Hidden deep inside your Applications directory is a folder marked “Utilities”. To a lot of people, this cold, generic title will scare you away, and many will never venture inside, or if they do, won’t want to open up any of those frightening-sounding applications for fear of ruining something.
This is unfortunate, as your Utilities folder harbours a wealth of great apps with beautiful icons and wonderful UIs, all designed to make your experience on a Mac even easier.
Even to the most experienced Mac user, some of the utilities will lie unused. You might know Terminal and System Profiler, but won’t have a clue what Grapher or Console does. In this bumper article, I hope to show you what you can do with these mysterious apps, and how your Mac might just get a whole lot better!
It’s happened to all of us – Your Mac is running fine, and then suddenly, something happens and everything slows to a halt. You know that something must be sucking up your RAM, but don’t have time to close down everything just to find the problem.
This is where Activity Monitor comes in. The app shows you all of the processes you have running, and how much damage they’re doing to your RAM and CPU. Like most Apple apps, you can order by a variety of criteria, such as Memory, which can be a great way of finding which app is taking up all of your RAM.
Activity Monitor also provides graphical representations of your Mac’s CPU, System Memory, Disk Activity and Network, so you can keep on top of how your Mac is doing.
AppleScript is a language created to make your life easier. You can automate iTunes, clean up your Address Book, or any number of other tasks that would take hours for you to do manually, but can be done in seconds using AppleScript.
AppleScript Editor allows you to write your own scripts, but if you don’t want to learn yet another language, then there are loads of pre-built scripts out there.
Audio MIDI Setup
You might be content with your Mac’s sound, but it could be so much better, if you just spent a few minutes tweaking it to suit your needs. For example, by changing your speakers from 16 to 24bit, it instantly sounds much cleaner and nicer to listen to.
Considering its ease of use and usefulness, it seems strange that this isn’t inside System Preferences, but nevertheless, it isn’t, and instead, you can be one of the elite few that have optimum sound.
Bluetooth File Exchange
If you need to transfer a file to a device but can’t find, or don’t have, the correct cables to do it, then you might think you’re pretty much stuck. Think again, because if your device has Bluetooth, you can quickly and easily transfer your files over to the device, or get files from the device. This can be a lifesaver, especially in a working environment.
Like almost all utilities, this app makes it very easy to do what you want to, and fast.
Boot Camp Assistant
This does exactly what it says on the tin – Helps you to partition your hard drive and install Windows on your Mac using Boot Camp.
There are a number of reasons for installing Windows. For example, developers can test out their websites on the dreaded Internet Explorer, most CAD (Computer-Aided Design) software only works on Windows, and, of course, Pinball, Solitaire and Minesweeper! OSX will do everything you need, but Windows can help you do everything else.
This is one of the slightly more difficult apps to figure out, due to its wide range of features. However, if you just want to do a bit of image editing, it also works quite well.
When you open an image, you can quickly and easily resize it, give it numerous effects such as Sepia and Black & White.If nothing else, this app boasts one the most beautiful icons around.
Console simply displays your computer’s log. If your Mac did anything, it’ll be here, somewhere. This allows you to find any errors and troubleshoot them.
At first, the interface may look quite daunting, but basically, if you don’t see anything that says “Critical”, everything is probably fine!
This is essentially an eyedropper, as suggested by the stunning icon. If you’ve ever used Photoshop or any other graphics editor, you will probably be familiar with the eyedropper tool, with which you can find the color used in any individual pixel (or selection of pixels).
I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is in fact an eyedropper with an impressive feature list. You can find the color in a number of formats, such as RGB, CIE and Y’PbPr, as well as copying it directly to the clipboard as either text or an image. You can also find the average color in an area, a useful tool for dealing with photographs.
Disk Utility can be used to fix anything that’s wrong with a physical drive. It can be extremely useful for reformatting external hard drives, and other similar tasks. However, you can also erase the entire contents of your computer with it, so try and make sure you’re not doing anything too harmful!
You can also control your disc drive, and erase data from discs. It can be a great tool when you need it, although that will probably be rarely.
You probably use this utility already, but simply don’t realise it yet. Grab is the OSX utility for screen captures, so you’re using it whenever you use Cmd-Shift-3, Cmd-Shift-4, or any of the other screenshot shortcuts.
While I would never go into Utilities to access it, I use Grab much more than any other utility (my screenshots directory contains over 1,300 images), and find it just as useful as any other third-party screenshot software.
Upon first opening Grapher, it will look like a whole lot of mathematical jargon. And in truth, it is.
However, you have a choice of two ways of using this utility: You could use it to create beautiful graphs using mathematical formulae. Or you could use it to play around in a 3D field of strange, impossible shapes.
And they say that OSX doesn’t have any games…
Chances are that if you use a computer enough, you will ask a variety of applications to store passwords. These might include Twitter, Mail, Dropbox, etc. But what if, one day, you forgot your password to one of these? If you don’t use 1Password, you can always use this utility to retrieve it. You also remove passwords from the keychain to make your Mac more secure.
Switching to a new computer will always be difficult, but with Migration Assistant, it can be made an awful lot easier. Not only will it transfer all of your files, but all of your software, accounts and settings, which means that you won’t have to spend several months getting your new computer up to the standard of your old one.
Just another reason to stick with Mac for your next computer!
This utility is the perfect hub to keep track of your internet performance, look up website information and anything else regarding your network connection. If your internet is down, this should be your first port of call.
If you fancy yourself as somewhat of a potential radio DJ, then producing a podcast might well be the best place to start. This utility, as the name suggests, allows you to record podcasts, using audio, video from a camera, and screen captures.
Unfortunately, you can only use this if you’re running Mac OS X Server. If you are, then this will be a great app for you. If not, then maybe stick to GarageBand.
This is one of the utilities that you might have used occasionally. It basically provides you with all the information you’ll ever need about your computer, and more.
Whether it’s every little stat about your hardware, or a list of all your software and information about each app, System Profiler is a great tool for a procrastinating geek.
Terminal is the king of the utilities. It can make your Mac do anything, as long as you know how to tell it how to do it. With Terminal, you can tweak almost everything about your Mac, as well as hear it sing, play games on it, and so much more.
For just a taster of what Terminal can do for you, check out this article.
VoiceOver is an accessibility feature on OS X designed to make it easier for blind people, and those with dyslexia, to use a computer. If you’re visually impaired, or have a relative who is, they don’t need to be at such a disadvantage.
Apple is known for an amazing dedication to accessibility – both on the Mac and iOS – and you’ll see just how deep this operating system integration goes with VoiceOver.
The X Window System (commonly X or X11) is network protocol and libraries that provide the GUI for Unix and Unix-line operating systems (like Linux and FreeBSD).
In this case, X11 is Apple’s implementation of the X server. It’s used for running certain applications that require this GUI functionality – often older software, or that designed specifically for cross-platform operation. A couple of examples include GIMP and InkScape.
I hope that this article will have shown you the wonders of your Utilities folder, and that from now on, you will be less afraid of venturing into it.
I know that while researching and writing this article, I found out a lot, and was particularly impressed by Grapher, DigitalColor Meter, and everyone’s old favorite, Terminal.
Why not try out some of these utilities – you’ll be surprised how much easier they will make your life!