Question Time: More on Menu Extras, Corrupted Finder Icons, Uninstalling Mac OS 9

Tuesday, 2005-02-15; 01:58:00

More reader questions answered, Mac OS X screenshot tips

(Originally posted on AppleXnet)

Kevin asks by e-mail, "Ok I played with adding some of the menu items, now how do I get rid or the ones I do not find useful?"

That's easy, and I should have mentioned it before. All you have to do is command-click and hold on the menu extra you want to remove, and then drag it off the menu bar. It will disappear into a puff of smoke, just like removing an icon from the Dock does. You can also rearrange menu extras by Command-dragging menu extras. This allows you to put the menu extras into any order you want.

Also by e-mail, David inquires, "What is the speech bubble icon? I see it on all Apple's screenshots, but I've never come across it on my mac... Also, on the article, there is a DV icon... what's that one?"

The speech bubble icon is from iChat. It allows you to change your status or open a message window to a connected buddy, and can be activated from the iChat preferences. You can also remain online, even if iChat is not open, by using the iChat menu extra -- iChat will automatically open if a message is received.

The DV icon is the menu extra that allows you to change your keyboard layout on the fly. I use what's called the Dvorak keyboard layout, instead of using the QWERTY layout. (It's main benefit is that it puts the most frequently used keys on the home row, so your hands don't get tired as quickly as it does with the QWERTY layout. It also allows you to type a bit faster.) You can activate this menu extra by going to the International preference pane, clicking on the "Input Menu" tab, and then checking the "Show input menu in menu bar". Any keyboard layouts you have activated in the list will now appear in the new menu on the right side of your menu bar. The image for the menu represents the active keyboard layout (you'll see a DV for the Dvorak layout, and an American flag for the normal QWERTY layout).

You can also use this menu to activate the Character Palette and Keyboard Viewer, both of which are checkboxes in the Input Menu list. The Character Palette allows you to browse through all the Unicode symbols and the glyphs for any installed font. The Keyboard Viewer shows you a visual keyboard that you can use to type with the mouse.

Anonymous asks, in the comments of last week's Question Time article, "How do you get the fast user menu item to show only the picture like it is in the sample above? Mine shows my user name... and I'd like it to be like yours instead."

That is actually a third-party menu extra called WinSwitch. It replaces the fast-user switching menu extra provided by Apple, and replaces it with a more functional one. (To get rid of the Apple-provided one, just command-drag it off the menu bar, as mentioned before.) It allows you to only show in the menu bar a generic icon regardless of which user is logged in, a mini version of the current user's login picture, your short user name, your long user name, first name only, or initials only. Apple's menu extra only allows you to show your long user name, which gobbles up space needlessly. It's strange that Apple hasn't improved upon this menu extra in the incremental updates to Panther.

One thing to note about menu extras: sometimes, you may confuse them with status items. Menu extras and status items appear to be the same, but they are functionally different. Status items are bound to a specific application, and are displayed in the menu bar only when that application is open. iSeek is an example of a status item. The instant messenging client Proteus also has the ability to display a status item.

You can always easily tell a status item from a menu extra by performing one simple test. Try to command-drag it to place it in a different spot on the menu bar. If it doesn't respond to command-dragging, then it is a status item. Status items cannot be reordered in the menu bar, and can only be removed from the menu bar by deactivating it through the application that provides it. For example, you can change a simple preference in Proteus to deactivate its status item. With iSeek, however, you must quit iSeek in order to remove the status item: the status item is the entire application.

Martin begs to know through e-mail "I've been having an annoying intermittent problem on both my home eMac and work iMac. Every once in awhile the icons in the Finder, the Recent Items menu list, and the Open & Save dialogue boxes will not display correctly. Sometimes the icons are replaced by a nondescript visual gibberish, but most often they will be replaced by a random icon from somewhere in my System folder." He wants to know how to fix this problem.

Unfortunately, this is a problem in Mac OS X Panther that has not been fixed, even with Mac OS 10.3.8. I experience this problem every once in a while myself. However, there is a quick way to fix this -- force quit the Finder. It will automatically relaunch, and your Finder icons will be restored.

The one problem with force quitting the Finder is that you will lose any recently changed Finder settings. Fortunately, there's a simple solution around this. Download TinkerTool. Once it's downloaded, launch the application, and select "Finder" from the View menu (or click the "Finder" button in the toolbar). Then, simply check the "Add 'Quit' item to Finder menu" box, and then click the "Relaunch Finder" button.

This will allow the Finder to be quit normally like any regular application. Now, you can simply quit the Finder by pressing Command-Q while the Finder is the active application. This will save your recent Finder preferences. Then you just have to simply click the Finder icon in the Dock to relaunch the Finder, and your icons will be as good as new.

TinkerTool also allows you to access a number of other hidden options in Mac OS X, including default font settings for Mac OS X, font smoothing settings (which allows you to disable it completely), or activate advanced settings like auto-activation of Terminal windows using the mouse cursor. TinkerTool is freeware, so you don't have to pay anything to use this feature-laden application.

If you do encounter any other Mac OS X bugs, it's worth it to let Apple know. You can provide Apple detailed reports about your system configuration and the problem you are having using that form. While you won't get a response from Apple regarding your bug report, Apple seems to take all feedback into account -- iLife applications have often been influenced by user feedback, and it can't hurt to try. At the very least, Apple will be made aware of the problem.

Wynand demands to know, "silly question, but is there any way of uninstalling OS9, short of dragging the files into your trash or reformatting the hard drive? I haven't used it in years and it annoys me that it still sits in my system prefs even though its been trashed."

Unless you delete your Mac OS 9 system folder, the Classic preference pane of System Preferences will always find your Mac OS 9 system folder. It actively scans for valid Mac OS 9 system folders and will display any ones that it can find. So, you must drag your Mac OS 9 system folder to the trash and delete in order to prevent it from showing up in System Preferences. (There's no need to reformat your hard drive -- dragging the system folder to the trash is enough.)

Tip of the week: Taking More Effective Screen Snapshots

Want to quickly make a temporary screenshot of a window so that you can quickly refer to it a minute later? You could use the key sequence Command-Shift-3 to take a full screen snapshot, open it with Preview, and consult it when you need to. Here's an easier way to take a snapshot of exactly what you want to remember, with nothing extra.

Instead of Command-Shift-3, use the key sequence Command-Shift-4. This allows you to select a portion of the screen by clicking and dragging from the top-left corner to the bottom-right corner of the desired snapshot region. Once you let go of the mouse, only the selected portion of the screen will be placed into a snapshot on the desktop.

Here are some additional hints to make your use of screenshots even more useful. After pressing Command-Shift-4, press the space bar. Your cursor will change to a camera icon, and it allows you to take a snapshot of exactly one object on the screen like a window or the menu bar or the Dock. You don't have to worry about manually selecting the desired portion on screen.

But if you're taking a temporary screenshot, you'll have to delete the screenshot file afterward. You can eliminate even that step. Use the key sequence Command-Control-Shift-3 or Command-Control-Shift-4 to take the desired screenshot. This will place the screenshot in the Clipboard rather than in a file on the Desktop. Then simply open the Preview application and select "New from Clipboard" in the File menu (or press Command-N). This will create a new window containing the screenshot you just took. Once you're done with it, simply close the window without saving changes: no need to go to the Finder to delete the screenshot file!

This technique is also useful in other situations where you need a new image file with whatever is on the clipboard. Just use Preview to create the new image file, and save it in the desired format.

That ends this week's Question Time. If you've got a question, feel free to e-mail me, or leave a message in the Question Time forum. See you next Tuesday!

-- Simone

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