10 Awesome OS X Tips and Tricks

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  • 10 years ago

Ever since I bought my MacBook Pro in 2009, I’ve been use it as my primary machine. I like OS X so much better than Windows, especially Windows 8. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot of new tricks and shortcuts that really make the experience of using OS X a lot better. It’s amazing how many little hidden gems they have built into the OS from hidden menus, tons of awesome shortcuts, and lots more.

Once you learn a couple of these tricks, you’ll wonder how you ever worked without them. If you have your own OS X tips and tricks, feel free to post them in the comments!


1. Quickly Close Apps

I always have like 20 desktops open on my Mac during the day, but I like to close out the extraneous stuff before I head to bed. Normally, I would swipe up with three fingers to bring up Mission Control and then click on iPhoto, for example, go to the menu and Quit. Then do the same thing with the next app and so on about 10 times. I thought this was kind of a inefficient way of doing things, but I never bothered to figure out a faster way.

Then I learned that you can close apps while Command – Tabbing through all your open apps. When you press Command + Tab, you’ll get a list of open apps. Keep pressing tab till you get to the app you want to close, then let go of the TAB key (but not the Command key) and press Q. Luckily, Q is right next to Tab, so you can easily move the finger one key over. BAM! You can close 10 apps in like 5 seconds!


2. Scroll Where Mouse Hovers

Coming from the world of Windows, I never even thought about trying this, but it’s simply awesome. There are so many times, when I have a browser window and email open at the same time. I want to read something in the browser, but still write my email. In Windows, you have to switch back and forth between the two. In OS X, the scroll feature works wherever the mouse is hovering, even if another application is in the foreground.


As you can see in the image above, Safari is in the foreground, but all I have to do is move my mouse over the Twitter feed and I can scroll it without having to bring it into focus. This comes in handy so often, it’s ridiculous. At first, I couldn’t figure out where I could use it, but now it’s just something I do naturally and why I love OS X more than Windows.

3. Finder & Open/Save Dialog Shortcuts

The Open/Save dialog is somewhere you’ll be fairly often if you ever create or edit a file on your Mac. If you like keyboard shortcuts, then you’ll probably like that there are a few really useful ones while you’re in this dialog. You can also a couple that you can use in the Finder too. Here are my favorites:


Command + Shift + G – This will bring up a dialog box to let you type in the directory manually. In the Open/Save dialog, you only need to use the / key. What’s nice about this is that you can also start typing and tab to complete the path.

Command + I – This will bring up the Info window for whatever item you have selected in the dialog or in Finder.

Command + D – This will select the Desktop as the destination. This only works in the Open/Save dialog.

Command + R – This one will open the selected item in a new Finder window. Again only works in Open/Save dialog.

4. Use Document Icon in Apps

In certain text-editing apps like TextEdit, Pages, Preview, Microsoft Word, etc, you can grab a hold of the icon in the title bar and drag and drop it to other locations like Finder, another app, etc. It acts as an alias to the actual document.


Just click on the small icon next to the name of the file and then drag it to finder, for example, and you’ll see it represents the file itself. This is useful for quickly copying or moving the file. You can also right-click on the name of the file and you’ll see the full path of the document.


5. pbcopy & pbpaste

If you use the Terminal a lot in OS X, then you’ll love these two commands: pbcopy and pbpaste. pbcopy basically pipes any output from a command to the system clipboard. You can then just paste that directly into any app you like. pbpaste lets you pipe that outputted data to another command or you could output it to a text file. It comes in really handy if you want to quickly output the results of a command to a file to email to someone or paste into a document.


6. Screenshot Shortcuts

As you can see, I take screenshots all the time, so it’s really useful to know those if you do it a lot. OS X really has a lot of them, so I won’t put them all here, but just the ones that I use a lot.

Command + Shift + 3 – Takes a screenshot of the entire screen and saves it to a file on the desktop.

Command + Shift + 4 – Takes a screenshot of the area on the screen you select by clicking and dragging your mouse and saves to file.

Command + Shift + 4 + Spacebar – Takes a screenshot of the window you select. You move your mouse around the screen and different windows will become highlighted.

If you add the Control key between Command and Shift on any of these, it will copy the screenshot to the clipboard instead of saving it as a file. So it would be Command + Control + Shift + 3 to save the entire screen to the clipboard.

7. Volume & Brightness Controls

Don’t you hate it when you increase and decrease the volume using the keyboard keys, thatplunk plunk sounds plays? I really hate it and thankfully they have a way around that.

Shift + Volume Up/Volume Down – No annoying sound will play, just the control on the screen will display.

What about if you wanted to increase or decrease the volume in smaller increments instead of the default? Well, you can use the following shortcut, which also works for the screen brightness:

Option + Shift + Volume Up/Volume Down – This breaks each block into four increments, so you can get that perfect level without having to open the sound preferences dialog.


Which brings me to the other shortcut. If you quickly want to get to sound preferences, you use this shortcut:

Option + Any Volume Key

8. Spotlight Search

If you don’t use Spotlight on OS X, you’re totally missing the point of using a Mac! Spotlight search lets you quickly launch an app or find an email or document way faster than I ever could in Windows.

Command + Spacebar

This will bring up the Spotlight box where you can start typing. It’ll find the best match and all you have to do is press Enter most of the time. But that’s not all it can do! You can even do simple math in using Spotlight, which is really useful because I used to use the calculator widget all the time.


You can also look up words. When you open spotlight, just type in any word and then pressCommand + L. This will bring up the dictionary definition right inside spotlight. You can also press Command + D and it’ll open it up in the Dictionary app.


9. Option Click

In OS X, the Option key hold magical powers! When you click on icons in the menu bar at the top of the screen, you get the normal default view. When you press and hold the Option key and then press on those icons, you sometimes get more options and extra information. I’ve tried it on the Time Machine, WiFi, Volume, and Bluetooth and it gives different menus.


10. Finder Quick Look

I use Finder all the time kind of like I used Explorer all the time in Windows. What’s awesome about Finder as opposed to Explorer is Quick View. This is very handy and I can’t believe I didn’t know about it for the longest time.

Basically, just press the Spacebar when you have a file selected in Finder and it’ll pop up in the quick view box. This is way better than double-clicking because that will either open the application for that file or open Preview.


As you can see above, I get a small pop up window that lets me see the item in a bigger window. For PDF files and those sorts of items, you can press Option + Spacebar and it’ll open the quick look in full screen view. Again, very handy for viewing the contents of a file without opening any application.

So there are 10 tips and tricks for OS X that I use a lot and that hopefully will help you be more productive with your Mac. There are tons more tricks like this and maybe I’ll follow up with a second post if people are interested. Enjoy!

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