Dig deep into Lion: The best overlooked, underrated features

17 useful features every OS X Lion user should know about

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Whole-disk encryption

FileVault has gotten a massive update. In previous releases, it could be used to encrypt a user's home folder. In Lion, FileVault enables whole-disk encryption for your Mac's hard drive or SSD.

Apple took FileVault even further in the 10.7.2 update for Lion. When it's paired with an iCloud account, any unauthorized use of a Guest account on your Mac will automatically result in your Mac reporting its location to Apple's Find My Mac service -- helping you (or, more likely, law enforcement or security personnel) to locate your Mac.

You will also have the option, through the iCloud.com website or the Find My iPhone iOS app, to forcibly lock your Mac remotely and/or wipe the contents of its startup drive remotely.

Although it's not directly part of FileVault, Lion's amped up security includes whole-disk encryption for drives beyond your Mac's boot drive, including external hard drives. There are two caveats to this process. First, the process of enabling encryption requires reformatting a disk or partition, which will erase any current contents. Second, you will not be able to use the encrypted drive as a startup drive.

You can encrypt a disk by selecting it in Disk Utility and using the Erase tab to erase the drive or partition. (If you're partitioning a drive and encrypting multiple partitions, use the Partition tab.) Choose the "Mac OS X Case-sensitive, Journaled, Encrypted" option from the Format menu.

encrypting a drive in Lion
Lion supports whole-disk encryption for your hard drive or SSD or an external drive.

When you click the Erase button, you'll be asked to enter a password. That password will be required when you connect the drive to your (or any other) Mac. Other than that, you can use the drive as you would any other, as the encrypting and decrypting of its contents is performed by Lion in the background.

This is a powerful and useful option for external hard drives, particularly slim models designed for travel, as it maintains data security if a drive is lost or stolen.

New tricks for Finder and Trash

There are a handful of helpful new tools for working with files in the Finder in Lion, including when you send them to the Trash.

For starters, you can select multiple items (documents, folders, aliases) and use a contextual menu (right-click or double-tap) to create a new folder containing those items.

Next, you now have the option of multiple undo operations when moving files into the Trash for deletion. Previously, you could undo or undelete just the last file placed in the Trash. Now you can undo moving file after file until your Trash is empty, if you'd like.

Along the same lines, Lion introduces a restore option when you select one or more items in the Trash. This contextual menu item will place any items back into their previous location, whether they were added to the Trash today or six months ago. The only limitation is that you won't be able to restore items if the folder that contained them has been deleted, moved, renamed or is otherwise unavailable (such as an external drive or network share that isn't connected).

International languages and other keyboard features

If you need to work with languages other than English, you'll be pleased to discover that Apple has added some features to make typing in other languages easier. Rather than having to use special key combinations to type accented or other non-English characters, you can simply press and hold down the nearest English equivalent for a few seconds.

accented characters
Press and hold down a letter key to see its accented options.

A pop-up will display the various options above the English letter you just typed, each with a number above it. Type the number for a character or click on it to insert it.

You can also create your own auto-replace shortcuts for symbols using the Language & Text pane of System Preferences. This feature isn't new, but it has become more useful because it works well with Lion's new iOS-like autocorrect and autocomplete capabilities.

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