customize their workspace quickly and easily, without needing to download freeware applications. Unfortunately, many people donít realize all the nifty little features packaged into the OS X software (all references and images in this article are from the Panther Operating System, or version 10.3.9). Letís take a look at two of the panels in the preference window.
To start, first open the System Preferences. It can be found on the Dock or in the Applications folder. Preferences are divided into five categories. Clicking on any of the icons will open a new preference window, allowing easy changes.
The Dock is one of those Mac creations that PC users donít appreciate until theyíve used it. Though Windows machines have had a similar feature for some time, the Mac version is fully customizable, and, wellÖjust more fun! Unobtrusive and convenient, the Dock allows for one-click access to favorite programs and files.
Adding and deleting programs from the Dock is as easy as click-and-drag. Locate the program to be added (typically in the Applications folder), then click and drag the program onto the dock. The icons on the dock should shuffle around, making room for the new program. Deleting is equally as simple. Click the Dock icon to remove and drag it off of the Dock. It should disappear in a cloud of smoke.
Within the Dock Preferences folder, several options exist to customize the appearance and function of the Dock.
As referenced in the photo below, the Dock Size scale allows the user to increase or decrease the amount of screen space allotted to the Dock.
Checking the Magnification box turns the mouse into a virtual magnifying glass each time it moves over the Dock, making small icons on the Dock easy to see. This is a great solution for people with crowded Docks. Reducing the Dock size allows room for more programs to be added to the Dock, while Magnification makes it simple to see all the icons when needed.
The Dock can be placed on the left or right side of the screen, as well as the default bottom location. Though any location can work, typically the bottom length of a monitor is greater than the sides, allowing the Dock more space to expand, and hold more icons.
The Genie Effect is the standard animation used when a program is minimized. When the Yellow Minimize button is clicked, the dock sucks the window down into a spot on the dock, similar to a genie disappearing into a bottle. By contrast, the Scale Effect simply reduces the window until it is small enough to fit on the dockónot nearly as fun, but just as practical.
Finally, the last two boxes offer even more options. The first controls the animation of the Dock icons when a program is opened. When this box is checked, the icon will hop up and down while the program is opening. The second box, when checked, will hide the Dock off to the side of the screen when it is not in use. To show the Dock when it is hidden, simply move the mouse to the bottom of the screen (or the side, if thatís where the Dock is kept) and the Dock will happily pop up for use.
Expose is a neat feature that allows the user to set the Active Screen Corners to perform a variety of functions. Depending on computer habits, some people may find the features Expose provides more annoying than helpful. As I am designing or writing, however, I often have multiple programs up and running at one time, and Expose allows me quick and easy access to all of them at once.
As evidenced in the pictures below, the Expose panel shows a miniaturized version of the computer screen and pull-down menus for each of the four corners.† The All Windows feature is my favorite. By rolling the mouse all the way into the corner (in the example pictured below, the upper right corner) all the open windows on the screen are shrunk and tiled on the screen, allowing the user to click on the one they want brought to the front of the screen. Rolling the mouse over the tiled windows highlights them and shows the program or file name.
Application Windows performs the same function, but only with the windows associated with the active program. This is convenient when writing or reading several emails at one time and need to jump back and forth between one or two.
Desktop will clear off all the windows and allow access to items on the desktop.
Start Screen Saver and Disable Screen Saver are relatively self-explanatory, starting and stopping the screen saver feature with the simple roll of the mouse.
Beneath the Active Screen Corners is an area where the same features can be assigned to various keys, for even quicker access. Shortcuts using mouse clicks can also be set, though with most standard Mac mice lacking in extra buttons, this feature is better accessed through the screen corners or keyboard.
The best advice is to set up some active screen corners and take a test drive! Since they can be changed and removed easily (especially now that you know how!) try all the different corners. Depending on how your desktop and dock are set up, some corners may be more practical than others, and the only one who can figure that out is you. Thankfully, the Apple people have set up the features for you to use, now itís up to you to take advantage of them.