MacBook Migrant: Keyboard Shortcuts For Everyone

Mac OS X is big on not using the keyboard: drag-and-drop is the default approach for many activities. But if you do want to reduce your mouse (or trackpad) dependence, there are some useful keyboard options on offer. Here are the ones recent switchers from Windows will find the most useful.

What works well

  • Because it has Command, Option and Control keys, there’s a large number of potential keyboard shortcuts available (even before you add in using the Shift key or combining keys with dragging actions, though the latter seems to me entirely contrary to the spirit of using the keyboard). Many of these will be familiar to Windows users, once you substitute Command for Control: Command-S to save, Command-O to open, Command-Z to undo.
  • Apple has its own exhaustive listing of the ones that are available in Mac OS X itself and in the Apple-supplied apps. On standard Mac apps, the keyboard shortcuts are generally listed on the drop-down menu.
  • The shortcuts I found myself using constantly during testing (aside from the Spotlight and app-shifting ones I’ve already detailedwere Command-Q to quit apps entirely; Command-~ to switch between tabs; and Command-N to open new windows (or documents).
  • Finder has its own keyboard peculiarities, which we’ve detailed elsewhere, but you can navigate through it with a keyboard effectively.
  • You can change and alter keyboard shortcuts easily. Click the Apple menu, select System Preferences, choose Keyboard, and select Keyboard shortcuts. From here, you can remove shortcuts you don’t want (case in point: Nick at Gizmodo found the Command-Esc shortcut for Front Row annoying as it was easy to slip from Command-~). You can also set new ones by double-clicking on the shortcut details and typing the new key combination. This option screen also lets you set the option to allow tabbing through dialog boxes.
  • On Windows, you can create a whole window screen capture with PrtSc, or just the active window with Alt-PrtSc. On the Mac, Command-Shift-3 captures the entire screen (and saves it to the desktop); Command-Shift-4 lets you select an area with the keyboard and then saves just that as a screen grab.

What doesn’t work well

  • As I’ve discussed in frankly exhaustive detail before, there’s no native Mac equivalent for the Windows ability to select individual app menus with Alt Key+letter, or to select the menu row with Alt on its own. You can activate the menu row with Control-F2, but you then need to navigate with arrow keys.
  • There’s also not universal support for accelerators: jumping to options on a menu by typing the underlined letter indicated on that menu. Typing letters will sometimes jump to an appropriate option, but it’s not consistent or especially predictable. I use both these features on Windows constantly, and find their absence on a Mac quite painful. If you’re largely a mouse user, chances are you’ll never notice.

What you can use for more options

If you want to expand out from the built-in native support, the two best-regarded options around here are Alfred and Quicksilver, which let you define far more keyboard shortcut and app-launching options. Both are free, so you can check them out and see which one matches your own needs better.

MacBook Migrant is a week-long series of posts highlighting tricks new or aspiring Mac owners familiar with Windows can use to ease the transition.

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