MacBook Migrant: The Two Keyboard Shortcuts Every Shifter Needs

MacBook Migrant: The Two Keyboard Shortcuts Every Shifter Needs

Our full-scale MacBook Migrant coverage starts tomorrow, but it seems appropriate to kick off before that with the two keyboard shortcuts that anyone moving from Windows will find essential and useful.

The first is Command-Space, which opens up the Spotlight search dialog which lets you search through documents, apps and system settings on your Mac. If you’ve moved from Windows 7 or Vista and have been in the habit of using the Start menu search dialog, this is pretty much the direct equivalent. While you’re learning where preferences and other options live in the Apple universe, it’s often a faster way to learn the answer than trying to go online and search. (Mouse enthusiasts can simply click on the magnifying glass in the top-right corner.)

The second is Command-Tab, which alternates between open applications in roughly the same fashion as Alt-Tab on Windows. This is arguably the easiest way to see which apps are already open (active apps are indicated in the Dock at the bottom of the screen with a dot underneath them, but this isn’t particularly evident if the Dock is crowded with all the default apps). Keyboard enthusiasts can also use the Q key to quit an app or the H key to hide it (we’ll get to Mac app hiding later in the week).

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.


  • I’ve actually swapped Cmd – Space to activate Alfred and disabled Spotlight. Call it personal preference, but for anything more than launching apps and doing quick searches, Alfred (and similarly Quicksilver) have more functionality.

    • I’ve done the same with Alfred, it’s really quite good; I’ve finally uninstalled Quicksilver with the new trigger support built into Alfred.

      But I won’t do without Spotlight, which is even better in the preview of Lion I’ve been playing with. So I mapped spotlight to Ctrl-space (^ Space). This can be done in System Preferences > Spotlight.

  • Command-H… I hate it. I can never figure out how to get them back!! ;_;

    Does anyone know of a Command-Tab equivilent that tabs between windows for the app? (eg: I have 5 browser windows open and nothing else… command-tab does nothing)

    • It might be pertinent to mention that Cmd-H (Hide Window) is exactly the same as clicking on the little red button on the top left of the window.

      The little red button is not the same as in Windows. Many people assume it is like the Windows “Close” button, BUT IT IS NOT. It hides or closes the window and does not close the application as in Windows.

      Switching back to the application using Cmt-Tab does not restore the window, but as Dave mentioned, just click on the Dock icon to show the window again.

      A LONG click on the dock icon (of a running application … indicated by a little light bulb) will do one of two things. If the window was hidden, it will show a menu to either quit the application or show the hidden window. If the window was minimized (yellow button) then Expose will be used to show the minimized window.

    • Because the focus is on stuff that’s immediately useful to someone familiar with Windows. Expose is a quite different experience and thus not (I’d contend) the first thing I’d explain. Ditto for trackpad gestures. (Also, while I’ve called this series MacBook Migrant to reflect the hardware I’m using, I want it to reflect the general OS X experience so there won’t be much of an emphasis on trackpad-only options.)

  • whilst in firefox or safari, ctrl+tab will flip through open tabs

    to show an application after you’ve hidden it, click on it in the dock, or go up to the application menu (the first one on the left immediately after the apple menu) and select “show all”

    in the finder, cmd+up arrow takes you up a level, cmd+down arrow will open the currently selected item

    cmd+click on the window title in the finder to see the file structure in a drop-down menu. you can use this menu to quickly jump up several levels if you need to.

  • Oh, I forgot to mention.

    If you have multiple windows open for a given application as in the Safari scenario you mention. You can only hide all windows and not individual windows.

    In this situation, the red button closes the given window (not hide it), whilst Cmd-H hides all windows of that application.

    So I have to retract what I said in the previous post. The red button is Close Window (still not close App) and Cmd-H is Hide Window. For a one window application they function identically, but for a many windowed application they are distinctly different.

  • What about for example if I have muliple Word or Excel files open – cmd+tab just tabs between applications, not files, it’s driving me nuts!
    Any gurus out there…?

Log in to comment on this story!