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Working on the Mac OS X Desktop

Excerpt from Que Publishing's Mac OS X Snow Leopard In Depth By Paul McFedries

An excerpt from Que Publishing's Mac OS X Snow Leopard In Depth

The Mac OS X Desktop
When you start your Mac and log on to your user account, the first thing you will see is the Mac OS X desktop, which takes up the entire screen as shown in Figure 1.1. The default desktop is fairly sparse with only the Dock at the bottom of the screen and the menu bar at the top. This relative emptiness won't last long, however, because as you use Mac OS X, the desktop gets populated with icons, Finder windows, other application windows, dialogs, and the other objects that are part of day-today life in the Mac universe. This chapter introduces you to all the main features of the Mac OS X desktop, so you'll have a solid base from which to explore the rest of the system in the chapters that follow.

Working with Mac OS X Menus
One of the features that makes Mac OS X so easy to learn and use is the menu system. The menu bar that runs across the top of the desktop never moves, and the vast majority of the time it remains visible no matter how you move or size your open windows, so you always know where to find the menus. And although the left side of the menu bar changes depending on which application you're currently using, Mac OS X and its applications offer a remarkably consistent set of menus.


This will help reduce the learning curve in all your OS X applications. The next few sections take you on a tour of some of these common menus. The Mac OS X Apple Menu The Apple menu--marked by the apple icon in the top-left corner of the screen--is a crucial part of the Mac OS X interface, not only because of the familiarity of the apple icon, but also because this menu provides you with continuous access to a specific set of commands that doesn't change whether you are working on the desktop or within an application. The Mac OS X Apple menu contains the commands listed in Table 1.1.

Mac OS X Application Menus
The menu items on the left side of the Mac OS X menu bar (except for the Apple menu) change depending on which application currently has the focus. For example, if you're working in Finder you see seven menus: Finder, File, Edit, View, Go, Window, and Help, as shown in Figure 1.2.

If you then switch to, say, Safari, the menu bar changes to show the eight menus associated with the Safari web browser: Safari, File, Edit, View, History, Bookmarks, Window, and Help, as shown in Figure 1.3.

These menu sets are called application menus. The application menus provide the commands you use to control the application in which you're working. A standard set of commands is consistent among all Mac OS X applications--such as Cut, Copy, and Paste on the Edit menu--but specific applications can have additional commands on their Application menu. Every Mac OS X program has its own application menu located immediately to the right of the Apple menu. This Application menu always uses the name of the application itself. For example, Finder's Application menu is called Finder (see Figure 1.2), while Safari's Application menu is called Safari (see Figure 1.3).

The following commands are standard on every Application menu:

  • About Application--This command, where Application is the name of the active application, displays version information about the application. Some About windows also provide links to support sites, the publisher's website, and so on. The About Finder command displays the version of Finder you are using.
  • Preferences--You use the Preferences command to set the preferences for an application. For example, you can use Finder's Preferences command to control specific properties of the desktop.
  • Hide Application--This command (where Application is the name of the running application) hides the current application.
  • Hide Others--This command hides all the running applications except the current one. This is useful if your desktop is cluttered with other application windows and you'd like to clean things up a bit to help you concentrate on the current application.
  • Show All--This command unhides all previously hidden applications.

Note: Hiding an application removes its windows and its menu bar from the desktop. The application continues to run and any processes that are under way continue. You can also minimize application windows, which places open windows on the Dock; the application's menu bar continues to appear while the application is active, even if its windows are minimized.

The Application menu of every program (except Finder) also contains the following commands:

  • Services--This command provides commands that enable you to work with other applications from within the current application. For example, if you're using the TextEdit word processing application, its Services menu contains several commands that use the Grab application to capture something on the screen. After you capture the image, it's automatically pasted into the current TextEdit document. The commands available on the Services menu depend on the applications installed on your Mac and how those applications support the Services menu.
  • Quit Application--This command (where Application is the name of the current program) shuts down the application. Finder's Application menu (Finder menu) also has the Empty Trash and Secure Empty Trash commands, which are unique to its Application menu:
  • Empty Trash--This command deletes any files or folders located in the Trash.
  • Secure Empty Trash--This command deletes files located in the Trash and overwrites the disk space where those files were stored, so they can't be recovered. Because the Secure Empty Trash command overwrites disk space, it takes much longer to execute than does the Empty Trash command (however, because it works in the background, it shouldn't slow down your work).

Note: The Mac OS X Compress command is one of the most useful Finder commands. This command enables you to create compressed files from any folders and files on your Mac. Even better, Mac OS X supports the ZIP compression format, which is the standard, native compression format on Windows computers. You no longer need a separate application to compress files. You can also expand any Zip file from the desktop by opening it.

Mac OS X File Menus
The File menu contains commands that enable you to work with files, folders, and discs. The specific commands you see on an application's File menu depend on the application. Most File menus have the New, Open, Save, Save As, Print, and Page Setup commands. Many other commands might appear on the File menu as well. Finder's File menu offers the commands listed in Table 1.2.

 

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