14 Must-Know Tips & Tricks for Mac OS X

Jun 8, 2012 - 32 Comments

Must Know Mac OS X Tips and Tricks

We often get asked what the single most useful Mac tip is, or what a handful of the best tricks are. It’s impossible to answer such a question given the diversity of use cases of OS X, but here’s a collection of what are surely some of the absolute best tips for Mac OS X that should be considered must-knows for all Mac users. We’ve covered just about all of these on an individual basis before, but if you want to learn a whole lot in one sitting you’re in the right place.

Show Hidden Files in Open & Save Dialog Windows

Have you ever wanted to access a hidden file from an Open window or Save dialog? You can easily toggle hidden files by hitting Command+Shift+Period in any dialog window.
Show hidden files in open and save dialog windows

Go To Folder

Hitting Command+Shift+G in the Finder brings up a Go To Folder dialog, this is without a doubt the fastest way to navigate deep into the OS X filesystem. The next best part? Tab completion works, so you don’t even have to type out the full paths. It also works in Open & Save dialogs too and is arguably one of the most useful keyboard shortcuts for the Finder.
GO TO Folder allows full path input in Mac OS X

Instant Image Slideshow Anywhere in OS X Finder

The next time you’re flipping through a series of pictures in the OS X Finder, select them all and then hit Command+Option+Y to create and instant fullscreen slideshow of the selected images.
Instant Slideshow from anywhere in OS X Finder

Instant Focus Mode, Hide All Windows Except Foreground App

Tired of having a million windows open, cluttering your workspace? Hit Command+Option+H to hide every window and application except for the foreground app, think of it as a way to quickly push distractons aside and focus.
Instant focus mode by hiding everything else except the current app or window in Mac OS X

Hide Current Application & Current Windows

Your boss is coming, quick, hide that Facebook window! Whether you’re trying to keep a secret or just want to do something else, you can instantly hide the currently active app or windows by hitting Command+H
Hide the current application and windows instantly

Instantly Lock the Screen

Control+Shift+Eject instantly locks the screen and summons the screensaver, just remember that the password lock feature must be enabled separately before you’ll get use out of this one, otherwise the display simply turns off.
The Lock Screen in Mac OS X

Take Screen Shot and Store It In Clipboard

Hit Command+Control+Shift+3 to take a capture of the entire screen and store in the clipboard. If this sounds familiar to Windows users it’s because this is basically the Mac equivalent of the Print Screen button which doesn’t exist on the simplified Apple keyboards. Longtime Mac users will most likely prefer the classic Command+Shift+3 option though, which dumps the screen shot directly onto the desktop.

Cut & Paste Files in Finder

Use Command+C as usual, and then hit Command+Option+V to “move” the item, effectively cutting and pasting the document into the new location. Longtime Windows users will find this to be useful, but it’s also just a great keyboard shortcut to move files about. This is limited to OS X Lion and later.
Cut and Paste files in Mac OS X

Make ~/Library Visible Again

OS X Lion and later defaults to hiding the user library directory, it’s still accessible through a variety of ways, but you can make it always visible in the home directory again with the following terminal command: chflags nohidden ~/Library/
The user Library folder in OS X

Cycle Windows in Current Application

Command+` (next to the 1 key) cycles through the current applications windows, without having to go into Mission Control. This is probably the fastest and most efficient way to quickly flip through app windows in OS X.
Cycle through application windows in Mac OS X without going to Mission Control

Cycle Through All Open Applications

Command+Tab the application switcher gets a lot of use by power users for good reason, it’s one of the quickest ways to move between open apps there is, without your hands ever leaving the keyboard. Combining this with cycling through active windows is a big time saver.
The awesome Command Tab Application Switcher in Mac OS X

Quickly Force Quit the Currently Active App

Hold down Command+Option+Shift+Escape for about 2-3 seconds to force quit the currently active application without any confirmation dialog, and without having to kill it through activity monitor or the Force Quit menu. Just note there is no warning the app quits immediately without saving anything, perfect for when something is going haywire.
Force Quit an Application quickly, without having to use Activity Monitor or Force Quit menu

Application Launching with Spotlight

Hit Command+Spacebar and start typing the name of the app you want to launch, then hit return to open that app immediately. If you’re fastest with the keyboard, this will be the quickest way to launch apps in OS X.
Launch Applications quickly with Spotlight search

Discard Windows from Resuming on Application Quit

Don’t want OS X’s Window Restore feature to resume the applications current windows on next launch? Use Command+Option+Q when you quit the app to discard the current windows, preventing them from being restored the next time you launch that application.
Discard Windows from Restoring upon app relaunch

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS, Tips & Tricks


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  1. S1 says:

    Nice article. thanks

  2. Prashant says:

    On a newer macbook pro with SSD and no DVD player – You can lock screen with Cntrl+Shift+Power button as there is no Eject button

  3. win 7 key says:

    thanks for you share.buy win 7 home

  4. Adjeff8 says:

    This is somewhat elementary, but for those that don’t know, as previously stated you can hit Command+Shift+3 to save a screenshot to your desktop. Even more handy (For me) is to hit Command+Shift+4 to save a selected portion of your screen (Like a small picture on a web page) After doing this you will see a + on your screen. Simple put the + on a corner of desired portion then click & hold then drag across desired selection and release. I use this on a near daily basis

  5. Martijn says:

    Great stuff for a first timer in OSX.

  6. Dave Aronson says:


    The difference is that Command-Tab will cycle through all your currently running *applications*, while Command-` will cycle through all the *windows* of your *one* currently running application, the one that currently has focus.

    Example: Say you’re running three windows of TextEdit, two of Chrome, one of Keynote, one of Numbers, etc. You’re now editing in TextEdit. Command-Tab would take you to another application. Command-` would take you to another window of TextEdit.


  7. Tony M. says:

    So what exactly is the difference between Command + Tab vs Command + ` shortcuts?

    I’m not in front of my mac at the moment (@ work).

    Since I’m fairly new to the Mac OS X world, I’m greatly disappointed that if I minimize an app, I cannot restore it to my screen with Command + Tab like I use to in Windows with the Ctrl+Tab shortcuts.

    Am I missing something?

  8. Justin says:

    Odd question…where did you get the screensaver with the old-style flipping clock? I would really like that.


  9. Mike says:

    I can not for the life of me get the “Go To Folder” shortcut to work in Finder. It works fine on my wife’s Mac but not mine. We are both running MBPs with Lion upgrades.

    i’ve looked for a setting somewhere that might disable this with no luck. I also can’t find an app that is using it. Anyone have a suggestion?

    • Paul says:

      From the Finder look under the “Go” menu, you will find it near the bottom and it will show the keyboard shortcut as well, just in case it’s been changed.

  10. Rishi says:

    These are really great. I knew some of them, but I learned quite a few things today. So glad I’m subscribed to this list.

  11. Captain says:


    where do i get the “Property of …” Wallpaper and how can i make it, that it appears only at the Logon-Screen ?


  12. caras says:

    I use the Magicpad and BetterTouchTool for this and a lot more shortcuts. With 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 fingers. The mouse is dead!

  13. Alberto I says:

    “Command+Shift+G in the Finder brings up a Go To Folder dialog, this is without a doubt the fastest way to navigate deep into the OS X filesystem”

    I am not sure that having to write the whole path is the fastest way…

    • andre_ says:

      You can start writing the folder’s name, and then press the “Tab” key to complete the name til the next “/”.
      Sometime is faster than clicking every folder, especially in the case of hidden folders.

  14. sparky says:

    technically, Control+Shift+Eject turns the display lamp off and optionally starts the lockscreen facility.

  15. Maxint says:

    You can customize the shortcut for cycling thru windows.
    On Lion:
    System Preferences -> Keyboard -> Keyboard Shortcuts -> Keyboard & Text services.
    Choose “Move focus to next window” abd put a new shortcut.

    I think that can be changed on Leopard or Snow Leopard too.

    • Dan says:

      I’ve always used CMD-` to cycle through an app’s windows. Less of a stretch than +.

      • Wayland says:

        That’s very clever of you indeed, Dan. However, the point was that for some users of non-English keyboards ⌘-`does not exist at all.

        • munchkin says:

          Try another key. For me (slovak keyboard) works Cmd+”ň”. It’s on the left of Enter key.

        • nohandle says:

          on the czech keyboard it is ⌘+¨ (the key above return). But as waylad said it can be easily changed

  16. Alejandro Perez says:

    what about MBA for lock the screen?
    it doesn’t have eject key

  17. andre_ says:

    The shortcut to see all the windows of the current application doesn’t work with most of the non-US keyboards.
    Some of them have the “`” key only pressing the Shift key, and often the shortcut doesn’t work (Danish, Swedish, Dutch, German layouts, for example).
    Some other layouts simply don’t have the “`” key.
    The Italian layout, for instance, has all the wowels directly with the accent, and no key with simply “`”.

    In these cases, there’s no shortcut available for the layout, sadly. :-(

    • Rio says:

      Sadly the same situation for French layout.

      • Allie says:

        I am swedish but got my mac in america so i don’t have those keys but there is a short cut. If you press the option key and u you will get this ¨ after that you can press the letter you want with those dots and it will be with the dots for example ö. And to make å you press option a to get ß you press option s

    • nohandle says:

      change it in the Keyboard settings.

    • 850sc says:

      ⌘+< works for me (german keyboard layout)

  18. Matt says:

    Great list, thanks

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