If there’s one thing we’ll never tire of here at Lifehacker, it’s finding hidden features within the OS. Today, we take a look at the Mac’s Option key (also known as Alt), and all the hidden goodness that comes with it.
Yesterday our friends at technology blog Tested featured a clever OS X tip involving the Option key and it got me thinking: What else can it do? It seems like the one modifier key I barely ever touch — except when I’m booting from a different drive at startup — but after a bit of searching, I found out it does quite a bit.
Get Extra Menu Bar Options
We’ve briefly discussed this trick before, but even then I didn’t know it worked on all menu bar icons. It turns out that while clicking on a menu bar icon, such as volume, time machine or AirPort will give you a few options pertaining to that service, Option-clicking on it will give you more advanced options.
For example, Option-clicking on the AirPort icon will give you detailed information about the currently connected wireless network. Option-clicking on the volume icon will let you change the inputs and outputs, and Option-clicking on the battery icon (on laptops) will tell you your battery’s condition. Some of these are more handy than others, but depending on your needs, having those options right in the menu bar is pretty useful.
Open Preference Panes from the Function Keys
It’s convenient having the brightness and volume controls right there on your Mac’s keyboard, but what you may not know is that you can also visit the corresponding preference panes by pressing the Option key with the function key of any given feature. For example, hitting Option+F1 or Option+F2 will take you straight to the Display preference pane, and hitting Option with F10, F11, or F12 will take you to the Sound preference pane (assuming your brightness keys are F1 and F2 and your Volume keys are F10-F12). It’s a handy shortcut for visiting those panes a bit quicker.
Change Action Behaviours
This one’s a bit more broad, but applies to a lot of different things. Essentially a lot of preferences in Mac OS X allow you to choose between a few methods of doing something, and hitting the Option key will allow you to use the other one. A popular example of this are scroll bars: In the Appearance preference pane, you can choose whether clicking on a scroll bar brings you to that point in the document or whether it just pages down. If you Option+click on a scroll bar, however, it will do the opposite of what you’ve chosen.
Other examples of this are all over OS X. For example, in iTunes, the green plus button now treats iTunes like it does every other window, but Option+clicking toggles the mini player on and off. Similarly you can close all FInder windows by Option-clicking the close button. Hitting Option+F3 will use Exposé’s “show desktop” feature instead of the “all windows” feature (assuming you have F3 set to display all windows). Essentially, it keeps you from having to decide between two choices in the preferences window by making both options available through the Option key.
Change Menu Options
This is another one that applies to many programs. Clicking on an application’s name in the menu bar (and right-clicking on its dock icon) give you a few options specific to that application or its windows. Option+clicking on a menu item or dock icon though, will replace some of the options with similar, less-used ones.
For example, Option+clicking Safari or Finder’s menu in the menu bar will change the “Close Window” menu item to “Close All Windows”. Similarly, cicking on the dock icon of an application will change “Hide” and “Quit” to “Hide Others” and “Force Quit”. It also changes a number of buttons within applications, like changing iTunes’ “New Playlist” button to a “New Smart Playlist” button.
These are just a smattering of cool functions the Option key can initiate. There are tons more, almost too numerous to mention — like hiding the current window (by Option-clicking on a different window) and downloading linked files in browsers (by Option-clicking on links). The Option key acts much like a right-click in a file explorer, or a long press in Android: basically, if you want more options than a normal click gives you, reach for the Option key and see if anything changes. Of course, you probably already know of quite a few hidden Option tricks, so share yours with us in the comments.