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ATPM 7.06
June 2001


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The Personal Computing Paradigm

by Michael Tsai,

Mac OS X Tips

After a few months of using Mac OS X mostly full-time, I’ve discovered some tips for using it effectively. This column lists some of the less obvious ones, which often involve holding down modifier keys. If you have a good tip that’s not mentioned here, please pass it on to so I can include it in a future issue of ATPM.


  • Command-Tab and Command-Shift-Tab cycle forward and backward through the open applications. (Let go of the Command key to switch to the application selected in the Dock.)
  • Command-Tab and Command-Shift-Tab also work with the mouse button held down, allowing you to begin dragging something and switch applications during the drag to bring the destination window into view.
  • Normally you can permanently add an application to the Dock by dragging its icon there. If an application is already open, you can make it stay in the Dock by Control-clicking the icon and choosing Keep In Dock. (It took me a week to notice this; at first I would quit a running application, drag its icon to the Dock, and then relaunch it. Sometimes I don’t give Apple enough credit.)
  • Holding down Command and Option when dragging a file onto an application icon in the Dock forces the application to open the file, even if it doesn’t seem to recognize the file’s type.
  • Option-click on an application’s icon to switch to it and hide the current application.
  • Option-click on a window’s minimize button (the yellow -) to put all its application’s windows in the Dock.
  • Command-Option-click on an application’s icon to switch to it and hide all other applications.
  • Command-Option-D hides/shows the Dock.
  • You can quit an application using the contextual menu from its Dock icon. Hold down Option to make Quit change to Force Quit.
  • When resizing the Dock (by dragging the vertical line), holding down Option will make it snap to common icon sizes (like 32x32) that look better than scaled ones.
  • Docking Maneuvers can change the orientation of the Dock. This is however an unsupported feature and does not work well with multiple display setups.


  • In Cocoa applications such as Mail, you can cycle the toolbar between the icon, text, and icon and text modes by Command-clicking on the white gumdrop near the top right hand corner of the window.
  • Hold down Command to rearrange icons in the toolbar without going into the customize mode.
  • In Mail and OmniWeb, click on the chasing arrows to display the network activity window.


  • With the cursor over a truncated filename, hold down Option to make the tooltip appear immediately.
  • In the list and column views, Shift-click to select a range of items and Command-click to select multiple discontiguous items.
  • You can use the pictures from the photographic screen savers as desktop pictures. Navigate to /System/Library/Screen Savers/, click on a screen saver and use Show Package Contents to open the screen saver’s package. Navigate within the package to Contents/Resources/Images/ to find the images and copy them to some other location. Finally, select the desired picture as your background.
  • Copying track files from an audio CD to a hard disk extracts the sound in AIFC format. (In Mac OS 9 you can accomplish this using QuickTime Player or iTunes.)


  • TinkerTool can configure the font anti-aliasing and smoothing thresholds. Unfortunately, it cannot prevent Mac OS X from anti-aliasing the system font (Lucida Grande).

Cocoa Text Fields

  • The normal Mac keyboard navigation commands work, including: arrow keys to move left or right one character; arrow keys plus Option to move left or right one word; and arrow keys plus Command to move to the beginning or end of a line.
  • Emacs-style keyboard navigation also works. It’s less intuitive but may be easier to use with one hand on the mouse. Control-F and Control-B move forward and backward one character, Control-P and Control-N move up and down one line, and Control-A and Control-E move to the beginning and end of the line respectively.
  • There are also Emacs-style editing commands: Control-K “kills” the text from the cursor to the end of the line and places it on a special clipboard, Control-Y “yanks” text back from it. Control-T exchanges (“twiddles”) the characters on either side of the insertion point.
  • Option-Delete deletes the previous word. Command-Delete deletes to the beginning of the current line.
  • Normally, Tab advances to the next text field and Return presses the default button. To insert an actual Tab or Return character, type Option-Tab or Option-Return.
  • More generally, Control-Q lets you insert any special character into the text field. To do this, type Control-Q followed by the key (or combination). To insert a Control-E character, for instance, you would type Control-Q Control-E.
  • F5 auto-completes. For instance, you can use it in the path text field of an Open panel to complete long folder or file names after you’ve typed the first few letters.

Cocoa Controls

  • If you hold down Command, you can click on controls in windows that are in the background. This includes buttons, scroll thumbs, and sliders. As with the classic Mac OS, you can Command-click in a background window’s title bar to move it without bringing it to the front.
  • Most Mac users have their scroll bars set to behave like Mac ones, where a click above or below the scroll thumb scrolls the view by one windowful. However, by Option-clicking you can temporarily switch to the NeXT style, where a click scrolls the view to the position where you clicked (“scroll to here”).

Save Panels

  • When using the expanded save panel, dragging a file from the Finder to the panel places its path in the text box. Typing Return will take you to that location.


  • Press the Back button when the Help Viewer first opens to see a list of all the applications that have help files installed.

Also in This Series

Reader Comments (2)

Albedo · February 12, 2002 - 00:17 EST #1
How can I modify my Terminal background to reduce the opacity of the background?
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · February 12, 2002 - 01:02 EST #2
Albedo - the utility mentioned above, TinkerTool, has a panel for setting the Terminal window transparency. If you have OS X 10.0.x, you need version 1.52. For OS X 10.1.x, get version 2.02. (These versions are current as of February 12, 2002.)

TinkerTool lets you set a lot of other options, too, including the dock position, which means you don't have to run TinkerTool as well as Docking Maneuvers ... only TinkerTool.

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