There are hundreds of relatively unpublicized features hidden in every version of Mac OS X. Some of these features are neat-but-frivolous, but many others can quickly become indispensable. We share these hidden features every week, calling them “Mac Treats.”
Here are my top three indispensable Mac Treats. I use these almost every single time I use a Mac. Note that the first two shortcuts refer to the Command key. This is found to the left of the spacebar on Mac keyboards. On older keyboards and laptops it’s often stamped with an Apple or an icon that looks like a little four-leafed clover.
1. Command-Tab is an essential Mac shortcut. It allows you to move very rapidly from one open application into another. Simply hold down the Command and Tab key at the same time. You should see a large bar in the middle of your screen showing all open applications. To jump between the foremost application, simply continue holding down the Command key while tapping the Tab key.
Other shortcuts can be combined with Tab-Command. For example, you can use Tab-Command to quickly cut and paste text between applications (as long as they are running) such as TextEdit, Word, Pages, Mail, etc. Or, you can instantly quit applications by shift-tabbing to the application you want to quit, then (without letting go of the command key) use the Command-Q shortcut. I often use this combination to quit applications.
2. Spotlight was introduced in Mac OS 10.4 Tiger and was significantly improved in Mac OS 10.5 Leopard. I use it daily to quickly find files on my Mac. I typically want to open the file I’m searching for, but sometimes I only want to know where it’s stored on my Mac’s hard drive. For example, I might want to find a file without opening it so I can email it, or put it on a flash drive, burn it to CD, etc.
Here’s how to easily find a file in Spotlight without actually opening it. First, enter the filename (or type) in the Spotlight search bar. Once the results appear in the menu, hold down the Command key, then click on the file. This will close Spotlight and open a Finder window showing where your file is stored.
Or, if you do want to keep Spotlight open, click on the file in the Spotlight menu, and press Command-R. This will open a Finder window with the file selected, leaving the Spotlight menu open.
3. Quick Look is one the key features of Mac OS 10.5 Leopard, but many Leopard users don’t know it exists. Quick Look allows you view the contents of a file without opening it, and with a single click of the Spacebar. Quick Look works with nearly every file format on a Mac (images, text files, PDF documents, movies, Keynote presentations, Mail attachments, Microsoft files), and can be extended to open even more file types than supported by default.
To use Quick Look on Leopard, simply click once on the file you’d like to look at and press the Space bar. You can flip through multipage documents, watch videos (even in full screen), scroll through photos, and even examine entire Keynote presentations.