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Navigating files, folders, and menus with the keyboard

If you've ever looked over the shoulder of a Mac power user, you may have noted how rarely such users reach for the mouse or trackpad: Moving your hands off the keyboard slows you down. Here are some tips on navigating files, folders, and menus with only the keyboard.

Download Macworld Video #193

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• Length: 2 minutes, 30 seconds

Show Notes

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Show transcript

There's nothing wrong with the mouse or trackpad. But you'll note that some of the speediest Mac users out there prefer to do as much with the keyboard as they can: Keeping your hands on the keyboard saves time compared to moving your hands back and forth between the mouse and the keyboard.

You already know about major keyboard shortcuts, like Command-C and -V for copy and paste, or Command-Tab for switching between apps. In this video, we'll focus on some slightly less well-known keyboard shortcuts for navigating around your Mac more efficiently.

When you're in the Finder, whether you're on the desktop or looking at the contents of a folder like this one, the keyboard can help you navigate. Start typing the name of a file you're after, and it should highlight automatically; here I typed the letter J, and the appropriate file gets selected immediately. (Now, I can press Command-O to open that file, if desired.)

Suppose you have more than one file starting with the same letter. Here, I have four items starting with the letter P; if I'm after the Pudding photo, I type P-U to select the one I'm after.

These tricks work--and are even more useful--when you're looking at icons that aren't already sorted.

In this view, for example, I can type P for Podcast to select the first Podcast entry, and then switch to pressing Tab to cycle through the other P options alphabetically--and continue on through the alphabet. Oh, and if see a file I need to rename, I simply hit Return with that file selected, make my corrections, and hit Return once more.

If you select a folder and need to dive into it, you can press Command-O to open it. To move back up a level, try Command-Up Arrow. (You can use Command-Down Arrow as a synonym for Command-O for opening folders, if you prefer that arrow key symmetry.)

You can even access the menubar from your keyboard. Press Control-F2 (on a laptop, make that Control-Fn-F2) to select the Apple menu. Then you can use the arrow keys to move among menus and into them. Move left or right to select different menus, and hit the down arrow to open a menu. And, as when navigating files, start typing the first letters of a menu option's name to highlight it--pressing return to select it.

Practice these keyboard shortcuts, and in time you'll end up controlling your Mac without reaching for the mouse or trackpad nearly as often.


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