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Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, Second Edition by David Pogue

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Icon View

In an icon view, every file, folder, and disk is represented by a small picture—an icon. This humble image, a visual representation of electronic bits and bytes, is the cornerstone of the entire Macintosh religion. (Maybe that’s why it’s called an icon.)

Icon View Options

Mac OS X 10.2 introduced some of the most important icon-view options in Macintosh history. All of them are worth exploring. Start by opening any icon-view window, then choose ViewShow View Options.

Choosing icon sizes

Mac OS X draws the little pictures that represent your icons using sophisticated graphics software. As a result, you (or the Mac) can scale them to almost any size without losing any quality or smoothness. You can specify a new icon size either for a single window or for every icon view window on your machine.

In the ViewShow View Options window (Figure 1-12), complete with an Icon Size slider. Click one of the buttons at the top of the window, either “This window only” or “All windows,” to indicate whether you want to change the icon sizes in just the frontmost window or everywhere on the Mac. Finally, drag the Icon Size slider back and forth until you find an icon size you like. (For added fun, make little cartoon sounds with your mouth.)

Mac OS X lets you choose an icon size to suit your personality. For picture folders, it can often be very handy to pick a jumbo size, in effect creating a slide-sorter “light table” effect. Just use the slider in the View Options dialog box, shown in Figure 1-12.

Figure 1-11. Mac OS X lets you choose an icon size to suit your personality. For picture folders, it can often be very handy to pick a jumbo size, in effect creating a slide-sorter “light table” effect. Just use the slider in the View Options dialog box, shown in Figure 1-12.

Text size

Ring the bells! Fire the cannons! At last, Mac OS X fans can control the type size of icon names in the Finder!

In fact, if you choose “This window only” at the top of the palette, you can actually specify a different type size for every window on your machine. Neither Windows nor the Mac OS has ever offered that level of control before. (Why would you want to adjust the point size independently in different windows? You might want smaller type to fit more into a crammed list view without scrolling. The type can afford to be larger in less densely populated windows.)

Your choices range only from 10 to 16 points, and you still can’t choose a different font. But for people with especially big or especially small screens—or people with aging retinas—this new 10.2 feature is much better than nothing.

Windows XP-style labeling

In its own quiet way, this tiny, unheralded new 10.2 feature represents one of the most radical changes to the Finder since the invention of the Mac. As shown in Figure 1-12, it lets you create, in effect, a multiple-column list view in a single window.

“Show item info”

While you’ve got the View Options palette open, try turning on “Show item info.” Suddenly you get a new line of information for each icon, in tiny blue type, saving you the effort of opening up the folder or file to find out what’s in it. For example:

  • Folders. The info line lets you know how many icons are inside each one without having to open it up. Spot empties at a glance!

  • Graphics files. Certain other kinds of files may show a helpful info line, too—for example, graphics in most file formats display their dimensions, in pixels. (Alas, JPEG graphics are the exception; their dimensions don’t appear, at least in Mac OS X 10.2.1.)

  • Sounds and QuickTime movies. The light-blue bonus line tells you how long the sound or movie takes to play. For example, “02’ 49” means two minutes, 49 seconds.

Thanks to the beefed-up View Options palette (left), Mac OS X can now display icon names on the right, and even show a second line of file info, in any icon view. You now have all the handy, freely draggable convenience of an icon view, along with the compact spacing of a list view. This is nothing new to people who are used to Windows XP, where this attractive arrangement debuted, but it’s a welcome addition to the Mac.

Figure 1-12. Thanks to the beefed-up View Options palette (left), Mac OS X can now display icon names on the right, and even show a second line of file info, in any icon view. You now have all the handy, freely draggable convenience of an icon view, along with the compact spacing of a list view. This is nothing new to people who are used to Windows XP, where this attractive arrangement debuted, but it’s a welcome addition to the Mac.

You can see these effects illustrated in Figure 1-12.

“Show icon preview”

This option pertains primarily to graphics, which Mac OS X often displays only with a generic icon (stamped JPEG, TIFF, or PDF). But if you turn on “Show icon preview,” Mac OS X turns each icon into a miniature display of the image itself, as shown in Figure 1-12.

Window backgrounds

Here’s another Mac OS X luxury that other operating-system fans can only dream about: You can fill the background of any icon-view window on your Mac with a certain color—or even a photo.

Color-coordinating or “wallpapering” certain windows is more than just a gimmick. On the contrary, it can serve as a time-saving psychological cue. Once you’ve gotten used to the fact that your main Documents folder has a sky-blue background, you can pick it out like a sharpshooter from a screen filled with open windows. Color-coded Finder windows are also especially easy to distinguish at a glance when you’ve minimized them to the Dock.

The View Options dialog box (left) for an icon view window offers the chance to create colored backgrounds for certain windows (top right) or even to use photos as window wallpaper (lower right). Using a photo may have a soothing, annoying, or comic effect.

Figure 1-13. The View Options dialog box (left) for an icon view window offers the chance to create colored backgrounds for certain windows (top right) or even to use photos as window wallpaper (lower right). Using a photo may have a soothing, annoying, or comic effect.

Note

Background colors and pictures disappear in list or column view, and in windows that “belong” to Mac OS X itself, such as the hard drive window and the Users folder.

Once a window is open, choose ViewView Options (

The View Options dialog box (left) for an icon view window offers the chance to create colored backgrounds for certain windows (top right) or even to use photos as window wallpaper (lower right). Using a photo may have a soothing, annoying, or comic effect.

-J). The bottom of the resulting dialog box (Figure 1-13) offers three choices:

  • White. This is the standard option.

  • Color. When you click this button, you see a small rectangular button beside the word Color. Click it to open the Color Picker (The Color Picker), which you can use to choose a new background color for the window. (Unless it’s April Fool’s day, pick a light color. If you choose a dark one—like black—you won’t be able to make out the lettering of the icons’ names.)

  • Picture. If you choose this option, a Select button appears. Click it to open the Select a Picture dialog box, already open to your LibraryDesktop Pictures folder. Choose a graphics file (one of Apple’s—in the Desktop Pictures folder—or one of your own). When you click Select, you’ll see that Mac OS X has superimposed the window’s icons on the photo. As you can see in Figure 1-20, low-contrast or light-background photos work best for legibility.

    Note

    Because you can resize any Finder window at any time, the Mac has no idea what sizes and shapes your window may assume in its lifetime. Therefore, Mac OS X makes no attempt to scale down a selected photo to fit neatly into the window. If you have a high-res digital camera, therefore, you may see only the upper-left corner of a photo as the window background. Use a graphics program to scale the picture down to something smaller than your screen resolution for better results.

Keeping Icons Neat and Sorted

In general, you can drag icons anywhere within a window. For example, some people like to keep current project icons at the top of the window and move older stuff to the bottom.

If you’d like Mac OS X to impose a little discipline on you, however, it’s easy enough to request a visit from an electronic housekeeper who tidies up your icons, aligning them neatly to an invisible grid.

Note

You can’t specify how tight or loose this invisible grid is.

Mac OS X offers an enormous number of variations on the “snap icons to the underlying grid” theme:

  • Aligning individual icons to the grid. Press the

    Keeping Icons Neat and Sorted

    key while dragging an icon or several highlighted icons. (Don’t press the key down until after you begin to drag.) When you release the mouse, the icons you’ve moved all jump into neatly aligned positions.

  • Aligning all icons to the grid. Choose ViewClean Up (if nothing is selected) or ViewClean Up Selection (if some icons are highlighted). Now all icons in the window (or those you’ve selected) jump to the closest positions on the invisible underlying grid.

    This is a temporary status, however—as soon as you drag icons around, or add more icons to the window, the newly moved icons wind up just as sloppily positioned as before you used the command.

    If you’d rather have icons snap to the nearest underlying grid positions whenever you move them, choose ViewShow View Options. In the resulting dialog box, turn on “Snap to grid.” Make sure the proper button is selected at the top of the window (“This window only” or “All windows”), and then close the window. If your status bar is showing in the window, as described earlier, a small, subtle grid icon appears at its left edge to remind you why your icons are all so neatly aligned.

    Note

    You can override the grid setting by pressing the

    Keeping Icons Neat and Sorted

    key when you drag. In other words, when grid-snapping is turned off, c makes your icons snap into position; when grid-snapping is turned on,

    Keeping Icons Neat and Sorted

    lets you drag an icon freely.

    Note, by the way, that neither of these grid-snapping commands—ViewClean Up and the “Snap to grid” option—moves icons into the most compact possible arrangement. If one or two icons have wandered off from the herd to a far corner of the window, they’re merely nudged to the closest grid points to their present locations. They aren’t moved all the way back to the group of icons elsewhere in the window.

    To make them jump back to the primary cluster, read on.

  • Sorting all icons for the moment. If you choose ViewArrangeby Name, all icons in the window snap to the invisible grid and sort themselves alphabetically. Use this method to place the icons as close as possible to each other within the window, rounding up any strays. The other subcommands in the ViewArrange menu, such as by Size, by Date Modified, and so on, work similarly, but sort the icons according to different criteria. (They’re new in Mac OS X 10.2.)

    As with the Clean Up command, ViewArrange serves only to reorganize the icons in the window at this moment. Moving or adding icons in the window means you’ll wind up with icons out of order. If you’d rather have all icons remain sorted and clustered, try this:

  • Sorting all icons permanently. This arrangement is the ideal solution for neat freaks who can’t stand seeing icons out of place. It maintains sorting and alignment of all icons in the window, present and future—if you add more icons to the window, they jump into correct alphabetical position. If you remove icons, the remaining ones slide over to fill in the resulting gap.

    To make it happen, choose ViewShow View Options. In the resulting dialog box, turn on the “Keep arranged by” checkbox. From the pop-up menu, specify what order you want your icons to snap into. Close the window. As shown at right in Figure 1-14, your icons are now locked into sorted position, as compactly as possible.

Use the View Options dialog box (left) to turn on permanent-cleanliness mode (right). A tiny four-square icon (circled) appears just below the window’s close button. That symbol is supposed to remind you that you’ve turned on the Mac’s spatial lockjaw feature, so that you don’t get frustrated when you try to drag an icon into a new position and discover that it won’t budge.

Figure 1-14. Use the View Options dialog box (left) to turn on permanent-cleanliness mode (right). A tiny four-square icon (circled) appears just below the window’s close button. That symbol is supposed to remind you that you’ve turned on the Mac’s spatial lockjaw feature, so that you don’t get frustrated when you try to drag an icon into a new position and discover that it won’t budge.

Although it doesn’t occur to most Mac users, you can also apply any of the commands described in this section—Clean Up, Arrange, Keep Arranged, and so on—to icons lying loose on your desktop. Even though they’re not technically in any window at all, you can specify small or large icons, automatic alphabetical arrangement, and so on. Just click the desktop before using the commands in the View menu.

Note

There’s only one View Options dialog box. Once it’s open on the screen, you can adjust the icon sizes or arrangement options of other windows just by clicking them. Each time you click inside a window, the View Options dialog box remains in front, changing to reflect the settings of the window you clicked. This handy feature may, at first, confuse diehard Mac OS 9 users, who are accustomed to opening a separate View Options dialog box for every Finder window.

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