Mac OS X: customization, keyboard shortcuts

I’ve been considering making a Mac my next computer, and was pleased when I got the opportunity to use one without putting the money down first. I’m using OS X 10.1.5 right now, but would upgrade to 10.latest if I had my own, so please respond with that in mind. My question is bipartite, but both parts are related to getting OS X to act the way I want it to instead of the way Steve Jobs and company decided it otter.

See, I really like the OS. It’s pretty, useful, functional, and stable. But the keyboard accessibility and certain aspects of the window/desktop behaviour are driving me nuts! I use Windows and KDE extensively, and have come to appreciate Windows’ keyboard shortcuts (which KDE also employs fairly extensively) and KDE’s flexibility in managing the windows and the desktop (which Windows doesn’t touch, but that’s a whole 'nother thread). Having poked around on Google for keyboard shortcuts, I see a few things I can do but can’t find as much info as I’d like. Here’s what I want:

Keyboard shortcuts! I want to close windows with alt-F4 (scratch that – I want to close applications with alt-F4 so they don’t sit around, windowless, in the background). (Do all applications conform to the alt-Q/alt-W paradigm? Maybe I just need to get comfortable with the idea that application developers can conform to a standard.) I want to select which window is active using alt-tab (not application, window). (Yes, I know it’s command, not alt – blame the MS keyboard I have attached to this Mac.

Window management! I want to have multiple desktops. I want the Dock to show me what’s open on a window level, not an application level. I want to shade windows. I want windows to snap to each other and the desktop’s edges. I want to resize windows from the border, not just the corner.

Perhaps I’m stuck in the wrong paradigm and should give up on the Mac, go back to my super-adjustable KDE. Maybe Macs aren’t meant to be used by those who shun contact with the mouse. But if I can do any of the above things in OS X, I’d love to find out. Even better would be a link giving details on many customization options for OS X beyond the trifling options in the Preferences window.

Thank you for your time.

Well, a bit of the wrong paradigm, and a bit of needing a few bits of shareware to get things right…

The Apple-whatever shortcuts are part of Apple’s interface guidelines, and all apps should use the same ones. I’m not sure where to find the complete list, but Quit, close Window, (X)cut, Copy, (V)paste, Minimize window, Save, K(delete), Print, select All, etc are a good start. They’re all in the menus, so when you forget one, use the menu and remember it for next time.

For multiple desktops, get Codetek Studio’s Virtual Desktops. It works. It may slow things down a bit, but with a newer box and better video card than mine, you should be OK.

Some of the stuff on menus I’m not sure. Liteswitch X gives you some feedback, and lets you quit/ hide apps as well as switching to them. But it still is app-based.

Check out and their forum for more suggestions

I am certainly not a Mac expert, but hopefully I can help you out with some of these in the interim.

First, I don’t know any way change all the built-in keyboard shortcuts are. As far as I know, all applications (should) conform to the command-W/command-Q paradigm for closing windows and quitting the application.

However, there are some shortcuts you might not either know about or have access to yet. In OS 10.2 there’s an option for “Full Keyboard Access” (its tab is in the “Keyboard” pane in “System Preferences” if you want to look for it, but I don’t remember seeing it before upgrading from 10.1 to 10.2.) Anyway, it lets you set key combinations to put the focus on the menu bar, dock, windows, etc., then you can use either the arrow keys to access menu functions or additional keyboard shortcuts. For example, you can set control-w to cycle through all open windows.

I have no idea how to resize windows from the sides and not the corner. I’m not really sure what shading windows means; they do get fainter/more transparent when they’re in the background…

Clicking and holding on an application’s icon in the dock will pop up a list of what windows it has open. You can also minimize windows to the dock so that a little icon appears there, but you probably know that already. There are third-party applications to allow multiple desktops, but I don’t use any of them so can’t offer an opinion.

You may not find it as difficult to make the switch to hitting new keys after a few days. It only took me a week, maximum, before I stopped trying to hit control-X or whatever in Windows.

There are a lot of sites with tips on customizing and tweaking OS X; I haven’t really messed around with this because usually it involves opening up a terminal window and doing unix stuff, which intimidates me. But I’ve had pretty good luck googling specific problems.

Hope some of this helps…

There are a ton of shortcuts for Macintosh computers, and they work in 99% of applications. For those of you that don’t know, Apple shortcuts are based on the “command key” also known the “Open apple key” (on Mac keyboards it is right next to the spacebar and has an squiggly design on it).

Here are some examples; Just hold down the command key and press…
Q - quits an application
Z – undo
A – select all
C – copy
P – paste
X – cut
N – new window or new document
H – hide current application (hold down command and alt and hit “H” and all the other applications will be hidden)
W – close window
M – minimize window to the dock
S – saves the current file
P – print
F – find

In applications on the Mac when you click on the drop down menu commonly used commands will have to the right of it the squiggly design that represents the command key and a letter. This tells you what the shortcut is for that command.

For example, if in Microsoft Word I click on “Edit” up in the menu at the top of the screen is see that the option “Go To…” has the command key symbol and a “G” next to it. Therefore holding down command and hitting “g” does the same thing as selecting “Go To…” from the menu.

One more useful command… tap the “tab” key while holding down command to cycle through the open applications.

I believe that there are several shareware applications that will let you have multiple desktops (if that means what I think it means). You can find them at I don’t know if there is anything that lets the Dock show what is open on a window level, but there are shareware applications that let you shade windows. Remember getting a Mac doesn’t mean you can’t use KDE… after all Linux runs on Macintosh computers to! (Why not dual boot?)

If you do get a Macintosh and you are serious about having a powerful interface I highly suggest getting Path Finder from Path Finder (my all time favorite shareware) is an file browser that is amazingly powerful and easy to use. In addition to doing things that the Mac OS X finder can’t, such as easily viewing invisible files, it is much more customizable and even seems a little faster…

Mac OS X 10.2 is definitely the way to go, and welcome to the Mac community!

I tried looking around a bit for a good piece of shareware that’ll change shortcuts, but I didn’t seem to find any that did what you’re looking for. On that note, I’d really like to stress getting used to the Apple Standard of Command-Q for quitting Apps, and Command-W for closing windows (but leaving the App running). As Joshmaker has already pointed out, these commands work in 99.99% of all Mac programs.

Command-TAB will cycle you through all open Apps (tip: Hold Command down, while tapping TAB until you get to the App you want… they’ll highlight in the Dock, then let go… voila!).

Also, click-hold on the icon in the dock, and it’ll list which windows are available. I’m not sure if there is a shortcut to allow this behavior?

Like I said, I’m not sure if the dock will show you anything on a window level, but click-holding on the icon in the dock can show cool things.

As far as window shading goes, look no further than this:
It’s a GREAT piece of shareware, with some really cool features that take it farther than just windowshading.

Try this for Multiple Desktops:

Like another already pointed out, if you’re looking to shun your mouse, the Full Keyboard Access (System Preferences/Keyboard) is what you’re looking for. It takes advantage of the F-Keys, so Control-F4 will cycle through any windows that may be open. Control-F3 will activate the dock, then use the arrow-keys to cycle through… and so on. This might be a big answer in and of itself right there.

Hope this is of some help!


Apple human interface guidelines (since it was mentioned):

Snag a copy of Default Folder to tame the hideous Open/Save/Save As dialog boxes and make the navigation thereof mouseless.

Another useful command that I’ve found a lot of people don’t know, which may (or may not) help your open window issues:

Command+` (back tick; the tilde key without shift) cycles through all open windows within an application. The usefulness of this was almost enough to make me give up tabbed browsing altogether - but not quite.

Many thanks to everyone who replied. I’ve learned a few things from the posts above, and will check out the links posted – especially the macosxhints website and the shareware projects for extending the Mac window manager. I’m learning to trust in command+q and command+w, and I’ve turned on full keyboard access.

I’ve continued to use the Mac, and have determined the aspect of the interface that frustrates me most; everything else pales in comparison to this. To wit: the command+tab/command+ behaviour mentioned by some of the posts above. The Mac seems to push a document-centric rather than application-centric paradigm in many ways. The application menus are separated from the document and left at the top of the screen. Applications are accessed more easily by double-clicking an existing document than by hunting down the application itself (evidenced by the lack of Start menu or central application launching system). I really get the feeling that Apple wants me to concentrate on the document I'm creating, not the app that's helping me create it. Yet, when I want to switch between two documents, I first have to choose the application (command+tab), *then* choose the document (command+). If I have several documents open in an application, I can’t select the one I want straight off the bat, I have to scroll through the whole mess of them. It’s driving me nuts.

My work paradigm often leaves me with several windows (usually web browser windows) sitting around in the background waiting for me to finish some task, with a couple of windows on top that I’m doing my work in. Generally I alt-tab between the two or three windows that are most important to me, which works nicely in Windows and KDE. In OS X, a couple of factors inhibit this behaviour.

First, command-tab goes to the next application in the Dock, rather than the last-used window. It treats all running applications equally whether there are open windows available or not, whether I’ve accessed them recently or not at all in the last three hours. The round-robin behaviour is particularly frustrating.

Second, because the Dock shows applications rather than documents, I can’t easily choose the particular document I want to view, either with the mouse or with the keyboard. What was a single-step process in Windows or KDE becomes a two-step process: select the application, then the document within that application. It also prevents me from seeing at a glance what documents I have open.

I had other issues but will save them for later. Does anyone have any solutions to the different command-tabbing behaviour?

Thanks again.

Not exactly. Try this: have three or more applications open. Say you’re in the one that appears fourth on the Dock. Now, switch (by clicking or Command-tabbing) to the second application. The next time you command-tab, it’ll jump to the fourth application (the last one you used). At least, this is how it works in OS 10.2.x; I’m not sure if 10.1.x operates the same.

Hold Control and click the application’s icon on the Dock. You should get a popup menu with a list of windows (documents) open in that application, as well as some other options. If you’re using a mouse with two buttons, the right button is usually set to control-click, so “right-clicking” will normally accomplish the same thing. Since you’re probably used to all the right-clicking one does in Windows, perhaps getting a two-button mouse, if you don’t already have one, would help you make the transition.

Here are some other shortcuts: hold Command and click on an application’s icon in the Dock. The folder containing that application will open in the Finder.

While Command-tabbing through applications on the Dock, you can quit them without switching to them. Just hit Q without letting up on the Command key, and the application will quit without switching to it first.

Indeed, this behavior changed between 10.1 (cycles through in order) and 10.2 (first jumps to last used).

Max Torque, thanks for your ideas. It looks like I should upgrade to 10.2 asap to get the command-tab behaviour I want. As for the right-clicking to see a list of windows in an app, that’s exactly my complaint – I want to see all those windows on the Dock, separate icons, a la Windows, so a single click gets me to the document I want.

I’m poking around the site mentioned by viking. There are some excellent pointers there, including several tweaker applications that help keyboard users such as myself. I haven’t looked at them yet, but here’s a list of some of the applications I’ve seen that could be helpful. I’ll include those listed above in this thread to get everything in one place.

MaxMenus, LiteSwitchX, QuickKeysX, Path Finder, Default Folder, Window Shade X, CodeTek VirtualDesktop. Several of these seem to be available at the above-listed

I’ll try them after I upgrade, which may not be immediately as I’ve been ignoring some important work while I play with this pretty thing.