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4.6. Keyboard Control

In Windows, of course, you can operate every menu in every program from the keyboard—and every control in every dialog box—thanks to the power of the Alt key.

Mac OS X offers full keyboard control, too. You can operate every control in every dialog box from the keyboard, including pop-up menus and checkboxes. And you can even redefine many of the built-in Mac OS X keystrokes, like Shift--3 to capture the screen as a graphic. In short, if you were a keyboard power-user in Windows, you'll feel right at home in Mac OS X.

What follows are some of the ways you can control your Mac mouselessly. In the following descriptions, you'll encounter the factory settings for the keystrokes that do the magic—but you can change these combos to anything you want in the System Preferences → Keyboard & Mouse → Keyboard Shortcuts tab.

  • Control the menus. When you press Control-F2, themenu drops down. At this point, you can highlight individual commands on that menu by pressing the up or down arrow keys, or even typing the first couple letters. You move into a submenu by pressing the right or left arrow keys (or Tab). And you can "click" a menu command by pressing Enter, Return, or the Space bar. You can also close the menu without making a selection by pressing Escape or -period.

  • Control the Dock. Once you've pressed Control-F3, you can move to highlight any icon on the Dock by pressing the appropriate arrow keys (or Tab and Shift-Tab). Then, once you've highlighted a Dock icon, you "click it" by pressing Enter or the Space bar. Again, if you change your mind, press Escape or -period.


    Once you've highlighted a disk or folder icon, you can press the up or down arrow keys to make the list of its contents appear. (If you've positioned the Dock vertically, use the left or right arrow instead.)

  • Cycle through your windows. Every time you press Control-F4, you bring the next window forward, eventually cycling through every window in every open program. Add the Shift key to cycle in the opposite order.


    This is different from the -` keystroke mentioned in Chapter 1, which just cycles through windows in the current program.

  • Control toolbars. This one is on the unpredictable side, but it more or less works in most programs that display a Mac OS X–style toolbar: the Finder, Preview, Sherlock, the iPhoto editing window, and so on. When you press Control-F5, you highlight the first button on that toolbar. Move the "focus" by pressing the arrow keys or Tab and Shift-Tab. Then tap Enter or the Space bar to"click" the highlighted button.

  • Control tool palettes. In a few programs that feature floating tool palettes, you can highlight the frontmost palette by pressing Control-F6. At this point, use the arrow keys to highlight the various buttons on the palette. You can see the effect when, for example you're editing text in TextEdit and you've also opened the Font palette. Pressing Control-F6 highlights the Font palette, taking the "focus" off your document.

  • Control dialog boxes. Mac OS X also lets you navigate and manipulate any dialog box from the keyboard. When this feature is turned on, pressing the Tab key highlights the next control of any type, whatever it may be—radio button, pop-up menu, and so on. Press the Space bar to "click" a button or open a pop-up menu. Once a menu is open, use the arrow keys (or type letter keys) to highlight commands on it, and the Space bar to "click" your choice.

    At the bottom of the Keyboard & Mouse pane of System Preferences, there's a checkbox called "Turn on full keyboard access." When that checkbox is off, pressing the Tab key works only to move among text boxes in the dialog box. It skips over radio buttons, pop-up menus, and checkboxes.

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