Putting icons on the desktop and sidebar

Back in earlier Macintosh Ddays, we tended to have several things on our Finder (desktop), placed there by the operating system. Soon, some people began to think of the desktop as a place to store things. Some people took it to the extreme. Their desktops began to look like this:


While it might be useful (?), it also causes the computer to continually redraw the icons to keep track of them. When your desktop looks like this, it is slowing your computer down.

To remedy the problem, the engineers at Apple decided to unclutter the desktop by turning off some icons. While a clean desktop is the ideal, there are times when having some icons visible on the desktop is desirable.

If I teach you how to put some icons back on your desktop, will you promise not to leave it looking like this the screenshot?

When you would “prefer” to have your computer act in a different way, you need to work with the “Preferences” There are lots of preferences on your Mac and in order to change them, you need to look for Preferences in each application. They are stored under the application’s name.


Open the Finder Preferences, choose the button for General. Place a check in each of the boxes and your hard drive and any connected devices will appear on your Finder (Desktop)


Click on the button for Sidebar. I have checked every item. It simply makes it much easier to navigate around my computer and our home network if I can see all these items in my sidebar.


I would recommend marking all the items in “Favorites” and “Devices”. If you have a home network, the items under “Shared” will also be useful.

Look for a coming blog post where I talk about fonts.



Clean up your desktop…

There are some things that just make sense, even if they are not easy! Keeping bedrooms and the playroom picked up when my children were young was a constant battle. Today, I battle my desk, my sewing table and my computer desktop.


Flat spaces draw stuff. Although my computer desktop is vertical, it makes a great place to store the things I am working on. There are always pictures for the next blog post, URLS that I want to reference when working with a client or writing and several folders generated by software to keep saved calls and audio notes nearby.

Storing things on the desktop can seriously slow a computer down. While a dozen files won’t have much of an impact, a hundred or even thousands can lead to spinning beach balls!

Just before the holidays I received a message from Pat. He was having all sorts of computer issues and beach balls. Although Pat lives in Ireland, we can use our software to take a look at a client’s computer screen. Imagine my amazement when I saw not tens, not hundreds but almost 4 thousand items piled on Pat’s desktop!

I opened a Finder window, pointed it to the desktop and got to work. The first thing I needed was a new folder. I named it Pat’s Stuff. I put a space before “Pat” so that the folder would be first if I sorted the files by name. I arranged the two windows so that I could easily move files to the new folder.


I began dragging the files and folders to the empty folder. When I dragged the files over, we got a spinning beach ball and it took several minutes before we could see the folders moved to their new location. With each set of files that were moved, the process shortened. When we had only the new Pat’s Stuff folder and the Hard Drive icon on the desktop, the computer was very speedy. The spinning beach ball disappeared!

Unfortunately, cleaning the desktop by shoving everything into a new folder is only a temporary solution. In fact the clutter is still there, but the computer is not having to deal with all of those icons.

Think of each file on the desktop as a separate window because, in fact, the Macintosh OS treats each one that way. It’s no different in Windows. Files stored on the desktop need to be redrawn and kept track of, just as if there were that many open windows.

So how do you deal with all those files? I give frequent presentations and so I often need to clean up the clutter. My solution has been to make that new folder and begin it with a date. Then I drag all the files from my desktop into that folder. If I am not careful, I end up with this, folders inside of folders, but the files still need to be put away!


I was at the Macworld | iWorld Expo last week. I attended a session given by Chris Breen of Macworld Magazine. He suggested an Automator workflow that aids in desktop cleanup, but that is a little complicated for this blog entry. Perhaps I will tackle that later.

Today, while surfing the web, I ran into an interesting application called Unclutter. When it is installed, it adds a tiny jeans pocket to the menu bar at the top of the screen. Click it and you see this menu:


If you pull down to “Open Panel, you see this:


Drag files up to the icon in the menu bar and this happens. Notice the panel opened and you can see the files being placed there:


It’s very easy to drag files in and out of the window--and they are not being stored on the desktop. If you need a file, just click on the icon, drag down to “Open Panel” and then drag the files to a new location--even back to the desktop.

There are a few more features. The black panel is the last thing you copied to the clipboard and the yellow panel is a place to write quick notes. You can also get the window to open by using the scroll gesture. Take the cursor to the icon in the menu bar. Place two fingers on the trackpad or mouse and pull down. Unclutter will open.

I have not used Unclutter long enough to know if it will solve my cluttered desktop, but I am willing to give it a try!

Unclutter is available in the App Store. It is on sale for $1.99 through February 7. After that it will cost $2.99.

App Store

I keep talking about helping people. That’s because I am a consultant. I work with Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus. We offer trouble-shooting, technical support and training over at Bob LeVitus Consulting. Tutoring costs only $60.00 per hour. We have special software that allows us to see your computer and we can work on the things you want to learn. Give us a call at 408 627-7577. Or send an email to


Did you read…

Keeping up with technology requires lots of reading. When I add news, email and friend’s blogs to the mix, I have many items to read each day.

I have found a great way to keep up with my reading while work around my office and home!

You might know about this command in the Macintosh contextual menu:

To get to it, highlight some text--on a web page, in Mail or in most Macintosh applications. Then hold down the Control key and click into the highlighted text. A menu similar to this one will appear. To have your computer read the text to you, select “Speech > Start Speaking.” If you want to stop listening, you will need to click and hold the control button again and select “Speech > Stop Speaking.”

I have used this method for years, but I have always wanted a faster, easier way to have my Mac read to me.

I was recently exploring System Preferences and I found an intriguing item in the Speech Preference:

Click on the icon for Speech and you will see this:

Click on “Set Key” to reveal this:

Now, click on whatever key combination you would like to use, but remember, there are lots of key commands already in use.

I chose Command + Option + Control + S because it is “free” and it is easy to remember. I just hold down all the keys to the left of the Space Bar, and the S key for speak. You. do need to highlight the test you want the computer to read.

The best part of using a keyboard combination is that pressing the same combination again turns the speech off!

There is so much that the Mac can do. If you would like a little help, give us a call at Bob LeVitus Consulting. You can telephone us at 408 627-7577, or visit our web site or send us a message at We offer training, troubleshooting and technical support.



Cleaning up your Desktop

I am a very visual person. I like to be able to see the files that I am using for my current projects. Since I do so many computer projects, it doesn’t take long for my computer desktop to get very cluttered.

I also give quite a few computer presentations. When I will be sharing my computer screen with an audience, I need for it to be clean and uncluttered. My solution is to make a new folder on my desktop. I use the current date to name the folder and then I drag all of the files on my desktop into it.

My screen quickly looks clean and uncluttered, ready for visiting eyes. Computer experts will tell you that your computer will now be a bit faster because it does not have to spend as much time keeping track of the location and position of all the files on the desktop.

Of course, I also need to take care of the clutter that I just hid -- and that is the real reason for this blog post.

When I first open the folder’s window, I put it into the list view, with the contents sorted by name from. In this view it is easy to see if there are any files that are duplicates

Notice that We Rule "Hire your Friend"?.webloc and We Rule "Hire your Friend"?-1.webloc were created at the same time and they are also the same size. The only difference is that the second file has “-1” added to the file name. A quick check of the file on the web confirms that they both lead to the same web page, so I can eliminate one file.

When a two files have the same name except that they have a dash and then a number, it is a sign that they are probably duplicate files. We often find similar files in the Downloads folder. If they are the same size and the Date Modified is the same, then they are duplicate files and you probably do not need both of them.

Webloc files are made when you drag the favicon from a web page to your desktop or a file folder. In essence, it is a quick web bookmark.

As I surf the web, I often drag these .webloc files to my desktop so that I can quickly find the page links to use in emails or blog or Twitter posts.

I often forget to throw away these files when I have finished using them, so sorting the folder by Kind makes it easy to group them for quick disposal.

I tend to find quite a few photos and illustrations on my desktop. Using the Cover Flow view of the finder window allows me to take a quick look at these files to determine what I need to do with them.

The Cover Flow view is also useful for quickly scanning some document types.

You can hover your cursor over some documents to view the contents. Clicking on the arrows in the pdf file shown above would give me a preview of each page.

My favorite way to put files away is to open two windows. I open a window on the left side with my folder in the list view. On the right side of the screen, I open my Home folder in the Column view.

I also click on the “jelly bean” in the upper right corner of the window to cause the sidebar and toolbar to disappear. This makes it easier to drag my files to the right folder without dropping them in the wrong place.

Cleaning up your desktop makes it easier to find thin, just like the counters and tables in your home.

While computers can make our lives easier, there is a lot to learn. At Doctor Mac Consulting, we can show you how to make your computer easier to use in a tutoring session. The cost is $60.00 per hour and we use our special software to “see” your computer.

While tutoring sessions are calm, unhurried and relaxed, sometimes you need quick help to fix a problem. We call those Troubleshooting Sessions. We take a look at your computer, fix the problem, and get you back to work as quickly as possible. We can fix most computer problems in 15 to 30 minutes. The cost of troubleshooting is $120 per hour, billed in 15 minute increments. The cost of most troubleshooting sessions is $30 to $60. We do not bill you for the time needed to install our software to see your computer and if we cannot fix the problem, you are not billed for our time.

Send a note to or call us at (408) 627-7577 for further information.



More Option key menu bar tricks in Snow Leopard

In my last blog post, The Option key does even more in Snow Leopard, I told you about a cool new feature that I found in Mac OS X, 10.6, Snow Leopard.

Since holding down the Option key brought up a whole new Sync menu, I wondered what other secrets might be hidden in the Menu bar. I started with the Spotlight icon:

Without Option key:

With Option key:

There's no change here. Let's try the clock:

Without Option key:

With Option key:

There is no change here either. Maybe I'm on the WRONG track? Let's try one more, the Battery icon.

Without Option key:

With Option key:

Now we are getting somewhere! Holding down the Option key caused the battery condition to be reported. Since I had no idea what might be reported if the condition was not normal, I did a bit of searching. I went to the Apple Support page for Snow Leopard at I entered "Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard battery condition" in the Search Support box:

I was lead to an article, Mac OS X v10.6: About the Battery menu bar extra for portable Macs. You can find it at

On to the Volume icon:

Without Option key:

With Option key:

This is pretty neat! I can actually change the sound inputs and outputs without opening the Sound Preferences. This can be important if you use a microphone, headphones or an external speaker.

Let't try the AirPort icon:

Without Option key:

With Option key:

This is some seriously cool information. It's a bit geeky, but it will be really helpful in troubleshooting AirPort connection issues.

On to the TimeMachine icon:

Without Option key:

With Option key:

This is an interesting one! I will have to check out this feature. Does that mean I can recover files from other computers on my network that are using different backup drives?

I also checked out Displays, iChat, and Keyboard. The Option key did not cause changes in those.

I have lots more to explore in Snow Leopard, but this is enough for today! I hope you are enjoying Snow Leopard if you have it installed. If you are waiting, just look at all the hidden new features!



The Option key does even more in Snow Leopard

There is one good thing about being an early adopter of Mac OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard! Right now there are so many tips, hints, Twitter messages and Web articles being written, so there are many sources for learning about its new features.

Last night I read a Twitter message (I wish I had saved it) that mentioned that you could learn lots of information about your last sync by holding down the "Option" key while clicking on its icon in the Menu Bar. Let's explore this tip.

First, you will need a MobileMe account. Don't have one? You are missing one of the Mac platform's best features, the ability to synchronize information between your Macs, iPhones, the Web and even PCs. Check here for more information. If you have MobileMe, read on!

The icon for Sync looks like this -- if it is in your Menu Bar:

If it is not there, you can add it by opening System Preferences. Here are three different ways to open them:

Locate the Mobile Me icon:

Click on it, then choose the "Sync" tab. There is a checkbox in the lower left corner of the window. When there is a check in that box, the Sync icon will appear in your Menu bar.

If you click on the icon in the Menu bar, it will look like this:

If it is in the process of synching, it will look like this:

If there is a problem, there will be an exclamation mark in the middle of the icon and the problem will be noted in the box (Sorry--I forgot to capture that one!)

So, what's with the Option key?

Hold it down while clicking on the Sync icon in the Menu bar and you see this:

There is a lot to explore here! I am particularly interested in Sync Diagnostics… and Reset Sync Services…, but it's time for me to get busy. Check back soon for more Snow Leopard secrets and try holding down that Option key while clicking on more of the Menu bar icons!



Using Speak Text in Snow Leopard

My transition to Mac OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard has not been entirely trouble-free. While I await the release of Bob LeVitus new book, Mac OS X Snow Leopard For Dummies, I am doing a bit of searching to find features that have moved in this new version of the Mac OS.

One feature that I use every time I write an entry for this blog is "Start Speaking Text." This useful command means that my computer will read text that I select to me. When I am editing a new post, I will often read over my mistakes. But when the computer is reading the text to me, I can spot errors in what I have typed and I can hear places where what I have written is awkward or unclear. I also use this command to have text from the Internet and emails read to me.

Getting to this feature was not easy in Mac OS X 10.5, Leopard, but I had learned how to get there:
Click here to

Windows switcher or Mac virgin?

One of the effects of my being a consultant with Bob LeVitus Consulting is that I get a window into the habits of Mac users that most writers never see.

Today brought an interesting email from one of our clients:

Pat, I have made this mistake over and over. When visually looking at your iCal in monthly view, the appointments hug the left side of the date box and (it) is confusing as the date next to the text is the previous day. I can't begin to count the mistakes I had made by looking at appointment and seeing the date next to it (date is right justified). Is there some setting that can either move date to right or appointments to the left. It is visually wrong and quite unlike Apple.

When I take a look at my calendar, it is difficult to see the problem:
Click here to

Removing False Invaders

In my previous blog post I answered a question from a Doctor Mac client regarding strange icons that appear in the Sharing section of the sidebar in Finder windows.

I explained what the icons were--but I did not explain how to get rid of them. I thought about it, but I had spent several days on that post and it was time to get it online. When I publish a post, I usually mention it on Twitter. As I was getting ready to write, this message came up in my Twitter Stream:

What a coincidence! I tweeted this back:

Click here to

Who is invading my computer?

The subjects for new posts on MacMousecalls come from many sources. Carl, one of our clients at Bob LeVitus Consulting sent me a screen shot of the sidebar on his Mac, wondering about an odd icon that appeared in the Sharing area:

I have a similar icon:

Click here to

Where, oh where did my icons go? - Part 1

I do my best and most consistent blogging if I write my entry before I begin my day. This morning I was reading the latest TidBITS Talk messages and today’s topic was the question posed in the first message I read:

Mail window with icons

I have been asked that same question several times in the past few days, so I know some of you probably have had the same problem. And even if you knew the answer, it is pretty easy to forget some of the tiniest details of the Mac OS X interface.

Do you see that tiny little “jellybean” in the upper right corner of the window above? That little tiny icon is the source of the problem! Click it and the toolbar is gone – just gone! Click it again and the missing icons will quickly reappear. But if it has been a while since you accidentally clicked that jelly bean, it can sure make simple tasks difficult!

Mail window without icons

Of course, not every window has a toolbar at the top. If there is no toolbar, there is no jellybean:

Address Book window

Here are some other windows with toolbars and jelly beans. This one is Pages:

Pages window

This is Word 2008:

Word 2008 window

Even more interesting is the Finder window. When you click the jellybean, the left sidebar also disappears:

Finder window with icons

Finder window without icons

Next time the icons are “just gone,” remember the jellybean!



Aging eyes and tiny type on the web and in Safari

Darn, this getting older is not much fun! Back when I turned 40, I began to notice that small type was getting harder and harder to read. That was just a few years ago, but sometimes I land on a web page that must have been produced by someone with unbelievable visual acuity!

Sometimes it is not the whole site, but just a particular section: Click here to read more...

Does your computer do strange things?

One of the listservs that I read each day is the MacRogues On-Line Mac User Group and OS X DISCUSSION LIST. I while occasionally provide an answer, I am often frustrated that the all-text listserv format does not make it easy to "show" someone how to fix a problem. The topic that caused me to want to "show" the answer this time is the problem of screen flashing on Macs.

The message writer said "The screen will freeze before flashing a solid blue and then return to normal." Several people responded, most suggesting a hardware problem. Click here to read more...

Saving files to the right folder, easily

Has this ever happened to you?

You are making a document on your computer and now it is time to save it. You know where you want the file to be placed, and in fact, you have that folder open. But when you go to the Save command, the application you are using takes you to the last folder that you used. For example, this:
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Quick Look - Making it Easier

After I installed Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, I spent some time learning my way around the new operating system and assessing its features. One thing that really did not impress me is Quick Look. My daily working computer is a 17" MacBook Pro.

I make use of every inch of my screen real estate. I keep several application windows open and position them carefully so that I have instant access to the tools I need. While some users enlarge every window to fill their screen, I keep windows large enough to be useful, but small enough that I can move between applications by simply clicking in their window. Click here to read more...

Desktop, Sidebar and Toolbar Printers

Do you remember back to the days of Mac OS 9 – and probably 8.5 – when we could have a printer icon sitting on our desktop?

Now, that was a pretty cool trick. If you had a document to print, you could just drag its icon over the desktop printer. The document would print without opening the application and choosing the Print command in the File Menu.

The feature is back in Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and it is even more useful! It is a great way to deal with documents that you print on a regular basis. For example, directions to your home or office, a favorite recipe, or perhaps some sort of form like a cover sheet for your fax.

Unfortunately, if you are trying to adopt that clean desktop look for your Mac, it is one more thing to clutter it up. There are several alternate things you can do to give you the functionality of desktop printing while keeping the clutter down and we will discuss those after we have made a desktop printer to try out.
Click here to

I lost my arrow!

Remember the good old days? Computer screens were no bigger than 640 x 480 pixels, we generally had only one window open, our eyes were better!


I couldn't do without my 17'" MacBook Pro with a screen resolution of 1680 x 1050. I love having that 20 HDTV that connects to my computer and functions as a second monitor. I don't know how I could work if I could only use one program at a time, but I hate not being able to find that little tiny arrow that is my cursor. It gets lost among the windows and among photos of the grandchildren that are my frequent finder backgrounds.

I give lots of presentations from my computer and being able to locate my cursor needs to be easy and effortless. My favorite cursor locator is a freeware application, Mouse Locator from Whenever Mouse Locator pops up during a presentation I am sure to get several questions regarding exactly what that neat "thing" is that appeared on my screen. Click here to read more...

Labels and how they work

We are back to the email that we received at Bob LeVitus Consulting over the weekend. John asked how to change the label on an icon. In the previous entry, I explained all about changing icon names. But, perhaps, that was not the real question.

Back in the days of Mac OS 9, there was a feature that allowed the user to add a color label to icons of folders, documents, and even applications. While they make your screen more colorful, they can also be very useful in making items stand out. While this feature was missing in the earliest versions of Mac OS X, it was eventually re-introduced. Click here to read more...

How to change names on drives, icons and folders

Over the weekend we received an interesting inquiry at Bob LeVitus Consulting. John (not his real name) asked how to change the label on the icon for a flash drive.

The question is an interesting one. It is not totally clear to me exactly what is being asked. While icons can have labels, I suspect John was asking how to change the name of the drive. Just in case, I will also talk about icon labels at the end of this entry.

If you want to change the name of a drive or a folder or even a file, there are several ways to do this. The most obvious is to click and hold on the name with your mouse. Of course there are several "states" that the icon name could be in.
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Hooray for Expose!

As a Macintosh user, it is not uncommon for me to have dozens of windows open on my computer. I usually have several Finder windows open so that I can copy files between different folders and hard drives. I probably have two or three different Safari windows, at least a couple in Mail, my Address Book, iCal, and at least a couple of windows open for any application that I am using.

Trying to get to the desktop can be a daunting task. With the advent of Mac OS 10.3, Apple Inc. introduced Expose´. Suddenly pressing one key (F11) cleared away all the window and let me get to the files on my desktop!
Click here to