Avoid getting key bored

David Braue
19 August, 2011
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Mac users have always loved their keyboard shortcuts; it’s a habit that goes back to the early days of Macs, when the one-button mouse was wielded as a badge of honour and Mac users committed to memory ever more complicated combinations of Control, Option, Command, Shift and function keys to manage everything from their desktop interface to launching applications.

Windows has a broad range of keyboard shortcuts for controlling windows and applications, but if you’ve switched to the Mac recently you’ll need to learn a new vocabulary. Standard editing keys are the same, but system commands are different: this ranges from basic ones like F3 (opens Exposé), Shift-1-4 (grab an area of the screen), F4/F12 (launches Dashboard) and F11 (slides away application windows), to the likes of 1-E, which ejects a mounted disk image or inserted optical disk.

Apple have a good reference to Mac OS X keyboard shortcuts if you want to check out the entire list.

Suffice it to say that as you customise your Mac OS X workspace, some of the best keyboard shortcuts are those that you make yourself. You can reproduce your familiar Windows workspace by changing keyboard commands in your favourite applications, set a keyboard shortcut to launch a particular application, or add shortcuts to commands in applications that don’t have them.

To set up your own keyboard shortcuts, open System Preferences > Keyboard and click on the Keyboard Shortcuts tab. You’ll see a list of shortcut categories and the currently-assigned key combinations – which represent some but not all of Mac OS X’s shortcuts. Click the + at the bottom of the window, then choose ‘All Applications’ if you want your keystroke available at any time, or choose an application if it’s only to be an option during a specific program.

For example, if you work with columns a lot in Word and want a keystroke for adding a Column Break, you’ll notice there’s no keyboard shortcut by default. To fix this, click +, Choose ‘Other’ for application, then navigate to and select your Microsoft Word application file (it’s in the Microsoft Office xxxx folder).
Type Column Break as the menu title and your keystroke – for example, Control-Option-1-C –
then click Add.

Note that in Word, the Column Break is a submenu underneath the Insert > Break tree; you don’t need to enter the full menu tree into your shortcut definition, just the exact words in the submenu that has the command you want.

Once you’ve added a shortcut, it will appear in the menu options of your application, as
it runs. Shortcuts will only be available in a given application with a menu command that matches yours exactly.

You can also set up Mac OS X to launch an application, or any Automator service you create, with a certain keypress. First, create a service that launches the app you want to use: Run the Automator application, then create a new Service and set it to ‘Service receives no input in any application’. Drag the Utilities > Launch Application command into the workflow window, then choose the application you want to launch and save the service with a name – for example, ‘Launch Calculator’.

Now, exit Automator and go back to the Keyboard Shortcuts System Preferences window. Click + to add a shortcut, choose ‘All Applications’ in the Application field, type the name of your service in the ‘Menu title’ field, and enter your shortcut and click Add in the same way. Now, you can launch your app using that keystroke: for example, we set up Shift-Control-Option-1-C to start the calculator at any time

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