Handy Tips and Hidden Tricks for Mac OS X Lion

By Wesley Fenlon

Want to know what secrets Apple's new operating system is hiding from you? Here are some handy ones.

Mac OS X Lion has been here for a week now. You've watched the Quick Look, read up on the essentials and learned how to perform a clean OS install. What's left? Learning all of Lion's little secrets. Apple's gesture preferences will help you learn the ropes of every swipe and pinch, but Lion's full of helpful shortcuts and little changes that aren't obvious at first glance.

Apple site Tidbits has compiled a lengthy list of changes in OS X Lion, and we've pulled out some of the best that make the Lion experience faster and friendlier. For example: highlighting a Spotlight search brings up a preview, and holding option in Mission Control reveals the controls for closing desktops and adding a new blank space. Option also allows you to click on and preview a desktop without leaving Mission Control.

More Mission Control tips

  • While in Mission Control, mouse over a window and press spacebar to see a zoomed in version of that window.
  • If you're working with a full screen app, move the pointer to the top of the screen to pull down the menu bar. Press Esc to drop out of full screen mode.

Typing tips

  • Hold down a letter key to pull up a list of available accents for that key. A pop-up window will appear over the letter with numbers linked to each different accent. Press one of those numbers to enter the corresponding accented letter.
  • Emojis (emoticons) are now included in Lion. Pull up the Characters window in a text application to add them in software like TextEdit.
  • Lion now has pop-up bubbles to help you with spelling correction. When it suggests a word, press enter to confirm that word or Esc to cancel it.


  • You can screen share with another Lion Mac by logging into a user account on the second machine, even if someone is currently using a different user account on that computer.
  • While sharing a Wi-Fi network, you can now choose channels outside the crowded 2.4GHz band. Choose 36, 40, 44, or 48 while creating a wireless network.

Finder and All the Rest

  • If you use the Copy command to copy an item, you can hold down Option while pasting to change the "Paste" command into a "Move" command.
  • Don't like some changes to the Finder like the All My Files smart folder? Hold Command and drag it out of the sidebar to ditch it. This works with other items in the Finder sidebar as well.
  • You can now sort items within groups: "The Finder window toolbar contains a new Arrange pop-up menu to make grouping easy. But then what about sorting? The secret is to hold the Option key as you choose from the menu; this changes Arrange to Sort. If you sort when there is already an Arrange option in force, you sort within each group."
  • Grab several items and use secondary click or the file menu to move those files to a folder.
  • Want to drag something out of the Applications folder? If it's not an Apple program, you can do so by holding Command.
  • Under System Preferences, click on Security & Privacy to bring up an option to show a custom message on your login screen.
  • Open Speech in Preferences and then choose the Customize option to see a whole list of Text-to-Speech voices to choose from.
  • Dragging a file from Safari's Downloads list now moves that file to a different location in the Finder.
  • Dislike the new Mail layout? Open Preferences, click Viewing, and change to the classic layout.