7 Hidden or Forgotten Features in OS X

Hidden or Forgotten Features in OS X

There are a lot of features in OS X, so many in fact that some don’t get used that often, which is a shame because some of them are really very useful … if you know where to find them.

In this article, we will be going over some of the best productivity hacks with hidden, or at least not very obvious, features of OS X.

1. Make custom keyboard shortcuts

We all know that the key to high productivity on the Mac is an awareness of the keyboard shortcuts for features we use often. It’s much harder and slower to hunt and peck with the mouse than it is to just bash a couple of keys.

But what you might not know is that you can actually make custom keystrokes for your regularly used apps. Go to “System Preferences -> Keyboard” and select the “Shortcuts” tab and “App Shortcuts.”

Make custom shortcuts in OS X.

Say for example you wanted to add a shortcut for Show Snippets Editor in Safari. Click the “+” sign and select “Safari” from the drop-down. Then type in the menu command “Show Snippets Editor,” being careful to spell it correctly. Now choose a keystroke combo, for example “Command-Shift-E.” Then click OK. Now when you press “Command-Shift-E,” the Snippet Editor will pop up.

2. Full screen mode for focus

Since Mountain Lion, in many apps you have been able to go to full screen mode to fill your screen with the current app. This helps you to focus on the job at hand without being distracted by things on your desktop.

Simply press “Command-Control-F” to enter full screen mode. Press “ESC” to return to normal mode.

3. Screen recording for tutorials

You can use Quicktime’s built-in screen recorder to record the contents of your screen to make tutorials for software that you know well. Plug a microphone into the input socket of your machine and set the recording level with the slider. Then simply choose “File -> New Screen Recording.” The drop-down beside the record button will allow you to select the input device. Press “Record,” and everything you say and do will be recorded as a video.

Screen recording for tutorials in OS X.

4. Purge memory

Have you ever wanted to reclaim memory which might be taking up space on your hard drive but you don’t want to restart? It happens that sometimes apps don’t release the RAM they were allocated when they don’t need it anymore, which is why your machine sometimes slows down after being logged in for a few weeks. (Do you reboot often? Most people don’t.) To fix this, you can close all your apps and use the following:

Open a terminal and type:


and any loose memory will be purged or returned to the main pool. Don’t worry this operation is very safe and will not kill anything.

5. Finder labels for getting organised

A good way to give smart folders something to search for is to use Finder labels. Not only can you assign a colour code to folders or files, you can also name the categories and even search for them using smart folders. You can even add your own categories. 

Finder labels for getting organised in OS X.

6. Use the Option key to go to the Library

For safety and security, your user Library folder is hidden to prevent newbie users messing with it. If you want to get to it fast without revealing all hidden folders, or using “~/Library,” you can easily and quickly get there from any Finder screen with one click. Hold down the “Option” key and click the “Go” menu and the Library will now be one of the options.

Use option key to go to Library in OS X.

7. Use Option key for advanced wireless info

The Option key is the Swiss Army knife of keystrokes. It serves many functions and one of the most hidden and least talked about is the Wireless Info page. Click your WiFi icon in the toolbar but hold down the Option key first and you will get a new page of more detailed information about your WiFi including diagnostics.

Use Option key for advanced wireless info in OS X.

Bonus points: Explore using Automator to batch process files, rename, resize, and convert multiple files with a single action. We’ll be going into details about Automator in a forthcoming article, but for now try it out and see what it can do. You can find it hiding in plain sight in your Applications folder.

What cool hidden or forgotten features have you found in OS X? Share them with us in the comments below.

Phil South
Phil South

Phil South has been writing about tech subjects for over 30 years. Starting out with Your Sinclair magazine in the 80s, and then MacUser and Computer Shopper. He's designed user interfaces for groundbreaking music software, been the technical editor on film making and visual effects books for Elsevier, and helped create the MTE YouTube Channel. He lives and works in South Wales, UK.

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