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Help with OS X's Help

Kirk McElhearn | Aug. 22, 2013
Everyone needs a helping hand from time to time. Kirk McElhearn shows you how to get the most out of OS X's Help system, plus some tricks for making it behave.

With a Little Help From My Friends
With judicious searching, you can find what you need in the Help Center. This is the case for OS X, Apple apps, and even third-party apps, if their help is provided through this window. But there are several ways you can make your help-seeking experience more efficient.

Change the font size: If the font's not the right size for you, click the action menu (the one with the gear at the Help window's top left), and then Make Text Smaller or Make Text Bigger.

Save bookmarks: You can bookmark any help topic you want to come back to. Just click the bookmark icon at the top-right of the Help Center window. When you've done this, a book icon will appear next to it. Click the book icon to see a list of all topics you've bookmarked, then double-click one to view it.

View a Help catalog: Lots of apps use Help Center. To see which ones do, click on the house icon at the top-left of the Help window, and then scroll down and click Help for all your apps. You'll see a list of Recent applications, Apple applications, and Other applications. Click Show all in either of the latter two categories to show all the help available.

Use your web browser: Would you rather view help for Apple apps in your favorite browser? Easy peasy. Find a topic you want to view, then drag its link—not its title—either to a browser window or to a browser icon in the Dock. Since Apple's Help Center's content is HTML pages on Apple's servers, that link will open in your browser. (This may or may not work with third-party help.) You can continue navigating in the browser, and shut the Help Center window. You can also save bookmarks in your browser, if you want to come back to help there, and even send these bookmarks by email if you're providing long-distance technical support to a friend or family member.

Tweak the Help Center window: One annoyance of Help Center is that its window floats over all your other windows. It's also a special kind of window that doesn't display in the Dock, or in the application switcher that you can use to shift from one app to another by pressing Command-Tab.

There's a way to fix this though. Go to the Applications/Utilities folder and open Terminal. Then, enter the following command in Terminal, and press Return:

[code]defaults write com.apple.helpviewer DevMode -bool true[/code]

The next time you open Help Center, it will be a normal window. You'll be able to move it to the background, and switch to it from the Dock, or by pressing Command-Tab. If you want to change it back, run the same command with "false" instead of "true" at the end.

 

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