As various family members and friends are switching to Mac, I thought it was a good time to think of some juicy hints or tips. I know that part of the point of Mac is that they "just work", and you don't need to tinker with them. But at heart I'm an optimiser, so I've not stopped trying out small utilities to improve the Mac, when I switched 3 years ago.If you want some evidence, just look at my Mac's status menu, which lives at the top right of the screen. This area shows many of the utilities running all the time in the background, and is pretty similar to Window's system tray down in the bottom right. I've got so many things running there, I've had to break the screenshot into two parts:
I'm going to start by looking at the things that could make a big difference to you immediately. (I'm running version 10.6 of the Mac operating system, known as Mac OS X. I guess you are too, but if you're using an earlier version, then some of these might not work. But you really should be using v10.6 ...)
Spanning Sync that syncs both iCal with Google Calendar and Address Book with Google Contacts, and therefore helps between iPhone and laptop too. It extends Google's own sync capabilities, allowing multiple calendars (a must for me), and some other benefits too. $25/year (though you can get it with $5 off, which also gives me $5 off next time).
Dropbox is the well-known utility that syncs your files online and across your computers automatically. It's possible to use this for backup, but I suggest MozyHome (below) is better suited for that task. Where Dropbox wins is the range of ways you can get at the data, and you can let others get to parts you want very easily. With 2GB for free, or 100GB if you pay.
MozyHome is a handy set-it-and-forget-it backup system that sends your data to 'the cloud'. I backup all my most important small files using it (so no pictures or videos). This icon animates when a backup is in progress. You can get 2GB storage for free, or pay $5/month for unlimited storage.
I'm one of many who try to use the keyboard instead of the mouse wherever possible, because it's normally quicker. LaunchBar is a tool that gives near instant access to applications, documents, contacts and calendars, bookmarks, iTune tracks, and everything else from the keyboard. If I want to lookup someone’s phone number, I just press Ctrl-Space to invoke the program, type the first few letters of their name, and their contact info is displayed. Definitely quicker than opening Address Book, and then searching for that person. I think it's worth the €25, but you can try it for a month or so for free.
Who likes lots of adverts, particularly animated ones, on their web pages? I certainly don't, so I find GlimmerBlocker very useful. This works under the hood on the Mac, stopping web pages making requests to known advert servers, and the bonus is that it works from whichever web browser you want to use.SmartSleep is a preference pane that dynamically sets the sleep state of your machine depending on the battery load. This allows for quicker 'sleeps' most of the time, but if the battery level drops below a certain point (by default less than 20%) it will switch to sleep and hibernate. If the battery is less than 5% charged, it will hibernate fully, to make sure no data is lost.I also find it really handy to have the date on the screen, not just the time. A quick trip to System Preferences > Date & Time > Clock tab, and you can turn on the "Show Date" option. There are some other things you can fiddle with, including showing an analogue clock.