Monday, May 30, 2011

Mac OS X: new user tips

Over the couple of weeks I've been using an Apple iMac, and as a Windows/Linux user I've found navigating the desktop has been something of a learning experience for me.

As different as they are, in many ways the standard Windows and Linux desktops are idiomatically quite similar these days, and both support the standard PC three-button mouse. By contrast the Mac OS X desktop environment (and its use of the infamous one-button mouse) has a number of differences which can turn even basic operations (for example, cut-and-paste) initially into something of a challenge.

However some basic knowledge should go a long way in helping. First, there are the three essential keys you need to know about:
(The links give more background but aren't essential to the following. You can think of the option key as being the same as the "Alt" key on Windows/Linux.)

  • Emulating the right-hand mouse button: [ctrl] + mouse click (essential for desktop and web applications that use this to activate context menus and so on)
Basic text editing operations:
  • Cut: [⌘] + [x]
  • Copy: [⌘] + [x]
  • Paste: [⌘] + [x]
Basic keys for navigating within text documents:
  • Home: [↖]
  • End: [↘]
  • Page up: []
  • Page down: []
Useful shortcuts for navigating the desktop:
  • Cycle between open windows: [⌥] + [tab]
  • Zoom out (pulls back to show all open windows): [F9]
  • Show desktop (hides all open windows): [F11]
And finally (and essential if you're programming and find your Apple keyboard is missing a hash key):
  • Hash symbol ("#"): [⌥] + [3]
These all work on OS X 10.4.11 ("Tiger"), which is admittedly no longer a very recent release, but hopefully they're also applicable to later Mac OSes. I can't say that I've fallen in love with Apple as a result, but they have enabled me to operate at an acceptably functional level (until I can get my Linux workstation up and running!).


  1. One-button mouse: go to the preferences then you can configure as many buttons as you like (provided you have a mighty mouse: you probably do) - I have something like 4 set up.

    Once I got used to it I really liked my mac. Everything else seems kinda clunky now...

  2. Thanks for the suggestion - sadly I'm not able to try them out just yet, as my new workstation arrived this week and so I've surrendered the Mac. So now I'm learning my way around Fedora Destop 15 and the "controversial" Gnome 3.