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Miscellaneous Things You Need to Know About Macs

Your Mac can accomplish a lot (with a little help from you, of course). The following programs, functions, or capabilities are good things to know when working on and getting the most from your Mac.


You can install software remotely.

The most recent Macs have ditched the optical drives that were a staple feature on earlier models. If you’ve been using such drives for years to install software, you’re probably left wondering how to complete the task given their absence.

You may have or come upon installation discs that are required to load older programs, and possibly new ones as well. If you have an available DVD or CD drive on another computer, Mac or even Windows, that other machine must be connected to the same network as the Mac upon which you want to load software.

And your Mac must support the Remote Disc feature, but the good news is that most recent models do, including all MacBook Airs, MacBook Pros with Retina display, iMac, Mac mini, and Mac mini server computers without an optical drive.


You can graph two- and three-dimensional mathematical equations.

The Grapher bundled with OS X and accessed through the Utilities folder (under Applications) lets you graph two- and three-dimensional mathematical equations. Moreover, the program’s animations are pretty darn cool.


You can change your Mac's preferred language.

To change your computer’s preferred language, choose System Preferences from the Apple menu and select Language & Text (called International in older versions of OS X). Click the Language tab. Drag the language you want to use for application menus, dialogs, and so on to the top of the language list.

Next, click the Region tab to choose the region you live in; customize dates, time, calendar, and native currency; or decide whether to go metric or use the U.S. system of measurement. If you also click the Input Sources tab, you can choose a different keyboard layout, such as Chinese Wubi Xing or Hangul (Korean).


You can share files via File Transfer Protocol (FTP).

FTP (File Transfer Protocol) sites are usually set up by companies or individuals to make it easy to exchange sizable files over the Internet, typically but not exclusively video or picture files. The Mac has a built-in file server for giving other folks access to your machine.

To grant such access, choose Apple→System Preferences and click Sharing. Select the File Sharing check box and click Options. Click Share Files and Folders Using AFP, which is shorthand for Apple Filing Protocol.

People on other Macs can now share and copy files to and from your machine. You might also have to open ports in your router’s software to allow access.


You can capture screens on your Mac.

Maybe you want to take a picture of the screen for a presentation at work. Or perhaps you want to show precisely what a funky error looks like to the person who just might help you correct the problem. Regardless of motivation, if you want to grab a picture of the Mac screen (or any of its windows), it may be time to open the Grab utility.

Go to Applications→Utilities and click Grab. Through Grab’s Capture menu, you can take a picture of a full screen, window, or menu.


You can watch live TV on your Mac.

For all its multimedia glitz, none of the current Mac models, at least as of this writing, comes with a built-in television tuner. To be sure, you have more and more ways to catch up on TV on a computer nowadays, through numerous websites and streaming TV services such as Hulu and Netflix.

But some of you still like the idea of having your computer double as a television. Just because Apple hasn’t put a TV tuner in the Mac lately — yes, Apple did put TV tuners in some models dating back to the last century — you can add the capability thanks to third-party companies. Check out the various EyeTV options from Elgato Systems, sold in the Apple Store.


You can play Chess with your Mac.

The Mac’s Chess program, found in the Applications folder, lets you compete against the computer or a human partner. You can open Chess and compete within the Game Center environment.

What’s more, by accessing Preferences on the Chess menu, you can change the board style and pieces from the wooden board shown to grass, marble, or metal. You can also drag a slider inside Chess Preferences to make the computer play faster or stronger.


You can really work with the Office:Mac productivity suite and Apple’s own iWork suite.

Microsoft Office:Mac 2011 costs about $200 for a single Home and Business version license or about $120 for a Home and Student license. Academics pay as little as $99.

Apple’s alternative to Office is iWork, a suite with three friendly programs: Pages (word processing), Numbers (spreadsheet), and Keynote (presentations), each sold separately in the Mac App Store for $19.99.


The Mac can respond to your spoken commands.

Open System Preferences, again under the Apple menu, and choose Accessibility. Select Speakable Items from the listing on the left. Now, click to turn on the Speakable Items button. A round microphone feedback window appears on your desktop, with the key or keyword you need to press to alert the Mac that you are about to speak.

Press the Escape key to start barking out commands, or change the “listening key” or other behaviors by clicking the Listening Key tab.

To check out a list of the commands your computer can understand, click the little triangle at the bottom of the feedback window and then click the Open Speech Commands window.

Click Calibrate to improve the performance of your internal (or connected) microphone. The calibration process involves adjusting a slider and speaking aloud the phrases listed on the screen (such as Open a document and Show me what to say) until the computer makes these phrases blink in recognition.

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