How to Really Use the Magical Option Key on the Mac

| How-To

Part 2 - More Specific Examples of Option Key Magic

OK, time to get take a look at more specific examples. I now present you with a list of only a few of the best hidden goodies found by engaging the Option key. Keep in mind that this is not an all-inclusive list. It’s up to you to explore. And, guess what? Even after all these years, I will occasionally stumble upon a hidden Option key gem that I never knew existed.

Option Key Shortcuts in Finder

  • Under the Apple menu, Option bypasses About This Mac and goes directly to System Information.
  • Under the Finder menu, Option bypasses the Empty Trash confirmation dialog. This is evident by the disappearance of the ellipsis with the press of the Option key.
  • Under the File menu, Option changes Close to Close All. Duplicate changes to Save As. The venerable Show Info changes to the often useful Show Inspector. Tip: Also try the Control key, and Option-Control combination while in the File menu.
  • Under the Edit menu, Option changes Select All to Deselect All. Paste changes to Move Items Here. This latter one is great for moving versus copying files in Finder.
  • Under the View menu, Option changes Sort By to Arrange By.
  • Under the Go menu,  the normally hidden user Library folder appears.
  • Under the Window folder, Option changes Minimize and Zoom to Minimize All and Zoom All.
  • Specifying Default apps: Would you rather have a particular file open in a specific app instead of the default app when double-clicking the file in Finder? For example, by default, double-clicking a JPEG file opens it in Preview. Instead of doing the whole Get Info method, simply select the image file, and right-click to reveal the contextual menu. When adding the Option key to the mix, you will see the Open With item change to Always Open With. You select the app you want, and from then on, that file will be opened by the app you specified.
  • Disclosure Triangles in Finder file listings: If like me, you prefer viewing your files in List View while in Finder, here’s a neat Option shortcut for you. If a folder contains one or more nested folders, Option-clicking on the disclosure triangle in a closed position next to a folder will expand the folder’s file listing as well as those of all nested folders down the hierarchy. The reverse applies for quickly closing the clicked-on folder and all it’s nested folders.

A file listing in a Finder window in List View

Option-clicking provides added functionality when viewing files in the Finder’s List View

Next: Even More Examples of Option Key Shortcuts

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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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