How to unlock hidden OS X features

Hack your Mac

Delve into System Preferences or the preferences of many Mac apps and you'll find a lot you can customise. Curiously, though, many commands and features are hidden from you, especially when it comes to Apple's own apps. Outside of Apple, no one knows why.

Perhaps these things aren't considered fully baked, or Apple believes they would negatively impact the user experience. We disagree — many of these hidden features are so good we actually feel a bit lost on a Mac that doesn't have them activated.

Mostly, the commands in this walkthrough require using Terminal, found in /Applications/ Utilities. You'll need to be careful when typing them because even a missing character may result in an error message. Note that if you want to reverse one of these commands you can; in some cases, do so by entering the same command again, but with capitalised values reversed (so YES becomes NO, and TRUE becomes FALSE).

Also, if you want to run a command multiple times, such as the one in the first step, you can go back through your previous entries by pressing Up key on your keyboard.

Additionally, rather than typing a path to a folder, such as in step 5, just drag the folder from Finder onto Terminal's window to have the full path to that folder added at the insertion point.

Deeper secrets

There are many other hidden features for the Dock. Single app mode, in which clicking an app's icon hides other apps, can be activated with defaults write single-app -bool TRUE; killall Dock.

You can have the Dock only show apps that are open with defaults write static-only -bool TRUE; killall Dock, and remove all apps that normally stick around in the Dock by entering defaults delete persistent-apps. (Only do that when sure!)

Using defaults write scroll-to-open -bool TRUE; killall Dock, you can use scroll gestures on top of icons, for example to activate Exposé for an app, or to open a stack. If you find the auto-hidden Dock slides back into view too slowly, enter defaults write autohidedelay -float 0; killall Dock.

Entering defaults delete; killall Dock restores app icons that were in the Dock when your Mac was new.

How to unlock hidden OS X features

1. Add spacers to the Dock

Enter defaults write persistent-apps -array-add '{"tile-type"="spacer-tile";}'; killall Dock to add a blank tile to the Dock.

Drag it to organise Dock icons in groups. Drag it out of the Dock to delete it.

How to unlock hidden OS X features

2. Distinguish hidden apps

Enter defaults write showhidden -bool YES; killall Dock and icons of apps you hide (using Command+H) will be semi-transparent – useful, not least because hidden apps don't appear in Mission Control.

How to unlock hidden OS X features

3. Create a 'recents' stack

Enter defaults write persistent-others -array-add '{"tile-data" ={"list-type"=1;}; "tile-type"="recents-tile ";}'; killall Dock to add a stack that contains recently used apps to the Dock.

How to unlock hidden OS X features

4. Customise the stack

Hold Ctrl and click your stack to choose whether it displays recent apps, documents, servers, favourite volumes, or favourite items, and to adjust its presentation. Enter step 3's command to have more than one of these.

How to unlock hidden OS X features

5. Move your screenshots

Screenshots are saved to your desktop by default. Change this with defaults write location path; killall SystemUIServer. Replace 'path' with your preferred location, such as /Pictures.

How to unlock hidden OS X features

6. Normalise Help Viewer

The Help window sits above every other window, which is irksome if you have limited screen space. Make it act like a standard OS X window by entering defaults write DevMode -bool TRUE.

How to unlock hidden OS X features

7. Make paths prominent

If you want a folder's path to be more prominent than with View > Show Path Bar, enter defaults write _FXShowPosixPathInTitle -bool YES. Paths are then be displayed in Finder title bars.

How to unlock hidden OS X features

8. Expand Save dialogs

If you dislike Save dialogs defaulting to the collapsed view, force them to be expanded with defaults write -g NSNavPanelExpand edStateForSaveMode -bool TRUE'. This takes effect in each app when you next save.