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Mac OS X hidden features and nice tips & tricks (stackexchange.com)
341 points by franze 2352 days ago | hide | past | web | 76 comments | favorite

A few I can think of:

- Open the Apple menu. Now hold Shift. More menu options! Now try holding Opt. Even more menu options! This works for several Apple applications.

- Hold Opt when clicking on a menubar icon for extra information. For example, holding Opt and clicking the WiFi icon in the menubar brings up the signal strength, IP address and other useful information. Likewise for the rest of the icons.

- In Spotlight, select an entry in the search results and hit Cmd+Return to go to its parent folder. Opt+Return opens results in a Finder window.

- You know you can drop files on dock icons? Did you know you can also drop them on the icons in the app switcher (the thing that comes up when you hit Cmd+Tab)?

- This one is a bitch to describe, but very useful. You know you can hit Cmd+M to iconify ("minimize" in Windows-speak) applications to the Dock. But how do you get them back? Just do this: Cmd+Tab to the application, but don't release Cmd yet. Without releasing Cmd, press Opt. Now release Cmd. Done! This is equivalent to clicking the application's icon in the Dock, which means it has more uses than the one I described.

That fifth trick is superb. Apps that don't reopen their closed main window when cmd-tabbed to drive me nuts (Mail especially, as there's no shortcut to open the message viewer).

This has been one of my main sticking points of OS X window management for a very long time. At least there's a workaround, thanks!

This also works on Finder to create new windows


> - You know you can drop files on dock icons? Did you know you can also drop them on the icons in the app switcher (the thing that comes up when you hit Cmd+Tab)?

This also works with Exposé, it's particularly nice if you set up hot-corners in the system preferences to trigger exposé:

1. Start dragging something.

2. Flick to a corner to tile windows exposé style.

3. Drop the dragged object on the window of your choice.

Similar to number 5:

In the app switcher (Cmd+Tab) you can press the left/right arrows to navigate the apps, and the up/down arrows to activate Exposé and select a window (including minimized windows).

While in Exposé mode, use the arrow keys to select a window, and Tab/Back-tick to navigate between apps. Hit Escape to return to your original app, and Hit Return to activate the selected window.

Note: Your 5th trick only works if it's the only window opens. I tried Chrome and iTerm

I couldn't see it in that list, but my favourite can't-live-without shortcut is CMD + ~ to switch between windows of the same app (for example, if you have 10 textmate windows open it will flip between them). CMD + SHFT + ~ to go the other way.

Thanks for mentioning Cmd-Shift-~. It always annoyed me that pressing Cmd-~, releasing, then Cmd-~ again doesn't take you back to the first window (unlike Cmd-Tab). Now I can use this to go back.

I use this, but cycling through all of my windows drives me crazy. I've found Witch (http://manytricks.com/witch/) useful for switching between windows, but it can be a bit slow to load -- I wish OS X had an inbuilt system like it.

I use this frequently. Unfortunately it doesn't work with Photoshop.

The reverse does. cmd+shift+~

The big one that I went through recently was killing startup items. You tend to hoard them over time, especially with a dev machine.

Look in, and clear out in /Library/StartupItems and /System/Library/StartupItems

Like any good UNIX, there are a dozen other ways that applications can launch themselves in OS X, so run a ps and find processes that you don't need and figure out where they are being started.

I alias everything in bash to run the scripts manually when I need them (eg. 'apu' starts apache, 'ngu' starts nginx, 'vbx' sets up virtualbox). Saves a ton of memory and gets boot time down to seconds rather than minutes.

I trust you know what you are doing. I'd like to warn others to be careful of what is removed, especially if you didn't put it there. The price is stability.

Can somebody explain how this doesn't contribute to the discussion? I was trying not to tell nikcub something they may already know, and trying to be helpful for anyone else while not making assumptions on the knowledge of anyone else.

I have no idea, I thought it was a valid point and probably something I should have mentioned

Check out Lingon [1] for a nice front-end to launchd to modify its start-up items. It lets you quickly schedule items, such as bash scripts, in launchd too.

1. http://www.peterborgapps.com/lingon/ for $4.99 or http://sourceforge.net/projects/lingon/ for a free, older version.

Are you doing anything fancy inside vbx, or is it just a copy of the startup item?

it is just a shell script that lets me do:

vbx xp1

vbx ie7

etc. to setup the network and start the vm with that name

The first two are part of the reason why I hate using Windows at work.

The fact that you cannot drag files to their icons and have that file opened in the application seems like something out of the past.

To scroll a window in Windows, the window needs to have focus. To scroll a scroll pane in an active window, that pane needs to have focus -- it is maddening especially when hover events work for non-focused windows and panes.

I could go on and on, but this isn't a Windows hatefest.

I use spotlight for all kinds of math (12 / 4) * (44 + 35) etc

Command + c will copy the highlighted spotlight result.

Expose (show all windows) and drag and drop files to that window (i grab the file, while dragging show all windows by either a keybord key or hot corner and drop it to the new window)

Hold down command to move around background windows without giving it focus.

Ctrl + (arrows or numbers) to go to certain spaces.

While in spaces expose, hold down ctrl to move all of the windows of a certain application to another space.

Hold down a window's titlebar while switching spaces to move that window to the new space.

Drag folders that you frequent into the left side of finder. I have /private/etc in mine

Hold down command while clicking or pressing enter on a spotlight result will open its containing folder.

How did I forget about keyboard modifiers by holding down the alt key.

Drag a file/folder to terminal to get the path to that file printed in terminal. so I often type "cd " and then drag folder to get there

While switching apps via command+tab you can let tab go and either hide the application by pressing h or quit it by pressing q (I wish that you could minimize it by pressing m). You can also cycle backwards by pressing tilde (this only works if youre already command+tabbing) or shift+tab

* Gone from snow leopard, but i miss it* there used to be a keyboard shortcut (command, option, ctrl space) that opened a list of your last accessed files (i mistakenly found a bunch of porn website cookies on an intern's laptop once). This used to be useful to see which files you needed to upload /ftp.

IMO Spotlight is the best example of minimalist software design.

In a single universal field you have instant: app launcher, calculator, dictionary, file search, email search, contact search.

My single best tip for Mac power-users: learn what you can do with Spotlight.

Edit: grammar

Spotlight also has keywords -





And the boolean relations AND, OR, NOT work as you might expect.

There's a lot of cool stuff hidden in Spotlight. Try

    man mdfind 
to play around with command-line Spotlight.

Here is a particularly good resource on this aspect of Spotlight:


I know you didn't claim Apple invented it, but I thought it would be informative to say Apple have added their own ideas but the main idea comes from BeOS, a once commercially viable operating system. These days it lives on in an open source recreation that has improved on BeOS, called Haiku. It uses a 64-bit journaling file system which has been improved now called HaikuFS that can hold 80,000 petabytes, caches so is fast and has user-definable attributes, like for contacts, music or anything you can think of really which can help you find things fast. There's a reimplementation of Dashboard called Corkboard written by a fan so it goes both ways - good ideas are used elsewhere. :)

Forgot about the dictionary, I use it all the time in spotlight

I'm not sure what you're talking about - dragging files onto icons always worked for me. What was maddening for me though in Leopard (10.5) is that you couldn't drag a file to an already-open application, like you could in the Windows taskbar (like to drag a file to a specific explorer window, for example).

Thankfully, you can do this now in 10.6 - drag the file to an already open application and hold it there for a few seconds. Then the app comes up, then (without ever releasing the mouse button) drag the file to the application window, and hold for a few seconds. Now you can drop your file in that window. The whole process takes about 5-6 seconds (which is agonizingly slow), and, IMO one of the worst aspects of application-driven window management (versus window-driven window management).

You can drag files to application icons just fine in windows. You can't drop them on taskbar, but can on desktop (which you can embed into task bar to have immediate access to all your desktop icons with other apps maximized).

Just add desktop as a toolbar on the task bar, uncheck all the text and make it take full line, so as not to conflict with running apps. Then drag files onto those icons and they will be opened in new or running instances, whatever apps are designed to do.

Edit: so it looks like this: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/15669592/taskbar.png

> To scroll a window in Windows, the window needs to have focus.

Katmouse http://ehiti.de/katmouse/

"I love the fact that OS X will scroll the window that the mouse is hovering over, even if another application has focus. That way I can scroll an example that I am coding in TextMate without having to lose keyboard control on TM"

This also happens on Windows (at least on Chrome) but Windows goes even further: you can click through a link or button on a non-focused window. On OS X, in order to follow a link or click a button on some non-focused window, you need to activate it by clicking and then click again on the desired link/button. This drives me nuts as I found out I use this all the time on Windows. I call this feature "smart focus".

Command click on buttons in background windows to click them without bringing the window to the front. Works for most things (at least anything using standard cocoa controls), although clicking links in Safari is a notable exception since it still seems to bring the window to the front.

You can also command+click and drag background title bars to move those windows without bringing them to the front.

It's a good workaround I guess. I'm still not sure which way is the best. OS X kinda prevents the user from misclicking outside the window while Windows doesn't but if you're in need of some speed (and fewer clicks/keys) then you might prefer the Windows way.

This happens between Chrome windows, because you are still within Chrome if you have one of the windows in focus, so Chrome can determine which window you want to scroll by figuring out which one you are hovered over. On Mac, it scrolls even if the application in question is out of focus.

Oh, I didn't know it would work with any window, that's very nice!

It's called "click through" and I also prefer the Windows behavior. Especially since the behavior is not consistent on Mac OS: certain actions do not require a click through (e.g. you can close a window in the back without bringing it on the front).

Just FYI, the inconsistency is deliberate. The UI guidelines have a lengthy section on when clickthrough is appropriate and when it isn't.


"Windows goes even further: you can click through a link or button on a non-focused window."

This is a interaction design mistake. On Windows, if you click inside an unfocused window you can perform an action otherwise unintended, Mac OS X's way and Haiku's (www.haiku-os.org) is correct. Interestingly Firefox follows the Mac way, but on at least Windows Chrome does not, and if you happen to unintentionally select the close tab button, you're tab close and if you're in Incognito mode, you lose that tab because there is no history.

I understand your point of view but just because you might do something by accident it doesn't mean it's a design mistake. There's some advantage for each method, I prefer to make a mistake a day a week than being forced to click twice everytime I'm using side-by-side windows (like when I'm writing code and testing).

>This also happens on Windows

No it does not and this drives me crazy on windows.

Inconsistent click-through behavior is a major problem of OS X. (Gruber has written pages about it.) I don’t think it matters whether click-through is possible or not – your preferences will just depend on what you are used to – but the behavior should at least be consistent. In OS X, it is not.

Shouldn't people sign up and put their answers on StackExchange? They have pretty good search built into it. Search: [haskell] mysql

This will return all questions tagged haskell that mention mysql.

I'd love a HN article search by title, comment, author, or my saved stories.

My absolute favorite is cmd+shift+/ which brings up the Help Menu search box. With this I can type any menu item string and execute the item rather than having to remember each shortcut.

To be fair, the shortcut should really read "cmd+?". Much easier to remember!

Bring up "About this Mac…" from the apple menu, then click on the OS version number and it will cycle through some extra information including the serial number so you don't have to try to read the 2 point tall, minimal contrast serial number printed on the case.

I did not read the entire list, but my favorite "trick":

    CMD + SHIFT + g
... in Finder (or an open-file-dialog) opens up a "Go to folder"-dialog in which you can tab-complete your way to the desired destination. It's not perfect, but makes fs-navigation bearable in Finder.

Oh, wow, I didn't realise you could tab-complete as well. Thanks!

Ah, #4 in the original post. It's a good feature that deserves extra mention though :)

Don't post tips here, post them on apple.stackexchange.com so others can find them...

The coolest hidden feature of OS X is probably the text input system.


What's even better is that many of the keyboard shortcuts are consistent across many applications. For e.g., Cmd-, opens Application Preferences.

Agreed. I miss that shortcut every time I use Windows or Linux.

One I like is Ctrl+Cmd+d while the pointer is over a word will pop up a small dictionary with a definition of that word. This does not work in every application (e.g. it doesn't work in Chrome or Firefox), but it should work in any Cocoa based application.

I wish there was a way to do these (like you can in windows), maybe someone knows a way? - Right click a file, "Send To". The nice thing about it is you can add items to the Send To folder so you can have a customized list of apps you can open files with - Right click on a folder and "open in terminal" - Type a path into a finder window and have finder open it

I don't use OS X, but I thought I'd share a few bits of information. Also this page demonstrates why native local software is so great - no redundancy (exposing a dictionary to all apps), low memory footprint etc.

- In 10.6 Snow Leopard, hold Space to zoom in on a window in Exposé.

- Not a hint exactly, but there exists at least one unnecessary dissatisfaction people have of Finder. In real life, you cut text and paste it in a scrapbook, but you don't cut an object like a folder with scissors in order to move it. You usually use a hand or two. Therefore the inability to "move" an object using "cut" (Cmd+X) is the correct behavior. Secondly it prevents you from accidentally pasting a file elsewhere, then needing to remember if you meant to do that, or undo. Adding visibility in some way is not enough, and you can still move by dragging the object to the desktop or wherever else.

Note: Edited for spacing.

A more comprehensive DB of various tips for MacOS: http://secrets.blacktree.com/

Anyone know how to set a default view option across all folders? Like overwriting the previously set option for all folders?

Not a native tip, but using hyperdock has made window management on OSX so much nicer thanks to it's smart porting of win 7 features like dock window previews, dragging and window to the top and having it fill the screen. Can't rave about that little app enough!

Wow, I just saw this nugget in one of the comments: VI mode for the standard Terminal.

Add "set -o vi" to your profile and you get access to same modality and commands of VI. Damn, I wish I knew about this option earlier.

Note that I think that's a Bash thing, and the default is Emacs-style bindings (C-a, C-e, C-p, C-n) which include C-r for reverse interactive search of the history. I use that every day, a dozen or more times.

It's actually a Readline thing.

Something I've always wondered though - did emacs take them from readline or did readline take them from emacs? How old is readline? Where did all of those C-a, C-e, etc conventions come from?

They came from emacs. Readline is now around v6, readline v2 seems to have been from the mid 1990s.

There is a smaller set of standard commands for killing (C-h for char, C-w for word, C-u for line) which are used in many terminal apps. They are orthogonal to emacs, and probably about as old (1970s).

Those emacs style editing commands actually came from TECO in the 70s. Crazy that those editing commands are hardwired into my brain nearly 40 years later.

Yeah, that makes sense. Still, my point was that it's not specific to Terminal.app, so someone on another Unix would probably find it useful.

My favorite is C-t to correct typos like 'liek' instead of 'like', I put the cursor between the e and the k and i press C-t.

This one is not OSX specific though. I've tried it and can not get used to it even though I'm a VIM user at heart. I think not seeing the mode I'm in was tripping me up.

View a powerpoint presentation: Option (or Option-Space for fullscreen)

My macbook air's measly 64 GB cannot accomodate a seperate powerpoint app, so I use the builtin preview features. It works great.

Hold Ctrl-Shift while moving your cursor over the Dock to temporarily enable magnification.

Useful when your Dock is crammed with tiles.

you can also hold down ctrl and scroll up or down the trackpad with two fingers to magnify the whole screen. Really helpful for zooming in when your laptop is hooked up to a projector.

Is there a similar one for linux?

There are StackExchange sites for Unix & Linux: http://unix.stackexchange.com/

... and for Ubuntu specifically: http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/7716/ubuntu

You could search there.

CMD-down will open the selected file in the Finder (same as double-clicking).

cmd-o too.

I like ctrl+opt+cmd+8 to toggle reverse video.

Wow I feel ignorant, great stuff!

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