Eight little-known tips for OS X users

OS X includes a number of hidden behaviors and features, some of which can satisfy a frustrating limitation or two you might have with the system.

OS X has a number of commands available in various system and application menus which give you access to file and window management, among other details. In addition to these, there are hidden options which can be found by holding the Option, Shift, and Command keys with the various menus open.

Along with built-in commands, there are several useful, but somewhat hidden, behaviors that might be beneficial to some people. These include getting information about controls, manipulating items in Spotlight, and moving windows around on screen.

Tooltips in OS X
Hovering over a control may show a small tooltip about its purpose. Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET
  1. Tooltips for window controls
    If you have a window open and do not know what a specific button does, you can hold the mouse cursor immediately over the button for a few seconds and a small yellow tooltip box will appear briefly describing what the control is.
  2. Dock contextual menus
    As with many aspects of OS X, the Dock supports contextual menus for items in it that offer various commands for managing the items in the Dock. This contextual menu is usually invoked by right-clicking the Dock item, but can also be accessed by simply clicking and holding the item.
  3. Path menu in OS X
    Right-clicking a saved document's title will show its path menu. Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET
  4. File and folder path menus
    For most documents that are saved to disk and therefore have a corresponding file path, OS X will make available a path menu in the document's title, which can be accessed by right-clicking (or Command-clicking) the title. You can then select any item in the tree to open it in Finder with its child item in the path menu selected. This feature works for Finder windows as well, making it a convenient option for navigating folder trees.
  5. Copy items from Spotlight
    When you search for items in Spotlight, you can click and drag them from the menu to a location, either embedding them in a document (such as an e-mail), or copying them to a new location. If you hold the Option and Command keys while dragging items from this menu, you can create an alias of the dragged item.
  6. Copy and make aliases in the Finder
    When you click and drag items in the Finder, the system will move them by default unless you do not have permission to remove them from their original locations. To change this behavior, you can hold the Option key when dragging to force a copy of the item. This can be a convenient way to duplicate a document in the same folder, simply by Option-dragging it a short distance away. In addition to copying, holding the Command and Option keys together when dragging will create an alias of the item.
  7. Background window movement in OS X
    Holding the Command key while moving items in the background will keep them from jumping to the forefront and changing your window order. Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET
  8. Move or resize background windows
    If you have a window open that is obscuring another one, clicking the background window will bring it to the front, and likely obscure the window in front. While you can drag or resize the front window, you can do the same for the background window by holding the Command key as you do so. This will allow you to shift it around without bringing it to the front.
  9. View animations in slow motion
    OS X includes a number of animated actions such as the zooming of windows in Mission Control view, and the minimization of them to the Dock. While not particularly useful, you can view these actions in slow motion by holding the Shift key down when invoking them.
  10. Power button controls
    The power button on your Mac has several uses. For starters, you can press and hold it to shut down the system, or hold Command-Option while pressing and holding to force a restart. If you simply press the power button once, you can put the system to sleep, and holding the Control key and pressing power brings up a panel with restart, shut down, and sleep options. If you have Mavericks installed, pressing the power button once will sleep the system, holding it down briefly will bring up the options panel, and holding it for longer will forcefully shut down the system.

These are only some of the odd tips and tricks you might find in OS X. Do you know of any others? If so, then post them below in the comments.



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About the author

    Topher, an avid Mac user for the past 15 years, has been a contributing author to MacFixIt since the spring of 2008. One of his passions is troubleshooting Mac problems and making the best use of Macs and Apple hardware at home and in the workplace.

     

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