#getyourgeekon: cutting the corners

with last week’s release of Apple’s new Magic Trackpad – the predictably overpriced, but awesome looking, freestanding version of the glass trackpads on Mac portables – came an OS X update which has brought both inertia scrolling and the new three finger dragging gesture to my MacBook Pro.

inertia scrolling is a brilliant thing, and until it landed, it i hadn’t really dawned on me just how much the Macbook needed it. i can now move from the top of my iTunes library to its bottom (c.4500 songs) in about five downward swipes. much better.

i tried the three finger drag gesture – which allows you to highlight text (within a window) or move a window around (from the window’s top bar) – for about five minutes before turning it off. the main problem with the new scheme is that if you switch to it (in the trackpad section of System Preferences) then you lose the three finger swipe for forwards and backwards, and that’s one of my favourite of all the gestures. as a result, i’ve stuck with my existing trackpad setup with tap to click and one finger dragging/highlighting (double tap, hold and move).

the trackpad gestures are great for making the most common actions quickly/easily accessible – i particularly love the four fingers swipe for exposé (up to clear the screen, down to show all open windows), the two finger twist and the pinch zoom.

however, while these cover the bases of most of the most frequently needed operations, for the most efficient use of time, you cannot dispose of the keyboard.

keyboard shortcuts are awesome. regardless of your computer setup if you type the majority of the time but don’t use them, then you’re massively losing out. since becoming a Mac user, however, i’ve found that while many shortcuts are obvious/well known …

command +q (quit), +w (close), +opt+w (close all), +o (open), +n (new window), +shift+n (new folder), +t (new tab in safari) +a (select all), +c (copy), +x (cut), +v (paste), +z (undo),+delete (send to trash), +tab (toggle switcher), +direction arrows (move cursor to word/paragraph beginning/end), +shift+delete (empty trash), +opt+shift+delete (force empty trash), +opt+esc (force quit), +opt+eject (sleep), +ctrl+eject (restart), +ctrl+power (force restart)

… some really useful ones are fairly hidden.

given that i’m sure i can’t be the only person to take some time to figure some of these out, i though i’d share a list of some of the less obvious ones that i’ve discovered (and hope you will help me out by sharing one that you know that i’ve missed):


it took me about two months of having my MBP to work out that while the sound and brightness keys at the top increase or decrease the sound/brightness level by a whole unit on the scale, by holding option+shift and then pressing those keys you can alter the levels by a quarter of a unit. very useful.

when it comes to hidden options, perhaps unsurprisingly, the option key (also now called ‘alt’) is where it’s at. holding down the option key and clicking pretty much anywhere will give you alternative ways of doing things. with most functions there is an option menu somewhere in System Preferences that allows you to choose between a couple of different options, for example when it comes to scrolling behaviour you can choose whether clicking the scroll bar moves you to that point, or just cycles the page up/down. in these instances, whatever one you have chosen (or is chosen by default), the other one happens when you option+click.

option clicking on the items in the menu bar will give you extra options in the drop-down menu – e.g. if you’re using wifi, when you click on airport you get detailed info about your connection that isn’t usually there. holding down option and secondary clicking likewise often reveals extra options – if you hold option and secondary click on the finder icon in the dock, for example, you get the option to relaunch finder (which is by far the easiest way to do it). finally, holding option and dragging a file to a new folder copies and pastes it, which is also a very useful time saver.

the command key also reveals certain hidden features. for example, upon holding cmd and secondary clicking on the trashcan icon in the dock, you get the option for the ‘Secure Empty Trash’ function, which can otherwise be something of a faff to get to.

most people know about cmd+tab to show the Application Switcher (or four finger swipe left/right), but fewer people seem to know that there are some quite useful functions within this little menu. not only can you switch to and from applications, but you can also quit them by cmd+tabbing across to the icon and then letting go of tab and pressing q instead (so cmd+q). the same is true with +h for hide. you can also maximise and switch to applications currently in the dock by letting go of tab and pressing option in the same way. what is more, if you currently have no finder windows open, doing the cmd+opt thing on the finder icon, which is always in the switcher, will open one – which i find very useful.

i should probably also mention the lesser known, bastard cousin of cmd+tab that is cmd+` (the key to the left of z) which will switch between/cycle through multiple windows of the same program.

something i’ve found very useful to know is that holding command and shift and 3 captures a screen shot and cmd+shift+4 brings up a cursor which you can use to drag out a box in order to grab a shot just of that area of the screen.

and finally, one shortcut that should really be in the list of obvious ones and would, were it not for the fact that i know/see so many OS X users not using it – cmd+spacebar to Spotlight (yes the search thing with the magnifying glass in the top right). this is a very useful way of quickly opening any file or application. basically for any application not in your dock – for this example let’s say Audacity – it’s usually quicker to press cmd+spacebar+Aud (which should be enough to bring Audacity up)+return to launch it, than it is to seek it out in either the applications folder or stack.


anyway, i hope those were helpful – please let me know of any juicy shortcuts or OS X tips that you know of that i might not.


what the blogosphere is saying:

a gesture too far?

replace your mouse/tablet?

a futile gesture

the missing feature

the magic trackpad

apple introduces…

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