Dig deep into Lion: The best overlooked, underrated features

17 useful features every OS X Lion user should know about

Apple billed this summer's release of Mac OS X Lion as having more than 200 new features, but most coverage of Lion in the intervening months has focused on only a handful of them. While iOS-like navigation and app-launching interfaces, autosave/restore capabilities, AirDrop file sharing and an emergency restore partition are by all means important, there are a lot of helpful tweaks and enhancements that can easily be missed.

After spending several months really getting to know Lion, I've uncovered a plethora of little-talked-about functions that are well worth knowing about. Here are more than 15 new and useful features in Lion for you to explore.

What other unsung features have you discovered in Lion? Share your tips in the article comments.

File grouping in Finder windows

Lion's well-known All My Files smart folder gives a bird's-eye view of everything on your Mac with files separated by type -- images, PDFs, text-based documents, spreadsheets and so forth. Each type of file displays preview icons of various files that you can scroll through, much as you would using cover flow view in the Finder or iTunes.

This file grouping option is the default for All My Files, but you can use it for any folder you're looking at in icon view (but not in list, column or cover flow views).

Grouping files by type is useful, but the Finder's new Arrange menu in the Finder window toolbar also lets you group files and subfolders by several different criteria, including by the application that created each file (or that is associated with the file if that application isn't installed on your Mac); by the date they were last opened, added, modified or created; by the file sizes; and by the Finder label assigned to them.

grouping files in Finder
Using the icon view in any Finder window, you can group files by a number of different criteria.

Protection for location information

Like the iPod touch and Wi-Fi-only iPads, Lion can use known Wi-Fi networks to determine the approximate geographical location of your Mac. This information can be requested by websites and other applications, as well as used with iCloud's Find My Mac feature. The new Privacy tab in the Security & Privacy pane in System Preferences lets you choose whether your Mac can determine your location and, if so, which apps are allowed to use your location information.

The Privacy tab also lets you control whether or not your Mac can send diagnostic details (such as from application or system crashes) to Apple for analysis.

Customizable lock screen

Another addition to the Security & Privacy pane is an easy way to add a custom message to the lock/login screen. A custom message can be important in business and education settings, but it can also be useful for showing contact information on a Mac notebook in case it is lost. It can even be helpful for leaving messages to other family members or just as a way of customizing your personal Mac.

setting a custom lock-screen message
It's easy to set a custom lock-screen message.

While you could create custom lock-screen messages with a bit of work at the command line in previous OS X releases, setting it in System Preferences is a lot easier. Simply open the Security & Privacy pane to the General tab, check the box marked "Show a message when the screen is locked," and type in your message.

System Preferences customization

Let's face it -- there are some preferences most of us use just once when setting up a new Mac and never again. Happily, you can now customize the display of the System Preferences window to include only specific panes and/or arrange panes to suit your tastes from the View menu in the menu bar. This can help make frequently used preferences easy to find while keeping the ones you never use hidden.

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