How to Change Tab Behavior in OS X


Randy Writes: on my new Mac with Lion is behaving differently than on my old Mac with regards to the keyboard’s Tab button.  Specifically, when I create a new mail message I used to be able to hit the Tab key to move from the “To:” field through to the body, including being able to select the “Customize” and “From” drop-down menus.

On my new Mac, once I’ve tabbed to the Subject line, pressing tab again jumps the cursor directly to the body of the message, skipping “Customize” and “From.”  How can I restore the old functionality of getting the Tab key to stop at every option?


Keyboard System Preferences

Change the setting under Full Keyboard Access to determine how the Tab key functions throughout OS X.

What you’ve described isn’t a function of Lion or even Mail; it is a system-wide setting.  To change this setting on every version of OS X dating back to 10.5 Leopard, go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcuts.  At the bottom of this window is a setting called “Full Keyboard Access” with two options: “Text boxes and lists only” or “All controls.”  You’ll find that your current selection is “Text boxes and lists only.”  If you change this to “All controls,” Mail will behave the way it used to and stop at every option while tabbing.  This will also apply to the rest of OS X and can be either extraordinarily helpful or extraordinarily annoying depending on your usage and needs.  Thankfully, it is very simple to switch back to the default behavior.