Mac question: Keyboard shortcuts?

I appreciate the stability and security of OSX and I love the polish of the apps I’ve seen. I’m seriously considering a Macbook for my next computer, but there’s one thing that’s been holding me back: Keyboard shortcuts.

I’m not talking about the basics like Command-C, Command-V, but a way to access the menu bar and every menu function with the keyboard. On Windows, you’d push the Alt key and then use the arrow keys to navigate through the menus. Each menu item usually has an pre-defined Shortcut Key such that I could push K and get to it.

Is there anything similar in OSX that I can enable? Or is there an easy way to add this functionality, perhaps through a third-party program?

What about for minimizing or maximizing windows, or for launching/restoring programs from the Dock?

Look in the System Preferences for ‘Keyboard’. There’s a keyboard shortcuts panel which covers most of the options you want.
Also look at the ‘Universal Access’ System Preferences.

I can’t remember Apple’s name for the feature, but there’s a great way to launch apps or open documents. Press cmd-space and type the first couple letters of what you want.

It’s the built-in tool for searching files, Spotlight.
Six Great Tips for Using Spotlight

That’s it. Thank you, Arnold.

After activating it, I can press E-enter and launch Excel. W-enter for World of Warcraft. I-enter for iTunes, IND-enter for InDesign. And if you look at the list of what it brings up, you can easily get to documents you’ve used recently, define words, or whatever.

Wonderful tool.

Yes. Pressing Control-F2 does the same thing as pressing ALT in windows. Arrow keys and letter keys will jump the selection around for you, though its not as intuitive as windows, with the underlined letters. You can also click something on the menu bar, and switch to keyboard navigation.

Double Post.

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Command-M Minimize the active window to the Dock
Option-Command-M Minimize all windows of the active application to the Dock

Not sure about a short cut for maximizing from the dock, but I find that I don’t minimize things as much in OSX as in Windows. Plus, the Dock isn’t as integrated into multitasking as the start bar is (open windows don’t get their own space in the dock, unless you minimize them.)

The one I’d like, is when you get a dialog box with “OK” and “Cancel”, or the like. Sometimes one of them is highlighted, and you can just hit “enter” like you’d expect, but if you want to hit the other button, or neither one is highlighted, I haven’t found how to do it.

Doesn’t Tab do that?

Yes, Spotlight is awesome. It wasn’t till Vista that Windows got something roughly equivalent.

What about the menu bar activation/navigation via Alt and the arrow keys? I thought I searched in Keyboard but found nothing similar… did I simply miss it?

You must have missed this:

Also great is the multi-touch trackpad. You can scroll by using two fingers, switch between open apps by sweeping with 4 fingers, zoom in/out, do all kinds of things without having to even touch the keyboard.

It’s great doing that on an htpc with the magic trackpad.

You can also assign keyboard shortcuts for menu items in System Preferences->Keyboard. If you select the Keyboard Shortcuts tab, you’ll see the list of all keyboard shortcuts, both universal and on a per-application basis, and if you hit the “+” button on the bottom left of the list, you can add your own. This is also a good place to see many of the “built-in” keyboard shortcuts, which you can remap if you’d like (e.g., F10 is usually “Exposé all application windows,” but I’ve remapped mine to F10+Shift+Command+Option). Note that some apps such as those in MS Office and Foxfire do many weird things with menus and don’t use the OSX-native menu controller; the Office apps have some sort of command that will list everything, and I think Firefox has some extension (or about:xxx command) that lists its shortcuts.

Note: You have to spell the menu item correctly, so you should remember that the ellipsis is a single character produced by Option+Semicolon. It will search all menus for the menu item you specify, even pop-up menus in dialogs.

Also, note that in addition to CTRL+F2 to “activate” keyboard control of menus, CTRL+F3 activates the dock in a similar manner. Why do this when Command+Tab cycles through apps? The CTRL+F3 allows you to select anything in the dock, even applications that aren’t running, along with whatever folders, aliases or documents you’ve put in the dock.

A list of keyboard shortcuts (incomplete, but it also lists some legacy Unix vi and emacs commands that work in various places in OSX) is at,00.shtml.

First, you can run vi and emacs from a terminal window (duh). But some apps (those using the NSText API) support a bunch of commands from vi and/or emacs. The supported commands are mostly a concatenation of the lists for “NSText” and “” from the above link. Both TextEdit and Terminal use the NSText API, and TextWrangler either uses NSText or mimics it because they’re nice guys. So, for example, Escape-then-B moves the cursor back one word, CTRL+a moves to the beginning of the line/paragraph, etc.)

Word processing apps (e.g., MS Word) usually don’t use the NSText API, but generic text editors typically do. Also, note that their “Menu” list seems to be a mixture of Menu items that work universally and/or the Finder and/or whatever mysterious program they were running when they updated the list. Some are useful.

BTW: “NS” in NSText stands for “NextStep,” the Unix-based OS created at Next, the Next (heh) company Steve Jobs founded after being fired from Apple. Do many people remember that Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple just as they turned to the dark side, resulting in Jobs starting Next & Pixar? (Whether Jobs’ return cemented them in the dark side or redirected them towards the light is the subject of debate…)

Is there a shortcut on the Mac to ‘show desktop’?

In Windows, you can bring up your desktop by right-clicking on the bottom border of the current window (but not on any icons or minimized windows). Is there anything like that for a Mac?


Command H works, but I prefer F11, as it toggles nicely.

You can set it to show the desktop, or show all open windows, or show open windows for the active app, or many other things by assigning that function to a corner of the screen. Then when you move the cursor to that corner, it will perform that function.

You can also divide the desktop into as many separate “spaces,” or virtual desktops, as you want and assign specific applications to specific spaces, so instead of having 20 windows for 15 apps opened on a single desktop, each app could be on its own uncluttered screen.

Command H only hides the open application. You have to cmd+h, cmd+h, etc, until you hid all open applications.

This is true. But you can also use Exposé, accessed from the System Preferences. With this, you can assign a keyboard short cut that accomplishes this. Or, you could assign an “active corner”, which will push aside all the windows and show you the desktop when you move your mouse to a specific corner of the screen. This is how I have it set up, and I find it very handy.

Outstanding! Thanks!

ETA: BTW, F11 controls the speaker volume on my machine, so that isn’t an option for me.

Oops, I did miss this. Thank you both.

I do like multi-touch (I have it on my netbook), but repetitive stress injury or something similar makes using the touchpad hurt more than the keyboard.

Neat, thanks!

Is that style of keyboard command worth learning? They’ve always seemed archaic and over-complex to me, coming from the era of of COMMAND-C or at most COMMAND-SHIFT-X (simultaneous, not sequential), but I suppose I never actually gave them a fair chance.

Really? Right-clicking on the border that you’d normally use to resize the window?