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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.

The third new Spotlight menu trick is arguably the most helpful. As you mouse over each result in the menu, a Quick Look preview displays next to it. The preview allows you to view and scroll through an entire document without leaving the menu -- a really helpful method to review documents or images to see if you've found the one you were looking for.

Quick Look in the Dock

In the same way that you can view Quick Look previews from the Spotlight menu in the menu bar, you can also see previews of documents from the Dock. The Stacks feature, available since Leopard, allows you to place folders in the Dock for easy access to common documents, applications and other files.

In Lion, selecting a folder in the Dock, moving the cursor over the files inside its Stack and tapping the spacebar on your keyboard will generate Quick Look previews like those available in the Spotlight menu.

Of course, it's well known that Quick Look has gotten its own makeover in Lion, with the ability to select an application to open documents that you're previewing.

Whole-disk encryption

FileVault has gotten a massive update. In previous releases, it could be used to encrypt a user's home folder. In Lion, FileVault enables whole-disk encryption for your Mac's hard drive or SSD.

Apple took FileVault even further in the 10.7.2 update for Lion. When it's paired with an iCloud account, any unauthorized use of a Guest account on your Mac will automatically result in your Mac reporting its location to Apple's Find My Mac service -- helping you (or, more likely, law enforcement or security personnel) to locate your Mac.

You will also have the option, through the website or the Find My iPhone iOS app, to forcibly lock your Mac remotely and/or wipe the contents of its startup drive remotely.

Although it's not directly part of FileVault, Lion's amped up security includes whole-disk encryption for drives beyond your Mac's boot drive, including external hard drives. There are two caveats to this process. First, the process of enabling encryption requires reformatting a disk or partition, which will erase any current contents. Second, you will not be able to use the encrypted drive as a startup drive.

You can encrypt a disk by selecting it in Disk Utility and using the Erase tab to erase the drive or partition. (If you're partitioning a drive and encrypting multiple partitions, use the Partition tab.) Choose the "Mac OS X Case-sensitive, Journaled, Encrypted" option from the Format menu.

When you click the Erase button, you'll be asked to enter a password. That password will be required when you connect the drive to your (or any other) Mac. Other than that, you can use the drive as you would any other, as the encrypting and decrypting of its contents is performed by Lion in the background.


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