How to Really Use the Magical Option Key on the Mac

| How-To

Part 3 - Even More Examples of Option Key Shortcuts

Option Key Shortcuts in Menubar Apps

  • Option-click the Notification Center icon in the menubar to toggle Do Not Disturb.
  • Option-click the Volume icon in the menubar to reveal selectable input and output devices. Why change settings in Sound Preferences when you can do it quickly from the menubar?
  • Option-click the Time Machine icon in the menubar to reveal some additional options.
  • Option-click the Bluetooth icon in the menubar to reveal additional diagnostic details.
  • Option-click the third-party Dropbox app icon in the menubar to reveal a more useful and compact list of commands.

Option Key Shortcuts Used in the Dock

  • Option-click a running app in the Dock to hide it. 
  • Option-click a running - but hung - app in the Dock to use the Force Quit command (or to Relaunch, if Option-clicking on Finder).

Option Key Shortcuts in Dialog Boxes

  • An Option key press while in the System Preferences > Displays reveals a Detect Displays button. This is handy for troubleshooting issues when connected to overhead projectors and external monitors.
  • When attempting to copy a file to a new location that contains a file with the exact same name, the Finder pops up a dialog box that asks whether you want to keep both files, stop the operation, or replace the file. If you try to copy more than one file to a location that already has one or more identically named files, you’ll see a similar dialog box. However, in this case, if you press the Option key while the dialog box is open, the Keep Both button changes to Skip. This allows you to skip the first duplicate, then deals with the next one, and so on until the copy operation is complete or cancelled.

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Pressing Option when dialog boxes appear will occasionally change the functionality of buttons

Option Key Shortcuts Within Apps

  • iTunes Radio: Option-click the Favorites star at the top-left to toggle to Genius Shuffle.
  • iPhoto: When rotating a photo thumbnail, press the Option key to Rotate in the opposite direction. When in any of the Edit modes, an Option key press changes the Undo button to Redo.
  • Safari: When in Safari, press the Tab key to move from search field to search field or drop-down menu, down through the page. Use the Option-Tab key combination to get better keyboard control. This will stop you sequentially through every link on the page. You can press Return at any stop to have Safari open that link for you.
  • If you have multiple tabs open in Safari, press the Option key, and click on the close box (indicated by an ‘x’) of any tab. All other tabbed windows will close.
  • If you Option-click a link in Safari, you’ll download the target directly into your designated downloads folder. Clicking a page link will download the target .html file. Clicking a link to a data file will download that file.
  • For precision scrolling when using Safari’s scrollbar, use the Option key when clicking in the scrollbar area. Without the Option key, you move a page at a time. However, with the Option key pressed, you move the scrollbar indicator to the very spot where you Option-clicked. You know, come to think of it… this feature is present system-wide; not just in Safari.
  • Other Apps: In most modern apps, pressing the Option key while popping open the application’s own menu (located adjacent to the Apple menu), you will notice that the Quit command will operate differently. There are two variations of the Quit command depending directly on the status of a particular setting in System Preferences > General. If the checkbox next to “Close windows when quitting an application” is checked, then you can bypass this setting by pressing the Option key when quitting. In this case, you will see Quit and Keep Windows in the application’s menu. On the other hand, if this preference item’s checkbox is unchecked, the Option key bypass in the menu will have you Quit and Close All Windows. All this, of course, governs whether or not open document windows are reopened next time the app is launched.

I could go on, and on and, yes… even, on! But I’ll do both you and myself a favor and stop now.

Your project for this summer is to find other hidden Option-key gems. Add to the discussion below and tell us about handy ones you have found.

Comments

xmattingly

Great set of tips, Sandro! Another way to think of the option key in a GUI sense is as the “drag-to-copy” key; at least for most apps. This works and pretty much all Adobe apps, and many Mac native apps like TextEdit. I might use the option key to drag/copy a selection of text, if I already have something saved in the clipboard for example.

Perpetual Learner

Very well structured article, well done!
I am quite the keyboard shortcut collector. Here are a few that I believe are missing from you list, but can also come in handy:
• press Alt while in the Contacts app to highlight the groups of a selected contact
• press Alt while pressing the spacebar in Finder or the Desktop to Slideshow selected files, instead of the Quick Look
• press Alt and Tab in a text editing app (e.g. Stickies, TextEdit, etc.) to change the current line into a list
• press Alt while selecting text, in a text editing app, to make a rectangular selection
• in iTunes 11, press Alt while selecting File > Create New Version, to change ‘Create AAC Version’ to ‘Convert to AAC…’
• in iTunes 10, press Alt while selecting the Advanced menu to change ‘Create AAC Version’ to ‘Convert to AAC…’
• in iTunes 11, press Alt while selecting the View menu to change ‘Show Duplicate’ Items to ‘Show Exact Duplicate Items’
• in iTunes 10, press Alt while selecting the File menu to change ‘Display Duplicates’ to ‘Display Exact Duplicates’
• and last but not least, hold Alt during the computer startup to show the Startup Manager (which displays all bootable volumes)

Pandora Dogg

Thanks for the treasure trove of helpful option-key tips.

One thing - regarding collapsing nested folders by clicking the disclosure triangle, it didn’t work for me.  A little bit of experimenting revealed that the option-command-click method worked.

Late 2012 Mad Mini running 10.9.3

Pandora Dogg

Sorry…I’m using a late 2012 MAC mini, not a Mad Mini!

Perpetual Learner

Dear Pandora Dogg,

I’ve used this on quite a few Mac computers, both running previous OS versions and the latest 10.9.3, and it works on all of them. The one thing you need to notice, in case you are making a mistake, is that this only works on Finder windows that are set on List View or Cover Flow (on the other two views the Alt key has another effect). To change the view, you click on one of the four buttons on the left of the Toolbar - the 2nd or 4th button, respectively - or you can see all four views under the View menu, or even press cmd-2 or cmd-4.

If you are absolutely sure this shortcut does not work and you are on the correct view, perhaps there is something we are not taking into account. For example, the shortcut to reveal the user Library with the Alt key does not work anymore if you set a direct keyboard shortcut for the user Library (you then use the Shift key instead).

You could try the shortcut on a new admin user, which has no user settings. And if it doesn’t work there either, then perhaps you do indeed have a Mad mini wink.

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