Mac Hacks & Windows Wins
Mac tips written by Teo Xin Hui; Windows tips written by Cheryl Soh
It's a brand new school year and with it, comes brand new computers as students begin looking for a new machine, either to get them through university, or to replace their ageing workhorses (my personal MacBook Air had been trudging along for a full 8 years 🥵).
Whatever the reason, I'm sure more than a few of us (myself included) took advantage of Apple's annual back to school promotion this year to get a new laptop (and a free pair of AirPods!) And what better time than now to share a few tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your Mac! Whether you've just joined the Mac community or have been around since annual macOS releases were still named after big cats, I hope you'll find at least some of these to be genuinely useful.
#1. Enabling 3-Finger Drag
This is a feature that I deem essential to the Mac experience and it boggles my mind that this is not enabled by default. It is, without exception, the first thing that I recommend my friends enable when they get a Mac for the first time. So, if you take anything away from this article, let it be this, because I guarantee you that after enabling this trackpad gesture, you'll wonder how you ever got through life without it.
This setting, by itself, is relatively unassuming — it enables you to drag (and drop) pretty much anything using three fingers, forgoing the need for a click. In essence, it simulates clicking and dragging with a single gesture, making it far more seamless and effortless.
It is difficult to convey through writing — or even through video — just how much this gesture makes the mundane action of clicking and dragging easier. It's just one of those features you really have to experience yourself in order to truly appreciate.
Despite being an incredibly useful and beloved feature, for reasons unknown, Apple has decided to bury this setting under Accessibility settings since OS X El Capitan, instead of keeping it housed together with all the other trackpad gestures. But fret not, we've got you covered. Here's how to enable this setting:
Go into System Preferences > Accessibility.
Scroll to and select Pointer Control from the options on the left.
Click Trackpad Options.
Check the box for Enable Dragging and from the pop-up menu, select three finger drag. Click OK.
Moving and Resizing Windows, and More...
Now that you've got the setting enabled, try it yourself by hovering your cursor over the top bar of any window. To move the window, simply use three fingers to drag the window across your screen without clicking.
To resize, hover over the edge of the window and simply drag with three fingers to resize the window to your liking. This setting makes what is usually a two-handed gesture possible with just a single hand.
Where this feature really shines, however, is in its versatility. It works system-wide on virtually anything you might imagine it working on.
Moving files between folders? Couldn't be easier.
Resizing an image in Microsoft Word? No problem.
Highlighting and selecting text? It can do that too.
It even works across applications. Drag and drop an image from your Downloads folder into a PowerPoint presentation to insert it. Attach a file into an email you're composing in your browser by dragging it in from the Desktop. The possibilities are endless, and that is why this setting has single-handedly made my workflow feel exponentially smoother.
#2. Spotlight Search for Quick Calculations & Conversions
I know, I know, Spotlight isn't exactly an unknown or obscure feature. Most of us use it to quickly launch apps and to locate the files we're looking for. But I've also found that most people aren't even aware of half of what Spotlight is capable of.
For starters, to bring up Spotlight, use the keyboard shortcut Command-Space bar (⌘+space bar) to save some time, instead of clicking the search icon in the upper-right corner of the menu bar. But more importantly, here are the much-ignored other features of Spotlight:
Calculations, Conversions and More...
Rather than launching the Mac's dedicated calculator app, I prefer to use Spotlight for the vast majority of my calculations. It covers the basics — addition, subtraction, multiplication and division — but it can also handle more complex operations, such as parentheses and exponentials. Once the answer appears, Command-C (⌘+C) copies it to the clipboard. Two plus two is four, minus one, that's three, quick maths.
Spotlight can also handle unit and currency conversions. Simply type in the measurement and desired units and Spotlight handles the rest. Examples of possible conversion requests include:
"6ft in cm"
"150lbs in kg"
"50USD in SGD"
"83F in C"
Many a time, you'll find that Spotlight often figures out the units you'll want even before you've finished typing, saving you several keystrokes. Lastly, you can also use Spotlight to search for definitions, weather, flights, contact details, and even Wikipedia for quick at-a-glance information.
For these reasons, I've found Spotlight to be an indispensable tool when working, for quickly getting the information I need without so much as leaving my current window.
Oh! And bonus tip: did you know that much like a Finder window, you can drag the Spotlight search bar anywhere you'd like on screen? Mind = blown. 🤯 This has proven really useful when Spotlight's search results have obscured a part of my active window.
#3. Changing the Default Location of Screenshots
The release of macOS Mojave in 2018 brought with it a new, much improved screenshot tool that combined the previous Command-Shift-3 (⌘+⇧+3) and Command-Shift-4 (⌘+⇧+4) screenshot tools, along with screen recording capabilities, into a singular interface. Launched via the new keyboard shortcut, Command-Shift-5 (⌘+⇧+5), the new tool allows users to select whether they intend to capture the entire screen, a selected window, or merely a selected area of the screen directly on the interface itself.
What you might not know, however, is right beside these controls is an options menu that lets users control where screenshots are saved, amongst other additional settings. Screenshots are saved to the Desktop by default, but I have always found this preset to be cumbersome because so often my active windows obscure the Desktop, making dragging the screenshot file into my desired location a little tedious. Furthermore, as someone who prefers a clean Desktop free of unorganised files, having screenshots pile up on my Desktop was not pleasant.
With this tool, it has become much easier to quickly change the location where screen captures are saved, such as the Documents folder, Preview, or even the clipboard. My personal preference is the Downloads folder, given that it remains always accessible in my dock, and it is sorted in reverse chronology anyway, so my latest screenshot is always the first item visible in the folder.
Bonus tip! You know that floating thumbnail that appears once a screenshot is captured? You can drag and drop that as well! It works great for quickly dragging screenshots into Telegram or WhatsApp for sharing.
#4. Quick Look and Other Finder Tips
By far one of my favourite things about the Finder is Quick Look. Have you ever wanted to get a better look at an image file because the thumbnails were too small, but did not want to go through the trouble of launching an app to view the full image? Well then, Quick Look might just be your new best friend. In Apple's own words, "Quick Look offers a fast, full-size preview of nearly any kind of file without opening the file". And might I add, all without leaving the Finder.
Simply select one or more files in a Finder window, and then hit the Space bar to open the file(s) in Quick Look. Here, you can even cycle through different files by using the Arrow keys. When you're done previewing the file, hit the Space bar again to close the Quick Look window. Again, what makes Quick Look so useful is that it's not just limited to images or videos (which autoplay). Virtually every filetype is supported, from PDF and Word documents, to Photoshop and Illustrator files. Multipage documents are even scrollable! The amount of time saved not opening full applications to preview files is especially appreciated for filetypes whose applications often have long launch times (Looking at you, Microsoft Office 😒).
Unfortunately, folders remain a glaring omission for Quick Look, so you can't quite peak at files inside a folder just yet. 😕 But hopefully, that is a feature that gets added in a future update! Now, onto other Finder tips.
4.1: Open Folders in New Windows Instead of New Tabs
Ever since tabs were first introduced in the Finder in OS X Mavericks, folders defaulted to opening in new tabs instead of new windows when you right-clicked on them. But as someone who does a lot of dragging and dropping between Finder windows, this preset has not been very conducive. Fortunately, you can quickly change this setting by heading into Finder Preferences in the Menu bar.
In the Finder, select Finder > Preferences in the Menu bar.
Under the General tab, deselect the checkbox for Open folders in new tabs instead of new windows.
4.2: Search within Current Folder Only
When using the search field in the Finder, I frequently get frustrated when it inevitably searches my entire computer's library for a file, when I intend to search only within the current folder. It makes searches slow and produces a tonne of irrelevant results. Fortunately, this is also fixable.
In the Finder, select Finder > Preferences in the Menu bar.
Under the Advanced tab, select Search the Current Folder as opposed to Search This Mac in the pop-up menu under When performing a search:.
4.3: New Folder with Selection
This is a comparatively small and simple function. Nonetheless, it is one that I miss dearly whenever I use Windows machines. On a Mac, creating a folder from selected files couldn't be easier. Simply drag a selection box to select multiple files at once. Right-click, and then choose "New folder with Selection" to quickly create a new folder with the selected files contained inside.
4.4: Reveal File Location
After locating a file using Spotlight, I often find myself wanting to find out where exactly the file is located within my vast directory of folders. This is another setting I wish were on by default, but alas, we work with what we're given. There are a number of ways to reveal a file's location and its breadcrumb navigation in the Finder, but the Finder toolbar is my personal favourite because then we also get to talk about customising the toolbar.
In the Finder, select View > Customise Toolbar... in the Menu bar.
Here, you can add any number of tools to your toolbar to personalise it the way you'd want, but to view a file's location, add Path to your toolbar.
Subsequently, simply click on the Path icon in the Finder window to view the current folder's breadcrumb navigation.
#5. Merge PDF Documents Using Preview
Preview is probably one of the most underrated things about macOS. It is essentially a native PDF viewer that you get pre-installed on your computer for free. Coming from Windows, it blew my mind that a full-featured PDF viewer simply came with the OS out of the box. No more having to deal with Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader and their confusing and complex interfaces that take ages to launch anyway. Preview is quick, responsive and ridiculously easy to use, making it painless to read and annotate PDFs, especially when compared to its competition.
But what many don't realise is that Preview also contains many advanced functions that one might only expect to find in dedicated PDF editors like Adobe Acrobat.
In multipage PDF documents, rearranging page order is as simple as rearranging their order in the page thumbnails. Deleting a page just involves selecting the page thumbnail and pressing the Delete key. Even merging multiple PDF documents simply involves dragging one PDF document into the page thumbnail of another PDF in Preview.
All these features mean that Preview is able to handle the majority of Adobe Acrobat's use cases, all while providing a much better experience.
#6. Continuity with iOS
While the Mac by itself is a pretty great computer, it undoubtedly becomes a better one because of its tight integration with iOS devices. Indeed, a large part of the Mac's appeal is its connection to Apple's larger ecosystem. Because Apple designs both the hardware and software of all their devices, they are able to build features into these devices that enable them to work better together. Apple's calls this suite of features "Continuity".
Copying and pasting is cool. What's even cooler is copying and pasting between devices. And if you own multiple Apple devices all connected to the same Apple ID, this feature is built right in without requiring any additional effort. When you copy something on your Mac (or iPhone, or iPad), that information is shared across your Apple devices, meaning that you can then paste that item on any other Apple device you own. Copy text on your Mac, paste it on your iPhone. Copy an image from your phone, paste it on your Mac. It works with text, links, images, files — you name it. It's an incredibly basic feature that comes in extremely handy in many situations.
In that same vein, Handoff is another feature that makes working between multiple Apple devices seamless. Essentially, it allows you to pick up using an app on one device, from where you left off on another. For example, if you start reading an article on your phone, Handoff allows you to quickly continue reading on your Mac. Simply bring your phone near your computer and click the icon that appears beside the dock on your Mac to enable handoff. This works in the opposite direction as well. You can start composing an email on your Mac, and finish off on your phone, by tapping the icon that appears in the App Switcher. This is, of course, makes working between multiple devices that much more convenient and delightful.
Handoff works with Mail, Safari, Notes, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Maps, Messages, Reminders, Calendar and Contacts, as well as a number of third party apps.
Bonus tip! This feature also allows you to take calls on your Mac, and hand it off to your phone if you need to.
#7. Keyboard Shortcuts
You knew this was coming. After all, what is an article of computer tips without keyboard shortcuts? I hope that if you are using a Mac, you'd already be familiar with the more ubiquitous shortcuts of Command-Q (⌘+Q) to quit an app, Command-W (⌘+W) to close a window/tab, Command-N (⌘+N) to open a new window, Command-T (⌘+T) to open a new tab, and Command-A (⌘+A) to select all.
But here I'd like to introduce some lesser known shortcuts that I've found very useful.
I'm sure we've all used Command-F (⌘+F) to search for keywords in documents or webpages, but are you aware of Command-G (⌘+G) which allows you to quickly jump to the next instance of the word you're searching for? Complementing this, is Command-Shift-G (⌘+⇧+G) which reverts to the previous occurrence of the search term. Using these two shortcuts in tandem allows you to completely displace use of the arrow buttons.
"Home" and "End" Keys
If you find yourself missing the "home" and "end" keys of a full-sized keyboard that allow you to quickly shift the cursor to the start or end of a line of text in a document, this tip is for you. Using the Command key with the Arrow keys produces the same function. Use Command-Right Arrow (⌘+→) to move the cursor to the beginning of the current line, and Command-Left Arrow (⌘+←) to move the cursor to the end of the current line.
You can even take this one step further. Some of you might be familiar with the use of the Shift and Arrow keys to extend text selection by one character — Shift-Right Arrow (⇧+→) extends text selection by one character to the right, Shift-Left Arrow (⇧+←) extends text selection by one character to the left. However, you can use these shortcuts in combination with the Command keys to select entire lines of text quickly. Command-Shift-Right Arrow (⌘+⇧+→) selects the text between the cursor and the beginning of the current line while Command-Shift-Left Arrow (⌘+⇧+←) selects the text between the cursor and the end of the current line.
Paste and Match Style
This is a particular pet peeve of mine when working with other people in Google documents, so you will be doing me a favour by opting to use this keyboard shortcut in place of Command-V (⌘+V) whenever you paste text. If you are as particular as I am about document formatting, you might have noticed that whenever you paste text into documents, it often pastes the text's source formatting as well, messing up the formatting of your own document which you've painstakingly prepared.
What you should be have been doing is using the "Paste and Match Style" keyboard shortcut, or Command-Shit-Option-V (⌘+⇧+⌥+V), which is not nearly as cumbersome as it looks spelled out. What this shortcut does is paste text and match the pasted text's formatting to the destination formatting, which is quite honestly, all anyone could possibly ever want. It pastes text as plain text; just the substance, none of the style. So for the love of properly and consistently formatted documents (and my own sanity), please spread word of this keyboard shortcut far and wide.
En and Em Dashes
Lastly, for the pedants amongst us who fuss over the distinction between em dashes, en dashes, and hyphens, this tip is for you. The hyphen is the dash that gets its own dedicated key on the keyboard, and is what most of us use in place of the en and em dashes. But the en and em dashes can also be typed easily using these keyboard shortcuts:
En Dash (–): Option-Hyphen (⌥+-)
Em Dash (—): Shift-Option-Hyphen (⇧+⌥+-)
Since adopting these shortcuts, I've found myself becoming far more intentional and deliberate about which dashes I'm using, to make sure that I use the right dash for the right purpose.
In addition to these shortcuts, Apple publishes a full list of the keyboard shortcuts available on macOS on their website.
#8. Time Machine
Another lesser known feature of macOS, is its built-in backup software, Time Machine.
Time Machine automatically backs up your entire computer, including apps, photos, documents, and system files to an external storage drive. It saves a copy of your computer in its current state for you to access in the future. Whether it is to retrieve a file that has been long since deleted, or to restore your Mac from a backup, Time Machine is there for you when you need it most.
As long as the external drive is plugged in, Time Machine will continue to back up your computer in the background even when your Mac is asleep. And when your backup disk is full, Time Machine automatically deletes the oldest backups to make more room.
To set up Time Machine, simply plug in an external drive and select it as your backup drive when prompted. If Time Machine does not prompt you, follow these steps:
Open System Preferences > Time Machine.
Click Select Backup Disk... and select your external drive from the list of available disks. Click Use Disk.
That's it! Once this has been set up, Time Machine will periodically back up your computer automatically, without any further action from you, making backups a second thought until you absolutely need them.
#9. Locating Lost Cursors
Lastly, we'll leave you with one last tidbit.
If you've ever been in the situation where you can't find your cursor on screen, and have tried to move your finger vigorously around the trackpad to locate it, you should know that macOS detects this, and will astronomically enlarge your cursor size temporarily for easier locating. 😜
And there we have it! 9 tips that every Mac user ought to know to start using their computer like a pro.
Windows Hacks to Make the Most out of your Windows
Who says hacks are only for Macs? Here we have a variety of tips and tricks to help you make the most of your Windows, ready to take the world by the storm and ace your next semester. These are especially useful for FASS students who are about to embark on our full e-learning sem, so take notes and start saving a lot more time than you ever did before.
#1. Switching between your current and last used application
Playing music on Spotify, opening Google Chrome, and then realising with a groan that you need to click open Spotify again to change the music? Before you go through the arduous process of minimising Chrome to pull up Spotify again, here’s a handy shortcut to save yourself the hassle of a gazillion clicks.
Pressing the keys, Alt + Tab easily switches between your current and last used application. Now, you can effortlessly jump from Spotify to Chrome and Spotify, no extra clicks!
#2. Windows Key Tricks
The Windows button — other than proudly displaying the Windows logo, did you know that there are a lot of shortcuts and tricks you can utilise by pressing the Windows Key (⊞ Win)? While most of these are only applicable for Windows 10 and up, some of these are old beloved tips and tricks carried forward from the older Windows versions.
2.1: Opening your file explorer
⊞ Win + E opens your file explorer. It may seem like a silly shortcut (after all, you can just click the file explorer icon in your Start menu), but trust me — this hack has saved me a few seconds of my life each time I need to find a document.
2.2: Windows Emoji Keyboard
Using Whatsapp web, wanting to spam your friends with a chain of emojis only to realise… You’re on web? Before you open a new tab to moodily type ‘Copy Paste Emojis’ into the search bar, try pressing ⊞ Win + . instead. This will open the in-build Windows emoji keyboard, that comes with, you guessed it — emojis!
Not only does it come with emoji, the keyboard comes with symbols, and even the elusive En and Em dash. Now, your writing can be beefed up!
2.3: Taskbar Shortcut
Every one of your program pinned to the taskbar is assigned a numerical shortcut, the first program being 1, second being 2, and so forth until the tenth one which is 0. To launch the program on your taskbar using the taskbar shortcut, press the ⊞ Win and its assigned number.
For example, for my taskbar, ⊞ Win + 3 opens the snipping tool. (Psst… The snipping tool is a very useful tool if you don’t already have it pinned! It is a default program in your Windows laptop, so go ahead and pin it if you haven’t.)
Now, you can pull up your favourite programs that you already pinned to the taskbar without removing your fingers from the keyboard!
2.4: Split Screen
Want to split your screen with your word document and readings, so you can have them side by side for easy referencing while chiong-ing your essay? Simply pressing ⊞ Win + ◄►Left/Right Arrow Key will minimize your currently opened program and shift it to the left/right side of the screen depending on the arrow key you pressed.
2.5: Screen Record
Pressing ⊞ Win + G will enable you to record whatever that is happening on your screen. Gone were those dark, ancient, Secondary School days where we scoured the Internet for ‘Best Free Screen Recording Program’. Now, we have such a function in our Windows.
#3. Start Menu Fun
As you might have already known, pressing ⊞ Win will bring up your start menu. But did you know that you can personalise it to your heart’s content, from what programs that will appear to how they look?
Customise your start menu by right clicking programs that you frequent from your list of programs, to pin to start for quick access.
Right click programs in start to resize, remove, and drag them around to place them in whatever order you like. With the reside button, you can make the program thumbnails as big or as small, or wide or as thin, any way you like. Have fun!
#4. Clean Up Your Disk!
Clean up your disk to make your laptop run faster! At the search bar (that should be near your taskbar), type in ‘disk clean up’. Select the files you want to delete – you’d be surprised at how much space temporary files take up! Now, enjoy a laptop that will run faster than it did before.
#5. PDF File Save
About to save your essay as an PDF and don’t want to use an online convertor to compress your essay along with all its attachments? Windows 10 can easily convert any file to a PDF!
To do so, print your file as you normally would, but at the option to choose a specific printer, choose the option that allows you to save to PDF.
#6. Desktop Things
Who says macs get all the fun with new desktops? To see an overview of your running applications and create a new desktop, either press ⊞ Win + Tab or swipe up on your touchpad with 3 fingers. Ctrl + ⊞ Win + D will also get the job done by immediately creating a new desktop for you.
Ctrl + ⊞ Win + ←→Left/Right Arrow Key switches between your desktops, or swipe 4 finger to left or right if you prefer using your touchpad.
Creating and having multiple desktops are handy for when you are doing multiple assignments and research for your multiple classes! (… or, if you want to hide your leisure activities in class from your tutors – but you didn’t hear this from us.)
#7. Browser Tricks
As a University student, we spend a lot of time on the Internet, be it for academic purposes or less-than-academic purposes. Either way, we got you – here are some shortcuts that make web browsing a more pleasant experience.
Tabs, tabs, and more tabs! Here’s to not lose yourself in a sea of your tabs.
Pressing Ctrl + Tab shifts to new tab
Ctrl + T opens a new tab
While Ctrl + Shift + T opens your last closed tab
You're filling stuff in a form and don't want to manually click to each section? Tab navigates to the next fill for you.
Ctrl + L fills in your search bar. Google away without lifting your fingers from the keyboard!
Restore Browser Tabs
Want to turn off your laptop to give it a well-deserved rest, but don’t want to go through the hassle of saving all your opened tabs to your bookmarks? Leave your tabs open in your browser – and do not exit the browser. Without closing the browser, power off your laptop normally.
Now, the next time you turn your laptop back on, the browser will automatically pop up with all your tabs intact, exactly the way you left it before shutting it down. I’m a Chrome user and this works for me, but if you don’t use Chrome, give it a try either way!
7.1: Optional Bonus! Chrome Extensions
A lot of Chrome extensions exist in the Chrome store, but they are not limited to themes that make your browser pretty. Instead, a lot of them are useful and serves all kinds of purposes. Go wild!
Here are some of my faves:
Momentum for productivity
Grammarly to check your English (especially if you are going to email your prof)
Ublock origin and privacy badger for blocking ads and protecting your data
And that’s the end of all the shortcuts we have today! Let us know if you like any, or if we included to include your favourite hack 😊