The Definitive A-X Guide to Your Mac Utilities Folder

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!

Activity Monitor

Activity Monitor

Activity Monitor

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 Editor

AppleScript Editor

AppleScript Editor

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

Audio MIDI Setup

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

Bluetooth File Exchange

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

Boot Camp Assistant

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.

ColorSync Utility

ColorSync Utility

ColorSync Utility

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

Console

Console

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!

DigitalColor Meter

DigitalColor Meter

DigitalColor Meter

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

Disk Utility

Disk Utility

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.

Grab

Grab

Grab

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.

Grapher

Grapher

Grapher

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…

Keychain Access

Keychain Access

Keychain Access

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.

Migration Assistant

Migration Assistant

Migration Assistant

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!

Network Utility

Network Utility

Network Utility

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.

Podcast Capture

Podcast Capture

Podcast Capture

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.

System Profiler

System Profiler

System Profiler

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

Terminal

Terminal

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 Utility

VoiceOver Utility

VoiceOver Utility

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.

X11

X11

X11

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.

Conclusion

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!


  • http://www.garysims.co.uk Gary Sims

    Thanks for a generally useful post… BUT there is one massive, almost unforgivable mistake:

    “X11 is a utility which is used to run certain applications, usually those built for Windows.”

    Hmmm… No…. 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).

    I think where you made you mistake is that Wine uses X11 for displaying the UI parts of Windows programs (which appears seamlessly on Linux) but on OS X is starts the X11 server and so you associated X11 with Wine…

    For more information about X11 see:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X_Window_System
    http://www.freedesktop.org/wiki/
    http://www.x.org/wiki/
    http://www.xfree86.org/

    Thanks,

    Gary

    • http://mac.appstorm.net David Appleyard

      Sorry for the error. We’ve updated the article with the correct information!

    • http://inspirationoverload.org/ Conor O’Driscoll

      Yeah, sorry about that. Most of the information that I found was quite ambiguous, or just a little above my intellectual capabilities. Thanks for clearing that up, Gary, and thanks for updating the article, David :)

    • http://log.tuananh.ws Tuan Anh Tran

      hard to believe they could make such mistake @_@
      shouldn’t be happen again

  • http://pinoyteens.net Kevin Paquet

    Awesome guide. The one about the speaker quality comes in really handy for me. Always something new to learn here at Appstorm!

  • Anonymous

    Some monkey wrote:

    “X11 is a utility which is used to run certain applications, usually those built for Windows”

    Ouch!! Jim Gettys and Bob Scheifler would be rolling in their graves if they were not still alive!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X11

    • http://inspirationoverload.org/ Conor O’Driscoll

      Sorry for the error. It has now been updated to the correct information.

  • http://www.macseoblog.de Florian

    Thanks for the nice guide to the utilities-folder. I never got the sense of that X11-Application – thanks to you i know it now…

  • http://www.bricormedia.com Brian Lapp

    Great tips!
    Macs often run so well, sometimes we forget we have maintenance software.

  • http://www.thisismarkus.com Markus Vad Flaaten

    Stunned by awesomeness.

  • http://www.libelcom.com/ Libelcom

    Very useful article! Especially for a Mac-newbie such as myself:-)

  • Ana S.

    I never used the Audio MIDI Setup before and after this post I decided to check it out. Well, I can only say that “the elite few”, may be not quite just a few, since the 2ch-24bit seems to be the standard setup: my mac, my sister’s and the macs of a couple of friends were already set to 24bit, and none of us has ever changed that since we got our macs…

    • http://inspirationoverload.org/ Conor O’Driscoll

      That’s strange, because I had never used Audio MIDI before writing this article, and my 1 year-old iMac was on 16bit. I just checked again, and despite having changed it to 24bit, it was back at 16bit. Probably some issue with my Mac. Thanks for contributing :)

      • http://www.infrasoundkids.com L1

        Audio/Midi Setup can be set up to create virtual sound interfaces as well. Good for recording the output of your mac without external wires or cards.

      • Bob

        Im very curious about the midi setup utility – i find it hard to believe that making that change would have made everything ‘so much clearer and nicer to listen too’. I find it hard to prove that – and here you say that it had switched back anyways. Im pretty sure that if your hardware supports the 24bit audio vs 16bit audio, its going to set it for you.

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  • Ken H.

    Fantastic article! I’ve dabbled with a few of these utilities but never got around to exploring all of them. You’ve given me motivation to get more intimate with my Mac.

    Wait…that sounded different in my head.

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