Macs for Beginners: Drag and Drop Extreme

by Milind Alvares

Macs for Beginners: Drag and Drop Extreme

by Milind Alvares on August 7, 2009

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“The Mac doesn’t have the ‘send-to’ contextual menu like in Windows” said someone. Well why would you want that in the first place? I can understand the purpose it serves on Windows, since Windows Explorer pretty much sprawls all your folders and drives into tall scrollbars you wouldn’t otherwise be able to navigate into. The Mac however is so streamlined, that everything is just a little drag and drop away. At all times you can see your volumes, and you can jump into any folder in your hard drive by means of spring loaded folders.

If you’re still carrying old school philosophy of moving around, cut-paste, and whatnot, please go through this little guide and screencast on the awesomeness that is drag and drop. Warning: Beginners only.

Spring Loaded

A user interface enhancement found only in Mac OS X, you can jump into a series of folders just by hovering over them. Try it out. From your desktop without a Finder window open, just drag a file onto one of your hard drive icons. A Finder window will spring out. You can then navigate to any folder on your hard drive just by spring loading. To access spring loaded folder settings, go to Finder » Preferences, where you can adjust the delay for action. Oh, and press Spacebar to immediately spring out the folder.

Managing Files in Finder

  • Command+Drag between volumes to “move” (by default Finder copies files between volumes)
  • Option+Drag between volumes and folders to “copy” (By default Finder moves files between folders on same volume)
  • Cmd+Opt+Drag to create an alias.

This last one’s beautiful. Say you’re working on a file in TextEdit, and you want to save that file on your Flash drive. Instead of locating the file, and then dragging it to your flash drive, simply drag the proxy icon you see in your menubar into the flash drive (or any other folder). Take note that you need to hold Option to switch from just creating an alias to actually.

And while we’re on the Proxy icon, say you want to know where this file is located on your hard drive (maybe you want to make sure you’re working on the right one). Simply Cmd+Click the name in the title bar and a path will drop down showing you where the file is located. You can even click one of the path items to drill down into that folder. There’s a wow moment here as well. Say you’re working on your file in Photoshop, and you accidentally saved it on your desktop. All you have to do is move the file from your desktop to your usual projects folder, and then when you save the file the next time, Photoshop (or any other app) will automatically save to the new location!

Open/Save File Dialogs

Say you’re in Photoshop, and you select “File » Open”. Instead of navigating to the file on your hard drive, you can just drag the file from an already open Finder window or desktop stack into that Open dialog box, and it will switch to that folder giving you access to all the files in it (even selecting the file in question). This is unlike Windows, where the Open/Save dialog boxes behave like normal Explorer windows, and doing such an action would copy the file there instead of changing the file path.

Draggy Dock

The Dock is more than just a strip of icons resting on a 3D plane. It’s actually a treasure trove of drag and drop awesomeness.

  • You already knew you could drag certain files onto applications to launch them in that app. But what about arbitrary data? Drag text into TextEdit to create a new document with selected text. You can also drop it onto Mail to create a new mail message.
  • Drag stuff into dock, and press spacebar on any icon to bring that application to foreground (even launch it if it’s not open). This spring loaded action is only present in Leopard, should you be running Tiger. With Snow Leopard, you will be able to “Exposé” all of the Windows of an app by doing that actino.
  • Drag files onto the dock, and press Cmd+Option to force open it with any application. For instance, you have a text file that you know will open with TextEdit. However, it’s not one of the default recognised files, so TextEdit might not automatically accept that format. Force opening will make sure that the app will try to open anything you feed it.
  • To copy an app right from the Dock to any location, you simply start by Cmd+Dragging it out, and then you can create an alias or copy it over to another location by switching to the Option key.

Traversing Safari

  • Select a bunch of text, and drag it onto your desktop (or spring load into another folder). Make sure you click and hold the text for a second before moving your mouse or it will create a new selection. You can also drag it to a TextEdit or Mail icon to perform logical functions. Same goes for images.
  • If you see a ‘select file’ button, as seen on many image and document uploading sites, simply drag the file from your desktop, stack, or Finder window onto that button to load the file. This doesn’t work on flash based ‘select file’ buttons like the WordPress upload tool.
  • Safari by itself is completely drag and drop enabled. Drag links to the bookmarks bar to create new bookmarks. Drag them to the tab bar to create new tabs.
  • To download a file instead of opening it in Safari, you can drag a link (from a web page or address bar) into the downloads window. This is really useful if you’ve only got the plain text link to a music or PDF document that you would prefer to download instead of opening it in the browser.
  • While we’re on Safari, and this is not exactly a drag-and-drop trick, you can Cmd+Click the title bar of Safari to navigate the path of the site you’re on.

Dragging an image into the “Select file” button on an image uploading site

Random Acts of Dragginess

  • Drag the ‘picture’ from a QuickTime movie window to create a snippet of that frame. Unfortunately this is not a PNG or Jpeg, so you will have to do post processing later on. However, it’s a great way to quickly grab screens from a video to sort through later.
  • Cmd+Drag default items from menubar. You can also rearrange the icons there. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for third party app icons.
  • Cmd+Drag items off a toolbar. You can also move them around. To hide items on toolbar click the grey pill.
  • Say you’re working on a report in TextEdit and you want to move that PDF document open in Preview slightly to the left. To do so just Cmd+Drag the background window to move it independently without bring the app to the foreground.
  • To set the desktop background, you can open up system preferences, Wallpapers, and then drag in any wallpaper into the thumbnail preview area.
  • From the Printer Preferences in your System Preferences, create a new ‘desktop printer shortcut’. Now you can drag any file or text into that icon and it will immediately start printing using default settings. If it’s not a native Mac file, it will open up the application (like Word or Photoshop) and invoke the print dialog.

Changing wallpapers without any hassles

If you don’t understand any of this, or would like to watch a video based tutorial anyway, hit play on the embedded stream below.

About the Screencast

We’ve rendered the video in a higher resolution this time [download], so it weighs in at 40MB. There’s a smaller version at 20MB as well [download], if you so choose. Both videos are not rendered to play on an iPhone. You can of course just subscribe to our Podcast in iTunes, and have these videos trickle down into your library. And lastly, you can also view the screen in less than optimal quality in the YouTube video embedded below.

Direct link to video. Subscribe to SA YouTube Channel

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