How to master the keyboard on Mac OS X with a comprehensive guide

When you boot up a Mac and use Mac OS X for the first time, the best you can do with the keyboard is type using the standard characters that form the English language and use a few keyboard shortcuts that you are familiar with. But your keyboarding abilities on Mac OS X can be taken quite a bit beyond that, in ways not obvious to many, and in this article we take a look at the various ways you can do that.

Keyboard Preference Pane

The Keyboard preference pane in System Preferences is the most obvious place to start and probably the one that most readers already know about, but here’s a recap. The most obvious thing expert typists would want to do is increase the key repeat rate and decrease the delay until repeat to make your typing faster. We’ve found that typing becomes much more efficient at the maximum settings for each, but you may feel comfortable at lower speeds.

The other thing you want to do is enable the “Show Keyboard & Character Viewers in menu bar” option; it’s a neat feature that we will get back to later in this article. If you hit the Modifier Keys button here, it’ll bring up a sheet that will allow you to change the function of your modifier keys like Caps Lock, Control, Option and Command. Two good uses are to (a) disable the Caps Lock key if you find it of little use; and (b) interchange the positions of the Command and Option keys if you are using a keyboard not optimised for Macs.

Keyboard Preference Pane

Finally, if you are using an Apple keyboard, the “Use all F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys” setting lets you toggle their functionality between controlling system features and being normal function keys. By default, they control hardware features like the screen’s brightness and volume levels and other system features like music playback, Mission Control and the Dashboard. Depending on the choice you make, the alternative function can be accessed by pressing them in combination with the Function (Fn) key.

Custom Keyboard Shortcuts

The first thing you want to do in the Keyboard Shortcuts tab is switch the “Full Keyboard Access” setting to “All controls” (which can also be done using the Ctrl+F7 shortcut). The next time you are staring at a sheet with the options Cancel and Discard, the Cancel button will be surrounded with a light blue glow, indicating that the button can be pressed by hitting the spacebar. Pressing the Tab key passes the control to other buttons and interactive elements of the UI.

In this tab, you can see a bunch of apps and features of the system listed on the left side and their keyboard shortcuts on the right. This is a great way to familiarise yourself with the keyboard shortcuts available to you in various parts of Mac OS X. You can also go in and change any of them to something you’re more comfortable with. Apple furnishes you with a list of common keyboard shortcuts for Mac OS X, while graphics instructor and designer Dan Rodney has a much more comprehensive and well-organised list available on his website.

The real fun, however, is in adding keyboard shortcuts of your own. If you frequently use the Merge All Windows command in Safari, for instance, or the Export option in many apps, you may find yourself frustrated by having to reach for the menu bar over and over again to access them. Custom keyboard shortcuts let you solve that problem.

Custom Keyboard Shortcuts

Go to the Application Shortcuts option and then hit the Add (+) button to start adding a new keyboard shortcut. Choose any app from the ones listed in the Application menu, or by going through your Applications folder using the Other option at the end of the menu. Once you’ve selected an app¡ªsay, Safari¡ªyou have to enter the menu title of the command you want to create a shortcut for. Be sure to enter it exactly as you see it in the app’s menus and then enter a keyboard shortcut in the next box.

If you select “All Applications” in the Applications menu instead of a specific app, the shortcut you create will be applicable to all apps on the system that have that option in their menus. The “Export¡­” command is a good one to start with¡ªused in conjunction with the Cmd+Shift+S shortcut, it can bring back the Save As option to many of the apps that lost it in the transition from Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard to 10.7 Lion.

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