Mac OS X Tiger/The Desktop


File:Tiger Desktop.png
Fig. 1 - The Tiger Desktop.

If you think the Mac desktop looks good enough to eat, you're not alone. The Mac desktop is arguably the prettiest in the business, with translucent accents and candy-colored graphics. But what do the things on desktop actually do? This chapter explains the two main elements, the Dock and the Menu Bar, in full detail.

The DockEdit

File:Tiger Dock.png
Fig. 2 - The Dock. Since the Dock is highly customizable, the one shown here may not look exactly like yours.

The ribbon of icons at the bottom of the screen is called the “Dock”. It combines many of the elements found in other operating systems into one compact little bar. Let's take a look at what the Dock can do and how it can do it.

If you look carefully at the Dock, you’ll see it’s cut in two by a thin, dark line. Each side of the Dock does very different things.

The Left SideEdit

We’ll start by looking at the left side. All of the icons in the left side of the Dock are for various applications (programs). You can do two things with these icons:

  • Launch Applications - If you click on an unopened application’s icon, that application will launch (open) right then and there. The icon will bounce as the application launches.
  • Switch Between Open Applications - If an application is already open (indicated by a tiny black triangle under the icon or a blue dot), clicking its icon will "switch" to that application (bring its windows out in front of all others).
  NOTE: The Applications you see on your Dock actually live in a special folder on your hard drive (called the Applications folder), which you'll learn more about in Chapter 3. The applications appear on the Dock as well for your convenience.

Of course, you get to pick which applications appear on your Dock. Apple starts you out with a few it thinks you’ll like, but you're encouraged to pick your own. Let’s say you’re a frequent user of Adobe Photoshop. Rather then root through your Applications folder every time you need to open Photoshop, you can put its icon on your Dock, so you can open it with just one click.

How does one go about doing this? To add an application’s icon to the Dock, you simply drag it out of your Applications folder and drop it over the Dock where you want it to appear. The icons already in the Dock even scoot out of the way to make room! The application is still in the Applications folder as always, but now also appears in the Dock for quick access.

To remove an application that you don’t want on your Dock anymore, simply drag its icon outside of the Dock and drop it anywhere, and it will evaporate in a puff of cartoon smoke (remember that the real Application is unaffected). You can also reorganize icons already in the Dock by dragging them horizontally. This doesn't work if an application is running, which we'll get to later.

  NOTE: If the icons in the Dock refuse to budge, then the most likely explanation is that the “Administrator” (owner) of your computer has banned you from customizing your Dock.

It's also important to know that whenever you open an application that’s not usually in the Dock, its icon appears in the Dock temporarily. When you quit the application, the icon automatically disappears. This is the single most confusing thing about the Dock. Why does Mac OS X do this? Remember that the left side of the Dock not only lets you launch applications, but also switch between ones that are already opened. If you can't switch between every open application, regardless of whether they're used enough to warrant a permanent spot in the Dock or not, then the Dock fails as a good application switcher. While this is a bit difficult to understand, think about it carefully until you see how it makes sense.

The Right SideEdit

Having discussed the left side of the Dock, it's time to look at the right side. The right side has absolutely nothing to do with switching or launching applications; its duties are much less important. It has four tricks up its sleeve:

  • The Trash - The right side of the Dock has a little trash can icon glued into it. Covered fully in Chapter 3, this icon is used to delete files on your Mac.
  • Files - Just like the left side of the Dock lets you keep your favorite programs handy, the right side is the perfect place to park your favorite files and folders. You can drag files in and out just like you would an application in the left side of the Dock. To open a file or folder in the Dock, simply click on it.
  • Links - In addition to files, the right side of the Dock can keep links to your favorite websites handy. Adding a link is as simple as dragging it into the right side. To remove a link, which looks like a circular springboard bearing an "@" sign, simply drag it out.
  • Windows - When you minimize a window, a little thumbnail appears in the right side of the Dock. Minimizing is explained in the next chapter.

  TRICK: If you right-click an icon in either side of the Dock, it will sprout a menu with some nifty options. The options vary dramatically depending on what the icon is. For instance, the menu for the iTunes icon will let you control the music that’s currently playing. Or how about if you right-click a folder in the right side of the Dock? The menu contains commands for quick access to every single file in that folder. Experiment and see what other menus you can discover!

Customizing the DockEdit

Now you understand the Dock’s many abilities. But as if choosing which icons go in your Dock isn’t enough, you can even modify the appearance of the Dock itself! If you want really fine-grained control over the Dock, you’ll need to delve into something called System Preferences, detailed later on in its own chapter. But many tweaks can be performed right from the Desktop.

A majority of the Dock controls on your Desktop reside in the " > Dock" menu up in the Menu Bar. These include:

  • Turn Magnification On - When you select this, your Dock responds with a neat “bulge” effect as you move your cursor over it. You’ll either love it or hate it. If this option is already active, it's replaced with “Turn Magnification Off”, which, as you might guess, turns the effect off.
  • Turn Hiding On - If you have a small monitor, you’ll love this feature. It makes the Dock disappear completely unless you let your cursor rest right next to the edge of your screen where your Dock is. The Dock will then temporarily pop out so you can work with it. If this option is already active, it's replaced with “Turn Hiding Off”. You can also toggle this option on and off using ⌘⌥D.
  • Position on Left, Position On Bottom, Position on Right - These three options let you select where on the screen the Dock appears. A checkmark appears next to the currently selected one. Most people leave their Dock on the bottom, but some people prefer their Dock on the side.
  • Dock Preferences - A handy shortcut to Dock Preferences (part of System Preferences).

But there's one option you can't adjust in the " > Dock" menu, and it's possibly the most important. If you would like to adjust the size of the Dock, click and drag the thin dividing line in the Dock up (to enlarge) or down (to shrink).

  TRICK: If you hold down Shift while dragging the dividing line, you can change the position of the Dock on screen.

The Menu BarEdit

The thin, white, strip running across the top of the screen is called the "Menu Bar". It's a very important part of Mac OS X indeed. It contains a large number of commands and options, organized into "menus". Read on to learn more.

Using MenusEdit

File:Tiger Finder Menu.png
Fig. 3 - A menu in the menu bar.

If you've used a computer before, you'll know that menus are lists of items (usually commands or options) which the user can choose from, just like a menu at a restaurant is a list of meals which a customer can choose from. Menus are found in many different places in Mac OS X, but by far the most popular place is in the Menu Bar.

The Menu Bar is a unique Mac OS X feature. In other operating systems, every window has its own menu bar. This causes a lot of unsightly clutter and wasted space, since you can only use one window's menu bar at a time anyway. So Apple designers gave the Mac one big Menu Bar at the very top of the screen. Depending on what window you are working with, different menus appear in the Menu Bar, alongside certain menus that appear no matter what you are currently doing.

Each menu in the Menu Bar is identified by a word or symbol. These are called "titles". The title of the menu in Fig. 3 is "Finder". Click on a menu's title, and the menu appears directly underneath, somewhat like a pull-down window shade. The menu will stay open until you a) choose a command by clicking on it, or b) close the menu by clicking elsewhere. If one menu is already open, you can switch to another menu simply by rolling your mouse over any other menu's title.

If a command in a menu can be activated using a keyboard shortcut (or "keystroke"), then the keystroke appears to the right of the command itself. As you can see, the keystroke for activating the command "Hide Finder" in the menu shown in Fig. 3 is "⌘H".

  NOTE: For information on how to execute a keyboard shortcut, see the "Shortcut Shorthand" section on this wikibook's main page.

A few more menu tips, in no particular order:

  • Commands that open dialog boxes or sheets always end with an elipsis (...).
  • Some menus are hierarchal; that is, a menu can be nested inside another menu. These nested menus are called "sub-menus", and are marked by small arrows.
  • Some commands found in menus toggle on or off when you choose them. A checkmark next to the command's name indicates that it is "on".
  • If a command is not applicable at the moment, it appears dimmed. If all commands in a menu are not applicable, the menu's title appears dimmed, but you can still open the menu to take a peek at what it contains.
  • Sometimes (but rarely), a few commands in a menu change slightly when you hold down a modifier key. For instance, the "Minimize" command in most applications' "Window" menu turns into a "Minimize All" command when you hold down the Option key.
  • If a menu is too large to see all at one time, arrows appear at the top and bottom. Roll over an arrow, and the menu will "scroll" through the availible options.

The Menu Bar from Left to RightEdit

Now that you know how to operate menus in the Menu Bar, we'll go across the Menu Bar from left to right and look at each menu you'll see.

The  MenuEdit

File:Tiger Finder Menu Bar.png
Fig 4. The left side of the menu bar.

At the far left side of the menu bar is the  menu, which is represented by a blue Apple logo. It contains twelve items relevant to the entire Mac environment, and is always visible. The commands within let you turn off or restart your computer, log out, tweak some settings, update your software, etc. Here's a complete list:

  • About This Mac - This opens a dialog box with a few bits of information about your Mac. The dialog box also has a button that opens System Profiler, a utility that can tell you the exact specifications of your Mac.
  • Software Update - A link to Software Update, a dialog box which, oddly enough, is for updating your Mac’s software.
  • Mac OS X Software - Takes you to a special page on Apple’s website expressly for downloading Mac software, most of which is free.
  • System Preferences - Opens System Preferences, (See Chapter 7).
  • Dock - A menu within a menu. This was discussed when we talked about the Dock, earlier in this Chapter.
  • Location - This is used in networking. (See Chapter 9).
  • Recent Items - A list of recently used files and applications.
  • Force Quit - If an application is misbehaving and refuses to quit, you can "Force Quit" it to pull the plug on it and let it die. Choosing this command opens a small force quit dialog box, which presents a list of running applications. Choose the one you want to force quit and press the pulsating blue "Force Quit" button to finalize your decision. When you're finished, close the dialog box and get on with your life. This is a safe procedure, and it won't affect Mac OS X as a whole or any other applications you have running.
  TRICK: If you hold down Shift, this becomes Force Quit [Current App], which Force Quits the app that you are using.
  • Sleep, Restart, Shut Down - These are pretty self-explanatory. They make your Mac sleep, restart, or shut down.
  • Log Out [Your Name Here] - If you have multiple accounts on your Mac (See Chapter 8), you can log out and let someone else onto your Mac with this command.

The Application MenuEdit

To the right of the  menu is the Application menu. This menu's title is the same as the name of the application you are currently using. For example, if you're using iTunes, the menu is called “iTunes". The menu contains commands relevant to the application itself: you can find information about it, quit it, hide it, and adjust its preferences.

Other MenusEdit

Next to the Application menu are a few other menus containing commands for application you're currently using. While every app uses a different set of menus, there are some menus used often throghout most programs. This section lists the six most commonly used menus (from left to right in the most common order) and the kind of commands you're most likely to find in them.

File MenuEdit

The File menu contains commands pertaining to an individual file that you're working on. You'll find commands related to creating new files and opening, closing, saving, and printing ones that are currently open.

Edit MenuEdit

The Edit menu contains commands pertaining to an application's data, and the clipboard. You can use the edit menu to:

  • Undo and Redo actions you perform
  • Select All of a window or text field's contents
  • Insert special characters such as é,æ,€, and ⌘
  • Manipulate the contents of the clipboard, which helps you move content between windows and applications.
    • Cut - Removes the selected data and puts it in the clipboard, overwriting whatever was on the clipboard before.
    • Copy - Makes a duplicate of the selected data and stores it in the clipboard, overwriting whatever was on the clipboard before.
    • Paste - Inserts the contents of the clipboard into where you are currently working. The contents of the clipboard remain, so you can paste the same thing multiple times.
    • Paste and Match Style - Found in some text-editing applications, the Paste and Match style command pastes the text and adjusts its style to match the style of the surrounding text.
    • Delete - Deletes whatever is selected (the contents of the Clipboard are unaffected).

Format MenuEdit

Text-editing apps often include this menu for adjusting the formatting (appearance) of text. However, this menu is often changed beyond recognition in non-Apple applications, which insist on using their own set of commands in totally different places. The Apple-sanctioned commands for this menu are:

  • Format selected text with different fonts, sizes, colors, and effects
  • Copy the style of one block of text and "paste" (apply) the exact same styling to another block
  • Adjust alignment and the window's ruler (if the window indeed has one)
  • Copy the ruler (alignment settings) of one block of text and paste it to another

View MenuEdit

The View menu contains commands that let you choose what you see on your screen and how you see it.

<Other Menus Go Here>Edit

Applications that use menus not described in this chapter always stick them here, between the View menu and the Window menu.

Window MenuEdit

This menu contains commands for managing all of an application's open windows (windows are explained in more detail in the next chapter). You can:

  • Minimize and Zoom windows
  • Bring all of an application's windows to the front of the stack, with or without arranging them for easy access

The window menu also contains a complete list of windows for the current application. Choosing a window brings it out in front of all others. The frontmost window is marked with a check, minimized windows are marked with a diamond, and windows containing unsaved changes are marked with a circular dot.

Help MenuEdit

The Help Menu contains commands for opening the help system for the current Application.

The GapEdit

This white space separates everything explained above from everything explained below.

The Menu Bar ExtrasEdit

The menus on the right side of the menu bar look a little bit different, since they consist not only of words but of symbols. These are called “Menu Bar Extras”. Menu Bar Extras are always in your menu bar, and let you do things like change your computer's sound volume, see the time, view your laptop’s battery life, etc. Coverage for them is scattered throughout this Wikibook.

  NOTE: If there isn't enough room on your screen to show the complete contents of the menu bar, the menu bar extras are temporarily hidden to make room.
File:Tiger Righthand Menu Bar.png
Fig 5. The right-hand side of the menu bar. You can customize it with different menulets, so yours may not look exactly like this one.

The Spotlight MenuEdit

Finally, at the far right of the menu bar, is the Spotlight menu, which looks like a little white magnifying glass in a blue circle. It lets you use Spotlight search technology, a new feature in Tiger, and is covered in the next chapter. Next Chapter ->


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