Control a Mac remotely
There are dozens of ways of controlling a Mac across the internet, which you might want to do to schedule a recording, start a download and so on. You could try LogMeIn, or share a desktop using Google Hangouts and Skype; you could try port forwarding the built-in VNC client in OS X, but our favourite - and the easiest - is Back to My Mac, managed through iCloud.
So long as the remote Mac is on, logged into an account tied to your iCloud login (through System Preferences) and connected to the internet, it should appear under Shared in your Finder sidebar. (If it doesn't, hover over Shared and click Show; if Shared isn't there, look in the Finder's preferences.)
Click Share Screen… to control the Mac over the internet, as if you were sitting in front of it. (It might make more sense to go Full Screen to stop yourself getting confused!) Check out the options in the menus and toolbar.
Alternatively, click Connect As… to log into the Mac to copy files from and to it. If you have a recent AirPort Extreme with a hard disk attached, or a Time Capsule, then you can access those files similarly; make sure your router is logged into iCloud using AirPort Utility
Talk to and listen to your Mac
Your Mac is just as good a listener as it is a talker, though. Not only can you control your Mac using Speakable Items (check the Accessibility pane) but in OS X 10.8 you can also dictate text anywhere you would type. By default you just press the Function key twice and then start talking.
We know, we know - who wants to run Windows? But sometimes it's handy, whether to play the latest games or run some niche piece of software that has no Mac equivalent. You can either run Windows alongside OS X with a virtualisation app such as VMware Fusion, Parallels Desktop or VirtualBox, or partition your hard disk to install Windows on to run it full-bore on your hardware using Boot Camp Assistant (in your Utilities folder).
Add clips from websites to Dashboard
Remember Dashboard? Introduced with 10.4, this overlay holds 'widgets' that can perform handy little tasks - Apple still hosts a catalogue of them atapple.com/downloads/dashboard. One oft-forgotten trick is that you can make your own widgets by clipping from web pages. The best bit is that the web page remains live. Here's how to do it (we're going to clip out some cricket scores, but it will pretty much work for any part of any site).
1. Navigate to the page you want to clip a section from in Safari. (It has to be Safari, not Chrome, Firefox or whatever.) You can clip out information that's essentially static - say, a list of keyboard shortcuts you want to refer to - or stuff that's changing all the time.
2. Go to the File menu and choose Open in Dashboard…; now you can mouse over sections of the web page, and it's usually smart about snapping to appropriate areas. If not, just click then drag the handles. Once you're done, click Add at the top right.
3. Once the clipping has been added to your Dashboard, you can click the i at the bottom right to flip it round. Here you'll see options for the frame; pick the one you like. The web clipping should update anyway, but if you need to force a manual refresh, click it, then tap Command+R.
Type exotic characters
As well as letters and symbols you see on your keyboard, you can type a bewildering array of special characters. You may already be familiar with typing accents such as for café (in that case you either type Option+E then E again or, on OS X 10.7 or later, hold down the E until you get extra options) but you'll find there are many more.
Go to the Edit menu of most apps and you'll see Special Characters at the bottom. This panel gives you access to a huge range of symbols you can drag into your documents. Not all apps or operating systems support them, but these are mostly part of the cross-platform Unicode standard. There are probably more than you see at first, too; click the cog to reveal more.
Emoji (those fun, colourful characters available in OS X 10.7 or later) are a notable exception to this cross-platform world. They're not Apple-only, but your recipient might not be able to see them.
You can record videos of your screen; you might want to record a problem or make instructional videos about using apps on your Mac. Open QuickTime Player and from the File menu choose New Screen Recording. Click the little drop-down arrow to pick the audio source and to choose whether or not to show mouse clicks in the recording. Now you can pick to record either the full screen or just a selection, and once you're done, you can do the usual things - trim, upload to YouTube, AirDrop it to another Mac, or import it into iMovie for more precise editing.
Zoom into the screen
Want to see something up close? Hold the key and scroll up with your mouse or trackpad. If that does nothing, check the option is enabled in Accessibility, where you will also find options for smoothing and whether you want the whole screen to zoom in or just show you the zoomed area in a little window within your Mac's screen.
Slow down animations
Lots of visual effects on your Mac can be slowed down either to help you better understand what's going on, or just so you can go 'oooooh, pretty!'. Hold down Shift when, for example, minimising windows, triggering Mission Control or Launchpad, and you'll see the effect.
Use custom icons (plus, exporting icons to use elsewhere)
Back in the day, we all seemed to be adding custom icons to every folder on our system, but it appears to have fallen out of fashion a bit. But it shouldn't have, because it's a great way to personalise your Mac and makes it easier to identify folders and other stuff at a glance. Below, we'll show you how to do it, but here's a bonus tip as well.
If you want to copy icons to use them in documents, for example, it's really easy with Preview. Select the item with the icon you want in the Finder and then tap Command+C. Switch to Preview and tap Command+N (which is New from Clipboard) and you'll see the icon appears in all the different sizes. Pick the one you want (usually the biggest) and then export it to whatever format you need - PNG is often best as it retains the transparency - and drop it into your document.
1. The first step in changing a file or folder's icon is to find what you want to change it to. Search the web (try interfacelift.com). Go to /System/Library/CoreServices and then right-click CoreTypes.bundle and choose Show Package Contents; you'll find great system icons including Apple hardware in Resources.
2. Once you've found the item whose icon you want to copy - whether it's a file, folder, app or whatever you like - you need to get further information on it; either go to the File menu and choose Get Info or just hit keys Command+I. Now, click on the icon and tap Command+C.
3. The next step is to paste the icon onto the folder or whatever it is you're personalising in a similar way. Opt to 'Get Info' on it, select the icon and then tap Command+V. If you later want to clear the tweaked icon, then you can select it in this Get Info window then tap .
Quickly, smartly and elegantly import with Image Capture
If people sometimes overlook Preview's power features, they almost always ignore Image Capture completely. Before you clog up your system with bloatware apps and drivers for digital cameras and scanners, though, try Image Capture - it's in your Utilities folder. With this you can control most modern scanners (or the scanners in multifunction printers) both wired and wirelessly, and import from digital cameras, including iOS devices.
Pop up the panel at the bottom-left for extra options; it's here, for example, that you tell your Mac what app should launch when you connect each of your devices (including 'none') so you could launch Aperture when you connect your SLR, say, but launch nothing when you dock your iPhone.
Annotate PDFs and images
Preview has some fantastic tools built into it for annotating images and PDFs. And, what's best of all is that the annotations it adds to a PDF are based on a standard that's compatible with Adobe's PDF app, Acrobat, which is used by Windows users and companies - so it's easy to share annotated documents with colleagues.
Make sure the Edit Toolbar is visible (from the View menu) and you'll see you've got options for drawing shapes, arrows, speech and thought bubbles and more. There's also the option to highlight text in different colours, strikethrough some text, add notes and type some text into boxes.
Sign your documents
In OS X 10.7, Preview gained the ability to add your signature to documents. To get started, go to the Signatures tab in Preview's preferences and then click the +. Now, sign your name in black ink on a small piece of white paper and hold it up to your Mac's webcam. Line it up and click Accept (making sure the 'Save this signature' option is checked if you want to use it in the future). Now open a document you want to sign, pop up the Edit Toolbar and click the signature icon - it looks like an S on a line next to a tiny x. Draw a box to add your signature on the form. You can scale and reposition it afterwards too.
Crop, resize and edit images
Preview is one one of the most underappreciated apps on a Mac; especially in later versions of OS X, it became hugely powerful, and even for us at MacFormat, it does much of what we'd traditionally use a more elaborate and expensive application such as Photoshop for. Do yourself a favour: open an image in Preview and poke around the app's menus and interface to see what it can do.
For example, you can crop your image. Draw a selection with the regular Rectangular Selection tool then either hit Command+K or choose Crop from the Tools menu. Alternatively, show the Edit Toolbar and make a more complex selection either with the Instant Alpha tool (like in iWork) or use the Smart Lasso. With this tool, you draw as carefully as you can around the outline of the object and then Preview works out as closely as it can where the edges are. In either case, cropping will, if the image isn't already a PNG, convert it so that you can have the thing you're cutting out on a transparent background. (You might need the Invert Selection command, too!)
You can also resize images, and even do some tweaks to the colours with the Adjust Color pop-up. Select Adjust Color… from the Tools menu, and you get some handy sliders and a histogram to help you tweak things. Plus, hit the backtick symbol (to the left of Z on a UK Mac keyboard, and to the left of 1 on a US Mac keyboard) to bring up a loupe so you can see what's happening at 100% as you make changes.