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OS X El Capitan: The Missing Manual by David Pogue

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Quick Look

As the preceding several thousand pages make clear, there are lots of ways to view and manage the seething mass of files and folders on a typical hard drive. Some of them actually let you see what’s in a document without having to open it—the Preview column in column view, the giant icons in Cover Flow, the new preview pane, and so on.

Quick Look takes this idea to another level. It lets you open and browse a document at nearly full size—without switching window views or opening any new programs (see Figure 1-25). You highlight an icon (or several) and then do one of these things:

  • Press the space bar. This is by far the best technique to learn. After all, unless you’re editing a file’s name, what’s the space bar ever done for you in the Finder? Nothing. But in OS X, you can highlight any icon and then tap the space bar for an instant preview.

    Once the Quick Look window is open, you can play a file (movies and sounds), study it in more detail (most kinds of graphics files), or even read it (PDF, Word, and Excel documents). You can also click another icon, and another, and another, without ever closing the preview; the contents of the window simply change to reflect whatever you’ve just clicked.Supertip: Quick Look works even on icons in the Trash, so you can figure out what something is before you nuke it forever.

    Figure 1-25. Once the Quick Look window is open, you can play a file (movies and sounds), study it in more detail (most kinds of graphics files), or even read it (PDF, Word, and Excel documents). You can also click another icon, and another, and another, without ever closing the preview; the contents of the window simply change to reflect whatever you’ve just clicked. Supertip: Quick Look works even on icons in the Trash, so you can figure out what something is before you nuke it forever.

  • Tap with three fingers. Here’s a bonus for laptops. Tap an icon with three fingers on the trackpad (don’t fully click down) to open its preview.

  • Press ⌘-Y. Another keystroke for the same function. The space bar is still better, though.

  • Click theicon at the top of the window. But who uses the mouse anymore?

  • Choose FileQuick Look.

  • Choose Quick Look from the Action menu () at the top of every Finder window.

  • Right-click (or two-finger click) an icon; from the shortcut menu, choose Quick Look.

You exit Quick Look in any one of these same ways.

Note

Whenever Quick Look appears in a menu or a shortcut menu, its wording changes to reflect the name of the icon. For example, it might say “Quick Look ‘Secret Diary.doc.’ ”

In any case, the Quick Look window now opens, showing a gigantic preview of the document (Figure 1-25). Rather nice, eh?

The idea here is that you can check out a document without having to wait for it to open in the traditional way—at full size. For example, you can read the fine text in a Word or PowerPoint document without actually having to open Word or PowerPoint, which saves you about 45 minutes.

Tip

You can use the usual “next page” gesture (two-finger swipe on a trackpad, one-finger swipe on the Magic Mouse) to page through PDF or iWork documents, or to move among photos if you’ve highlighted a whole bunch. Add the Option key to your finger-swipe to zoom in or out of PDF documents.

It’s astonishing how few Mac fans are aware of this incredibly useful feature. Learn it!

What Quick Look Knows

You might wonder: How, exactly, is Quick Look able to display the contents of a document without opening it? Wouldn’t it have to somehow understand the internal file format of that document type?

Exactly. And that’s why Quick Look doesn’t recognize all documents. If you try to preview, for example, a Final Cut Pro video project, a sheet-music file, a .zip archive, or a database file, all you’ll see is a six-inch-tall version of its generic icon. You won’t see what’s inside.

Over time, people will write plug-ins for those nonrecognized programs. Already, plug-ins that let you see what’s inside folders and .zip files await at www.qlplugins.com and www.quicklookplugins.com. In the meantime, here’s what Quick Look recognizes right out of the box:

  • Graphics files and photos. This is where Quick Look can really shine, because it’s often useful to get a quick look at a photo without having to haul Photos or Photoshop out of bed. Quick Look recognizes all common graphics formats, including TIFF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, RAW, and Photoshop documents.

  • PDF and text files. Using the scroll bar, you can page through multipage documents, right there in the Quick Look window.

  • Audio and movie files. These begin to play instantly when you open them into the Quick Look window. Most popular formats are recognized (MP3, AIFF, AAC, MPEG-4, H.264, and so on). A scroll bar appears so that you can jump around in the movie or song.

  • Pages, Numbers, Keynote, and TextEdit documents. Naturally, since these are Apple programs, Quick Look understands the document formats.

  • Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. Because these formats are so common, OS X comes with a Quick Look plug-in to recognize them. Move through the pages using the vertical scroll bar; switch to a different Excel spreadsheet page using the Sheet tabs at the bottom.

  • Fonts. Totally cool. When you open a font file in Quick Look, you get a crystal-clear, huge sampler that shows every letter of the alphabet in that typeface.

  • vCards. A vCard is an address-book entry that people can send one another by email to save time in updating their Rolodexes. When you drag a name out of Apple’s or Microsoft’s address books and onto the desktop, for example, it turns into a vCard document. In Quick Look, the vCard opens up as a handsomely formatted index card that displays all the person’s contact information.

  • HTML (web pages) and Safari archived pages. If you’ve saved some web pages to your hard drive, here’s a great way to inspect them without firing up your web browser.

In fact, Quick Look has started seeping into other programs—not just the Finder. For example, you can preview any of the following:

  • A link in a Mail message. In Mail, there’s a tiny next to each web link. Click it to view the actual web page it leads to, right there in a pop-up bubble!

  • An address in Mail or Safari. If you ever see a street address in an email message or on a web page, click the tiny next to it. You’re offered the option to add this person to your address book, or to see a map of that address in Safari, courtesy of Google Maps.

  • An address in Contacts. In the Contacts program, click the label for an address (like “Work” or “Home”); from the shortcut menu, choose Map This Address. You get to see, once again, an aerial photo of that spot in Safari, thanks to Google.

  • Anything in the Spotlight menu. When you use the Spotlight search feature described in Chapter 3, point to anything in the results menu without clicking. In a moment, a big Quick Look bubble pops out to the left, showing what’s actually in that document or file.

  • Anything in Mission Control or a Dock menu. You can also tap the space bar to get a Quick Look preview of anything in the Mission Control view (Starting Split Screen Mode, Method 2) or the stack, list, or grid of a Dock folder (Pop-Up Dock Folders (“Stacks”)).

    And you were alive to see the day!

Fun with Quick Look

Here are some stunts that make Quick Look even more interesting:

  • Full screen. When you click the Full Screen button (the gray ), the Quick Look window expands to fill your screen. Keep this trick in mind when you’re trying to read Word, Excel, or PDF documents, since the text is usually too small to read otherwise. (When you’re finished with the closeup, click the Full Screen button again to restore the original Quick Look window, or the button to exit Quick Look altogether.)

    Tip

    How’s this for an undocumented shortcut? If you press Option-space bar, or Option-click the eyeball icon in any Finder window, you go straight into Full Screen mode without having to open the smaller Quick Look window first. Kewl.

    (OK, this is actually part of the slideshow feature described next, but it’s also good for super-enlarging a single icon.)

  • Share it. Click the in the title bar to open the Share pop-up menu—a quick way to send this document on to somebody or post it online.

  • Open with [program name]. This button shows up at the top-right corner of your Quick Look window. It might say, for example, “Open with Preview.”

    Handy, really. It says: “Oh, so you’ve been Quick-Looking to find a particular document, and this is the one you wanted? Click me to jump directly into the program that opens it, so you can get to work reading or editing. I’ve just saved your having to close the window and double-click the icon.”

    Tip

    Actually, you have a much bigger target than the “Open with” button in the corner. You can double-click anywhere in the Quick Look window to open the document (in whatever program is named on the “Open with” button).

    Better yet: If you click and hold your cursor on that “Open with” button, you get a secret pop-up menu of other programs that could open the file you’re looking at.

  • Keep it going. Once you’ve opened Quick Look for one icon, you don’t have to close it before inspecting another icon. Just keep clicking different icons (or pressing the arrow keys to walk through them); the Quick Look window changes instantly with each click to reflect the new document.

  • Fix the size. Quick Look tries to display an entire picture or document in a single small window. To view it briefly at actual size, hold down the Option key.

The Quick Look Slideshow

OS X is supposed to be all about graphics and other visual delights. No wonder, then, that it offers a built-in, full-screen slideshow feature.

It works like this: Highlight a bunch of icons, and then open Quick Look. Click the (Full Screen) button in the top-left corner. The screen goes black, and the documents begin their slideshow. Each image appears on the screen for about 3 seconds before the next one appears. (Press the Esc key or ⌘-period to end the show.) It plays all documents it recognizes, not just graphics.

It’s a useful feature when you’ve just downloaded or imported a bunch of photos or Office documents and want a quick look through them. Use the control bar shown in Figure 1-26 to manage the playback.

Note

This same slideshow mechanism is available for graphics in Preview and Mail; Preview even offers crossfades between pictures.

Once the slideshow is under way, you can use this control bar. It lets you pause the slideshow, move forward or backward manually, enlarge the current “slide” to fill the screen, or end the show. The Index view is especially handy. (You can press ⌘-Return to “click” the Index View button.) It displays an array of labeled miniatures, all at once—a sort of Exposé for Quick Look. Click a thumbnail to jump directly to the Quick Look document you want to inspect.

Figure 1-26. Once the slideshow is under way, you can use this control bar. It lets you pause the slideshow, move forward or backward manually, enlarge the current “slide” to fill the screen, or end the show. The Index view is especially handy. (You can press ⌘-Return to “click” the Index View button.) It displays an array of labeled miniatures, all at once—a sort of Exposé for Quick Look. Click a thumbnail to jump directly to the Quick Look document you want to inspect.

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