Use Quick Look to Peek inside Files and Folders on Your Mac

Finder icons sometimes hint at what’s inside, but if you find yourself opening file after file to look at the contents quickly, OS X has a little-known feature just for you: Quick Look. To give it a spin, find a file in the Finder, click it once to select it, and press the Space bar. If it’s a supported type of file, Quick Look displays a window showing the contents of the file. Press the Space bar again to close the window.

If the document you’re previewing has multiple pages, you’ll see thumbnails that you can scroll through using your mouse or trackpad, or by pressing the Page Up/Page Down keys. But you aren’t limited to just viewing a file in Quick Look: click the Open in app-namebutton to open the file in its default app, or click the Share button in the upper right to send the file to someone else via email or Messages or another sharing service.

If you need to scan through a set of files in a folder, you can navigate between them using the arrow keys while the Quick Look window remains open — how you move among the files depends on the Finder window’s view. In List view, for instance, using the Up and Down arrow keys can be a great way to browse through a collection of pictures. You can even interact with the Finder while using Quick Look, which means you can delete an unwanted photo by pressing Command-Delete while previewing it.

Quick Look works well for comparing multiple similar files. Select a bunch of files and press the Space bar to open them all in Quick Look. The Left and Right arrow keys let you cycle through your selection; there are also Forward and Back buttons that appear in the top left of the Quick Look window. Next to those buttons is a Thumbnail button that displays the selected files in a grid—click any thumbnail to focus on just that item. To remove the distraction of your Desktop, click the Zoom button in a Quick Look window. You can start a slideshow from there, or just press Option-Space to open Quick Look in Full-screen view with the slideshow already started.

So what file types does Quick Look work with? Not everything, but out of the box, Quick Look supports text files, RTF files, HTML files, images, audio, video, PDFs, iWork documents, Microsoft Office files, and even fonts. Third-party apps can extend Quick Look to support proprietary formats, too, and developers have even released independent Quick Look generators, as they’re called. If you want to look inside Zip archives and other compressed files, check out BetterZip, for instance, and if you write in the Markdown formatting language a lot, QLMarkdown is worth installing.

Although it’s used mostly in the Finder, Quick Look is available elsewhere. For example, if you’re in an app’s Open dialog, you can select a file and press the Space bar to preview it right there. When restoring a file in Time Machine, use Quick Look to see if it’s the version you want. Most Internet file transfer apps, like Cyberduck, Fetch, and Transmit, support Quick Look, making it easy to preview a file on a remote FTP server. You can also preview an attachment in Messages by selecting it and pressing the Space bar.

Finally, note that if your Mac has a newer Apple trackpad, such as the Magic Trackpad 2, you can invoke Quick Look by force-touching a Finder icon (press deeply until you feel a click) instead of pressing the Space bar.

Quick Look takes just a moment to learn, but it can save you hours of time poring through files on your Mac.

Use Trackpad Mode When Editing Text on an iPad or iPhone

by Adam Engst

In theory, it should be easy to move the cursor in text on an iPad or iPhone—just press and hold until the magnifying circle appears over the cursor and then slide it around. In reality, it’s often fussy and annoying. Apple came up with a better solution starting in iOS 9: trackpad mode.

In trackpad mode, you turn the onscreen keyboard into a virtual trackpad. Just as on a Mac laptop, moving your finger around the virtual trackpad moves the cursor around in the text above. How you invoke trackpad mode differs between the iPad and iPhone.

Trackpad Mode on the iPad

On an iPad, open any app that allows text input, like Notes, and bring up the keyboard. Touch the keyboard with two fingers, and you see the letters disappear from the keyboard as it switches to trackpad mode. Immediately swipe your fingers (or just one, you can lift the other up) around to move the cursor within the text.

You can also select text in trackpad mode. Instead of swiping immediately after entering trackpad mode, pause with your two fingers down briefly, which causes iOS to switch to selecting text. Then move your fingers around to change the colored selection.

For easier selection of chunks of text, tap once with two fingers to select the word underneath the cursor, twice to select the sentence around the cursor, and three times to select the entire paragraph. To expand or contract the selection, keep your fingers down and drag the selection cursor. To deselect text, tap once on the keyboard with two fingers.

You can use trackpad mode even if you have an external keyboard attached. Tap in a text field, place two fingers inside the field to engage trackpad mode, and then move your fingers to reposition the cursor. To select text, put the cursor inside a word, release your fingers, and tap once to select the word, twice for the sentence, and three times for the paragraph.

Trackpad Mode on the iPhone 6s and 7

To use trackpad mode on an iPhone, you’ll need 3D Touch, which limits it to the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, and the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus (the iPhone SE does not support 3D Touch, alas). Instead of tapping with two fingers, press firmly on the keyboard with one finger—you’ll feel the iPhone’s Taptic Engine simulate the feel of a click. Keep your finger down to move the cursor around. If you need more room, you can move your finger off the keyboard image right onto the text.

To select a word, relax your finger pressure slightly without removing it from the screen, and then press again. It’s quite similar to the feel of clicking on MacBook trackpad.

You can even double-press—again, with a slight relaxing of the finger first—to select the current sentence and triple-press to select the entire paragraph. Keep dragging after selecting to select more text by the word, sentence, or paragraph.

Trackpad mode takes a little getting used to, but it’s so much better than the previous selection methods that it’s worth forcing yourself to use it a few times until it becomes second nature.

Understanding the Relationship between Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C

by Adam Engst

Apple’s new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar models rely on a new kind of connection port: Thunderbolt 3. Unfortunately, while this switch is great from a technical standpoint, it has caused confusion in the Mac world. Let’s sort it all out.

The root of the confusion is the fact that Thunderbolt 3 uses a different physical connector than Thunderbolt 1 and 2. They relied on the physical Mini DisplayPort connector, which made sense since they are commonly used to connect monitors. Thunderbolt 3 instead relies on the reversible USB-C connector that has previously appeared in the Mac world only on the 12-inch MacBook, where it replaces USB-A.

Here’s the key fact to remember: all USB-C devices, cables, adapters, and chargers should work when plugged into a Thunderbolt 3 port, but Thunderbolt 3-specific peripherals will not work when plugged into the USB-C port of a 12-inch MacBook. In short, Thunderbolt 3 is a superset of USB-C.

The only visible difference between a Thunderbolt 3 cable and a USB-C cable is that a Thunderbolt 3 cable is labeled with the same lightning logo used on previous Thunderbolt cables. USB-C-only cables may be labeled with SS+ for SuperSpeed+.

If you buy a new MacBook Pro and want to connect it to older devices that lack Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C ports, you’ll need a special cable, adapter, or dock. Apple makes a number of these, and more are available from numerous independent manufacturers. The two most important adapters to get are Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter and a USB-C to USB-A adapter.

With those handy, you can connect to any Thunderbolt device (including many older Macs and Apple’s Thunderbolt Display) and any USB device. You can also add Apple’s older Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter and Thunderbolt to FireWire Adapter to connect to Ethernet networks and FireWire hard drives.

Connecting to other displays requires additional adapters, which are specific to the different video standards. Apple makes adapters for USB-C to HDMI and VGA, but not for USB-C to DisplayPort, Mini DisplayPort, and DVI, so you’ll have to turn to another manufacturer for displays that rely on those last three standards.

The practical upshot of all this is that if you have a new MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt 3, you may need to get a couple of adapters to be able to migrate data from an older Mac, connect to your existing accessories, and drive external displays and projectors. (Macworld has a nice guide to all the possibilities.) That’s an unfortunate fact of life right now, but in a few years, once most peripherals support USB-C and new Macs come with Thunderbolt 3, there will be one cable to rule them all.

Taking Screenshots: Three Tricks for the Mac and One for iOS

Did you ever want to capture what’s on your screen, or at least a part of it? Screenshots aren’t just for technical writers trying to document app behavior—you might also use them to provide feedback on a photo, to document an error message for someone who helps you with your Mac, or to record a particularly funny auto-correct fail in Messages on your iPhone.

OS X and iOS have both long included built-in screenshot features that make it easy to take a high-resolution picture of what you see onscreen. (You can, of course, use a camera to take a photo of your screen, but that will never look as good.)

Taking a screenshot in iOS is super simple, and it works the same on an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. Just press the Home and Sleep/Wake buttons simultaneously. You’ll see the screen flash, and iOS saves the screenshot to your Photos app—look at the bottom of the Camera Roll or, if you’ve turned on iCloud Photo Library, the All Photos album. The same technique works on the Apple Watch, where you press both the digital crown and the side button simultaneously. (Accidental presses of those buttons explains why random Apple Watch screenshots might appear in Photos.)

On the Mac, you can take your pick from three built-in methods of taking screenshots:

If you take a lot of screenshots, consider memorizing OS X’s keyboard shortcuts. For a full-screen screenshot, press Command-Shift-3. For a screenshot of an arbitrary size, press Command-Shift-4 and drag out a rectangle. To capture just an object like a window, press Command-Shift-4, hover the pointer over the window, press the Space bar to show the camera cursor over the highlighted object, and then click to take the screenshot. The Command-Shift-4 shortcut is the only way to capture a menu. All screenshots are saved as PNG files on your Desktop and automatically named with the date.
If that sounds geeky and hard to remember, try Apple’s Grab app, which is hidden away in the Utilities folder inside your Applications folder. It’s a simple app, but it can take full-screen, window, and selection screenshots, and it walks you through the process. You can also use Grab to capture a full-screen screenshot with a timer, which is handy if what you want to record appears only while you’re dragging an icon or other object, for instance. Captured screenshots appear in Grab as Untitled TIFF documents that you can close, copy, save, or print.
Want to mark up a screenshot with circles and arrows and a paragraph of text, just like the photos in Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant song? For that, use Apple’s surprisingly powerful Preview app, which can take screenshots and opens them as graphic documents that you can edit. Choose File > Take Screenshot > From Selection, From Window, or From Entire Screen. That last option is automatically a timed screenshot so you can set up any temporary conditions while the timer counts down. To access the tools you need to  add shapes or text to your screenshot, choose View > Show Markup Toolbar. When you’re done, you can save the screenshot in a variety of formats.

You can also take screenshots using a cornucopia of third-party screenshot utilities. In general, they don’t offer much more than Apple’s options when it comes to capturing screenshots. Where they stand out is providing better tools for marking up and manipulating screenshots, and in offering an interface for managing and sharing screenshots. Choosing among them is largely a matter of personal preference, but check out Evernote’s free Skitch, Global Delight’s $29.99 Capto, and Aged & Distilled’s $39.99 Napkin.

Whatever method you choose, remember that a picture is worth a thousand words, and the right screenshot can be even more valuable.

Enhance Copy & Paste with Clipboard Utilities

One of the most important technologies of the computer age is Copy & Paste. You may not think about the humble clipboard much, but Copy & Paste has saved you incalculable amounts of work by letting you copy something you’ve done previously to the clipboard, paste it into another document or app, and make any necessary changes. Whether you’re updating a monthly report, tweaking graphics for an annual party, or entering sales numbers in a custom database, Copy & Paste ensures that you don’t have to retype data or start from scratch.

What if you could make Copy & Paste even more powerful? With the right clipboard utility installed on your Mac, you gain two major new features:

  • Use clipboard history to access previously copied data. By default, every time you copy something to the clipboard, it replaces whatever was there before. With a clipboard utility, though, you can see a list of items you’ve previously copied to the clipboard and paste any one of them, which is way easier than finding and copying the data again. Clipboard utilities even preserve your clipboard history across restarts!
  • Edit or filter the data on the clipboard before pasting. This is useful, for instance, if there’s a mistake in the contents of the clipboard, if you copied styled text but want to paste plain text, or if you want to replace all double spaces in the copied text with single spaces.

Which clipboard utility is right for you depends on what else you might want it to do, or you might even have one installed already without realizing. That’s because clipboard enhancements are a bit like blades in a Swiss Army knife: they tend to be bundled into other utilities. You won’t go wrong with any of these clipboard boosters: the macro utility Keyboard Maestro, the launcher LaunchBar, and the dedicated clipboard helper Copy’em Paste.


Keyboard Maestro ($36) is a macro utility, which means that it lets you string together a series of actions—copy this, switch apps, click here, paste, switch back, for instance—and then invoke that series with a trigger such as a hotkey, menu command, timer, or system activity. Keyboard Maestro offers hundreds of actions and numerous triggers, but from the clipboard perspective, it provides a persistent clipboard history, multiple named clipboards, filtering of clipboard contents when pasting, removal of styles from pasted text, and a user-specified hotkey for anything you want to do. You cannot, however, edit clipboard text manually.


LaunchBar ($29) is a launcher, so its primary feature is opening or switching to an application or file by typing a hotkey followed by a few letters from the name of the app or file. That’s hugely useful in its own right, but LaunchBar also maintains a filterable clipboard history across restarts, lets you paste a clipping as plain text, and can merge copied text with whatever is already on the clipboard. Other apps in this category include Alfred (with the optional £17 Powerpack), Butler ($20), and QuickSilver(donationware).


Copy’em Paste ($14.99) focuses on clipboard enhancements, wrapping nearly every clipboard-related feature you could want in an attractive interface. It offers a full clipboard history, makes it easy to paste multiple items quickly or even in a batch, can transform pasted text in a variety of ways, and lets you organize clippings into groups. It also enables you to edit text clippings, search for text in your clippings, and ignore apps whose clipboard changes just clutter your clipboard history. Competitors include CopyPaste Pro ($30) and iClipboard ($9.99).

Regardless of which of these utilities you choose, you’ll soon be juggling the contents of your clipboard like a pro…and wasting a lot less time!