It’s no secret that Apple is a secretive company. Apple wants you to know only what they want you to know and nothing else.
That desire for secrecy seems to extend into OS X itself which is full of secret short cuts, secret features, seemingly secret utilities which most Mac users don’t know about.
Maybe that explains why there’s not really an instruction manual that comes with your Mac. Take it out of the box, plug it in, turn it on, walk through the setup, and you’re online and working. Could it be any simpler?
No, which might also explain why Apple goes to such great lengths to not tell Mac users about all the cool features and functions on Leopard (or Jaguar, Panther, and Tiger before).
The Missing Manual books are big sellers for Mac users. Why? Because the manual really is missing on a Mac. Granted, Macs are complicated beasts, but would it hurt Apple to include a few gigabytes of video instruction for the umpteen gazillion features and utilities on a Mac?
My favorites are the Killer Tips books from Scott Kelby (available on the Mac360 Store from Amazon and due to ship in a week or so). I’ve been using Macs since the original 128k in 1984 and I’m still amazed at all the features which Apple seemingly tries to keep secret.
My sons have been using Macs for nearly 15 years, but guess who they call when there’s a problem (fortunately, they use Macs, so about the only time they need Dad, really need him, is when something is wrong on their Macs)?
Oh, they each called to tell me when they bought their first Intel MacBook Pros. I think they were gloating.
This weekend, one of my sons handed my wife a CD and said, “Have Dad make three copies. I can’t get it to work on my Mac.” I love a challenge, but what kind of CD can’t be copied on a Mac?
It turns out it was a simple video presentation for some kind of water pipe insulation. And, you guessed it, it was made to run on Windows PCs using the autostart function. Sorry, Mac users not allowed (unless you’re running Windows on your Mac).
I ran the CD on our family Windows PC (which we usually only boot up to run on Sundays to check for viruses and spyware, then we shut it down) and it worked fine. Then I put the CD in my Mac to make copies. Bear with me. This is complicated.
I opened Disk Utility, selected the aforementioned CD, click Make Image, and waited a few minutes. Then I selected the Disk Image of the CD, and clicked Burn. My Mac asked me for a blank CD. I complied, and a few minutes later I had a fully working copy of the video CD. Repeat two more times.
Yes, I checked the CDs in the PC just to make sure it worked. It did. What else can you do with Disk Utility? It turns out that Disk Utility might be the most unknown and underused of all the Leopard utilities. Besides Grapher. Or Grab. Or ODBC Administrator. Or Java. You get the idea, right?
I admit that Disk Utility is a deceptively complex utility for Mac users. It’s deceptive because it doesn’t really show you all that it can unless you’re willing to explore, look around, kick the tires, take it for a spin around the block.
For Mac users who’ve experienced a few disk problems, you might know that DU verifies and repairs disk permissions, and can even repair a hard disk that’s gone South, though once it goes over the border, there’s no coming back.
Disk Utility does much more. It will partition or erase a hard drive. It will create disk images, which are perfect for storing your valuable files. DU will also burn images onto a CD or DVD.
One of the easiest ways to really dig into Disk Utility is to use Leopard’s very annoying Help Screens.
How can something valuable like a Help utility become an annoyance? Remember, Apple thinks different, and sometimes that requires screwing up what works to make it better (even if it becomes worse in the process).
Open up a Help Screen in Leopard and it’s like a clinging girlfriend that just won’t take no for an answer. It won’t go away and constantly floats on top of your Mac’s screen until curtly dismissed. That’s annoying and not an improvement over previous versions of Mac Help which always seemed to be in need of improvement.
End of rant. Help Screen is not a Disk Utility problem and can’t be fixed by Disk Utility.
DU does a nice job of telling us about Volumes attached to our Macs. Your hard drive is or contains a volume of information. Click it in Disk Utility and you get additional information about the drive. Ditto for SuperDrives, USB flash drives, Combo CD-drives, external hard drives, and nearly anything that will mount on your Mac’s desktop.
Disk Utility even helps you restore your Mac, not only back to good health, but back from death to a new hard drive, even using Time Machine or a disk image.
All of what Du can do is well hidden by Apple. Open Disk Utility and select Disk Utility Help from the Help window in the Menu Bar. You’ll only get the five basic functions of DU. Repairing a hard drive, Erasing a disk, Partitioning a disk, Using RAID (not the spray bug killer), and Using Disk Images.
I’m surprised at how many Mac users don’t know what a disk image is or what it can do, yet they download software from the Internet and install accordingly, most of which is available as a disk image.
I opened Disk Utility just moments ago and noticed a highlight feature topic I had not seen previously. “If you see “overlapped extent allocation” errors.” Wow. I bet that’s not in a Killer Tips book, or any of the Missing Manuals.
What’s your favorite unknown Mac utility and why? Talk Back to Mac360 readers in the Comments section below.