Dig deep into Lion: The best overlooked, underrated features

17 useful features every OS X Lion user should know about

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Enhanced Desktop & Screensaver preferences

The Desktop & Screensaver pane in System Preferences allows you to select images in your iPhoto library as desktop backgrounds or slideshow-style screensavers. This isn't a new feature in itself, but it is something that's been enhanced in Lion.

Now, in addition to seeing just iPhoto albums, you can also pick specific events, people and locations as sources for either desktop images (which can be set to change at regular intervals) or screensavers.

The dictionary and autocorrect

definition pop-up
Double-tapping a word from the trackpad brings up definitions from the dictionary, synonyms from the thesaurus and related info from Wikipedia.

It's well known that Lion inherited the autocorrect and autocomplete features common (and sometimes maligned) in iOS. Here are a couple of lesser-known tips around these features.

First, as with iOS, Lion's dictionary will begin to learn new words after you've clicked the X in the autocorrect pop-up three times. Of course, you can also highlight any word and use a contextual menu to make the dictionary learn a word as well.

Second, you can easily view the definition for any word by double-tapping on it with three fingers if you're using a trackpad. The same feature works with Apple's Magic Mouse but uses two fingers.

Safari's new Downloads menu

A well-known Safari enhancement in Lion is a redesigned Downloads list, which displays as a pop-up menu in the Safari toolbar rather than as a separate window.

That's obvious, but a subtle addition to this new Downloads list is the ability to drag items from the pop-up menu directly to the desktop or a folder of your choosing, moving them out of the Downloads folder. This can be done after items are downloaded or while they are still actively downloading.

New screen-sharing tricks

OS X has offered screen sharing since Leopard. Up till now, you could log into a remote Mac and control its screen as if you were sitting in front of it. The typical vehicle for starting a screen-sharing session was iChat, where you could request permission to control a friend or family member's computer.

Screen shares could also be started via the Finder's sidebar as well as the Screen Sharing application inside the CoreServices folder. (CoreServices contains a number of system-level files that are best left untouched, as well as Screen Sharing. It's located inside the Library folder in the System folder at the root level of your startup drive.)

Previously, when beginning a screen share through the Finder or Screen Sharing, you would share control of the Mac with the active user (if someone was logged in and using the Mac at the time) or log in to the remote Mac by entering the name and password of a local user account on that Mac.

In Lion, however, if both Macs are configured to use the same Apple ID or iCloud account, you can connect without being asked to provide a local user account. This can make things easier for families with multiple Macs since each Mac no longer needs multiple user accounts to support remote connections.

Another change: In Lion, you can opt for a virtual display instead of sharing the screen, in which case you will have a completely separate user session. Both you and the local user can then launch applications, view/edit documents and perform any other tasks as though each of you is the only one currently using the Mac and without interfering with each other. A virtual display also offers a display where the resolution and size of a remote Mac isn't tied to that Mac's physical screen size.

This is a great feature for multi-user Macs if you need to remotely access files. It can also be used to help troubleshoot a problem or install applications and software updates remotely and inconspicuously.

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