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.


  • Option + Scroll wheel on the mouse zooms in on the screen, then move the mouse around to move the screen around.

    xwiredtva had this to say on Nov 06, 2006 Posts: 172
  • Double click anywhere on the top part of a window to minimize it, also works with shift

    musicpenguy had this to say on Nov 06, 2006 Posts: 2
  • Question about scroll speed:

    Anyone know in OS X how to control the drag & drop scroll speed?

    For instance, in OS 9, you could drag a file to a folder window and if you held in near the top or bottom edge, the window would scroll (so you could drop it to a sub-directory for instance). The scroll speed was very manageable.

    In OS X, the same thing results in the window “jumping” way too quickly toward the top or bottom of the list. You almost always miss any folder that might be in the middle because it scrolls past the top or bottom window edge. It makes drag & drop a bit of a pain in the ass if you want to navigate through a sub-folder or two.

    I haven’t figured out a way to ratchet this speed down.

    vb_baysider had this to say on Nov 06, 2006 Posts: 243
  • There’s a four year old AutoCompleted Input plugin that still works in Cocoa apps.

    Ben Rosenthal had this to say on Nov 06, 2006 Posts: 10
  • OPTION SHIFT CLICK in Word, selects a rectangle.
    1 Click somewhere in a text.
    2 Then position your option shift
    3 and click somewhere else.

    WAWA had this to say on Nov 06, 2006 Posts: 89
  • Shift + right/left arrow will select text without need for a mouse. Use the Option key to select entire words.

    Nathan had this to say on Nov 06, 2006 Posts: 219
  • Holding shift down allows the mouse or trackpad to control window scrolling from left to right.

    El Payo had this to say on Nov 06, 2006 Posts: 12
  • Command+click on the “blue pill” button on the title bar of many apps allows you to cycle through Toolbar display options.

    El Payo had this to say on Nov 06, 2006 Posts: 12
  • Typo:
    29 <—This one is the typo

    Frozonecold had this to say on Nov 06, 2006 Posts: 32
  • Not too bad. some of these options are trivial though and are existing on any pc windows or mac (like triple click select paragraph).

    You wanna get the most out of you mac?
    [url=http://www.mostofmymac.com]http://www.mostofmymac.com[/url] can help you…

    TheMacThinker had this to say on Nov 06, 2006 Posts: 2
  • Holding down the option key in Word while selecting text will let you select any rectangular body of text. Useful, for instance, to select a single column of text in the middle of a document and delete it.

    atm@abq had this to say on Nov 06, 2006 Posts: 1
  • if you press cmd + tab and then hold the cmd key, you can also cycle through the apps by scrolling the mouse wheel.  not as good as using the expose + tab though.

    mahzilla had this to say on Nov 06, 2006 Posts: 1
  • You can hold option+delete to backspace through words instead of just letters in any program.

    Andy Guice had this to say on Nov 06, 2006 Posts: 2
  • Thanks MacThinker. In reality they’re all trivial if you already know them. I’ve used Windows and Macs for 15 years but had long forgotten about the triple click. As I said, you get into a habit of doing things a particular way (I was a click & drag selector). Nice looking site you got, what’s the plug-in for the Tag/Options/Comment box?

    Thanks to all for the excellent tips of your own.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Nov 06, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • “(If anyone knows a way in Safari to force a page to open in the same window, do tell)”

    Assuming you’re accessing the new page via a clickable link, drag the link to the URL address field, and it will open in the same window/tab.

    johnc had this to say on Nov 06, 2006 Posts: 1
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