10 Tips For Taming OS X Lion

Bakari Chavanu 01-08-2011

The user interface changes of Apple’s new operating system, Lion, are obvious to experienced Mac users. But some of the changes might have you scratching your head, when you don’t for example see traditional scroll bars, the mailbox and folder list, or large enough icons in the Finder sidebar.


You might also be annoyed by the new “reverse scrolling” feature, and the reappearance of that ping sound when you receive new mail messages. Plus, you may be wondering what the “Arrange” button and the extra items in the Finder sidebar are all about.

If you’re a veteran Mac user, you probably have figured out how to change a few things in Lion to get them back the way you like. But if you’re still confused, read on.

Scroll Bars and Sidebar

Probably the first thing you see missing in Lion are the traditional scroll bars in Finder windows. The newly designed, leaner grey scroll bars appear by default when you move your cursor over to the edge of a window. This might be okay for some users, but if you want scroll bars back, open System Preferences and click General.
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Where it says, “Show scroll bars”, you get the other two options to show scroll bars “Always,” or “When scrolling.”

While we’re in this General section, you might also want to change the size of the icons in the Sidebar of the Finder, from the default small size to larger. On my MacBook Air, the icons by default were too small.

Trackpad Gestures

While we have System Preferences open, you might want to click on the Trackpad settings and see what new multi-touch gestures are available in Lion. The new gestures are great, but they are still not as advanced as what you will find in BetterTouchTool How To Use Your Trackpad To Powerfully Navigate Any App [Mac] Read More .
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If you like using BTT or a similar multi-touch application, deselecting “Three finger drag,” under Point & Drag might provide you better functionality in BTT.


Also, if the reverse scrolling direction of the scroll bars is not your cup of tea, simply deselect “Scroll direction: natural” and you can scroll the way you always have on your Mac.
os x lion help

Finder Preferences

There are additional items in the Finder Sidebar, and most of them you probably want to keep there. But if you don’t need something like  AirDrop or any other item, you can select Finder > Preferences > Sidebar and deselect any items you don’t want visible.
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Also notice that by default, status information is missing at the bottom of Finder windows. If you click View > Show Status Bar in the Finder menu bar, you get back useful information like the number of files in a folder, or the amount of memory space you have available in the internal drive of your computer.

All My Files

You will also notice a new sidebar item labeled, “All My Files”, which shows and sorts all your files by Kind, Contacts, Images, PDF Documents, etc. This is a great idea, but you might be overwhelmed by too many files displayed at once.
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So you could us the Arrange drop-down menu, described below, to sort your files by a particular category. Or you may consider changing the settings for All My Files. You can control-click on it and select, “Show Search Criteria.” From there, you might add a criteria (by clicking the + button) to limit the files that show up. For instance, you may only want to see files created in the week or few days.
osx lion features

Arrange Button

While we’re talking about the Finder, you might have noticed that there’s a new item in the toolbar labeled, “Arrange.” If you find your Desktop or any Finder window of items in chaos with files having no semblance of order, the drop-down menu in Arrange can quickly help you tidy things up. You can order items by Kind, Date Modified, Size, etc.
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Mail Under Lion

The new Mail interface is probably the most noticeable of all changes in Lion, which provides a widescreen display of your messages and neatly arranges and groups your messages—conversation style—in a single column.
10 Tips For Taming OS X Lion muoscreenshot40
However, when you open Mail you might wonder what happened to the sidebar that includes your list of mailboxes and folders. It’s not there by default, but simply click View > Show Mailbox List to get the sidebar back. There’s also an icon in the upper-left of Mail in which you can hide and show the sidebar.

Also, Apple by default turned back on the Ping sound for new Mail messages. If that sound annoys you, open the Mail’s Preferences > General and select “None” under “New messages sound.”

New Folder with Selections

One great little feature new to Lion is the ability to Control-select items on your desktop or in any Finder window, and then  choose “New Folder with Selection (…Items)” to have those items put into a folder.
os x lion tips
I’ve been using a AppleScript action that does the same thing, but now it’s available as part of the operating system. You will find this nifty feature a small boost in your productivity for organizing files into folders.

Though there are many interface changes in Lion, Apple has kept the option open for you to do some customizing to get things back the way you like. Let us know what changes you have made to tame Lion.


For other MUO articles about Lion, start with these posts:

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  1. Sarahkay01
    September 26, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    I just got my sanity back thanks to these tips - many, many thanks! Hello again scroll bar, my long lost friend! :) 

    • Bakari Chavanu
      September 26, 2011 at 11:53 pm

      Sarahkay, thanks for the feedback. Glad it was helpful. 

  2. Nita Garland
    September 3, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Can you help me change the way windows are opening and sliding to the left. For example, I want to open iMail, then open ImageWell on top of it, to drag a photo into an email. Currently, I'm chasing windows left and right, and unable to drag photos on the mail window. Please advise. Thanks.

    • Bakari
      September 5, 2011 at 9:52 pm

      Hmmm, Nita, I'm not sure why windows are "sliding to the left." Are you sure you don't have some program in your Mac that is automatically moving windows? You might try to Apple Support forums and see if others are having that problem. Also take a video screen capture and post it somewhere, so that others can link to it and see what's going on.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      September 5, 2011 at 11:18 pm

      Nita, I'm not sure why the windows are sliding to the left. Do think you have a program installed on your computer that is making that happen? You might try to going on the Apple Support forum and seeing if others are having the same problem. 

  3. Kyle
    August 30, 2011 at 3:54 am

    Thanks for the info... very helpful!  I'm still having problems with the multi-touch gestures though.  When I open the trackpad section of system preferences it doesn't look at all like the pictures you posted above to help explain.  I have no options for the new gestures that go along with Lion.  Any thoughts?  

    Using a 2007 Macbook Pro 2.2Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo  2 GB RAM 



    • Bakari
      September 5, 2011 at 9:47 pm

      Kyle, i'm not sure what the problem is. You should check on the Apple Support forums to see if others have that same issue. I'm looking at the multt-touch gesture tutorials on my MacBook Air and they are still the same as when I wrote this article. You can also email me a screen shot of your Trackpad layout so I can see what the differences are.

  4. Donnadrake
    August 29, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Oh you've made my life so much easier.  Thank You.  I agree with Hozey the scroll bars are inappropriatley sized for the larger monitors.    Can we widen them some how? 

    • Bakari
      September 5, 2011 at 9:54 pm

      Donna, thanks for the feedback. As for I know the scroll bars can be resized. I think Apple took a very minimalist approach on the design to the point that the bars seem insignificant. It was mistake on their part.

  5. Bob
    August 25, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    Great article - I searched for how to get number of files in folders back and you had the answer! Thanks!

    • Bakari Chavanu
      September 5, 2011 at 11:19 pm

      Bob, thanks for your feedback. It's much appreciated.

    • RobtB
      October 26, 2011 at 12:16 am

      thanks for mentioning this Bob. I didnt notice the option in the article. What a relief. Also path bar

  6. hozey
    August 24, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    The narrow scroll bars are great for my MacBookPro, but suck on my 23" monitors.  Is there a way to make them wider?  Also, I miss the blue, as the grey is difficult to see.

    • Bakari
      September 5, 2011 at 9:41 pm

      I agree with you. Perhaps some third-part developer might come up with the solution you're looking for.

  7. Studio
    August 16, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    THANK YOU!!!!!!!!

    • Bakari
      September 5, 2011 at 9:40 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, Studio. 

  8. Bakari
    August 5, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    Thanks to all for the feedback. Glad you find it useful.

  9. Seagee
    August 5, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Super-Helpful, Thanks Much!!

    Any idea if it is possible to get the Devices list back to the top of the sidebar rather than having them way at the bottom underneath the Favorites?

    • Bakari
      September 5, 2011 at 9:40 pm

      Seagee, Maclearner, Carl, and drking, thank you all for your feedback.

  10. maclearner
    August 4, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    thank you very much smarty!

  11. Carlslife
    August 2, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Very helpful - thanks.

  12. drking
    August 1, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    Fantastic article. Thanks!