Intro to Utilities: Shining a Light on the Geeks in your Mac’s Basement

utilities-of-macMac OS X comes bundled with a handful of useful and sometimes essential utilities to help you get the most from your Mac. Typically, these are special use programs that mainstream users won’t need to use unless directed to, or they want to “get under the hood” of their Mac and explore its geekier aspects.

But it’s a good idea to get to know your Mac’s utilities to not only bail you out of trouble when necessary, but also to have an understanding of its capabilities.

To use these utilities, simply go to the Utilities folder inside your Applications folder. Let’s look at what is installed by default in the order you’ll find them.

Activity Monitor

What It Does: This utility shows you how much processing power, memory, disk, and network activity your Mac is currently using.

When You Use It: Use Activity Monitor to see if an application or process is eating up too many resources and causing your Mac to become sluggish. If an application or process is using up a lot of processing power, you might need to restart the application or possibly your computer. If a program or resource is using most of your available memory, it may be time to get more memory.

Check Out: Best Uses Of Activity Monitor On Mac

Audio MIDI Setup

What It Does: This controls audio input and output on your Mac.

When You Use It: To fine-tune audio settings and connect MIDI-compatible devices such as musical instruments to your Mac.

Bluetooth File Exchange

What It Does: Allows you to send files from your computer using Bluetooth.

When You Use It: To send a file such as an image or music file to a Bluetooth-enabled device such as another computer or your cell phone. You’ll only see this utility if your Mac has a Bluetooth adapter.

Boot Camp Assistant

What It Does: Sets up your Mac for booting into Microsoft Windows.

When You Use It: To run Microsoft Windows on your Mac. This will walk you through setting it up. You’ll need a full copy of Windows to install, an Intel-based Mac, and Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. This allows you to choose between Mac OS X and Windows when starting your Machine. Third-party alternatives include Parallels and VMware.

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See Also: Why Is It Good To Use A Virtual Machine?

ColorSync Utility

What It Does: Manages color information across different devices such as scanners, printers, monitors, etc.

When You Use It: If you are a professional graphics designer you’re likely already using this. Monitors, printers, and scanners all handle color differently. ColorSync was invented to make sure the color synchronized. There is not much here for the casual user.


What It Does: Displays messages sent between applications and your computer.

When You Use It: This is for programmers and technical support. It is used to help debug and solve problems. Unless you’re one of the above, there is not much to see.

DigitalColor Meter

What It Does: Displays the color value for any pixel you select on your screen.

When You Use It: Graphic designers use this to quickly sample a particular color on their screen without having to use a special image editing program such as Adobe Photoshop.

Directory / Directory Utility

What They Do: Provides shared information about people and resources within an organization across a network.

When You Use It: If you are in an office that has a directory server, you can access shared contact information, email groups, and more. This is convenient to keep everyone in the office in sync. Directory manages this information while Directory Utility helps you connect.

Disk Utility

What It Does: A lot. Verifies and repairs your hard disks, creates disk images, erases disks, repairs system permissions, burns discs, and more.

When You Use It: Anytime you want to do any of the above. This is one of those essential utilities and probably the one you’ll use most. If your system is acting up you can try repairing disk permissions (opinions on the effectiveness are hotly debated). If you suspect a problem with your hard drive (internal or external), you can repair it. You can burn writable media such as CD-R and DVD-R. My personal favorite is making a disk image of software that requires a CD. Just make a disk image of it and mount it before starting the program. No need to fumble around for the CD.

Keychain Access

What It Does: Stores and protects passwords to applications, websites, email, servers, and more.

When You Use It: Anytime you tell your Mac to remember a user name and password. This unassuming little application is infinitely helpful when you can’t remember your login information to something. As long as you can remember the password for your Mac, you can access the rest here.

See also  10 Killer Tips for Using Aliases on Your Mac

Migration Assistant

What It Does: Transfers user accounts, applications, and more from one Mac to another.

When You Use It: Most frequently this is used when you are upgrading from one Mac to another and want to transfer your files, settings, and applications to the new Mac. But you can use it at any time. You can also use it to transfer information from a Time Machine backup.

Network Utility

What It Does: Provides detailed information about your Mac’s networking.

When You Use It: To access networking information such as IP address, adapter, and more. You can use Network Utility to “Ping” another computer, lookup Whois information, Finger, and more. If you are knowledgeable about networking, it is invaluable to help troubleshoot issues.

Also Read: How Do I Network My Mac and PC?

RAID Utility

What It Does: Administers RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) setups. RAID is the term for data storage that divides or replicates data across multiple hard drives.

When You Use It: If you employ RAID storage techniques you will use this utility to create and monitor your RAID. Requires a RAID card and drives.


What It Does: Provides direct access to the UNIX underpinnings of OS X.

When You Use It: If you need to access parts of OS X that weren’t designed to be easily accessed. The Terminal wields a lot of power, but if you’re not careful, you could inadvertently do a lot of damage.

Related Post: How To Use Termux Terminal Emulator For PC

Chris Kerins

A professional app developer, tech author, and writer who talks about technology and innovation in the world of hardware and software. His expertise is in software, mobile apps, and games running and operating on operating systems like Windows and Mac. You can reach me on social media.

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