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10 Things to Love About OS X

I’m sure it will not surprise you to hear that I’m a huge fan of Apple’s OS X. It’s truly one of the most valuable tools in my every day work life, and I’m so much in love that I will regularly bring it in up conversation with my non-geek friends and family. I figured now is as good of a time as ever to evangelize you on the advantages of Apple’s crown jewel.

First, a little background. I was an avid Windows user until the Fall of ’05; truth be told, I really hated Macs before then. I always thought OS X was slow, unstable and just not as powerful as my rock solid copy of Windows XP. However, Apple addressed all of my concerns with OS X Tiger; the operating system had matured with enough powerful features to lure me away from the Windows world I had been attached to for so long.

Let me be clear… I don’t necessarily dislike Windows; I still work in XP almost every day doing debugging, and it’s a fine, generally stable operating system once you’re used to it. I just feel that OS X has grown over the last few years to be the OS that everyone should be using. The user interface is so much more powerful and well thought out that I lose productivity when I have to work on a PC for an extended period of time.

With all of that said, let’s begin the brainwashing process as I outline the 10 ten things that keep me in the “Cult of Mac.”

10 – Stacks

To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of stacks until just a few months ago. They’re basically just expandable icons than sit in your dock acting as bookmarks for commonly used programs and folders.

My feelings changed once I began organizing my new MacBook Pro. I now have a stack for frequently accessed FTPs and a stack for my freelance client directory, both of which save me an average of 10-15 seconds each time I use them. More so, I don’t have to lose my train of thought to open programs and dig through frequently accessed files. I’m a big fan now.

9 – Dashboard

It seems like Mac users are evenly divided between absolute adoration and complete indifference with Dashboard. I fall on the side of adoration.

Dashboard is essentially a separate virtual desktop where you can put a lot of lightweight, but useful widgets (small, simple programs). With a quick click I check out the weather, the radar, see how bad my retirement accounts are doing and see some system performance stats. There are calendars, calculators and other random usefulness for you to download for free. It’s a great productivity booster.

8 – Time Machine

You don’t truly admire Time Machine until it absolutely saves your butt. This has happened to me twice so far.

Time Machine is an awesome backup utility that is new with Leopard. Simply connect just about any external hard drive and with one click it will automatically begin backing up any changes you make to files on your computer every hour. Delete a photo or file by accident? Overwrite an important file? You can quickly jump into the past with Time Machine and avoid crying yourself to sleep at night.

7 – Built-in Screen Sharing

I don’t use this one much, but when I need it, it’s awesome. Essentially, any Mac running Leopard on your network can enable screen sharing and save you some serious legwork. We use it occasionally at Long Hollow to collaborate and critique designs in progress.

Taking it a step further, if you’re using iChat you can share your screen with other Mac users from far away. This works wonders for tech support instead of attempting troubleshooting walk-throughs over the phone.

6 – PDFs From Anywhere

One of the simple pleasures of OS X, you can create a PDF of just about anything straight from the print dialog. You can do this right out of the box with no expensive software to purchase, and you never have to open the bloatware that is Adobe Acrobat. I use this feature nearly every day.

5 – ZIP From Anywhere

Another sweet morsel that goes unnoticed by many Mac users. Simply right click any file and choose “Compress” to create a .zip file that works cross platform. Once again, you can do this right out of the box with no extra software to purchase.

I use this daily to mail files to clients or post downloads on the web. Can I add how much it delights me that the icon has a little zipper on it?

4 – Spotlight

This is one of the huge features in Tiger that wooed me from my warm, familiar relationship with Windows XP. Spotlight basically keeps a running index of everything on your computer (unless you tell it to exclude things). When you click the magnifying glass to search for something, it peaks in that database and gives you accurate results almost immediately. No more watching that little CG dog do back flips while your hard disk grinds away trying to find whatever file you’re looking for.

Making things even cooler, Spotlight organizes your search results by file type and relevance. Oh, and it also works on networked folders and drives, making it a snap to find the files you’re looking for. It’s a tremendous time saver, especially if you’re unorganized.

3 – Exposé

This one’s been part of OS X since Panther, but I use it so frequently that I can’t imagine working without it. Exposé is simple in concept, but infinitely useful in practice.

It does 3 simple things: show you all currently open windows, show you all open windows of the current application, or temporarily hide all open windows so you can see your desktop. If you have a ton of windows open where things get buried, a simple keystroke lets you quickly switch between windows like nobody’s business.

Pair this with a button on your mouse or a track pad gesture (like the new MacBook line) and you have pure productivity bliss.

2 – Spaces

Here’s another love it or hate it feature new to Leopard that I try to evangelize to fellow Mac users. Apple took the virtual workspace paradigm commonly seen in Linux and brought it to the masses.

Spaces essentially gives you multiple monitors without the extra hardware. For instance, I have 4 different desktops that I actively switch between, one for the web, one for email and chats, one for coding and one for design. It helps me stay organized and keep a logical work flow during the day. It’s much easier to concentrate without 20 open windows on your desktop.

1 – Quick Look

Quick Look in Action

This is, by far, the single coolest and most used feature of Leopard to me; I like it so much that they could have shipped with just this feature as an upgrade and I would’ve bought it.

I’d say about 80% of the time I’m looking at a file, I just want to glance at it to grab a quick piece of information. That’s exactly what quick look does; just click a file and hit the space bar to immediately read through it, look at one or several photos, watch a video, listen to audio, etc. No more waiting for programs to load just to glance at a PDF. No opening iTunes or Quicktime just to listen to an audio clip. It makes managing your files so much easier and faster that you legitimately save huge amounts of time every day.

Honorable Mention:

No Viruses – With the exception of a few instances of malware out there (all of which require you to enter your password and enter an open firewall port for them to run), there really aren’t any OS X viruses, adware or spyware to speak of.

System-wide spell check – Most apps you’ll use these days are written in Cocoa, which means they will automatically include spell-checking if you have to enter text. Handy stuff if you’re not a gud spellar!

Secure Empty Trash – Have any sensitive financial stuff on your computer you want to make sure no one can recover when deleted (mortgage worksheets, credit card info, etc)? Hit “Finder” -> “Secure Empty Trash” and the data is written over several times on your Hard Drive so it can never be recovered. Very cool.

Secure Disk Images – Same principle… you can create a 256-bit AES encrypted disk image in the “Disk Utility” app where you can store sensitive information from prying eyes. Heck, if you’re really hardcore you can encrypt your entire home directory with File Vault in System Preferences (just don’t forget your password!). Did I mention that all of this is free and built in to the OS?

So what do you think… Did I miss anything? Do you strongly disagree? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. Joshua P Cody (Reply) on May 14th, 2009

    It’s the little things for me. cmd-option-control-8 to invert screen colors, cmd-shift-3 or cmd-shift-4 for screenshots. Remembering my window sizes. Organization that makes sense. Fast account switching. I love that it does what it does, and it gets out of my way. It doesn’t make me think of how this UI element doesn’t look like that one, and it doesn’t stop my workflow to make me think, “Oh crap, this looks out of place.”

    Things to hate? Finder. Finder. Finder.

  2. Adam (Reply) on May 14th, 2009

    I am with you on #1 – #8 100%

    As far as #9 and #10: I’m not yet a user of stacks (I have a couple useful ones but I can’t seem to convince my brain to look in the dock first for those things. If I can ever start using them regularly, I’d appreciate it, I’m sure. Dashboard was a neat time waster for me the first year or so after it came out. Now I get pissed whenever I accidentally hit F12 and it opens. I wish I could permanently disable it. It hogs valuable memory and CPU that my 4+ year-old powerbook just doesn’t have to spare.

    I’m in total agreement also with Joshua. Well said.

    For me, the single most “Mac” thing that I don’t even realize until I am flipping over to the ol’ XP for web debugging… FONT RENDERING. Macs do it perfectly, and Windows? Its constant, horrific font ruining makes me want to put my eyes out.

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