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.


  • I’m a heavy keyboard user (I use XEmacs on Linux at work all day).  I’ve recently been very happy to switch from Windows to Apple on my main home computer.  But I’ve had a lot of trouble trying to use the keyboard for handling text.  It seems like part of the problem is that there isn’t a consistent interface like there is under Windows.

    One main issue:  how can I select all the text from the current point of the cursor to the end of the line?  (shift-end on Windows)  After that, how can I use the keyboard to reduce or increase the selection area (I can use shift up and down to do this on Windows)

    How about to highlight from the current cursor point to the beginning or end of a file?  This is control-shift-home or end on Windows.  I found a keystroke for this (something like option-shift-end), but I don’t think it worked in all apps.


    nadler had this to say on Nov 13, 2006 Posts: 1
  • Nice tips everyone!

    Here’s mine: I find it extremely comfortable using the hot corners. Go to System prefs / Dashboard & Expose. Set the lower left corner to “All windows” and the Upper right to “Desktop”. Now you can switch applications by moving your mouse quickly to the lower left corner and selecting the desired window. Once you get used to do it quickly, you’ll find yourself trying to do the same thing in Windows.
    You can also drag and drop files easily that way. For example, you are writing an email. The window covers much of your desktop. Go to top-right corner (reveals desktop) start dragging a file from the desktop, go again to the top right still dragging (all windows appear again). Drop the file into your e-mail window.
    You can even go to the lower left corner dragging a file, when Expose shows all the windows, put the cursor over a window and wait for it to appear, then, drag the file.

    Does anyone know a way to make finder sort the folders first? As Explorer does?


    realcj had this to say on Nov 21, 2006 Posts: 1
  • realcj,

    I use the same hot corner settings as you to activate Exposé.  Using function keys seems awkwardly inefficient in comparison.

    My technically disinclined wife has recently discovered value with Exposé, without knowing its name.  Just last night she surprised me by mentioned that she liked how the hot corners worked, which I’d configured for her long ago.  Obviously she needed her own “ahha!” moment of enlightment since my previous explanations/examples were inadequate.  That’s a sign she’s ready to see some drag/drop tips (like you mentioned), then I’ll wait awhile for those to sink in.


    Does anyone know a way to make finder sort the folders first?

    There was brief discussion about that recently on an AppleInsider thread.  Setting “Keep arranged by Kind” with “Show View Options” (Command-J) is probably the best you can do without naming folders with prefix characters that cause Finder to sort and display them first.

    sjk had this to say on Nov 21, 2006 Posts: 112
  • Is there any way to run an application in Finder by without having to double-click on it?

    When you hit “enter” or “return” in Finder, it goes into “renaming” mode. Is there a key combination that does the same thing as double-clicking on a file or application?

    dlehman had this to say on Jan 12, 2007 Posts: 1
  • Command-O (File Menu > Open).  Or Command-DownArrow, if you prefer.

    See Mac OS X keyboard shortcuts for others that might be useful to you.

    sjk had this to say on Jan 12, 2007 Posts: 112
  • Most useful in mac os x for me:
    In the finder browse to folder with documents what you are working on. Switch to target application. Open apple file browser (open/save/export…) in any application, click Finder in the dock, drag icon located on top center of opened window containing your documents and drop it over file browser - now your folder is set in file browser.

    Rison had this to say on Nov 06, 2007 Posts: 1
  • Yep, dragging that Finder proxy icon to a variety of application windows (e.g. Terminal) is quite useful.

    sjk had this to say on Nov 06, 2007 Posts: 112
  • It’s funny how we can develop a list of assumptions about almost every group. I’ve found that there are people of all kinds in all links of london . There are people who do great things and believe in altruism and those who devote their lives to being miserable

    links had this to say on Sep 30, 2010 Posts: 1
  • Well, this are very useful tips I can use this in future. Thanks for sharing!

    Loft Conversion Ealing had this to say on Mar 12, 2011 Posts: 1
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