TUTORIAL: How to launch apps from your Mac’s keyboard with Spotlight

ICON Mac OS X SpotlightThere are oodles of ways to launch apps in OS X. You can double-click an app in the Applications folder, click an app icon in the Dock, invoke Launchpad and click the desired app, or choose an app from the Apple menu’s Recent Items > Applications submenu. You can even add commonly used apps to the toolbar of Finder windows by Command-dragging them up there.

But what if you don’t want to take your hands off the keyboard? Is there any way to open an app without touching the mouse or trackpad? Indeed there is, courtesy of Spotlight.

You’re probably familiar with Spotlight as a search tool, both for finding files and folders on your Mac, and for ferreting out information on the Internet (in OS X 10.11 El Capitan, Spotlight can even find weather forecasts, sports scores, and stock prices). But what you may not realize is that among the files that Spotlight can find are all the apps on your Mac, and you can launch them with just a few keys. Follow these steps:

  1. Press Command-Space to display the Spotlight window.
  2. Begin typing an app’s name, such as “ac” for Activity Monitor. For apps whose names have multiple words, you can type the first letter of each, as in “ic” for Image Capture. And if an app name is a single InterCapped word, it’s fine to enter just the capitalized letters, as in “ft” for FaceTime. Spotlight searches, and while it should be nearly instantaneous, if it doesn’t show the app you want at first, give it a few seconds.Activity Monitor detail
  3. If the app you want to launch is highlighted as the top hit, press Return to launch it. If it’s not the top hit, you can either continue typing to narrow the search or arrow down to it in the list, and then press Return.

That’s all there is to it! As you might guess, you can use the same technique to open documents or even System Preferences panes.

Cleverly, Spotlight is adaptive so if the first time you type “ac” it suggests Adobe Content Viewer, once you select Activity Monitor instead, it will know that “ac” should open Activity Monitor in the future.

On the downside, Spotlight isn’t always as fast as you might like, and while it guesses relatively well, you may find that its conception of what an app is called doesn’t always match with what you want to type.

So give Spotlight a try, and if you find that you like launching apps from the keyboard but want the best possible experience, try one of the four excellent keyboard launcher utilities on the Mac: Alfred, Butler, LaunchBar, or QuickSilver. Alfred and QuickSilver are both free, whereas Butler costs $20 and LaunchBar—the most powerful and popular of the pack, is $29.

TUTORIAL: How to sign PDFs using OS X’s Preview app

TUTORIAL: How to sign PDFs using OS X’s Preview app

Although a fully paperless office remains tantalizingly in the future, we get closer all the time. For many people, one of the most annoying uses of paper is the signature dance. You know how it goes—someone sends you a document via email that you need to sign, so you print it out and sign it. Then you have to figure out how to send it back: scan and email, run through the fax machine, or pop it in an envelope and mail it. There’s a better way, and it’s been built in to every copy of OS X since 10.7 Lion.

That’s right, the app you use to look at PDFs and images on the Mac boasts a feature that makes the signature dance a thing of the past.

You’ve likely used this surprisingly powerful program many times over the years: Preview. That’s right, the app you use to look at PDFs and images on the Mac boasts a feature that makes the signature dance a thing of the past. First, you create an image of your signature using either your Mac’s camera or its trackpad. Then you can drop that signature image into any PDF with just a couple of clicks, save the file, and email it back.

Follow these steps in Preview in OS X 10.11 El Capitan (earlier versions of OS X are similar):

  • Open the PDF you need to sign in Preview.
  • Click the Toolbox icon Preview app icon in the toolbar to reveal Preview’s markup tools.
  • Click the Signature icon: image02
  • To use the trackpad to make your signature, click Click Here to Begin, and start signing. Press any key when you’re done. Honestly, this is hard to do with a finger—click Clear to try again—so if you have a rubber-tipped iPad stylus, use that to make the writing easier. Click Done once you have a signature you like.
  • For an easier method, sign your name using a thick black marker on a white piece of paper that’s blank on the back. Then click Camera and hold your paper up to the camera. You can keep moving it around until the entire signature fits in the window and isn’t angled oddly. Once Preview captures it, click Done.image01
  • To sign the current PDF and any others in the future, click the Signature icon again and click your signature to insert it as a graphic that you can move around in the document and resize to fit into the appropriate space.image05

That’s it—you now have your own digital signature stamp! One final tip. You can create and insert multiple signatures, and while the authorities frown on forgery, Preview makes it easy for an assistant to affix the boss’s signature to documents that don’t need the real thing.

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