20 Useful OS X Tips

by Chris Howard Nov 06, 2006

Because we are all different, operating system developers always put more than one way of doing things in their systems. One example is there’s often keyboard shortcuts, menus and toolbars in applications for doing the same thing. Consequently, it’s very easy to get into the habit of doing things a particular way without ever learning other ways.

Hopefully for the average user there might be at least one tip here that you weren’t aware of and that will be useful to you. Otherwise, I officially re-title this article: “20 Useful OS X Tips for Beginners and Switchers”.

By the way, if you have a single button mouse, where it says “right click”, substitute with “control-click” .

1. Pressing Esc while typing in most applications pops up a list of suggested completions of the word you’re typing. (Does anyone know if there’s a way to toggle the permanent display of this?)

2. Image Capture lets you manage photos on your camera before you download them (as explained in last week’s article).

3. Right click on an open PDF in Safari to get the a context menu which includes the option to open the PDF in Preview.

4. Pressing the Tab key in Exposé cycles through open applications.

5. Press the ` key in Exposé to cycle backwards as per the previous tip. ( ‘ is the key Tab and left of the 1 key).

6. Press Command-Q to close applications when command-tabbing. This is possibly the fastest way you’ll find to close several applications in quick succession.

7. Macs with remote controls can be put to sleep by holding down the play button on the remote. (I use my Mac as a reading light so find this quite handy. Maybe Apple could include a clapper for me in Leopard.smile)

8. Triple click selects a whole paragraph of text.

9. To select a block of text, click the start position, then Shift-click the end position. Significant;y, this doesn’t just work in editing applications like Word (where you might be already doing it anyway), but it also works with non-editable text, such as a webpage in Safari. Where has this been all my life? The number of times I’ve selected pages and pages of text by click and drag, when this is so much quicker. (My Hackmeister friend knew this one of course - but never had told me. smile )

10. In TextEdit, Option-click & drag selects a rectangle of text. (When you need it, selecting a rectangle of text is really useful, so if anyone knows other applications that have this functionality, let us know.)

11. We all know Command-shift-4 to capture a selection of the screen, but don’t forget pressing the Spacebar will toggle between selection mode and select whole window mode.

12. Command click the jelly bean found in the top right corner of some applications to cycle through toolbars.

13. In Safari, Command-Shift-click a link opens it in a new tab and immediately displays the page. (If anyone knows a way in Safari to force a page to open in the same window, do tell.)

The Option key is a hidden treasure trove. Experiment with it often. Here’s a few:

14. Hold the Option key will clicking the Zoom button (green button, rightmost of three in the top left corner of windows) switches the zoom state of all windows in the selected application.

15. Option-click the minimize button minimizes all windows in the application - and makes for a really cool animation (hold the shift key too if you want to slow it down to see it more easily).

16. Option-click on a minimized window will restore all windows for that application.

17. Option-click on a running application in the Dock hides the front-most application and brings the clicked application to the front (unless it already was).

18. Option-click on the close tab icon in Safari, closes all other tabs. Handle this one with care - there’s no warning dialog.

19. Option-arrow moves cursor by word. One for the Windows switchers who are used to using ctrl-arrow.

20. When menus are selected, press the option key to reveal alternative functions. Eg In the File menu of Finder, the Get Info item becomes Show Inspector which is like a context sensitive info pane.

Now, if you are like “The Hackmeister of OS X”, rather than scoffing, let us know a few of your favorite lesser known tips.


  • Fantastic site, http://www.mostofmymac.com/

    WAWA had this to say on Nov 07, 2006 Posts: 89
  • #10. TextWrangler by Bare Bones also provides rectangular cut (Option-drag). Thanks for the great tips.

    mog404 had this to say on Nov 07, 2006 Posts: 1
  • Option-drag works on any application using an NSTextView. In fact if you use it on the comment text area then it will select a rectangle. Nisus Writer Express brings up a selection grid similar to that of dragging to select multiple icons in Finder with the cursor.

    pilky had this to say on Nov 07, 2006 Posts: 5
  • On my Powerbook in 10.3.9 [ctrl]+[fn]+[F2] places the focus on the apple menu & allows you to use the arrow keys to navigate the menu bar the same as if you used [alt]+[f] in windows.

    erro0257 had this to say on Nov 07, 2006 Posts: 1
  • sjk had this to say on Nov 07, 2006 Posts: 112
  • Thanks for this article.

    Now I can see how crappy and limited the Mac OS is.

    MacsR4Newbs had this to say on Nov 08, 2006 Posts: 1
  • In Safari and Firefox and probably other browsers, command-clicking a bookmark opens it in a new tab.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Nov 08, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • Yeah that’s one of the greats.
    Also, option-click downloads the link to your save folder.

    Benji had this to say on Nov 08, 2006 Posts: 927
  • If you hold the shift key while minimizing a window or opening dashboard you will see the animation in slow motion.

    Mike B. had this to say on Nov 09, 2006 Posts: 1
  • Here’s another I didn’t know (being new to to Front Row)

    Command-Esc is the keyboard shortcut to launch Front Row.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Nov 09, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • Oh yeah and F16 quits front-row with a single keypress from any part of its UI.

    Benji had this to say on Nov 09, 2006 Posts: 927
  • “Question about scroll speed:
    Anyone know in OS X how to control the drag & drop scroll speed?”

    Look in the Tiger’s Finder preferences under Spring-loaded folders and widnow Delay. You can press the space bar to hold the folder while your looking inside. Press again to release or select another folder.

    t2nbox had this to say on Nov 09, 2006 Posts: 1
  • “On PowerBooks (and I presume MacBooks), the F12 key is the Eject. “

    Can’t remember if this was true for my TiBook, but it isn’t true on my present 15"AlG4, which has a separate eject button.

    Malthus had this to say on Nov 09, 2006 Posts: 3
  • This is an advanced-level tip, but something I discovered that was critical to recovering data from a hard drive that was dying (giving read errors).

    Just dragging a folder to copy it to an another location will terminate if it encounters a read error. This makes it PAINFULL to try to recover data from a failing drive. Disk Repair failed as well.

    The power of the UNIX base OS helps in this case.

    There is a UNIX command on the Mac called ditto.  If you use the right options, it will not only permit you to copy the folder, but to log the files that it could not copy due to read errors.

    ditto -v -V -rsrcFork [source folder path] [destination folder path] > [output file name]  2>&1

    This will copy the folder and create a log file of what did copy and what did not. Remember you can drag and drop folders onto the terminal window in order to insert the source and destination folders. Ditto uses STDERR instead of STDOUT—that is why you need the 2>&1 in order to log the output.

    Also, you can use the grep command to just view the files that didn’t copy:

    grep ‘error’ [output file name from above]

    This took a bit of time as every time it hit a bad file, it takes the ditto process about 30 seconds before it gives up, posts an error and continues on.

    BTW.  This was the fourth Maxtor drive I have had to recover data from. Two were mine. The other two were from people I was helping. They only give a one year warranty-one actually failed in that time.  Seagate gives a 5-year warranty-a little more expensive now, but saves much pain and gnashing of teeth down the road.

    hereinatx had this to say on Nov 10, 2006 Posts: 1
  • Great tip, hereinatx! I needed it 6 months ago. Hope I never need it again…

    Chris Howard had this to say on Nov 11, 2006 Posts: 1209
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