Dig deep into Lion: The best overlooked, underrated features

17 useful features every OS X Lion user should know about

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Versatile window resizing -- at last!

This isn't a major feature by any means, but Lion allows you to resize windows from any edge/corner. True, it's something that Windows has done for ages, but it's still a useful addition that's worth noting.

Third-party email/cloud/chat services

If you open the new Mail, Contacts & Calendars pane in System Preferences, you'll see a series of options for adding accounts from common free and third-party services including iCloud, Microsoft Exchange, MobileMe (at least for the time being), Gmail, Yahoo and AOL.

adding third-party service accounts
Adding your accounts with common third-party services is a snap.

This pane, which looks like it was dropped into Lion from iOS, lets you quickly and easily set up new accounts with each service.

Configuring any of these services is a one-stop solution not just for email, but also for cloud-based contacts, calendar offerings and instant messaging. When you set up a Gmail account, for example, you can instantly configure Mail, Address Books, iCal and iChat to access the associated Google services.

Mission Control tips

Mission Control is one of Lion's most talked-about enhancements, but it has a few little-known features worth including in this list.

First, if you want to switch to another space without leaving the Mission Control interface, simply hold the option key and select the alternate space. Similarly, holding the option key while hovering over a space allows you to delete it by clicking an X icon that will appear over the top left corner of the space.

Second, with the Lion 10.7.2 update, Apple made it possible to manually rearrange spaces in Mission Control by dragging them around. (Alternately, in the Mission Control pane of System Preferences, you can allow Lion to arrange spaces based on your usage.)

Finally, it's possible to assign a custom desktop picture to each space defined by Mission Control so that separate spaces are easy to locate while you're working. To assign a picture to a space, select that space (either using Mission Control or multi-finger swiping) and then select a desktop picture in one of the following ways:

  • Use the Desktop & Screensaver pane in System Preferences.
  • Use iPhoto's Share menu.
  • Right-click on an image file in the Finder and click Set Desktop Picture.
  • Right-click an image in Safari and select Use as Desktop Picture.

In addition to assigning different desktop pictures to specific spaces, you can also assign applications to specific spaces. Typically, new application windows open in whatever space or desktop you're using when you launch the app or create a new document.

assigning an application to a space
You can assign an application to a specific space or all spaces.

However, you can assign an application to open new windows in a specific space or to display windows in every space, making them permanently visible as you switch from one space to another (useful for apps that you may need to adjust or check frequently such as social media clients, network or system monitoring tools, or apps that function as media controllers).

To assign an application to a specific space, navigate to that space and right-click on the application's icon in the Dock to bring up a contextual menu. Select the Options submenu and choose This Desktop or All Desktops. To return an app to its default behavior, use the same process but select None.

Know of any other underappreciated features that we left out? Share them in the comments below.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. He has been a Computerworld columnist since 2003. Faas is the author of Peachpit's upcoming ebook Mac OS X Lion Tips and Tricks as well as iPhone for Work (Apress, 2009). You can find out more about him at RyanFaas.com and follow him on Twitter (@ryanfaas).


Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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