Dig deep into Lion: The best overlooked, underrated features

17 useful features every OS X Lion user should know about

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Text-to-speech additions

Most of the recent news about speech technology has centered on the Siri virtual assistant feature of the iPhone 4S. But Lion also has a couple of speech-related tricks to share.

First up is the availability of additional voices. Like Snow Leopard, Lion includes six voices (three male and three female) in its text-to-speech arsenal, but there are many additional English and foreign-language voices that you can download free of charge. Some are venerable selections that have been included on Macs for nearly twenty years, while others are brand-new.

You can browse the entire list of more than seventy options by selecting Customize from the System Voice pop-up menu in the Text to Speech tab of the Speech pane in System Preferences.

Second is the ability to turn any text selection into an audio track available in iTunes -- simply select a passage of text in any application designed for use with Lion, right-click, and select Add to iTunes as Spoken Track. You can then work with the track as with any iTunes audio file -- burn it to a CD, sync it to an iPod/iPhone/iPad, or play it on an Apple TV.

Note: Even though these are spoken tracks, iTunes will display them as music tracks, not as audiobooks or podcasts. You can, however, use the Get Info command in iTunes to classify a track as an audiobook, podcast or voice memo if you wish.

Enhanced Spotlight menu

Like smart folders, the Spotlight search menu isn't a new feature in Lion, but it has gained a couple of new tricks.

First, you can now drag any document displayed as a search result directly from the Spotlight menu onto the icon of any app (in the Finder or on the Dock) to open it with that app.

The next addition is the ability to search the Mac OS X dictionary, Wikipedia or the Web (via Google) directly from the Spotlight menu. Dictionary results, if there are any matching your search, will immediately be displayed in the Spotlight menu along with other results such as files, folders and the contents of documents. The Web and Wikipedia search options always appear at the bottom of the menu; clicking them will open the results in your Mac's default Web browser.

The third new Spotlight menu trick is arguably the most helpful. As you mouse over each result in the menu, a Quick Look preview displays next to it. The preview allows you to view and scroll through an entire document without leaving the menu -- a really helpful method to review documents or images to see if you've found the one you were looking for.

Quick Look preview in Spotlight menu
The Spotlight menu now shows Quick Look previews as you mouse over results.

Quick Look in the Dock

In the same way that you can view Quick Look previews from the Spotlight menu in the menu bar, you can also see previews of documents from the Dock. The Stacks feature, available since Leopard, allows you to place folders in the Dock for easy access to common documents, applications and other files.

Quick Look preview in Dock Stack
Mouse over any file in a Stack for a Quick Look preview.

In Lion, selecting a folder in the Dock, moving the cursor over the files inside its Stack and tapping the spacebar on your keyboard will generate Quick Look previews like those available in the Spotlight menu.

Of course, it's well known that Quick Look has gotten its own makeover in Lion, with the ability to select an application to open documents that you're previewing.

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