The venerable Mac Option Key has been around since the Apple Macintosh first appeared way back in 1984. Mac users are usually pretty familiar with it, so much so that we sometimes take it for granted. I'm going to show some of the magical things you can do with it.
This key is known generically as a “modifier” key, and shares this moniker with the Command (Apple) key, the Control Key, and the Shift key. The Option key is located on either side of the space bar for your convenience.
The Option key is adjacent to other modifier keys
Modifier keys are used in combination with the regular alpha-numeric keys to provide alternate functionality to keyboard shortcuts. They are also used to help you generate special symbols, alternate character sets and diacritical marks (such as the ones found in résumé, señorita and façade).
Secret Alternate Menu Commands With the Option Key
We’re all familiar with the Finder menus and the list of commands each one offers us. But, did you know that opening a menu while pressing the Option key will reveal otherwise hidden, alternate commands?
Here’s an example: a common method of closing an open Finder window is to use a Command-W keyboard shortcut. What if you have a number of open Finder windows and you want to close them all, simultaneously? Do you just go to the trouble of clicking the close bubble for each and every window? Do you press Command-W for each window? Or, do you go to the File menu and select Close Window?
The Finder’s File menu on the left, and with the Option key pressed on the right
Instead, use Option key magic! Pop open the File menu, and look at all your choices listed there. Now, with the menu still open, press the Option key. Notice that several items in the list will change in some way - perhaps different wording, or perhaps the disappearance of normally present ellipses that directly follow certain menu items.
Back to the example at hand. With the Option key pressed while the File menu is open, the item that is normally called Close Window now becomes Close All. You’ll also see the associated keyboard shortcut command change from Command-W to Option-Command-W in case you prefer using just your digits for everything. Finally, if you’d rather use the little red close bubble in an open window in order to close it, by doing so with the Option key pressed, all other open windows will close as well.
What about that matter regarding the ellipsis (…)? You may already know that an ellipsis in a menu command always means that before the command can execute, OS X or the app requires additional input from you. The request is presented in the form of a dialog box. For example, see what happens when you select the Print… command from the File menu.
The File menu in Pages contains several instances
where ellipses appear after certain commands
In another example, this time in the Apple menu, notice that the Restart, Shutdown and Log Out commands show an ellipsis at the end of each line. This is because, in each of these three cases, you will be presented with a confirmation screen when you select them. Now, with the menu still open press the Option key. You will notice that these ellipses disappear. This leads to a handy shortcut; when you select these commands while pressing the Option Key, the confirmation dialogs will be bypassed, and the command will be executed immediately.
You’ll find that these hidden and poorly documented commands, revealed by pressing the Option key, are found in just about all apps - not just in the Finder. Some day when you have nothing better to do, I urge you to peruse all menus in Finder as well as in your favorite apps. While the menus are open, press the Option key, and notice any variations in the commands listed. You may be surprised at what you’ll find.
There are two other places where the Option key does it’s magic - menubar apps and buttons on dialog boxes. For example, look at your Wi-Fi icon on the menubar. In this case, press Option before clicking on the icon. You will notice that some useful technical information about your Wi-Fi connection is revealed, such as SSID, channel information and security settings.
By Option-clicking the Wi-Fi icon in the menubar, certain technical details are revealed
Next: More Specific Examples of Option Key Magic