Tucked away in the Mac Applications Folder is another folder, the Utilities folder. I like to differentiate applications and utilities like this. Applications help you get things done with your Mac and utilities help you get things done to your Mac.
The programs in the Utilities folder help you fine tune, troubleshoot and configure your Mac system. Some of these programs you will likely never use but it’s good to know they are there in case you run into problems with your system.
The programs are listed below. Some of the programs that you will use more often have their own article associated with them. Click through the links for more information.
The Activity Monitor let’s you look at the various things that are going on your Mac in real time. You can monitor what programs are using your system memory or hogging your CPU. You can also monitor programs that are accessing your disk drives, your network.
If you have the Mac wi-fi router AirPort this utility allows you to manage the configuration.
AppleScript is the scripting language included with OS X. With AppleScript you can build your applications that allow you to control your Mac from a simple to use language. AppleScript Editor (formerly Script Editor) is a built in editor that allows you to create your own scripts.
Audio MIDI Setup
Musicians around the world chose to use Mac computers because of the great audio applications that are available for it. If you play a musical instrument and would like to connect it to your Mac you will use this utility.
There are two tabs in this program, Audio Devices and MIDI. Audio devices allows you to adjust the settings on all of the audio input and outputs on your Mac.
The second is MIDI Devices. MIDI, the Music Instrument Digital Interface is a language that is spoken between electronic instruments. Your Mac can speak it too. If you have a keyboard or other MIDI device this utility will help you get it connected to your Mac.
Bluetooth File Exchange
Bluetooth is the wireless protocol used by your cellphone and cellphone accessories. With it you can send files back and forth between Bluetooth equipped devices. This utility allows you to setup your devices so they talk to each other.
Boot Camp Assistant
Boot Camp is the multi boot feature included in OS X that allows you to install Windows XP or Vista onto your Mac. It’s an alternative to using a virtual machine.
If you intend to run a copy of Windows you will need this program to help you set things up.
If you are doing graphic design work on your Mac you know how important it is that there is consistency between how colors work on your display and other mediums. Apple developed Color Sync as a way to standardize colors on multiple devices.
You can use the ColorSync Utility in Mac OS X to modify an image file. Adding effects, changing color spaces, resampling images or correct the color and brightness of an image are all possible.
The [intlink id=”746″ type=”post”]Console is an awesome utility for troubleshooting your Mac[/intlink]. It rolls up all of the system logs and presents them in an easily accessible form.
Digital Color Meter
The Digital Color Meter is a utility that lets you display the color value of any pixel on your screen. It’s useful if you are doing graphics design work and need to match a color with something on the screen.
Disk Utility is a general purpose disk management application. With Disk Utility you can repair hard drives, erase disks, partition disks, manage disk image files (DMG). If you have a server you can also manage RAID sets.
[intlink id=”513″ type=”post”]Grab lets you take screen shots of your Mac desktop or applications[/intlink] and save them in various formats
If you are using your Mac for scientific work or are a student check out Grapher. Grapher is a data visualization tool built into Mac OS X. With Grapher you can input equations and visualize the results.
After you’ve created your graph you can play around with the appearance of the graph and create animations that you can share with others.
Java is a technology that allows you to write applications that will run on a variety of computers. This utility allows you to setup the preferences of the Java Virtual Machine. The Java Virtual Machine is a computer inside your computer that runs Java programs.
Your keychain is where OS X stores various system and website passwords. If you use a program that requires a password you often are prompted if you want to save it into your Keychain. This program allows you to manage your keychain. If you want to change or remove any of the passwords in your keychain use Keychain Access.
If you purchase a new Mac and want to transfer the contents of your old Mac onto your new Mac you run the Migration Assistant. The Migration Assistant will make a mirror of your old Mac. It preserves your setings, preferences, applications and brings over all of your documents.
Network Utility is a swiss army knife tool for testing your network connections. If you think something is going wrong with your network, start by looking here.
If you are using your Mac to record podcasts and are sending them to Podcast Producer you will use this Utility. If you don’t know what Podcast Producer is you likely will not need this program.
Raid is a disc drive protocol designed for high reliability. If you have a Mac Pro and a bank of hard drives you can configure them to run as a RAID array. This utility allows you to setup the array.
Remote Install Mac OS X
If you are lucky enough to have a MacBook Air one thing you might notice is that it doesn’t have an optical drive. This could cause you a problem if you need to reinstall the operating system. Remote Install Mac OS X will allow you to install OS X on your MacBook Air if you have access to another Mac computer.
Spaces allows you to have multiple virtual desktops. It’s typically accessed via a hotkey on your keyboard. When you press the hotkey, it runs this utility. You will likely never need to run it on it’s own.
System Profiler is a great troubleshooting tool and one you should become familiar with. When you run System Profiler it takes a snapshot of your entire Mac. It will capture information about your Mac hardware, your Network setup and also the installed Applications on your machine.
It’s most useful when you need to call Apple about a problem with your system because you can export this snapshot and send it to them.
Terminal is your window in to the wonderful world of UNIX. Terminal allows you to access all of the great UNIX commands that are installed into OS X.
The Mac is an accessible operating system. This means that out of the box it is designed so that someone with limited vision can still use the system. It does this with VoiceOver. VoiceOver will enable your Mac to speak to you. Someone with limited vision can use it to read email, highlight and read sentences, read aloud the web.
This utility will allow you to setup how VoiceOver should behave.
The Mac OS X operating system is based on UNIX (if you’ve heard of LINUX this is his big brother). Because of this it can run many applications originally written for UNIX. The X Windows System is the graphical user interface (UI) used by UNIX for their desktop interface and GUI programs. In order to run X programs you need an X Windows System. The X11 Utility provides the environment for you to run X Windows programs on your Mac.
Most people won’t need this and in fact it isn’t installed by default. If you need to run an X Windows application and this program isn’t available you can find it as an optional install on your OS X installation disc.
There you have it, a whirl-wind tour of the Utilities on your Mac. It’s important to have an understanding of the tools in your toolbox in case something is wrong. I hope this gave you enough information to get started. If you have questions about specific utilities please feel free to ask it over in our forums.