20 Common macOS How-To Questions Answered

Akshata Shanbhag 12-12-2017

When you first start using your Mac, you’re bound to have quite a few “How do I…” type questions. Today we’ll show you how to take care of certain common tasks that, sooner or later, most macOS users need to know about. Let’s get started.


1. How Do I Change the Default Scroll Direction?

What Apple calls the “natural” scroll direction (scrolling down to scroll up) feels unnatural to many users. If you’re one of them, you don’t have to stick with it a second longer. Visit System Preferences > Trackpad > Scroll & Zoom and uncheck the box next to Scroll Direction: Natural. There, now you can scroll down to scroll down.


2. How Do I Find My Mac’s Serial Number?

Your Mac, like other Apple products, comes with a unique identification number or serial number. The easiest way to find this number is by clicking on the Apple icon at the top left in the menu bar and then on the About This Mac menu item that shows up.


You’ll also find the serial number listed on the surface of your device, on the original packaging that comes with it, and on the invoice for the purchase. This comes in handy if your Mac isn’t working when you need that bit of information.


Why is the serial number so important? It holds key information about your Mac, such as the model type, the macOS version it shipped with, and the year of manufacture. It’s the first thing Mac tech support Need Mac Tech Support? Here Are Your Options "Tech support" — two words that strike fear into the hearts of all but the most competent computer users out there. Where do you begin to look when things start to go wrong? Read More operators ask for. You can even check your Mac’s warranty status with it.

3. How Do I Move the Spotlight Window?

Click and drag. To wherever you want it to show up on the screen.

Want to re-center the Spotlight window (return it to its default location)? Click and hold the Spotlight icon in the menu bar and the window should pop back into place.

4. How Do I Cut-and-Paste Items in Finder?

If you’re a Windows transplant The Mac Equivalents to Default Windows Software Every default Windows app has a Mac equivalent. If you're a new Mac user, here are the apps that replace the Windows tools you've used. Read More , you have probably wondered why you can’t cut-and-paste items in Finder. Actually you can, but you need a different approach.


On Windows, you “cut” a file or folder using the shortcut Control + X before pasting it with the shortcut Control + V.

On macOS, you copy the file using the shortcut Command + C even if you want to cut it. The actual “cutting” happens when you paste the file using the shortcut Command + Option + V.

In other words, you won’t see a Cut option in the Edit menu at the source location. You’ll see a Move Item Here option at the destination (but only after you hold down the Option key).



5. How Do I Stop iTunes From Opening Automatically?

You have some minor tweaking to do when you have plugged in your iPhone to your Mac and have the iTunes app open on your desktop.

Click on the tiny toolbar icon that gives you access to your iOS device settings. You’ll find that icon above the sidebar, to the right.


Take a quick peek at the sidebar to ensure that you’re in the Summary section of your iPhone’s settings. Now scroll down to the Options section on the right and check the box for Open iTunes when this iPod is connected. Remember to click on the Apply button to confirm the change. And problem solved!



6. How Do I Use Google Hangouts With Messages?

Before High Sierra, this was as simple as signing in to your Google account from the Messages app. Open the app and click on Messages > Add Account. Select the radio button for Google Account and follow the on-screen prompts to sign in.

In High Sierra, instead of Add Account you’ll see Add Jabber Account in the Messages menu. Click on that option and log in with your Google credentials at the on-screen prompt. If Hangouts is functional, your buddy list will show up in the Messages app right away.


Most likely though, Hangouts won’t work until you go to your Google Account settings and set Allow less secure apps to ON in the Sign-in & security section. Google warns you that this is a security risk, and it’s up to you to decide if you want to take it.


7. How Do I Rearrange Menu Bar Icons?

With the Command key pressed, drag and drop icons to the correct location in the menu bar to rearrange them. Ignore the Notification Center icon. It won’t budge.

For a cleaner menu bar How To Customize & Tidy Your Mac Menu Bar Nothing makes OS X look cluttered faster than unwanted menubar icons. Read More , you’ll need to go beyond rearranging the icons and either hide or remove them.

To remove a system icon, hold down the Command key, drag the icon out of the menu bar and release it when you see an “X” mark show up next to the cursor. The Notification Center icon and the Spotlight icon are immune to this trick.

You can Command-drag to rearrange and remove icons in the toolbars of various pre-installed Mac apps The Best Default Mac Apps That You Shouldn't Need to Replace Here are some of the best default, pre-installed, native Mac apps worth using. Don't ditch them before you try them! Read More as well. For example, in Finder, Mail, Preview, and Safari.

If you want to keep third-party app icons out of sight, you’ll need an icon-hider app like Vanilla (Free) or Bartender ($15).

8. How Do I Configure an App to Open at Login?

You’ll first need to find the list of the apps that are set to launch at login (i.e. when you start up your Mac). Getting there is easy, as we’ll see next.

Select your user name in the sidebar under System Preferences > Users & Groups. Next, switch to the Login Items tab in the corresponding panel on the right. That’s where that list we’re looking for lives. To add an app here, first click on the “+” icon below the list.


In the Finder window that opens, select the app you want to open at login and click on the Add button. And now that app should show up as set to open automatically.


What’s the Hide checkbox next to the app in the list for? That’s if you want to stop the app’s window from showing up in the foreground when it opens at launch.


Of course, that’s not the only way to configure apps to open when you boot your Mac. Many apps have a “launch at login” option hidden in their Preferences section, which they prompt you to enable right after installation.

9. How Do I Change Default Applications for File Types?

This one’s easier with an example. Let’s say you want to set MP4 files to open with VLC Player instead of the macOS default, QuickTime Player. First open the right-click menu for any MP4 file in Finder and click on the Open With > Other… option. That option also appears in the File menu, by the way.


Select VLC Player from the Finder window that pops up, select the Always Open With checkbox, and click on the Open button. Done! VLC is now your new default app for opening MP4 files.


What if the Always Open With checkbox is missing, you ask? Well, you should be able to see it once you click on the Options button at the bottom left of the Finder popup.


And what do you do if the application of your choice appears grayed out? Select All Applications from the Enable dropdown menu to select that app and set it as the default. That’s probably futile though, because if Apple doesn’t list the app under Recommended Applications, it’s most likely not programmed to open files of the type you have chosen.


10. How Do I Restore Files Deleted From iCloud Drive?

If you can’t recover a deleted iCloud Drive file from Trash, your next step should be to look for it at > Settings. If you click on the Restore Files link under the Advanced section, you’ll be able to see a list of files that iCloud considers recoverable (i.e. deleted within the last 30 days).


Select the checkbox for the file you’d like to recover and click on the Restore link that shows up. That should put the file you’re looking for right where it belongs, in the correct folder of iCloud Drive on your Mac.


Can’t see a particular file in the list of recoverables on You might still be able to get it back if you have a Time Machine backup How to Restore Deleted iCloud Drive Files If you delete a file on your iCloud drive, how do you restore it? The answer depends on what device you're currently using! Read More .

11. How Do I Disable the Caps Lock Key?

If you find the Caps Lock key a nuisance, you can disable it under System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard > Modifier Keys…


Select No Action from the dropdown menu next to Caps Lock Key and you’re done! From the other items in the menu, you’ll see that instead of disabling the key, you can force it to double up as the Control, Option, Command, or the Escape key.


12. How Do I Hide/Show Files and Folders in Finder?

The default way to display hidden files on macOS is through the Terminal app, using the following piece of code:

defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE
killall Finder

Be sure to hit Enter after you paste the code into the app.

You can hide the files once again using the same piece of code with the TRUE parameter changed to FALSE:

defaults write AppleShowAllFiles FALSE
killall Finder

You’ll have to fiddle with the Terminal app to create hidden files Hide & Find Any File On Mac OS X There's no straightforward way to quickly hide or reveal hidden files on Mac OS X as there is on Windows – but it is possible. Read More . If you would like to bypass this whole process for a point-and-click solution to reveal hidden files and create new ones, install an app like Funter.


13. How Do I Copy Pathnames in Finder?

This task relies on a secretly powerful key on your Mac’s keyboard 20 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do with the Mac Option Key The Command steals the limelight on your Mac's keyboard, but it’s the Option key that is the real hero. Read More : the Option key.

When you have the right-click menu active for a Finder item, hold down the Option key. You’ll then see the Copy… menu item morph into what we’re looking for, which is the Copy… as Pathname option. You’ll also find this option under the Edit menu, but only when you’re holding down the Option key. Option + Command + C is the corresponding keyboard shortcut.

14. How Do I Share My Clipboard With iOS?

With the Sierra update, Mac got a Universal Clipboard feature. It’s a fancy way of saying you can now copy-paste stuff between your Mac and iPhone 5 Reasons to Install macOS Sierra Right Now & How to Upgrade After a few months of public beta, the latest version of Apple's desktop operating system is ready for prime time. Read More (or any other iOS device).

But first you’ll need to ensure that you have signed in to the same iCloud account on both the devices and also enabled the Handoff feature on both. After you do that, the copy-paste part is easy and works as you’d expect it to. On paper at least. In reality, you’ll probably first have to go through a spell of disabling and re-enabling your WiFi, Bluetooth, the Handoff feature, and maybe even rebooting your devices. But once you get the shared clipboard to work, it’s magic!

Not sure how to enable Handoff? On a Mac all you have to do is visit System Preferences > General and check the box for Allow Handoff between this Mac and your iCloud devices. On an iOS device, you can enable Handoff under Settings > General.


15. How Do I See What’s Taking Up Storage Space?

Disk Utility, which you’ll find under Applications > Utilities, gives you an overview of your Mac’s hard disk storage. If you want a detailed breakdown of how macOS is utilizing that storage, visit this location hidden behind the Apple icon in the menu bar: About This Mac > Storage > Manage.


Click on the sidebar items one by one to see how much storage space various apps, files, folders, archives, and so on are taking up. Go a step further and do a spot of decluttering using the tools hidden behind Recommendations in the sidebar.


16. How Do I Turn Off All Notifications Temporarily?

Do Not Disturb (DND) mode can shut up all audio-visual notifications at once when you want to be left in peace. To enable this mode, open the Notifications tab in the Notification Center and set the Do Not Disturb slider switch to ON. You’ll have to scroll up to find this switch in the first place — it’s not visible when both the DND mode and the Night Shift mode are inactive.


Why not set up a keyboard shortcut to enable or disable DND? You can do that under System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Mission Control. Check the box for Turn Do Not Disturb On/Off and enter the desired hot key (I use F12) in the key input field.


If you look under System Preferences > Notifications > Do Not Disturb, you’ll find options to customize DND preferences.


17. How Do I Convert Images to Grayscale in Preview?

There’s no one-click grayscale conversion option in Preview, but the method is just as simple.

Click on Tools > Adjust Color, and in the editing panel that shows up, drag the Saturation slider down all the way to the left. And there’s your grayscale image. You can improve it further by adjusting the Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, and Shadows sliders.


18. How Do I Use Tabs Instead of Windows in Preview?

Preview now comes with a tabbed interface. But where are the tabs? When you open documents in Preview you’ll notice that they still open in separate windows instead of tabs. To fix that, go to System Preferences > Dock and select the Always option from the Prefer tabs when opening documents dropdown menu.


19. How Do I Open Finder Folders as Tabs?

The tweak outlined for the Preview app in the section right above works for Finder too, so if you have already made that tweak, you’re good to go.

There’s an alternative way to open folders in tabs on the fly: hold down the Command key as you double-click on the folders. For sidebar folders, the secret is Command plus single click. These two tricks work only if you have enabled Open folders in tabs instead of new windows under Finder > Preferences > General.


20. How Do I Play YouTube Videos on Top of Windows?

Safari’s Picture-in-Picture mode has you covered. Right-click on the YouTube video you’re playing. Now right-click a second time to reveal the Enter Picture in Picture menu option and click on it. Once you do that, the video pops out and stays on top of all windows even when you switch between apps.


“Floating” a video on YouTube or any other supported streaming website is not the only Safari trick you’ll appreciate 17 Essential Safari Tips and Tricks for Mac Users These essential Safari tips and tricks will make the Mac's default browser experience even better. Read More . But it sure is the one you’re likely to love the most and use often.

It Gets Better!

As you continue to use your Mac everyday, you’ll learn about more hidden features, find fixes for its common quirks 11 Quick Fixes for Common Mac Problems and Quirks Did you know many of the common Mac issues and quirks that users report can be fixed simply by changing a few settings? Read More , and discover some neat Mac apps The Best Mac Apps to Install on Your MacBook or iMac Looking for the best apps for your MacBook or iMac? Here's our comprehensive list of the best apps for macOS. Read More . And you just might turn into a loyal Mac user Drinking the Kool Aid: 8 Reasons People Love Their Macs When you can buy a laptop for under $500, and a Chromebook will satisfy most people's computing needs, why do people insist on spending well over $1000 on a Mac? Read More .

If you’re struggling with a basic macOS how-to question, ask away. We’ll do our best to answer it.

Related topics: Mac Menu Bar, Mac Tricks, macOS High Sierra.

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