OS X: Opening System Preferences with the Function Keys

Last year, TMO’s Sandro Cuccia wrote a wonderful article about ways to use the Option key around your Mac. That funny little modifier key is handy in tons of places! In this article, I wanted to mention one of my favorite other uses for Option—opening System Preferences panes with the function keys. Take a look at this typical Apple keyboard:

The keys I’ve highlighted in the image above can be pressed with the Option key to open the associated preferences. For example, holding Option and pressing F1 or F2 (in yellow in my screenshot) will open the Displays System Preferences pane, which would make sense considering F1 and F2 control screen brightness. Here are the other choices:

Pressing Option-F3 or Option-F4 (colored pink above) opens the Mission Control settings

Pressing Option-F5 or Option-F6 (in blue) brings you to the keyboard preferences if you’re using a laptop with a backlit keyboard

Pressing Option-F10, Option-F11, or Option-F12 (green) will take you to your Sound preferences

So if you pay attention to what’s printed on the keys, it’s pretty easy to figure out where you’d go by adding that groovy Option key, and this is a quick way to adjust your settings on the fly.

Now that we’ve gone over that stuff, let’s handle the caveats. First of all, the way this works is dependent on what kind of keyboard you’re using; my MacBook Air’s internal keyboard will let me use those Option-F5 and Option-F6 shortcuts, but my Bluetooth Apple keyboard connected to the same machine will not. So if you’re having trouble getting this to work, it may be a function (har har) of the keyboard you have, and if you’re using a third-party keyboard that lacks the fancy printed function keys, these shortcuts may not work at all.

Secondly, if you’ve got a certain setting turned on, this will work differently than the way I described above. Under System Preferences> Keyboard, click on the “Keyboard” tab, and look for “Use all F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys.”

As the note under that checkbox points out, you’ll need to add the Fn key to your shortcuts if that’s on. So Option-F6 would become Option-Fn-F6, for example. Or you can just toggle that checkbox off if you’re not using that feature—whatever blows your skirt up.

Oh, and one more thing! You may have noticed that I didn’t mention F7, F8, and F9, which control iTunes music you’re playing, among other stuff. F7 and F9 are pretty worthless without media, but F8 (the play/pause button) has a couple of uses. If iTunes isn’t open, pressing that key by itself will launch the program; if iTunes is already running, F8 may start your music playing, depending on where you were last in the application. So hey, go ahead and rock out to some tunes while you randomly open System Preferences panes, OK? I’m getting a kick out of picturing that.