My First Mac Archive

This article was first published on 2007-06-06. Due to the age of this article, it is included here for archive purposes only.

Simply put, keyboard shortcuts are the most efficient way to use your Mac or any other computer. The great thing is that when you use keyboard shortcuts, after a while they will become as reflexive as driving a car. You will start using them subconsciously, so when you think, "I should save my work," your fingers have already done it by pressing cmd-S.

If you are new to using a Mac, by all means use the mouse to explore the menus and their contents. It really is the best way to learn the system. But once you feel ready for the next level, start by noticing the symbols on the right side side of the menus. These are the keyboard shortcuts that correspond to the menu commands you have been using.

Menu with short cuts highlighted

See the illustration below for the keys that correspond to specific symbols. The sequence of symbols in a shortcut means that these keys can be pressed at the same time to get the menu action you desire.


Mac keyboard keys and symbols chart

There are a few different categories of keyboard shortcuts as grouped on the master list at Startup, Finder Window, Menu Commands, Universal Access, Mouse Keys, and Other. I suggest you start with the Menu Commands and Other shortcuts. The others can wait until you need them. The following are my suggestions for the Necessary 9, the ones to master first.

Cmd-S (Save). Number one by a long shot. Make this instinctual. Hopefully using cmd-S regularly and often will prevent you from losing your work when something else goes wrong. The rest of the Necessary 9 are cmd-O (Open), cmd-W (Close), cmd-Q (Quit), cmd-P (Print), cmd-X (Cut), cmd-C (Copy), and cmd-V (Paste). Lastly, in the Finder, use cmd-delete to move the selected file to the trash. That one saves a lot of mousing around.

One of the great things about shortcuts on the Mac versus Windows is that the main modifier key is the Command (cmd), or Apple key. It’s the one right next to the space bar with the Apple logo and cloverleaf symbol. The reason this is so much better than using the Control key as the main key is because it is more natural to hit it with your thumb and pivot your whole hand around to hit another key. This way you can hit most keyboard shortcuts one-handed and keep the other on the mouse.

In contrast, using the pinkie finger is more natural to hit Control key. The position of the Control key makes it difficult to hit even half the keys with one hand. Additionally, if your coordination is anything like mine, my pinkie finger is much more difficult to use to hit a key than my thumb.

Windows to Mac conversion. If you know and use keyboard shortcuts regularly in Windows, you will need to retrain your fingers to some extent. It’s going to suck at first, but you will eventually get it and hopefully realize how much easier it is to hit the Command key.

The place to start is just remembering to use the Command (cmd) key when you would use the Control (ctrl) key with the other keys in Windows. Here is where you should be thankful Bill G ripped off the Mac OS so blatantly in the 90’s. Most of your favorites should work the way you expect by just making this switch. Ctrl-O, ctrl-W, ctrl-P, etc. For the ones that don’t, remember to look at the right side of the menus for your clue. And don’t forget you can switch programs by using cmd-Tab. That one should make you feel more at home.

Gimme Some More. OK, you’ve already mastered the list of shortcuts. If you want to expand what the keyboard can do for you, it’s time to explore the Keyboard Shortcuts pane in the Keyboard & Mouse Preferences. This where you can add Keyboard Navigation, so you can select icons in the Dock, buttons in the Finder window toolbar, or tab between text boxes using the keyboard. You can also change the existing shortcuts and add new ones for specific applications.

Reaching the Mountaintop – Quicksilver.
Quicksilver is a program that allows you to use a key sequence for many actions you use your Mac to do. From Hack Attack: A beginner’s guide to Quicksilver:

"Quicksilver can be used to launch files and applications, manipulate data, and seamlessly plug into almost any application on your Mac so that you can perform actions as soon as you think of them in a few short keystrokes"

There is a growing community of Quicksilver users and no shortage tips and information about it on the Internet. See the links below for more.

I hope this article has outlined a progression for incorporating keyboard shortcuts into working and playing with your new Mac. You can start with the Necessary Nine and keep adding until you become a keyboard ninja.

Have I missed anything? What shortcuts can you not live without? Have you discovered any that just change the way you do things? Let us know in the Comment Section below!