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Making the mac more usable with keyboard shortcuts

I’m a self confessed keyboard-junkie and avoid using the mouse to do most things. Being new to a mac environment, it’s not necessarily clear how to get some of the usual things done. Inspired by the tip that Thomas wrote here, I figured it’d be worth sharing how I’m navigating my way around. Please leave a comment sharing your favourites!

Enable tabbing to all fields in webforms
The mac apparently wants to make it difficult by default to enter in web forms using a keyboard. Turn on the Full keyboard access option to All Controls. Use the dialog following System Preferences => Keyboard & Mouse => Keyboard Shortcuts page.


Equivalent of accelerator or access keys
MenuBarMost windows applications provide underlined characters so you can access them with the ALT+<letter> key. In this manner, you can access all items without having to click the mouse.
Mac equivalent: The most effective way I’ve found so far is to use the Help (CMD+SHIFT+?) and then type in the label of the menu item. Use the up and down arrows and enter to select. Note that this isn’t guaranteed to work in all applications (like Firefox opening a help page instead)

Closing windows
Fortunately the CTRL-W option that would close applications maps directly to CMD+W although unlike windows, closing the last windows doesn’t automatically shutdown the application. CMD+Q will do the trick instead.

Opening finder
On windows, I’d use the Windows+E button to open up a new version of windows explorer to look at files. There seems to be a few ways to do this. If you have quicksilver installed, open quicksilver and then start typing Finder. If you’re using spotlight, start typing a file you know exists and then hit CMD+R (reveal in finder).

Unlike windows explorer, finder won’t necessarily always start from the root directory. Use the keyboard shortcuts CMD+SHIFT+H to start from home context or CMD+SHIFT+C to start from the computer context (useful if navigating to network drives).

Scrolling through windows of the same application
Use the CMD+` (backquote) to do so. Use CMD+~ (tilde) to go the other way (or CMD+SHIFT+`)

Show Desktop
On windows, I would use the WIN+M to minimise all windows. On the mac, you can use F5 if you don’t map those keys to normal functions (such as volume control) or if you turn on Expose, you can use F11 to hide all.


  1. gerrod

    As an aside, I think that Finder is a real hindrance to file management. I find Forklift (USD$19.95) much easier and more logical to use, plus it supports lots of keyboard shortcuts.

  2. Patrick

    Thanks for the tip. I want to learn something that I can use on all macs… Not just the one that I am currently using. I’ll have a look at it though.

  3. swiss-pat

    Hey pat,

    I can see that you are going through a similar learning experience that I’m going through.

    I find QuickSilver helps a lot but it also caused me some trouble.

    Also, to access the menu bar, I normally use Ctrl-F2, which selects the Apple icon and then take it from there. I have to admit, though, that it is a bit cumbersome and I would love to hear about better ways.

    Cheerio from Bangalore =)

  4. Patrick

    Hi Pat!

    Thanks for the tips. I haven’t got around to becoming a power Quicksilver user just yet. I would use CTRL-F2 but that means I have to disable them as being mapped to volume/brightness keys which I still find fairly useful. Appreciate the tips though.

  5. swiss-pat

    Well, they are not exactly disabled. You can still use them in combination with the function key. I just found that I use the F-keys more often than the volume/brightness/etc. keys and thus changed the setting. But, admittedly, this is a personal choice.

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