Get Stacked: Reduce Icon Clutter in Mojave with New Desktop Stacks

Desktop Stacks are a new way to reduce icon clutter in macOS Mojave 10.14. There are three types of people in this world: those who keep their Mac Desktop organized, those who don’t and don’t care, and those who don’t but wish they could. If you’re sitting on the Group #3 bench–you have oodles of icons scattered willy-nilly`around your Desktop, and it bugs the bejeebers out of you—macOS 10.14 Mojave might have the solution: Stacks.

Apple has used the term “Stack” before, and still does, in relation to how the icons of folders in the Dock display, either as normal folders or as a stack of icons with the first on top. Mojave’s new Stacks feature brings that visual approach to the Desktop, organizing icon clutter into neat stacks that you can expand and collapse with a click, working with the revealed icons just as you’ve always done.

In the Finder, the best way to invoke Stacks is by Control-clicking the Desktop and choosing Use Stacks from the contextual menu (below left). If you first click the Desktop, you can also find the commands for Stacks in the View menu: Use Stacks and Group Stacks By. Lastly, if you open the View Options window by Control-clicking the Desktop and choosing Show View Options, you can work with Stacks by choosing from the Stack By pop-up menu (below right).

Regardless, when you invoke Stacks, the Finder promptly collects all like icons—even new files, as you create them—together into one or more stacks of icons. Click once on a stack to reveal its contents below. Click again to collapse the revealed icons back into the stack. If you open multiple stacks at once, each subsequent stack takes over a spot at the top of the screen and expands down. If you don’t show disks on your Desktop, you can get a nice columnar view of what’s on your Desktop.

How does Stacks figure out which files are alike? You determine that by Control-clicking the Desktop and choosing from the Group Stacks By menu. You can create three basic types of stacks:

  • Kind: These stacks are named for the type of file they contain, such as Documents, PDF Documents, Movies, Images, Screenshots, etc.
  • Date: With date-based collections, each stack’s name and contents depend on what date ranges make sense, such as Today, Previous 7 Days, Previous 30 Days, October, 2017, and so on. The date groupings can key off the date added, last opened, last modified, or created.
  • Finder tags: Tag-based stacks are useful only if you regularly assign tags to all your files.

We expect that grouping stacks by kind will work best for most people, with a few chronologically inclined folks opting for one of the date options.

How can you control the order of the files within a stack? That’s trickier. Control-click the Desktop, choose Show View Options, and in the View Options window, choose from the Sort By pop-up menu. We’re partial to Name (for an alphabetical list) and Last Modified (to put the most recent file you’ve touched on top), but see what works for you.

The main problem with Stacks is that it eliminates any spatial memorization you might have relied on to find icons on your Desktop. You might be able to identify the document you’re looking for by its icon, but exactly where that icon appears when you expand its stack depends on what other stacks are open or closed, what other files are in the stack, and how the stack is sorted. So if your Desktop is a mess, but you know to look in the lower-left corner for the files you’re working with, Stacks may irritate you.

Luckily, you can give Stacks a try without permanently rearranging your Desktop. Just invoke it—the Command-Control-0 (zero) keyboard shortcut can be handy here—and try Stacks. If you don’t like it, another press on Command-Control-0 puts things back the way they were, with no harm done. (The only exception is that if you sort your Desktop, switching in and out of Stacks removes your Sort By setting.)

Stacks may not be ideal for everyone, but many people whose Desktops are obscured by icons will appreciate how it cleans things up instantly and keeps everything neat and tidy.

Understanding Dark Mode in macOS 10.14 Mojave

The feature Apple is promoting most heavily with macOS 10.14 Mojave is Dark mode, which the company advertises as “a dramatic new look that helps you focus on your work… as toolbars and menus recede into the background.” Let’s look at what Apple has done with Dark mode, after which you’ll have a better idea of what to think about while trying it.

Enable Dark Mode

First, to turn Dark mode on, go to System Preferences > General and click the Dark thumbnail to the right of Appearance. Mojave immediately switches to Dark mode, turning light backgrounds dark and swapping the text color from dark to light.

While you’re in System Preferences, click over to the Desktop & Screen Saver preference pane. If you scroll down in the Desktop Pictures list, you’ll discover a bunch of new wallpapers that blend well with Dark mode.

Dark Mode Support and Controls

You’ll notice that the color change takes place instantly not just in the Finder, but also in any apps that support Dark mode. Most of Apple’s apps support Dark mode and third-party developers are rapidly adding support to their apps as well. However, Dark mode requires explicit support from apps, so older apps that aren’t being updated will maintain their standard dark-on-light color schemes.

Some apps, such as Maps and Mail, give you additional options that change just how dark they get. In Maps, choose View > Use Dark Map to toggle between a dark map style and the familiar map style that mimics a paper map. Similarly, in Mail, go to Mail > Preferences > Viewing and deselect “Use dark backgrounds for messages” to return to a white background.

If you generally like Dark mode but have trouble reading light text on a dark background due to the reduced contrast, you may be able to choose a different font or style in the app’s preferences that makes the text more readable. Apps like Mail give you a fair amount of that sort of control.

For even more control over contrast, open System Preferences > Accessibility > Display. There you’ll find a Display Contrast slider that lets you make text lighter and backgrounds darker. You can also select Reduce Transparency to make it so items like the Dock and menu bar are solid colors, rather than allowing the background to bleed through. To separate dark and light further, select Increase Contrast, which increases the brightness of divider lines as well.

The Dark Side of Dark Mode

Contrast is necessary for pulling out fine details, but too much contrast can be uncomfortable or even painful—think about how you feel when someone turns on a bright light in a previously dark room. For visual comfort, it’s usually best to match your screen with the lighting of your surroundings. That’s why people who often work at night or with the window blinds down like dark modes—a bright screen seems brighter in a dimly lit room. That’s the theory behind the traditional dark text on a light background too, since the room will be quite light during the day.

So Dark mode can run into two problems. First is that using it during the day or in a brightly lit room may create an uncomfortable contrast between the screen and its surroundings. Controlling your room lighting can eliminate this as an issue. Second and more troubling, even apps that support Dark mode may have large content areas that are bright white, creating a strong contrast between the content area and the rest of the app. Many Web sites in Safari have this effect, as do documents in apps like Pages and Numbers. There’s no way around this scenario.

Even if Dark mode isn’t perfect, it’s worth a try if you have trouble looking at bright screens. Regardless, if it goes too far for you, one of the new dark wallpapers may be easier on your eyes. While most people aren’t overly light sensitive, a non-trivial percentage of the population is, particularly those who suffer from migraines or who have endured concussions, and those with a variety of ocular conditions. And if you’re on the other end of the spectrum—if Dark mode looks dirty and is hard to read, just stick with the traditional Light mode.

 

13 Essential Trackpad Tricks for Mac Users

A trackpad is not a mouse. In some ways, that’s obvious—you swipe your fingers on it, rather than dragging it around. Less obvious, however, are the many gestures that make using a trackpad on your Mac faster and more fun. These gestures aren’t limited to laptop users, thanks to Apple’s Magic Trackpad 2, which brings gesturing goodness to any desktop Mac. Here’s how to put your fingers to work.

Four Fingers on the Trackpad

The four-fingers-down gestures are dramatic and an easy way to appreciate the power of trackpad gestures, so we’ll start with them.

Say you have a lot of windows open, and you want to move them all aside quickly so you can open a file on the Desktop. Place your thumb and three fingers together on your trackpad and then spread them outward. Your windows scurry to the edges of the screen. To bring the windows back, reverse the gesture, pinching your fingers in toward your palm.

If you haven’t moved windows aside, pinching your thumb and three fingers together instead opens Launchpad, which shows icons for installed apps. Click an icon to open that app, or use the spreading four-fingered gesture to exit Launchpad.

Three Fingers on the Trackpad

Move three fingers horizontally on your trackpad and either nothing will happen, or you’ll switch to a different “desktop space.” This state of affairs is most easily seen by making an app full-screen. For instance, open Safari and click the green full-screen button at the upper left of the window. Safari takes over the entire screen, including the menu bar (to put it back, hover the pointer at the very top of the screen to see and click the green button again).

Now swipe left and right horizontally to switch in and out of the Safari space. As you make more apps full-screen, they’ll each create their own space. (If you’ve enabled Apple’s Dashboard, you may see it at the far left.)

What if you swipe vertically with three fingers? Swipe up to enter the All Windows view of Mission Control, which shows all open windows as thumbnails, plus desktop spaces in the top bar. Click any thumbnail to switch to it, or jump to any space by clicking it. You can also click the plus button at the upper right or drag any window into the top bar to create a new space. To move a space’s apps back to the current space, hover over a space on the top bar and click the close  button that appears. To exit All Windows view, swipe down with three fingers.

If you haven’t invoked All Windows view, swiping down with three fingers instead invokes App Exposé view, which displays thumbnails of all open windows in the current app. Click any one to switch to it. Swipe right or left with three fingers while in App Exposé to switch between apps.

Finally, on older MacBooks that don’t have Force Touch-capable trackpads, tap with three fingers on words to look them up, on files to preview them with Quick Look, and more. With newer MacBooks, if you have “Force Click and haptic feedback” enabled in System Preferences > Trackpad > Point & Click, you can instead “force click” with one finger for these features. That involves clicking on something and then pressing firmly without letting up.

Two Fingers on the Trackpad

The two-fingered gestures are easy to get your head around:

  • In Safari, swipe left on a page to go back in that tab’s page history or right to go forward.
  • Also in Safari, tap two fingers on the trackpad to zoom in on the content. Another two-fingered tap zooms back out.
  • In Photos, and some graphics apps, zoom in and out by pinching with two fingers, and rotate selected objects by putting two fingers on the trackpad and turning them. A two-finger pinch also zooms the page in Safari.
  • To open Notification Center quickly, swipe left from off the right-hand edge of your trackpad. Swipe back to the right to close Notification Center.

Changing Your Preferences

If you need a refresher on all these gestures, open System Preferences > Trackpad. Look in the Point & Click, Scroll & Zoom, and More Gestures panes to see a video for each gesture. You can also adjust which ones are active and how many fingers they require.

With so many gestures on offer, it’s worth your time to explore everything you can do with your trackpad.

How to Hide All Windows on Your Mac So You Can Work on the Desktop

If your Mac is anything like ours, you end up with lots of apps open, each with one or more windows that obscure the Desktop. For those people who like to save in-progress documents to the Desktop and keep current project folders there, all those windows get in the way. macOS has a solution. Open System Preferences > Mission Control, and in the Keyboard and Mouse Shortcuts section, from the Show Desktop pop-up menu, choose a keyboard shortcut. Try the right-hand modifier keys—we’re fond of Right Option—because they’re easy to press and aren’t likely to be used for other purposes. Then, whenever you want to see and work with the icons on your Desktop, hit that key, and do what you want. If you like, you can press that key again to bring the windows back.

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