Personalize Your Mac with Custom Document Icons

Do you have a document that you open regularly, perhaps from your Desktop? If you’d like to make it stand out from other documents, why not give it a custom icon? This was common practice on the Mac back in the day, and it’s still possible in modern versions of macOS. Go to Google Images and search for “searchTerm icon” to see what images are available. (It’s fine to use any graphic for one-time personal use; if you’re planning to distribute the file or publish the icon in any way, make sure to read and honor any licensing requirements.) Download an image you like (Control-click it and look for a Save Image command), open it in Preview (where you can delete any background or crop as desired), press Command-A for Select All, and Command-C to copy the image. Then select the icon for the file you want to customize, press Command-I to open its Get Info window, click the current icon in the upper-left corner (it gets a faint highlight outline), and press Command-V to paste.

(Featured image by Andrew Wulf on Unsplash)

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.

Tired of PDFs or Other Documents Opening in the Wrong App?

When you double-click a document, macOS uses the document’s file extension to figure out which app should open the file. So, by default, a PDF file called laser-squid.pdf opens in Preview because the Finder knows that everything with a .pdf extension should open in Preview. But what if you would prefer to open .pdf files in Adobe Reader, or you want comma-separated value (.csv) text files to open in Numbers? To change any mapping, select a file of the type in question and choose File > Get Info to open the Info window. In the Open With section, click the pop-up menu to choose the desired app and then click the Change All button.

How to Customize the Columns in a Finder Window’s List View

When a Mac folder contains a lot of files, the Finder’s List view often works best, since it lets you focus on a single folder and easily sort the contents by clicking the different columns: Name, Date Modified, Size, and Kind. But did you know that you can resize columns, rearrange them, and even add and remove columns? To resize a column, drag the vertical separator line to the right of its name. To move a column, click and hold on its name, and then drag it to the desired position. And to add or remove a column, Control- or right-click any column header and select or deselect the desired column. Choose from Date Modified, Date Created, Date Last Opened, Date Added, Size, Version, Kind, Comments, and Tags.

Use Copy as Pathname to Help Someone Find a File on the Mac

Have you ever needed to write directions for where to find a file on the Mac? That’s easy if it’s in a well-traveled location, like the Music or Pictures folder, but more difficult if it’s in an obscure hidey-hole. Rather than write out instructions like “Look in the Chrome folder inside Google’s Application Support folder in your user Library folder,” select the item in question, hold down the Option key, and choose Edit > Copy “ItemName” as Pathname. (A pathname, or path, is the sequence of nested folders that holds a file or folder, such as /Users/adrian/Library/Application Support/Google/Chrome.) Then paste the path into an email message or word processing document (or wherever you like). You’ll now have the entire thing exactly where you need it, and you don’t have to worry that you’ve accidentally left out a navigational step.

Fix a Frozen Finder with This Quick Tip

Finder freezes. They shouldn’t happen at all, and they don’t happen often, but it’s not unheard of for your Mac’s Finder to freeze, freak out, or otherwise stop responding properly. To bring it back to life, hold down the Option key, click and hold the Finder icon in the Dock, and choose Relaunch. (If the “click and hold” action feels odd, you can instead hold down Control and Option, and then just click.) In theory, you should be able to keep working normally after the Finder relaunches, but we recommend restarting your Mac afterward just to be safe.