25 essential tips and tricks for Mac owners

Photo: Stephen Lam/Getty Images

Apple has some new MacBook Pros. They’re certainly expensive, and lots of professionals aren’t thrilled with them, but when it comes down to it, they’re great laptops for most people

Regardless of what critics say, though, this is Apple. That means people are going to buy these things. And since these are the most significant refreshes to come to the Mac lineup in years, they’re likely to reel in more than a few newcomers to macOS.

If you’re one of these Mac newbies — or if you’re just coming back from a long Windows vacation — we’ve rounded up 25 handy, not-totally-obvious tricks to help you get the most out of your new Mac platform. 

1. The simplest, and most common, way to speed up your Mac usage is utilise Spotlight. Get there by hitting Command + Space, and you'll can quickly find files, open apps, search the web, and make system-wide searches.

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2. You can also use Spotlight as a calculator, or have it make currency conversions.

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3. If you ever lose your mouse in a sea of windows onscreen, just shake it, and the cursor will automatically enlarge.

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4. Inevitably your Mac will freeze up and force you to quit some apps. There's no 'Ctrl Alt Delete' here -- instead, you hit Command + Option + Escape to shut tasks down the hard way. This is a bit faster than right-clicking on each troublesome app yourself.

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5. You delete files on Mac by sending them to the Trash. Many people do this by manually dragging each file to the little Trash icon. If you want to go a little faster, though, just select a file, and hit Command + Delete.

6. Taking a screenshot on Mac is just cleaner than it is on Windows. At any point, hit Command + Shift + 3 to capture the whole screen, or Command + Shift + 4 to capture a custom portion of the display.

7. You can move windows without bringing them to the foreground by holding Command as you drag it around. This may not be crucial, but a click saved can always be appreciated.

8. If you ever feel like changing which apps load whenever you boot up your Mac, you can go to System Preferences > Users & Groups > Login Items, then add, check, and uncheck whatever you want to prioritise.

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9. Whenever you need an accent mark (or related foreign character), just hold down the appropriate letter, and a list of relevant options will pop up.

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10. We've all had those moments where there's a certain word you want to write, but can't quite remember what it is. If you know you're close, though, just hit Fn + F5 as you're typing something, and you'll get a list of similar words right then and there.

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11. See a word you're not familiar with? If you highlight it and hit Command + Control + D, you can get dictionary definitions and Wikipedia info without having to leave your page.

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12. If you frequently pair Bluetooth headphones with your Mac, at some point you'll have a moment where your music blares from the Mac's speakers instead of your cans. This'll force you to dig into your settings and change your audio output source. To make that process less annoying, go to System Preferences > Sound and check off 'show sound in menu bar.' You can then change the volume from said menu bar, and hold Option while clicking on the icon to quickly change the source.

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13. Speaking of the menu bar: It's a powerful tool, but it does eat up screen space. If you want that space back, you can make it so the menu bar only shows up when you scroll toward it. To do so, go to System Preferences > General, then click 'Automatically hide and show the menu bar.'

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14. If you do keep the menu bar around, though, you can rearrange the icons within it by holding Command and dragging them around. You can also use this to remove certain icons off the menu bar completely.

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15. If you're only working on a couple of things, you can take them into a cleaner, Split View layout by holding down the rightmost (or green) button at the top of a given window.

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16. It won't be for everyone, but the built-in 'Hot Corners' setting lets you clear the windows off your desktop, open the Mission Control page, or set your display to sleep, among other tricks, just by moving your mouse to a certain corner of the page. You can experiment and see if it'd speed up your workflow by going to System Preferences > Mission Control, and selecting 'Hot Corners...' at the bottom.

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17. This isn't necessarily a pro tip, but generally speaking, don't sleep on Preview. Apple's built-in image editor is one of the most underappreciated aspects of macOS. If you need to resize, annotate, or change file type for your images, just know that you may not need to buy Photoshop.

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18. Along those same lines, make use of Apple's QuickTime Player. If you need to record whatever audio or video is playing on your screen, for instance, you don't need to download any third-party software.

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19. If you want to adjust your Mac's volume, but only by a little bit, hold Shift + Option as you hit the Volume Up or Down buttons. This will change it in smaller increments. You can get similarly granular control with your screen's brightness, too.

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20. You can also take more control of how you resize windows. Instead of taking two swipes to stretch something horizontally and vertically, you can hold Option + Shift while you resize, which lets the whole thing grow and shrink proportionally at once. It's a minor thing, admittedly, but it's another way to save time.

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21. Another minor, but useful thing: In Finder, you can rename files and photos in bulk, rather than changing each one manually. Just highlight what you need, right click, select 'Rename (X) items...', and enter your new info into the naming tool that pops up.

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22. You can also create custom keyboard shortcuts to use for certain apps. Go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts, click the '+' icon to add an app, then add your shortcut function and corresponding keypress from there.

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23. The latest macOS Sierra update put Apple's Siri voice assistant to PCs. It's weirdly similar to Spotlight today, and it's still incredibly awkward to converse with in public, but it still works for voice searching the web, finding photos, or looking through files and messages. You can see it in the dock or menu bar.

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24. The other semi-useful addition built into Sierra is a picture-in-picture mode. It only works with Safari, and not every video site supports it, but when it works, it can help you maximise your space. Just know that it's not immediately visible on YouTube -- there, you have to right click on a video twice to bring up the option.

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The third splashy feature of macOS Sierra is 'optimised storage,' which lets you save space on your Mac by letting Apple automatically send unused files to iCloud. This is very useful in theory, but having to pay for iCloud isn't, and the feature itself will sometimes delete things you don't necessarily want to lose. For now, I'd pass.

25. Let's close with every Mac nerd's best friend: Terminal. Though macOS is pretty fast on its own, a few modifications of your system's animations can make the whole thing feel just a little bit quicker.

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As IBM developer Patrick Mullins notes, you can disable window opening and closing animations by entering 'defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSAutomaticWindowAnimationsEnabled -bool false', or cut off animations when opening an app from the dock with 'defaults write com.apple.dock launchanim -bool false.' There are others, but just be sure you know what you're entering before going too wild with your system.

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