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ATPM 11.03
March 2005




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Faster Computing

by Marcus J. Albers,

Mac OS X Hints and Tips

No matter how fast computers get, we, the users, will always want to work faster. One of the best ways to do this is to streamline your way of working, by learning the tips and tricks of getting things done faster in your applications.

Let’s take a look at some hints and tips for the OS X system itself, and its most visible application, the Finder.

Keep it Running

Many people don’t think of the Finder as an application, but it is. You will see it in the Dock, just like all other applications, and if you open up the “Force Quit Applications” window by pressing Command-Option-Escape, you will see it listed with all of the other applications that are currently running. This is important to remember in case the Finder stops responding.

If you select the non-responsive Finder in the “Force Quit Applications” window, the Force Quit button at the bottom will change to Relaunch. Once clicked, the system will attempt to quit the Finder and relaunch it. This will often clear up any difficulties.

If you continue to run into seemingly random problems with your system, ask yourself when the last time was that you repaired your system’s permissions. This is a tip that I keep in my back pocket constantly, and it is something that I think you should do by default after installing major updates to the system. (Others disagree.) Open up the Utilities folder inside the Applications folder, and launch the Disk Utility. Select your boot drive, and click “Repair Disk Permissions” under the “First Aid” section. This can take a while, depending on how many files you have on your drive, and how many permissions need to be repaired, but let it run. It’ll be worth it.

Once your system is in tip-top condition again, you’ll want to keep yourself moving briskly through the Finder. The best way to do this is to master keyboard shortcuts.

To Click, or Not to Click

You probably know that Command-W will close the front-most window in the Finder. Constantly pressing Command-W will eventually close all of the windows that you have open. But, if you press Command-Option-W, you will be able to close all of the open windows in one fell swoop. Likewise, if you hold down the Option key while clicking on the red close button on a window, all of the windows will close behind it.

In fact, holding Option down when doing many normal operations will often create a different or somehow extended effect.

Normally, pressing Command-I when you have an item in the Finder highlighted will open up an Info window for the object. But, pressing Command-Option-I will open an Inspector window. The window will show the info on the object that is currently selected, and that info will change to reflect other objects that you select. This is a great way to check info on multiple files without having to constantly open and close Info windows.

If you select Restart, Shutdown, or Log Out from the Apple menu, you will be presented with a dialog asking if you really want to continue with the action. Holding down Option while selecting one of these actions will bypass the dialog, causing an immediate log out, restart, or shutdown.

Holding down the Shift key will also change the effects of some commands in the Finder.

As we discussed above, pressing Command-Option-Escape will bring up the “Force Quit Applications” dialog. Here, you can relaunch a non-responsive Finder. If you want to bypass the window, you can press Shift-Command-Option-Escape to immediately relaunch the Finder.

Pressing Command-Tab allows you to switch between open applications. Holding Command and pressing Tab afterwards will allow you to cycle through all open applications. This you probably knew, but did you know that by holding the Shift key down, you can cycle backwards through the applications? Command-Tab also allows you to quit or hide applications. Release the Tab key, while keeping Command pressed, and then press Q or H to quit or hide the selected application without switching to it.

Some other useful keyboard shortcuts to keep in mind:

  • Press Command-Up Arrow and Command-Down Arrow to navigate up and down the folder hierarchy in a Finder window.
  • Press Command-Left Arrow and Command-Right Arrow to navigate forward and backward through the history of a Finder window, much like a Web browser.
  • Pressing Command-Shift-H will go directly to your Home folder.
  • Pressing Command-Shift-A opens the Applications folder.
  • Pressing Command-Shift-G brings up the Go To dialog, allowing you to type in the path of a folder to open in the Finder.

Windows to the World

Have you ever opened a window with hundreds of files in it, and wanted to quickly jump to a particular file or group of files? Typing the first few letters or numbers of the filename will scroll the window to that location.

OS X version 10.3 (Panther) added a nice feature to the Finder, called the sidebar. This is an area on the left side of all Finder windows that allows for the storage of aliases to various locations, files, and applications. This makes it very easy to organize files, by adding aliases to common folder locations that can be used from any Finder window to drop files on.

If you click on the clear button in the upper right-hand corner of a Finder window, the window will revert to an OS 9-style window, without the toolbar, sidebar, or brushed-metal style.

A completely useless, but nonetheless neat, feature is to hold the Shift key while clicking the yellow minimize button. This will slow down the minimization effect as the window minimizes to the Dock.

Parting Shots

If you choose “About This Mac” from the Apple menu and click on the OS version number, it will change to the OS build number. Clicking again will change it to your computer’s serial number.

Hold Option and click on an open application in the Dock, and the application’s windows come to the front while hiding all other open windows.

Hold Command and click on a Dock item, and the Finder displays the folder that contains that item.

Hold Command-Option and click on a document to launch the program that’s associated with that file and hide all other windows.

Hold Command-Option and click on an application in the Dock, and it hides all the open programs and displays only that application’s folder.

Hopefully you will find some of these tips and tricks informative and helpful. “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.”

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Reader Comments (4)

Ben Clark · March 2, 2005 - 07:19 EST #1
I thought that no tip or trick could still surprise me after years of using my Mac, yet the Inspector in the Finder and being able to quit or hide applications while using Command-Tab were completely new to me. Thanks for these helpful shortcuts!
Wayne Day-Laporte · March 3, 2005 - 01:11 EST #2
When using cmd-tab to cycle through the different open apps, there is another option to reverse the cycling direction (I find cmd-shift-tab digitally cumbersome)--instead, you can use cmd-` (the key with the backwards apostrophe that also provides the tilde). Before using this combination you must first invoke the app-switching bezel with cmd-tab (or cmd-shift-tab). Another interesting feature to note about this app-switching method is that hitting Q while cycling through will often allow you to quit an app that is hung and unresponsive to cmd-Q.
Jim Collison · March 7, 2005 - 13:57 EST #3
Command-Tab is certainly handy (especially since I came from the Windows world where Alt-Tab does the same thing [for switching apps only]).

However, there's an added tip, that somewhat goes off the previous posters note: If you use Command-Tilde (or technically Command-`, since you don't press the Shift key), you can cycle between open windows in the current application. For example, say you have Word open with a couple different document windows. Using Command-Tilde, you can cycle through the various open windows in Word without having to use the "Window" menu bar item, or manually selecting them with your mouse. Very handy, indeed.
Mr Me · December 18, 2005 - 07:41 EST #4
Continuing on from the last comment... I've found that you can also use the shift key in tandem with Command-Tilde to cycle through the open windows backwards.

i.e. Command-Tilde for forwards through windows
and Command-Shift-Tilde for backwards through windows.

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