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Dig deep into Lion: The best overlooked, underrated features

Ryan Faas | Jan. 30, 2012
Apple billed this summer's release of Mac OS X Lion as having more than 200 new features, but most coverage of Lion in the intervening months has focused on only a handful of them. While iOS-like navigation and app-launching interfaces, autosave/restore capabilities, AirDrop file sharing and an emergency restore partition are by all means important, there are a lot of helpful tweaks and enhancements that can easily be missed.

While you could create custom lock-screen messages with a bit of work at the command line in previous OS X releases, setting it in System Preferences is a lot easier. Simply open the Security & Privacy pane to the General tab, check the box marked "Show a message when the screen is locked," and type in your message.

System Preferences customization

Let's face it -- there are some preferences most of us use just once when setting up a new Mac and never again. Happily, you can now customize the display of the System Preferences window to include only specific panes and/or arrange panes to suit your tastes from the View menu in the menu bar. This can help make frequently used preferences easy to find while keeping the ones you never use hidden.

Text-to-speech additions

Most of the recent news about speech technology has centered on the Siri virtual assistant feature of the iPhone 4S. But Lion also has a couple of speech-related tricks to share.

First up is the availability of additional voices. Like Snow Leopard, Lion includes six voices (three male and three female) in its text-to-speech arsenal, but there are many additional English and foreign-language voices that you can download free of charge. Some are venerable selections that have been included on Macs for nearly twenty years, while others are brand-new.

You can browse the entire list of more than seventy options by selecting Customize from the System Voice pop-up menu in the Text to Speech tab of the Speech pane in System Preferences.

Second is the ability to turn any text selection into an audio track available in iTunes -- simply select a passage of text in any application designed for use with Lion, right-click, and select Add to iTunes as Spoken Track. You can then work with the track as with any iTunes audio file -- burn it to a CD, sync it to an iPod/iPhone/iPad, or play it on an Apple TV.

Note: Even though these are spoken tracks, iTunes will display them as music tracks, not as audiobooks or podcasts. You can, however, use the Get Info command in iTunes to classify a track as an audiobook, podcast or voice memo if you wish.

Enhanced Spotlight menu



Like smart folders, the Spotlight search menu isn't a new feature in Lion, but it has gained a couple of new tricks.

First, you can now drag any document displayed as a search result directly from the Spotlight menu onto the icon of any app (in the Finder or on the Dock) to open it with that app.

The next addition is the ability to search the Mac OS X dictionary, Wikipedia or the Web (via Google) directly from the Spotlight menu. Dictionary results, if there are any matching your search, will immediately be displayed in the Spotlight menu along with other results such as files, folders and the contents of documents. The Web and Wikipedia search options always appear at the bottom of the menu; clicking them will open the results in your Mac's default Web browser.


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