Super UserUnderused Mac OS X GUI features
[+38] [37] username
[2009-05-30 01:26:57]
[ osx mac ]

What handy Mac OS X features do you know about that are poorly known?

I'll post a couple I'd like to share.

[+36] [2009-05-30 08:38:36] Henrik N

Shift+Ctrl+Eject turns off the display(s).

What does this have a use for exactly? turning off displays on say a macbook if you have an external adapter hooked up? - RCIX
ACtually it's puts the MacBook to sleep without having to close the lid. - Diago
Wow, I just realised my macbook has an eject key. And iv had it for a few months now. Thanks a million! +1 - P.Bjorklund
@Diago, <kbd>Shift</kbd> + <kbd>Control</kbd> + <kbd>Eject</kbd> only turns the display(s) off. <kbd>Command</kbd> + <kbd>Option</kbd> + <kbd>Eject</kbd> puts it to sleep. - Tomas Markauskas
hmmm, I was hoping, the markup would work here :-| - Tomas Markauskas
(1) (Though one cannot edit comments; one can delete them and repost...) - Arjan
I never knew about this key combo -- thanks!! - Josh
[+36] [2009-08-06 04:54:48] willc2

You can tell at a glance when a document needs saving. A black dot appears inside the red Close Window button.

alt text

(6) As a new mac user, I was wondering what this was. Thanks. - swilliams
Also the proxy icon, to the left of the title in the title bar, is often dimmed when a file needs saving. - Arjan
(4) I've been using OS X for almost 5 years and I never even noticed the dot. - GameFreak
[+27] [2009-05-30 01:28:28] username

When you have the Save File or Open File dialogue open in Finder, press the / key and you'll get a dialog to type in a path.

This is also very useful! Very nice! - community_owned
(5) Apple+Shift+G does this, too. - ceejayoz
[+16] [2009-05-30 01:38:14] Paul Tomblin

You can use Spotlight from the command line using "mdfind".

Cool! At first I thought it was the same as locate, but not so. Good one! :) - community_owned
(3) mdfind will also look in system'ish file, like files in ~/Library/Preferences/ (which are ignored by the GUI Spotlight search) - dbr
[+16] [2009-05-30 10:05:36] username

While lots of Mac users know you can take a screengrab by using Cmd+Shift+3 (whole screen) or Cmd+Shift+4, not so many know you can save one directly to the clipboard using Cmd+Ctrl+Shift+3.

(11) Also, with Cmd+Shift+4, you can select just one Window by tapping the space bar. - username
[Cmd]+[Ctrl]+[Shift]+[3] is for the full screen, but [Cmd]+[Ctrl]+[Shift]+[4] does a selection grab to the clipboard. - Lara Dougan
[+16] [2009-06-01 18:28:45] Ted Naleid

Many OSX dialogs accept emacs keystrokes for navigation, give these a try in the address bar of your browser:

ctrl-a - put cursor at beginning of line
ctrl-e - go to end of line
ctrl-w - delete the word to the left of the cursor
ctrl-k - delete everything to the right of the cursor
ctrl-u - delete everything on the current line

These commands also work in terminal (along with many others) and after some use, you'll quickly wonder why you spent so much time navigating around without them.

I always thought they behaved just like in bash, rather than emacs. Specifically control-u deletes everything to the left of the cursor, not the whole line. - dlamblin
Ctrl-u behavior is a little inconsistent from what I've seen. Sometimes it deletes to the left of the cursor (like in bash), sometimes it deletes the whole line. Some places I see this are in zsh (the shell I use) and on the firefox address bar line. - Ted Naleid
@dlamblin It is emacs-style line editing, which is a bit different from the emacs text editor, so it typically only works in single-line input fields. Also, [ctrl]-d will do a forwards delete and [ctrl]-h will delete to the left of the cursor. - Lara Dougan
[+16] [2010-03-12 08:54:57] EsotericHabit

My favorite, least known keyboard shortcut:

Option + Shift + Volume Up/Down will increase/decrease your volume by 1/4th of the normal amount. (Total of 64 increments)

Also, Shift + Any volume button will silently perform the action.

(1) + Nice. I hate that tapping sound when I'm trying to turn down the volume in a meeting. - benc
(1) @benc: You can disable that sound in the preferences panel/sound uncheck the appropriate checkbox. - Nerian
[+13] [2009-05-30 16:02:26] Mark Trapp

A lot of the Universal Access features are ignored because people think they're for specific handicaps, but some of them are pretty useful for anyone. My favorite, and I'm pretty sure it's enabled by default, is to use Ctrl+Mousewheel to zoom in and out.

(2) I do this all the time to show my partner something when she is sitting ~5m away :) - Nippysaurus
One of the things I love about Compiz. You can also use it to zoom in and see if that progress bar is actually moving. - Nathaniel
[+13] [2009-05-30 01:48:48] username

There's a hidden System Preference Pane [1] that lets you customize settings for decompressing archives located in: "/System/Library/CoreServices/Archive"

Similarly, there's Disk Image Pref Pane tucked away here: "/System/Library/PrivateFrameworks/DiskImages.framework/Versions/A/Resources/DiskImages.prefPane"


(5) Useful for the delete archives after uncompressing option. - community_owned
(4) DiskImages.prefPane is gone in Snow Leopard. That functionality has moved to Disk Utility preferences. (That's probably where it belonged in the first place — no need for a preference pane just for that.) The Archives.prefPane still exists, though... - Quinn Taylor
+1 - Cheers for the Archive Utility one. Other one has gone AWOL in SL. - boehj
[+13] [2009-05-30 03:25:31] Clinton Blackmore

Control-click on the title (the current location) in the Finder to bring up a menu that allows you to select the parent folders.

(4) +1 Also, many people don't realize you can drag and drop the little file icon in the titlebar, just like any other. You just need to click and hold a few seconds first. - username
(1) dragging the titlebar icon in Finder does not require any full seconds worth of delay. It's close enough to a few milliseconds that I can't quite measure it. - dlamblin
Also it's the same in safari, and it could be a right-click instead of a control-clock. Which for me is a two-point-tap. - dlamblin
(1) Command-click does the same — I believe that was the original shortcut. - Quinn Taylor
[+11] [2009-05-30 01:30:25] username

At the Login Window, type ">console" to exit to command prompt. Link [1]


(2) That link doesn't make it clear if it's really "single user mode", or just a non-graphic login. - Paul Tomblin
good point it's the latter actually. corrected - username
(1) Note that sometimes you just get a black display and do not see the initial prompt that says, "Login:", but you can type your username and press enter, and will then be queried for your password - Clinton Blackmore
cute, but I can't think of a situation where this would be actually useful? - Ether
[+10] [2009-05-30 08:45:37] Henrik N

Hold Opt+Cmd and click an app in the Dock to show that app and hide all others.

You can also use Opt+Cmd+H, without having to move to the mouse. Nice when focusing on a text editor for coding :-). - jtimberman
Simialrly, Opt+click an icon to hide it - dbr
[+10] [2009-05-30 16:22:29] community_owned

While in Terminal, execute "open ." to open the current location (path) in Finder.

(1) open -a Safari will launch Safari, open -a TextMate somefile.txt will open somefile.txt with TextMate - dbr
and open will run Quicktime without expliciting it. - mouviciel
(1) More generally, open file will open the file in the default application -- as if you double-clicked it in the Finder - Doug Harris
[+9] [2009-05-30 01:44:45] username

There's some menubar extras [1] hiding in: "/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/"


Again - very cool :). - community_owned
(2) How to add them: [but, in short, open the directory and double-click on them.] - Clinton Blackmore
Wow, this is awesome, especially hidden gems like "home sync" that, AFAICT, don't appear anywhere else in the UI. - Kyle Cronin is particularly handy when I VNC to a Mac w/o a keyboard, since Screen Sharing doesn't capture the eject button. - Quinn Taylor
[+7] [2009-05-30 09:02:23] Henrik N

Holding Cmd while clicking often reveals (opens Finder and selects) instead of opening. E.g. Cmd+clicking a Spotlight search result, or a Stacks folder, or a file in an expanded Stacks folder.

+1 i had no idea. very handy - username
Or [Cmd]+clicking anything in the dock will also reveal it in the Finder. - Lara Dougan
[+7] [2009-08-06 05:53:39] Quinn Taylor

While command-tabbing between applications (and still holding down the command key) there are a few handy shortcuts...

  • H will hide the selected application
  • Q will quit the selected application
  • ← and → move the selection
  • ↑ or ↓ switch to Exposé on the selected application
  • Just as Tab goes right, Shift-Tab and tilde (~) go left
  • Moving the mouse over the switcher moves the selection
  • The mouse scrollwheel will also move the selection

[+6] [2009-05-30 14:41:57] community_owned

The mac comes with a graphing application called "Grapher". Nice GUI.

(2) The Graphing Calculator v1 Story is even better though: - username
[+6] [2009-05-30 16:19:01] Milhous

Option + maximize button for when you cant see the lower corner of your app(itunes especially)

Also handy for web pages that think it's smart to over extend new windows! - Alex Angas
In OS X, using JavaScript I've never been able make webpages any larger than the actual screen. How would one do that? And I don't think that Option-Zoom (not Maximise) is generic? (I've always thought Option-Zoom is an iTunes specific thing, as a replacement for normal Zoom, which has been kind of abused by iTunes.) - Arjan
[+5] [2009-05-30 16:11:01] community_owned

Ctrl+Option+Command+8 will invert the color of your screen. On my old powerbook it switched it to b/w too, but the newer hardware/software keeps somewhat of the color.

Nocturne does something similar, but allows you to monochrome the screen (like your Powerbook), and map the black-and-white points to different colours (to reduce contrast, to make it nicer to use in the dark) - dbr
It does a chromatic inversion, as in the opposite color pretty much like colors on film camera negatives. - Lara Dougan
[+5] [2009-06-01 18:03:53] community_owned

the services menu and the dictionary. you can type dictionary words into spotlight, or highlight a word & go to Application-->Services-->Dictionary

Just like in NextStep Days!!

+1 for NextStep reminiscence - Doug Harris
Even better, in any Cocoa app just highlight a word and hit Cmd-Shift-D, to pop up a small dictionary popup. - Josh
[+5] [2009-11-11 20:50:34] Kami

In each textfield of Cocoa Application (i.e., Safari, Mail, ...), you can call the Spelling and Grammar checker with :

Command + :

[+5] [2009-05-30 12:04:26] Clinton Blackmore

When dragging from one Finder window to another:

  • with no modifiers, you'll move the file [provided source and destination are on the same volume].
  • hold down Option to copy the file. [You'll see a big green plus cursor.]
  • hold down Command-Option to make an Alias (or shortcut). [The cursor will be a curved arrow pointing backwards.]

I made a folder called "Shortcuts" and put Aliases to folders I work with all the time, and put it on the sidebar in my Finder and as a folder on the Dock.

Re: "hold down Option to copy" Also handy to know that you can hold Option to Move instead of Copy (same key, the exact opposite behavior), when transferring files from an external volume. - username
Hold down Command while dragging to move a file. Its a bit tricky to do sometimes because clicking a file with Command held down toggles the selection too :) - Nippysaurus
+1 for the shortcuts folder! - Dror
[+5] [2009-05-30 03:45:23] Rob Haupt

Force Quit an application [1]: hold option key down after you ctrl-click on an application in the dock and the context menu will show "Force Quit" in place of "Quit"


(1) I think option-clicking an application in the dock just hides the current application before switching to the clicked app. - Kristopher Johnson
(1) If you control-option click an app in the dock, it will show a force quit command, even for the finder. - jleedev
(1) Also, cmd+opt+esc displays the Force Quit window to choose which app to force quit. - Peter Di Cecco
[+4] [2009-05-30 04:50:24] Ted Naleid

cmd-option-eject instantly puts your mac to sleep

[+4] [2009-05-30 06:21:49] community_owned

When you have a document open, the icon at the top of the window is more than just a picture. You can file most documents in a different folder by dragging their icon from the top of the window into a Finder window. Unfortunately there are some major apps like Microsoft Office 2004 where this doesn't work

I always wondered why you could drag that icon. I just tried it out and it looks like it makes a copy in the new folder. - g .
[+4] [2009-05-30 09:24:19] lImbus

on the command line, open path/to/some/file opens the file in its associated application. Very handy also for directories (even if hidden).

edit: As "Antony Perkov" says in the (hidden) comment hereafter: "You can also use "open -a application file" to open the file with a specific application."

You can also use "open -a application file" to open the file with a specific application. - Antony Perkov
[+4] [2010-02-04 19:59:58] username

Snow Leopard only: you can see and open invisible files (hidden files) from an Open or Save dialog box by pressing Command+Shift+. (the Command and Shift and Period keys)

[+4] [2009-11-11 20:41:33] Vincent Robert

You can drop a file in Open and Save dialogs to change the current directory.

Very useful if you already have a Finder window displaying where you want to open/save.

[+3] [2009-06-01 17:12:26] community_owned
  • Ctrl + mouse scroll wheel: Zoom in/out (Nice when doing CSS/gfx or when Flash videos don't support fullscreen)
  • Cmd-D in Save/File-dialogue: Go to Desktop
  • Type open . in Terminal: open current folder in Finder
  • Hold Cmd while dragging a window: Drag it without bringing it to front
  • Cmd-click on title in most document-based windows (inc Finder): Show drop down with path tree from here to root
  • Hold Opt while resizing the dock: Snap to predefined icon sizes (less on-the-fly rescaling work I guess)
  • Ctrl-Cmd-D with the mouse cursor over a word in Safari: Get a quick in-browser dictionary lookup
  • Cmd-drag the little icons in the menu bar: rearrange them (Not spotlight though)
  • Cmd-drag standard tool icons in windows: rearrange them
  • Click-hold on the little icon in Finder window title for ~1sec and then drag to Terminal: Pastes the absolute path of that folder. (Very useful for cd to/some/folder)
  • Cmd-Opt-I after selecting multiple items in Finder: Get up one window with accumulated information
  • Click on any menu to make it show, then hold different keys like Cmd, Ctrl etc: Show alternative commands (for instance try Finder › File and then hold Opt or Shift or Ctrl)


Oh yeah, just gotta do this edit, as you can seriously not live without these:

  • Up/Down arrow in Finder: select next/prev folder/item
  • Cmd-Down arrow Finder: Go into folder or open item (Hold Opt to hide 'old' window if in minimized mode.)
  • Cmd-Up arrow in Finder: Open parent folder (hold Opt to hide 'old' window if in minimized mode.)
  • Cmd-1 or 2 or 3 in Finder: Switch view mode
  • Left/Right arrow in Finder: Expand/Contract folder (when i view mode 2)

One per answer... - Josh
[+3] [2009-06-01 14:27:45] community_owned

If you've got a bunch of windows open in Finder, holding down the Option key when clicking the close button on one window will close all of the windows.

i did not know that. so handy. - username
The corresponding keyboard shortcut is Cmd-Option-W. - Quinn Taylor
This works in many applications. - jleedev
[+3] [2009-05-30 08:03:38] user36694

You can use the Script Editor "Get Result of AppleScript" service to execute shell commands most places you can put text.

E.g. if you type:

do shell script "ls -l /"

Select it and hit cmd-shift-8 (i.e. cmd-*) - which is the shortcut for the "Get Result of Applescript" Service it will run the "ls -l /" command and put the output where the "do shell script..." text was.

I often find this useful when generating documentation.

There used to be a Service from a 3rd party developer that let you do just that without even needing the "do shell script", but I've not been able to locate it. Love to hear about it if you know where to find that Service.

There are some caveats with the AppleScript do shell script command itself - you can see them here:

[+2] [2009-05-30 12:17:41] Clinton Blackmore

At the login window, you can also type in ">restart" and ">shutdown", and both do as you'd expect (provided the system hasn't been configured to ignore them.) [I can't find a reference for them, but I beleive they are correct.]

[+2] [2009-05-30 02:05:27] username

There's a " Unicode Hex Input [1]" keyboard method in the International System Preference pane. Very handy if you ever need to enter a lot of unusual characters by their character code ("zero-width space", anyone?). Eg: Select "Unicode Hex Input" as the layout, then hold Shift+Alt and type 2614 and you'll get the umbrella character.


(1) In case you can't find it: it's in the list of languages, between Ukrainian and Vietnamese in an English OS X. - Arjan
[+2] [2010-02-08 01:56:58] Kami

alt text

holding option (alt) key while clicking on the maximize button (green) resizes the window's height to the space between the Dock and the top menu bar.

[+2] [2010-03-12 08:07:58] benc

AddressBook -> "Large Type".

Besides being an obnoxious kind of "I use display postscript!" kind of NeXTSTEP-ish feature, it must have been created by someone that actually uses their own software product.

That's just awesome. - Doug Harris
[+1] [2009-06-01 14:42:49] community_owned

In most applications (including Finder) you can move between multiple open windows by holding down the Command (Apple) key and tapping the tilde key (just below the escape key, to the left of 1). And if you hold down the shift key while doing this it reverses the order.

This feature can be disabled in System Preferences / Keyboard & Mouse / Keyboard Shortcuts.

That's tilde (~), which on my MBP is between the Left Shift key and Z. - jamesh
[0] [2010-03-12 08:15:00] Alexander Burke

Password Assistant exposes Mac OS X's built-in configurable password generator.