How To: Use OS X Yosemite’s Finder Preview Pane

A neat feature in Yosemite that I haven’t seen mentioned much is the new Preview pane in the Finder. If you display this, you’ll see a preview of whatever item you’ve selected in a Finder window. (This is new in icon view; it has existed for years in column view.)

Here’s an example:


I’ve got three files in the folder above, and I’ve displayed the Finder preview pane by pressing Command-Shift-P, or choosing View > Show Preview. I selected a file, and you can see a preview of it; in this case, it’s an audio file, and you can see its artwork, size, duration, date information and more. If you hover the cursor over it, you’ll see a play button; you can play the music. If you have certain types of text files, you’ll see forward and back buttons, and you can view their content.

You can change the size of the preview pane, but not by much. And it doesn’t play well if you use a colored background; by default, I have all my Finder windows set to use a blue background, and it looks a bit odd when the preview pane is visible, as there’s no visible separator between the two sections.


But this is a useful feature, one you may not want to leave on all the time, but one that you’ll toggle when you want to glance at different items in a folder without selecting them and pressing Command-I. It doesn’t display as much information, but what it does show might be enough.

How To: Use Dark Mode in OS X Yosemite

OS X Yosemite features a dark mode option. If you turn this on, your menus, Dock and application switcher (the bezel that displays when you press Command-Tab) will be black, and not translucent.

To activate this, open System Preferences, then click on General. Check Use dark menu bar and Dock.


You can see above what the menus look like. I don’t find this very usable; the contrast is too harsh (it’s always harder reading light text on a dark background than the contrary), and many menu extras don’t display correctly, including some of Apple’s. But if you like this interface, it’s just a click away.

Yosemite Tip: How to Turn Off the Annoying Translucency

One of the big design features in OS X Yosemite is translucency, also known as “blurring the interface for no reason other than because it looks cool.” It does look cool; for about five minutes. After that, it’s just annoying. It’s hard to see things clearly, especially in menus. There’s no justification for this in a user interface, other than the fact that it may look cool.

Fortunately, you can turn it off, but the setting isn’t in an obvious location. Open System Preferences, then click the Accessibility icon. Click Display, then check Reduce Transparency.

Note that the correct term is translucency, not transparency. Apple did use the correct term in the earlier betas, and uses the word translucency on its website, but for some reason they changed it here.

Have a look and see how much easier Yosemite is to use when you can’t see through windows and menus.

Is Apple Trying to Do too Much Too Quickly?

I recently wrote about Apple’s string of bad luck, with bad press, a bad keynote stream, the U2 album spamming fiasco, and, above all, the iOS 8.0.1 update that bricked a lot of users’ iPhones. If I were to go back in the archives of this website, I’d find other, similar articles about blunders when a new OS was released requiring an update quickly for some embarrassing problems, or when hardware issues that shouldn’t have happened plagued many users. (Remember AntennaGate?)

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as much of my work depends on Apple’s product cycle. When there is a new version of OS X or iOS, I, along with many of my colleagues, have lots of articles to write. When there’s a new version of iTunes, I update my Take Control of iTunes book. It’s great to have new things to write about, but the annual release cycle is becoming problematic for many reasons.

I’ve increasingly had the feeling that Apple is finding it difficult to keep up with all these releases, and that quality is slipping. This generally isn’t the case with hardware – no, the iPhone 6 doesn’t really bend, unless you apply a lot of pressure to it – but rather with software. Bugs abound; shoddy releases are followed by broken updates. On the latest episode of The Committed podcast, Ian Schray, Rob Griffiths and I were discussing the fact that Apple just released the OS X Yosemite GM Candidate. Back in the day, the golden master was the final build that was sent to the company that pressed CDs or DVDs. There was never a “GM Candidate,” but just one GM release. I think it was with OS X 10.9 that Apple issued a GM, followed by a GM 2; this is something that should never happen. Final should be final.

Right now, with iOS 8, the Health app was delayed on release because of some unspecified bugs. iCloud Drive doesn’t seem to work very well on iOS, and it’s caused problems because it’s not available on Mavericks; anyone turning it on on their iPhone or iPad will find that they cannot access their documents on their Mac. (Though, by some oddity, there is a Windows version of iCloud Drive, which apparently works.) iOS 8 is buggy, crashes a lot, has Wi-Fi issues and more. And Family Sharing, according to some of my colleagues, is problematic as well. (I’ve not tested it yet.)

Back in 2007, Apple had to delay the release of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard because it needed more developers to work on iOS. You get the feeling today that something similar is happening: that the company simply can’t scale to handle two operating systems released around the same time.

On Daring Fireball yesterday, John Gruber said:

“From the outside, it seems like Apple’s software teams can’t keep up with the pace of the hardware teams. Major new versions of iOS aren’t released “when they’re ready”, they’re released when the new iPhone hardware ships. On Twitter the other day, I suggested that perhaps Apple should decouple major iOS feature releases from the iPhone hardware schedule. That’s probably untenable from a marketing perspective, and it might just make things more complex from a QA perspective. But something has to give.”

The problem is that, now, iOS and OS X are inextricably linked. A number of iOS features aren’t available, at least not fully, because OS X 10.10 Yosemite isn’t out yet. Being married to a release cycle based on hardware, not software, makes sense for iOS – certain features of the mobile operating system depend on new hardware features in iPhone and iPads – but it makes less sense with OS X, which does not have an annual hardware update cycle.

Yes, something has to give. Apple is great at showing us how wonderful our world will be with new products, but they’ve been less successful lately at delivering on their promises. It’s time for Apple to take a step back, slow down, and get things right, instead of just getting things shipped.

Change Screen Resolution on Headless OS X Server

I recently set up my old Mac mini as a server. I replaced it a few months ago with a Mac Pro, and wanted to muck around with OS X Server, taking advantage of some of its features, especially centralized Time Machine backups and software download and update caching.

I set up the server, but, since I’m running it headless – with no attached display – I could only view it in one resolution using OS X’s screen sharing feature. If the Mac mini runs headless, the GPU, not detecting any display, doesn’t activate.

There’s a way around this, however, and it’s pretty simple. I bought this CompuLab HDMI Plug with Remote Desktop Access, or 4K Display Emulator (the name is different on the two Amazon sites, and Amazon UK). This $25/£21 dongle fits in the Mac mini’s HDMI port, and emulates the presence of a display. With this attached, there are a number of different resolutions, from 1360 x 768 to 4088 x 2304.


I’ve chosen a low resolution, since running it at, say, 4K resolution makes interface elements so tiny that I can’t do anything. The only downside to me is that all the resolutions are 16:9; I’d have preferred something with less width.

This is a really simple solution to an annoying problem. If you’re running a headless OS X server, you should definitely get one of these. It will make your life a lot easier.

Oodles of Great Ways to Manage Email

If there’s one daily chore that cries out for automation, it’s managing your email inbox. Fortunately, there are all kinds of tools–some built into itself, others from third-party vendors–that can help you do just that.

In my latest (collaborative) Macworld article, seven of us – myself, together with colleagues Christopher Breen, Katie Floyd, Dan Frakes, Matt Gemmell, Topher Kessler and David Sparks – discuss automation tricks we use to manage our email. I cover email rules, and using email to store my favorite tweets. Read the entire article to learn new ways to make your email more productive.

LaunchBar 6.1 Released with a Sixth Superpower

LaunchBar is the first tool I install on a new Mac. I like it so much, I wrote a book about it: Take Control of LaunchBar.

As I say in my book:

“I’ve been using LaunchBar for nearly as long as it has been around on the Mac. It’s the first utility that I install on every new Mac; with LaunchBar installed, I can get on with everything else I need to do.”

In this book, I outline LaunchBar’s five superpowers: Abbreviation Search, Browsing, Sub-search, Send To and Instant Send.

Today, Objective Development has released LaunchBar 6.1, and, with it, a sixth superpower: the Staging Area.

As Objective Development points out, “Staging is a technique that allows you to create multiple selections in LaunchBar and to act on all of these items at once.” Instead of just acting on a single file in LaunchBar, you can select multiple items from any location. And then you can do things like:

  • Select multiple files and send them via email.
  • Or archive them into a ZIP file.
  • Or move them to the Trash.
  • Select a couple of songs or albums and play them in iTunes.
  • Select a series of emoji, and insert all of them in one go.
  • Send one or more files to multiple email recipients.
  • Launch a bunch of apps at once.
  • Open a number of web bookmarks.
  • Perform a web search on multiple search engines simultaneously.
  • And more.

Here’s an example. I’ve used LaunchBar to search in my iTunes library, finding a few Miles Davis songs I want to listen to. They’re each in different locations, and searching in iTunes would have taken a lot longer. Here, I just sub-searched all my Miles Davis songs; each time I found one I wanted, I pressed Shift-Down-arrow to add them to the staging area. I then pressed Shift-Right-arrow to view the staging area’s contents:


I can now press Return, and send these items to iTunes, which will add them to my LaunchBar playlist.

But, as you can see in the list above, there’s so much more you can do. Grab the latest update to LaunchBar – if you already use LaunchBar, invoke the bar (most often this is by pressing Command-Space), click on the rightmost part of the bar to view the LaunchBar menu and choose Check for Updates.

If you haven’t yet used LaunchBar, grab a 30-day demo from the LaunchBar web page.

And to learn more, check out my Take Control of LaunchBar.

If you already have a copy of the book, the update for LaunchBar 6 is just about finished. We were waiting for the release of LaunchBar 6.1 to be able to finalize it.

Make the Cursor Larger in OS X

I use a 27″ iMac on my desktop. Given the size of the display, I found that it was easy to lose track of where the cursor is. There’s a little-known setting in OS X that lets you change the size of the cursor from the default tiny to humongous, or anywhere in between.

Go to System Preferences > Accessibility, and click on Display.

<img src=”; alt=”big-cursor” width=”669″ class=”aligncenter />

Slide the Cursor Size slider to the right. Normal is the default tiny cursor size; Large is pretty darn big. As you can see, I don’t increase it a lot, just enough to make it a tad more visible. Try different sizes and see if it helps you spot the cursor more easily.

Use the Mac App Store Debug Menu

This isn’t new, but my son stumbled on something today. His Mac App Store app displays a Debug menu. When I looked this up, I find traces of it as far back as this 2011 post on the Red Sweater blog. Daniel Jalkut’s article ends with this statement:

“Enjoy it while you can. I’m sure it will be gone in the next update, especially if anybody at Apple sees this post.”

Well, three and a half years later, it’s still there.

App Store001.png

To display this menu, open Terminal and enter the following command and relaunch the Mac App Store app:

defaults write ShowDebugMenu -bool true

(My son never entered the Terminal command, so I suspect there’s also a secret keyboard shortcut that turns on this menu.)

To remove the debug menu, choose Debug > Enable Debug Menu, which unchecks that menu item. Relaunch the Mac App Store app and it will no longer display.

So what can you do with this menu? Well, you might want to clear cookies, if you’re having trouble downloading items, or you might want to view the download folder, to delete it, again, if downloads are not working. And the Reset Application menu item might be a last resort if you can’t download apps, get updates, or purchase apps.

Much of the rest of the menu is about debugging and logging, and these might be useful for Apple’s tech support team.

So this menu doesn’t offer many useful commands, but some might help if you’re stuck trying to purchase or download apps from the Mac App Store.

Stop Safari from Asking You if You Want Notifications from Websites

Are you annoyed by Safari asking you if you want to get push notifications from some websites? Here’s how you can turn those messages off.

Safari for OS X has a feature called Push Notifications, which lets you get notifications on your Mac – banners or alerts – when a web site wants to let you know about a great new article. I find these quite annoying, and I’ve turned them off, but I realized recently that a lot of people don’t know how to keep Safari from displaying the dialog.

When you go to a website that uses this feature, you’ll see a sheet in Safari like this:


It’s annoying to have to click Don’t Allow each time you land on a website using Push Notifications, but you can turn these dialogs off in Safari’s preferences. Choose Safari > Preferences, then click on Notifications. Uncheck the option at the bottom, Allow websites to ask for permission to send push notifications.


If you’ve already allowed certain websites, you’ll still get notifications; you just won’t get asked any more. And you can remove any of the websites that have asked – whether you have allowed or denied these notifications – by selecting them in the same window, then clicking Remove, or nuke them all by clicking Remove All.