Six Unexpected Uses for Tooltips

Tooltips--those little yellow rectangles of information that pop up when you hover your cursor over something--do more than just describe the name and function of a button on a toolbar. Use them to find the full name or path of a file in the Finder, to get a quick summary of a help topic, and more. Here are six of my favorite tricks. (Note: Apple now uses the term "help tag" instead of "tooltip" in much of its documentation. You might encounter both terms.)

1. See the full name of a file

Almost anywhere the Mac shortens a name in a narrow column, you can use a tooltip to display its full name. Just hover your cursor over the truncated name in: a list or the sidebar in a Finder window or an Open/Save dialog box; in your Apple Mail message list or sidebar; or the Source list (the sidebar-like area) in iPhoto.

Sometimes doing this will reveal extra information. For example, in the Spotlight menu, a tooltip shows not only the full version of a shortened name, but also the item's file path (in other words, where you can find it on your computer, with a list of all the folders in which it's nested). In iPhoto, hovering over an album name shows you how many images it contains.

2. Outwit false links in Mail

That embedded link in an innocent-looking e-mail message may be labeled Important Info but actually take you to the Web site http://punkedscam.org. Check the URL of a link by waiting for its tooltip to pop up before you click on the link.

3. Quickly view Mail attachment names

You receive a message asking for immediate feedback regarding the "Solution" file--but the message came with six attachments, all of which have truncated names. You could click on the message's Save button to see a menu listing the full names of attachments, but you don't want to save the file and then open it in its parent application. You want to take a quick look at it with Quick Look. No problem: Hover over the icon of an attached file to see its full name, along with other potentially useful information such as its download status. (Click on it to select it and then press the spacebar to open the Quick Look window.)

4. Find contact info without opening Address Book

Spotlight makes it easy to look up a colleague or friend whose name is in Address Book. Activate the Spotlight menu (Command-spacebar), type in a name, and a list of possible matches will appear. Often the person's name is the Top Hit in the menu. Press Return and Address Book will open right to that entry. But if you want the person's phone number, you don't have to go that far. Just hover over the name in the Spotlight menu, and you see all the phone numbers associated with it. (Although you'll have to remember which is home, work, cell, fax, and so on.)

5. Read a topic description in Help

You've done a search in the Mac Help system. (Choose Help ->ApplicationName from within the program you need information about.) Now you have a list of suggested topics. But which topic should you check first? It would be easier to decide if you could read more than just a one-line description. You can if you use the tooltips. Hover your cursor over topic and a tooltip will appear with a complete description in it.

6. Easily get information from Font Book

Sometimes it seems to me that Font Book has more numerous, and more useful, tooltips than any other Mac utility. Want to know how many fonts are in a library or collection without deselecting the current one? Point to the library name and the info appears in a tooltip. Wondering how many typefaces are in a font but don't want to select it in the Font list and expand it? Hover over the font family name to see the answer.

You have duplicate fonts and need to check which might be TrueType and which OpenType, which is the newer version, and where the files are on the drive, all so you can decide which ones to disable or delete? You don't have to switch to Font Book's Info view: just point to the typeface for an informative tooltip with all the details you need.

Sharon Zardetto suggests a solution to the problem of Address Book phone numbers being unlabeled in the Spotlight menu help tag here at her MacTipster blog.

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