My favorite Mission Control trick

Earlier today I was lucky enough to recored an episode of Mac Voices with Chuck Joiner. We talked about Mac OS X Lion and its new features. During the discussion I shared my favorite Mission Control trick, which lets you quickly shuffle trough a stack of windows within a single app. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Invoke Mission Control. [1. By default, Mission Control is opened by a bottom-to-top, three-finger swipe. However, I’ve assigned it to a hot corner. Old habits die hard.]
  2. Identify the app with several windows open (in the image above, it’s Microsoft Word).
  3. Mouse over each window in the stack. You’ll notice a blue focus ring appears on the window the cursor is “touching.”
  4. Hit the Space Bar.

As you do, a preview of each window will move to the front. When you’ve found the one you’re after, hit Return to return to the desktop with that window front-and-center.

This has been possible in the Finder with Command-Tab (to bring the target application up front) and Command-tilde (to cycle through an app’s open windows), but I’d argue that the Mission Control method takes exactly the same amount of time, if not a little bit less. Try it and see.

Loving Mac OS X Lion’s Dictionary

Dictionary apps aren’t sexy. Even Apple’s Mac app “Dictionary” doesn’t get stage time during press events. Yet, Dictionary is among the top reasons to buy Mac OS X Lion. Features like Wikipedia integration, multiple dictionaries, gesture support and multiple word views make Dictionary a pleasure to use. Here’s why you ought to get excited about a dictionary application.

Multiple Dictionary Options

With Lion, Apple has updated Dictionary’s “New Oxford American English” dictionary to the third edition of 2010 (previous versions used an edition from 2005). There are two thesauruses and six dictionaries to choose from:

  1. New Oxford American Dictionary
  2. Apple Dictionary
  3. Japanese Synonyms
  4. Japanese-English
  5. Japanese
  6. British Oxford Dictionary of English (also 2010 3rd edition)

Select the ones you’d like to use via the app’s preferences, and re-order them to determine how they’ll appear in the app’s toolbar.

Once you’ve made your choices and gotten the order just so, you can re-name each label in the app’s toolbar:

  1. Control-click (or right-click) the dictionary’s name.
  2. A contextual menu appears. Select “Edit Label.”
  3. A new sheet appears. Enter your custom label and click OK.

That’s it! If you change your mind, Control-click the label again and select “Revert to Original.”

New Two-Pane Display

Apple has given Dictionary a sidebar, similar to that in iPhoto and iTunes. Now, you can see the word you looked up as well as a list of similar and derivative words. Also, Lion’s dictionary shows every reference to your target word across all resources at once. Snow Leopard made you click between dictionaries, etc. one at a time. Below is a look at Dictionary in Lion (top) and Snow Leopard (bottom).

Gesture Support

Hover your cursor over a word and double-tap with three fingers to reveal the dictionary entry for that word. I use this feature often.

Lion’s Dictionary is a huge upgrade from its predecessors. Check it out if you haven’t.


AirDrop’s problem

Ryan Cash points out the trouble with AirDrop. Unlike file sharing with iChat via Bonjour or even popping something in a shared Dropbox folder, you can’t share something via AirDrop unless your recipient has AirDrop up and running.

 “With AirDrop, you’d have to either:

  • ping them on iChat (or another messaging client) and ask them to go on AirDrop
  • yell out loud “Go on AirDrop!!!”
  • fly a paper plane or carrier pigeon their way with the same message

AirDrop adds an unnecessary step to the file-sharing process that could be eliminated if people within 30 feet of you just showed up without needing AirDrop open.”

Hadn’t thought of that, but it’s a problem.

Taking Your OS X Lion to the Max now available

I’m pleased to announce that my latest book, Taking Your Mac OS X Lion To The Max, is now available. It was co-authored by myself, Mike Grothaus and Steve Sande.

Our book walks you through the awesome features and apps standard on the Mac and the new OS X 10.7 Lion to help you become a true power user. You’ll discover keyboard shortcuts and gestures to help save time–whether you’re on a iMac, Mac mini, Macbook Pro, Air, or other Mac computer.

Beginning with the core of OS X – the Finder – Taking Your OS X Lion to the Max outlines many of the new features and powerful revisions that make Lion the best version of OS X yet. My colleagues and I spent countless hours with Lion to show you how to fully leverage your Mac and the new OS X.

Check it out, and see what Lion can do.

Jump right to full-screen Quick Look

You can force Mac OS X’s Quick Look to present a full-screen preview with the Option key. Here’s how. With a Finder window open, hold down the Option key and the Quick Look icon in the tool bar will turn into what looks like a “play” button, with a right-facing triangle inside a square. With your file selected, Option-click the icon for a full-screen preview via Quick Look.

If clicking Finder window buttons isn’t your style, try this. Select the file, and then hold down the Option key while you press the Space Bar. Again, Quick Look will offer a full-screen preview.

I just discovered this behavior this morning and thought I’d share. I tested on both Snow Leopard and Lion, and it worked on each.

Add custom flag labels to Mail in Lion

Mail, Apple’s email client that ships with Mac OS X Lion, features colored flags that can be used to highlight and group messages. There are seven to choose from: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple and Grey. To assign a flag to a message, simply open the message and click the flag button in the toolbar. By default it will apply the currently-displayed color to that message. To select a different color, click the black disclosure triangle on the right (see below).

That’s great, but labels like “Red” and “Green” aren’t very descriptive. It would be better to apply a custom label, like “Soccer” or “Budget.” Fortunately, you can! Here’s how.

First, you must assign at least two different flags to (at least) two messages. Once that’s done, a “Reminders” area will appear among the mailboxes list on the left [1. If it’s not there already.]. Click the disclosure triangle to reveal a list of the message you’ve flagged (see below).

Next, right-click (or Control-click) on one of the flags and select “Rename Mailbox…” from the contextual menu. The flag’s name will then be ready to accept your edit! Type the new name, hit Return and you’re done.

Note that the message count depicted next to my green flag above (“4”) represents the number of messages with a green flag, not their read/unread state.

Comparing Time Machine and Versions

Recently, my colleague Mel Martin questioned some of the choices Apple’s designers made with Mac OS X Lion’s Versions. First, it looks a lot like Time Machine, which could confuse novice uses. Also, those who haven’t used Time Machine or Versions at all might be completely thrown by the “star field,” receding desktop and more.

In this post, I’ll compare and contrast Time Machine and Versions. Here’s how each application is launched, used and put away when finished. Finally, I’ll describe the similarities and differences in appearance. Let’s start with Time Machine.

Time Machine

Apple’s automatic backup software was introduced with Mac OS X 10.5, Leopard. Once enabled, it creates hourly, incremental backups of your entire Mac to an external drive (or a remote drive, if you’re using a service Dolly Drive). While it has limitations (Time Machine backups are not bootable and control over what’s backed up is limited), it’s a great option for many home users. Here’s how it works.


To begin, simply connect an external drive to your Mac via Firewire or USB [2. Or a Time Capsule.]. If it’s a new drive, Time Machine will ask to use it as a back up destination. Confirm the choice and you’re done. The first backup will take place shortly thereafter and subsequent backups will be scheduled automatically.


Here’s where Time Machine gets most useful. To enter recovery mode, click the Time Machine icon in your Finder’s menu bar [1. To enable the menu bar icon, open System Preferences and then click Time Machine. Next, select Show Time Machine Status in Menu Bar.] and select Enter Time Machine. Your desktop and all open application windows will recede off the bottom of your screen and you’ll enter what Apple calls “the star field.” See below.

How Time Machine Looks

There are four main features:

  • The version history, represented by a “stack” of windows.
  • The cancel button, date and Restore button along the bottom. The Cancel button lets you exit Time Machine, the Restore button will replace a lost file(s) while the centered date and time represents the point at which the frontmost file was saved.
  • Two navigation arrows for moving one window at a time.
  • A time line, which highlights various “jump points” in the backup history.

In the image above, you see a “stack” of Finder windows, each representing a certain point in time. In this instance, the Desktop is selected. By moving from one window to the next, you can browse the Desktop’s contents as they existed at various points. There are several ways to navigate.

  • Click any window in the stack to jump right to it.
  • Use the navigation arrows on the right to move one window at a time in either direction.
  • Mouse over the timeline on the far right to highlight various “jump points” in the Desktop’s save history.

To recover a file or set of files, click once to make your selection, then click the Restore button on the lower right. The Desktop will re-appear and place that file(s) just where it used to be.


While Time Machine lets you go “back in time” to find nearly any file on your Mac, Versions restricts that process to a single file’s version history. It looks very similar to Time Machine, with a few subtle differences. Before I get into that, let’s look at launching Versions.


First, you must be using Versions-compatible software on Mac OS X Lion. Much of Apple’s own software fits the bill, like Pages, Numbers, TextEdit and Preview. Third-party developers are coming on board, too. For example, Byword now supports Versions.

When Versions is and isn’t available

Before you can browse a document’s version history, you must designate a permanent save location. Lion’s Resume feature automatically saves a copy of compatible documents as you create them, even if you haven’t designated a permanent save location for that file by selecting Save from the File menu. For example, open a TextEdit document, type a few lines and then quit the application without saving. Finally, re-open TextEdit, and your file will re-appear intact.

At this point, there is no version history to browse. To create one, simply save the document. Once that’s done, you can enter Versions. Here’s how.

  • Click the document’s menu bar just to the right of its title.
  • A small, downward-facing triangle appears. Click it.
  • From the drop-down menu, select Browse All Versions…

From there, the star field will appear as it did with Time Machine and Versions is open.

How Versions looks

Again, Versions looks very similar to Time Machine. However, there are several differences. See below.

First, the single “stack” has been replaced by two. On the left is the current version of your document. On the right, its stacked version history.

The right-hand side features a click-able timeline, just as Time Machine did.

Along the bottom are two text fields and two buttons. First, the text fields. Beneath the current version of your document on the left, the field reads “Current Document.” The field on the right bears the date and time that the frontmost version was saved.

Two buttons also appear. The one on the left is labeled “Done” and allows you to exit Versions. The button on the right is labeled “Restore” and does just that.

You can restore an entire document or just a portion. To grab the whole thing, simply bring it to the front of the stack and click Restore. The Desktop will re-appear and that older version will be “dropped” onto the current version. To restore a portion, select just the bit you’re after then click Restore.

A note on locked documents

Versions lets you lock a document, preventing further edits. You can browse the version history of a locked document and even perform a restore. Just note that restoring a locked document to a previous version will unlock it.

Final comparison

These two solutions do look very similar and undoubtedly appear quite foreign to the novice user. Just understand that Apple is trying to emphasize the experience of “traveling back through time” to find an older version of your file(s). Specific differences include:

  • The number of “stacks” presented front-and-center. Time Machine shows one; Versions shows two.
  • The buttons and text along the bottom. Time Machine shows two buttons (Cancel and Restore) plus one text field (date and time). Versions offers two buttons (Done and Restore) plus two text fields (Current Document and the date of the frontmost historical version).

I hope this alleviates a little confusion around these admittedly similar applications, both in appearance and function. If there’s anything I missed, please let me know.

Three reasons to use Twitterrific

Instead of writing a long-winded review, I’ll opt for simplicity with three reasons to use Twitterrific. You’ll find more mini reviews here.

Not since the Cola Wars of the 1980’s has the world seen such an epic battle for consumer dollars. The Great Twitter App Wars of the early 2000’s have spawned debate and some fantastic apps for iOS and Mac OS X. My favorite is Twitterrific. Here are three reasons to use the recently-released Twitterrific 4 for Mac.

  1. Color coding. Many people have publicly posted a tweet that was meant to be a direct message. Twitterrific lens a hand by color-coding your tweets, both sent and received. Direct messages are blue, mentions are brown and your own tweets are green. Timeline tweets are either black or white, depending on the theme you’ve selected. Best of all, a direct message is a darker brown than a tweet that simply mentions you. All of this makes it super easy to see what’s what at a glance.
  2. The collapsable sidebar. The Twitterrific sidebar displays lots of useful information, like tweets, messages, mentions and favorites, plus saved searches, lists and trends. I like to run it fully collapsed, so that only each function’s icon is visible (see above). It saves a lot of space on my MacBook Air’s little display.
  3. Multiple timelines. From the Timeline menu, select New Timeline (Command-T) to open a new window to follow a second (or third, etc.) account. For those of you who must monitor more than one account at a time, this works well. Otherwise, you can keep one window open and use Command-J to toggle between accounts. Note that the paid version is required for multiple account support.

There’s much more to this app, and I suggest you check it out here. Asking people about their preferred Twitter client has nearly become as personal as religion. Dozens of options exist, some differing only slightly, so you’ve got to find that one aspect that wins you over. For me, it was these three.

More on Mac OS X’s Downloads folder

Earlier today I explained why I dislike Mac OS X’s Downloads folder. Several of you wrote to propose solutions. Here are two of the good ones.

Damien at KABIJET recommended the Safari extension Glims which lets you store downloaded files to folders named with the download date. That’s nice, but it means that files are still stored out of sight.

Meanwhile, Connor shared a great suggestion:

“Although you can’t sort [by date downloaded] in the Finder, if you have the Downloads folder as a stack in your Dock, you can sort it by ‘Date Added,’ rather than Date Modified or Date Created.  I’ve got it set up this way, and the newly-downloaded items appear first.”

Very nice, and that’s what I’m going to try. This way I’ll see the downloads folder and be able to search easily when processing. As a bonus, my desktop remains uncluttered.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to reach out to me. Who says I don’t allow comments?