30+ Super Secret OS X Features and Shortcuts

Think you know everything there is to know about OS X? Here’s a list of secret features and shortcuts known only by the most elite nerds. Test your knowledge and see if you are a good candidate to stand at the Genius Bar and wear a clever T-shirt.

We’ll start with some simple features before moving on to the more obscure. Topics covered include downloading YouTube videos using Safari, accessing an entire second clipboard, placing widgets on your desktop, and taking control of your system volume!

Screenshots

Screenshot

Screenshot

Everyone knows that OS X has built-in screenshot functionality, but few are aware of how deep the functionality actually runs. Here’s a rundown of all the shortcuts:

⌘+Shift+3 (Full Screen)
⌘+Shift+Ctrl+3 (Full Screen to Clipboard)
⌘+Shift+4 (Selection)

  • Hold option to grow selection from center
  • Hold shift to lock in the vertical or horizontal position
  • Hold space to move the selection while locking the aspect ratio
  • Hold shift + space to lock in horizontal or vertical while moving the locked selection
  • Hit “esc” or ⌘+Period to cancel
  • Hit space to grab a window

⌘+Shift+Ctrl+4 (Selection to Clipboard)

  • Hit space to grab a window
  • Hold option to grow selection from center
  • Hold shift to lock in the vertical or horizontal position
  • Hold space to move the selection while locking the aspect ratio
  • Hold shift + space to lock in horizontal or vertical while moving the locked selection
  • Hit “esc” or ⌘+Period to cancel

To change the format of the screenshot, type the following into Terminal:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture type png
killall SystemUIServer

The default is png, but you can replace this with jpg, pdf, tiff, etc.

To change the default location of the screenshot file, type the following into Terminal:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture location /Users/Josh/Documents/Screenshots
killall SystemUIServer

Just replace the path with your own desired destination.

Animation Slow-Mo

Slow that animation down!

Slow that animation down!

Hold shift while minimizing a window (works with most default OS X animations including those for spaces, dashboard and stacks). Nearly useless, but good for a solid 6 seconds of repeatable entertainment.

Snippets

Snippets

Snippets

To move text, select it and drag it to a new line. Drag it to your desktop to get a snippet that can be saved and inserted anywhere later. Double click to open it or just drag it into the text field where you want it to go. Sure you could just copy and paste, but that’s sooo PC isn’t it?

Quick Define

Dictionary

Dictionary

Some writers possess such an august vocabulary that one can’t help but label their words as the esoteric drivel of a haughty sesquipedalian. In these circumstances, mourn not at your own lack of education and command of the English language. Instead, simply highlight the word in question and hit ⌘+Ctrl+D. This will give you instant and discreet access to discover what in the world someone is trying to say.

You might want to try it out on the above.

Quick Math

Quick Math

Quick Math

I’ll admit it, that last one wasn’t all that secret. Though few remember the feature exists, it was at least widely published by Apple when it was first implemented. However, there is similar functionality for basic mathematical calculations that will surprise even the most knowledgeable of self-proclaimed OS X gurus.

First type the numbers you would like to perform the operation on, say 867*765. Now select the text and hit ⌘+Shift+8.

Voila, the answer magically appears! C’mon admit it, you definitely didn’t know about that one.

OCD Friendly Volume Controls

Sound

Sound

If you’ve ever turned up your volume by a single click and thought “Hmm that was just a bit too much…”, you’re probably a crazy control freak. Fortunately for you though, the OS X programmers are also a little fanatical about their volume. Here’s a quick rundown of the hidden volume shortcuts:

  • Adjust Volume in Smaller Increments: Shift+Option+Volume Keys
  • Volume Adjustment Without the Clicking Sound: Shift+Volume Keys
  • Open Sound Preferences: Option+Volume Controls

Widgets On Your Desktop

Widgets on your Desktop. Madness.

Widgets on your Desktop. Madness.

Once upon a time there was an application called Konfabulator. This little marvel introduced widgets to the OS X community. It had a variety of features including the ability to view widgets right on your desktop without entering any sort of dashboard.

Fast forward a few years and we all have Dashboard pre-installed and therefore have no need for some obscure third party widget engine. Konfabulator is now Yahoo widgets and only resides on the most diehard of old school widget fan’s Macs. However, with this change has come the loss of the ability to put widgets where you can actually see them: on your desktop. Enter “devmode.” Try this:

Type defaults write com.apple.dashboard devmode YES into terminal (type NO to reverse the command).

Now either relaunch your dock (killall Dock in Terminal) or log out and back in. You now have the amazing ability to drag widgets onto your desktop. Just start to drag a widget around within Dashboard and hit F4 (or whatever your dedicated Dashboard shortcut is) and you can release the widget right onto your desktop! Amazing right?

Not so fast. Another great feature that the Konfabulator guys thought of was the ability to keep widgets behind all other applications so they would indeed seem to be a part of your desktop. However, devmode keeps your widgets as the frontmost application. This means that they are permanently in the way and really more of an annoyance than a handy feature. I know what you’re thinking, “Well then why the heck did you show me this?” Hey – it’s still a cool trick.

If you’re looking for a good way to get your Dashboard widgets on your desktop without the annoyance of them constantly floating in your face, you may want to look into Amnesty’s Widget Browser. This great app does the trick just fine, but you’ll have to fork out $20 to get your hands on it.

Or you could just go get Yahoo Widgets and skip Dashboard altogether. It’s completely free, cross-platform, and has all the goodness of Konfabulator.

Second Clipboard

Kill Yank

Kill Yank

Ok, you might have known about the screenshot shortcuts and the dictionary shortcut and are currently patting yourself on the back for being such an OS X whiz-kid. But did you know that you have access to an alternate clipboard?

As far as I can tell, these super secret shortcuts are a carry-over from Linux. Wherever they’re from, they are extremely handy!

Kill: Ctrl-K
Yank: Ctrl-Y

With text selected, Ctrl-K works as a secondary “cut” command by removing the highlighted text without replacing what is currently residing in your clipboard (cool!). To bring the text back, hit Ctrl-Y.

“Kill” has a special use beyond that of the “cut” command. If you place your cursor at a given point in a paragraph and hit Ctrl-K, all of the text from that point forward will be cut. This is a great way to quickly grab and move an entire paragraph of text.

Ctrl-K only seems to work on editable text (like in TextEdit and Mail). For instance, you can’t “kill” text on a web page.

FTP with Finder

FTP With Finder

FTP With Finder

You don’t need a fancy shcmancy FTP application like Transmit or even a free app like Cyber Duck to access an FTP server. You just need to know one little Finder shortcut:

⌘+K (Menu: Go>Connect to Server)

This will give you a window to type in the address of the server you want to access. Just precede the address with ftp:// and you’re good to go.

Download YouTube and Other Videos

Downloading from YouTube

Downloading from YouTube

This one is a gem. Ever wanted to download a YouTube video to watch later? No need to purchase third party applications or plugins, this feature comes built right into Safari. Start the video in Safari and hit ⌘+Opt-a to bring up the activity window. Then simply find the largest file (usually multiple MB) and double click it. It’s as easy as that!

This trick usually results in an .flv video file. If you want an .mp4, try appending your YouTube url with &fmt=18 or &fmt=22 to get an HD mp4.

Summarize Text

Summarize

Summarize

I only recently discovered the summarize feature and can’t honestly say that I’ll ever use it. I suppose if you ever find yourself in a desperate situation involving thousands of words and only seconds to sort through them you might find it useful. Maybe if you just really suck at tweeting and need something to help you get down to 49 characters, this could be the tool for you.

Select a paragraph of text and click on “Summarize” under the services menu. You’re presented with the option to summarize sentences or paragraphs with a simple slider that reduces the length of the selected text by trimming unnecessary bits. I’m not sure how it goes about this but it does a surprisingly acceptable job of it.

Search Google

Quick Googling

Quick Googling

Did you know OS X has an integrated global Google search feature? Just select some text and hit ⌘+⇧+L to jump to the Google search results in Safari. Nifty, no?

More

Like shortcuts? Click here for a thorough list of OS X shortcuts straight from Apple. LOVE shortcuts? Here’s Apple’s step-by-step instructions on creating your own!

Conclusion

I have now imparted my most sacred knowledge of hidden OS X tricks and shortcuts to you to carry on for generations to come. Now it’s your turn. Use the comments below to tell me your favorite tricks so I can learn a few new ones!

Feel free to send me a tweet @secondfret if you have any questions.


Responses

Add Yours
  • Search Google shortcut is the best! Thanks :)

    • Yes, didn’t know about it too! Thanks!

    • You can use the contextual menu (right click on the selected text) it’s even faster.

      • Disagree. Keyboard is always faster.

    • how does this work? mine just goes into spaces when i hit command up L.

      • That’s Command-Shift-L.

    • wow this is so cool! thx genious

    • yes, the CMD+SHIFT+L .. id the most help full, practical & fantastic shortcut … !!! thanks !!!

  • Hello:

    You’re link to the Apple website is wrong, it actually sends you to a 404:

    http://mac.appstorm.net/how-to/os-x/30-super-secret-os-x-features-and-shortcuts/%E2%80%9Dhttp://support.apple.com/kb/HT1343%E2%80%9D

    If stripped from that URL:

    http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1343%E2%80%9D

    Still gets a 404 page on apple website

    • Links are fixed now – should be working fine! Thanks for the catch, and sorry for missing it :-)

  • Wow, nice one! Very interesting post.

  • Great list. I’ll confess that while I knew most of them, I didn’t know them all.

    One note though, about the finder-based FTP access — you can mount an FTP server like any other share, browse and copy files to your machine — but you can’t upload.

    • yeah – no upload is ridiculous as it worked fine in OS 9

      • ditto on the no upload thing. LAME. Then I wouldn’t have to shell out for fancy pants ftp clients eh? But that new transmit 4 is so sexy I just had to! ;)

  • “Like shortcuts? Click here for a thorough list of OS X shortcuts straight from Apple. LOVE shortcuts? Here’s Apple’s http://
    step-by-step instructions on creating your own!”

    ^ A few broken links and typos here. But thanks for the nice roundup!

  • I didn’t know any of these beyond the screenshot. Thank you!

  • Very nice roundup! I tested more or less all of them. There were two things I couldn’t figure out how to use: the quick math (I tried it in different editors and text fields but to no avail) and the summarize text (didn’t show up under services). Also, as a sidenote, the dictionary thingy only works in Apple-applications. It doesn’t work in Firefox, for example.

    • The quick math feature seems inconsistent on where it actually works. It seems to work for me in TextEdit every time. However, in Mail it seems to work in the subject line but not in the body of the email… quirky. The summarize feature shows up for me in a lot of apps: Safari, Mail, TextEdit, etc. Also, since these are OS X specific shortcuts, many of them aren’t carried over to third party apps like Firefox.

    • Upon investigation, it seems Summarize may have been yanked from Snow Leopard. It’s a shame too, it was so pointlessly wonderful.

      • If you don’t want to have to launch a program at all to do quick math, you can actually punch the problem into a quick Spotlight search. The search results will include a Calculator response with the correct answer displayed.

    • I was able to access Summarize in Snow Leopard. However, it appears to not be on by default. I had to go into the Services Preferences and turn it on.

  • nice list

  • PwnTube?

    For downloading youtube videos, just take the original youtube address and put “pwn” in front of the address…

  • I think that Dictionary one would be brilliant. Only I can’t get it to work. I’ve tried in Apple and third-party applications, and I’ve tried resetting my keyboard shortcuts to their defaults in the Keyboard pref pane. No joy.

    Anyone actually able to get this to work?

    • I had no issues with it working at all. Wherever the mouse is I hit control+command+D and it worked. I love it.

      • and it keeps on working as long as Control + Command is still pressed…

    • You’ll find that the dictionary short cut does not work by highlighting words, but instead by placing the cursor over the word, and then pressing Control + Command + D.

      • Strange, works for me every time when I highlight

    • Thanks Henry- I was highlighting… very cool!

      • Works for me whether highlighting or not, but with Option-Command-D, not Control.

  • I was unaware of the quick maths function, but upon trying it I found it’s even cooler than you suggest.

    What it actually does is evaluate the selected text in AppleScript and return the result, so you can do even fancier things such as:

    length of “caterpillar”

    or

    current date + 5 * days

    And even fancier things like:

    tell application “itunes” to launch

    (though, that doesn’t return a result, so will cause an error)

    Looking at the ‘Services’ menu, you can see that what ⌘* (⌘+Shift+8) is doing is calling the ‘Script Editor -> Get Result of AppleScript’ service.

    • WHAAT? Holy crap! That’s amazing! You sir are a genius.

    • in my Snow Leopard, for some reason I had to go to the keyboard menu where it says ⌘* and reenter the shortcut, and now it says ⌘-shift-8 and works. It didn’t work when it said ⌘*. Not sure why as I am using a normal US keyboard but whatevs, i’m glad I found this post, it is amazing.

      • I was having the same issue but it looks like the ⌘* only works when AppleScript Editor is running.

    • I LOVE YOU!!! (NO HOMO)

    • This is great stuff, but for some reason this doesn’t work for me in Mountain Lion?
      Anyone?

      :)

  • I Like! Keep it comming

  • Everything in this was made of epic win.

    those little useless tricks that no one knows about, but shows the developers sure took their damn time in giving attention to detail is what really makes me happy.

    Kill and Yank might be the handiest here, but I sure as hell will find some way to make use of them all

  • I teach classes, and zooming in on different parts of the screen can be priceless. This is available through Universal Access in System Preferences but can also be controlled via keyboard shortcuts.

    Opt-Cmd-8 turns the zooming functionality on. Once on, Opt-Cmd-= and Opt-Cmd– will zoom in and out on your screen. If you hit Opt-Cmd-8 again, you will zoom back out (zooming is turned off). Opt-Cmd-8 one more time (zooming is turned back on), and you return to the last level of zoom used when zooming was on.

    Zooming can also be controlled at any point by holding down Control and using the scroll functionality on your mouse or track pad.

    There are also some options in the Universal Access panel that control how zooming occurs which are worth exploring.

    • Thanks for the tips Ryan!

    • Good call! I think the Cntrl-Scroll Wheel for zoom gets overlooked. Once I learned it I never turned back to the keyboard equivalent. Thanks!

  • Ctrl-Opt-Cmd-8 inverts the colors.

  • Ctrl-Opt-Cmd-8 inverts the colors.

    • That’s cool.

    • LOL… yeah, that one has been around a while and we would always run around at shows and hit that when no one was looking (by far the best with PEE-CEE booths that just have Macs to be “cool”) and watch from afar as they stood there baffled and looking for a replacement graphics card for their obviously “broken” one… :-D

  • Thanks so much for all this information. I am a Mac newbie, and so far, I don’t know how I ever got along with a PC. Thanks again.

  • Just an added tip on the youtube “activity window” segment.

    if you simply double click it will open in a safari window but if you option+click
    it will download the file to the desktop.

    cheers, great article.

  • Great list thanks! I learnt a few cool new tricks I wasn’t aware of.

  • Yank and Kill are part of the Emacs command set. Other emacs keyboard commands are also present; you can jump to the beginning of a line with [ctrl-a] and the end of a line with [ctrl-e], for example.

  • OMG! Amazing tips! I wasn’t know most of them! Thanks a lot Joshua!

  • CTRL-K comes from Apple ][ :-)

  • Very Nice Josh! This is way too cool!

  • Here’s a nice one I found yesterday on macosxhints,
    See folder content previews in Quick Look in 10.5 and 10.6 http://www.macosxhints.com/article.php?story=20090912030240376

    Has a very nice animation of the contents of the folder. Check out the movie here http://www.macosxhints.com/dlfiles/xrayfolder.mov

    I share this with you as you shared the above hints, enjoy OS X because there is a hell of a lot more secret functions, just have to find them heheh!

  • Ctrl-K, etc, are Emacs commands that were in Mac OS well before OS X, and are most certainly not some “carry-over from Linux.”

    Read about BSD, Linux, and the Unix underpinnings of OS X before you embarrass yourself further.

    • Easy there, Jim. He shared a lot of information here, that’s mostly right.

      Maybe you should read about not being an ass, before you be an ass any further.

    • jim is a wigger

    • Thanks for the backup guys :) Sorry about the incorrect guess Jim (I did say it was a guess though)

  • Very useful list. I used GrabUp to take screenshots before I knew OS X had a built in screenshot tool. The Shift + Minimize reminds me of the OS X introduction keynote when Steve Jobs slows down the animation.

  • Thanks! Very useful thought! Like the any like YOUTUBE video downloading shortcut! Thanks again!

  • CTRL-K and a bunch of other useful key bindings (CTRL-a and CTRL-e being two I use all the time) come from EMACS not the Apple II. Apple was just wise enough to see the power of Emacs. :)

  • Didn’t know about the secondary clipboard! So cool! Thanks Joshua!

  • Another to add onto the drop down Dictionary post is that in the Dictionary App Preferences is an option of Opening Dictionary App or Open Dictionary Panel, thus not having to remember the command keys each time, just option/right click the word and select look up in Dictionary in the contextual menu

  • Another option for dragging widgets onto the desktop is to use “DashIt”. Kind of a strange URI, but it’s there: http://dashboard.widgets.gadgets.googlepages.com/

  • Knew all but the YouTube one, but a great collection!

  • Quick pointless correction about the “Volume Adjustment Without the Clicking Sound”, it causes the sound to occur if you have it disabled and vice versa.

    • Same with the slow-animation one, works when opening as well.

  • :O
    GRAX!

  • Wow, didn’t know the volume control one. I use it constantly now, thanks! :)

    Just like how alt+F10/11/12 opens system prefs for volume control, alt+F3 works for system pref exposé as well as all the other Fs (as you have them set).

    I’m quite lazy… and moving the mouse to select the menubar or dock seems like too much effort, so using fn+ctrl+F2 highlights the left of the menubar, fn+ctrl+F3 highlights the dock (and remembers which folder/app you last opened) and fn+ctrl+F8 highlights the right of the menubar (only for native menubar apps).

  • Also a very useful one: Command+` (tilde) switches between windows of the current application.

    • Thanks :P Never took the time to actually look in to that but always got frustrated when I really needed it.

      And for those using a Swedish (or other similar keyboard layouts) it’s:
      Command+
      Is the button next to the left Shift button.. :)

      And thanks again :P

      • wow, thank you for the swedish tip!
        i’m hungarian, but this way i found it too :)

        and also thanks Joshua for the great collection!

  • Whooaaaa!! My jaw have hit the desk!! I do agreed with subject title “Super Secret” I didn’t know many of them!! Good job!!

  • i have os x and a lot of these features didn’t work for me!

  • i have os x and a lot of these features didn’t work for me!

  • These are awesome, thanks for posting! I missed this post, glad I checked down the front page!

  • I love the CMD + SHIFT + L one :)

  • I really think that this is your best post ever! Thank you! :)

  • Control + Shift and mouseover the dock for instant magnification. Not useful…but fun!

  • The quick define, second clipboard and youtube are awesome. Here are tips and tricks specific to designers — most of them are not secret though:
    http://awespire.com/tools/10-mac-os-x-tips-and-tricks-for-designers-and-bloggers/

  • My favorite way of downloading a youtube video is using a bookmarklet:
    http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2008/04/download-youtube-videos-as-mp4-files.html

    Drag the ‘Get YouTube video’ link to your Bookmarks Bar in Safari (or any other browser apparently). When you want to download a YouTube video, just click on the bookmarklet and a download link will appear.

  • This is a great guide! Only knew a few, and most are all really useful :D
    Except that it seems that the very useful QuickDefine ⌘+Ctrl+D shortcut doesn’t work on the firefox browser I’m using right now :(

  • thanks a bunch. !

  • com.apple.dashboard devmode YES

    the devmode is not working for me on 10.6.1

    wtf ?

    icant drag widgets to desktop

    • You must begin dragging while in the dashboard and then press the dashboard shortcut key (F4, I think) while still holding the mouse button. The dashboard then closes and the widget you’re still holding with the mouse button is “torn” from it.

  • Along a similar line to the math tip, if you enter a math problem (ex: 759*298) into the Google search field in the menu bar of Safari, the suggested results gives you the answer to the problem.

  • very much helping for new users of MAC.

  • Thanks for the great info, we hope to use it soon on our new macs…Thanks again

  • ??????? so cofused

    • First, get a Mac….

  • Now try the shift-minimize trick. While shrinking, run the killall Dock command in Terminal. You will now have a fully-operational window that is all squished on the side…. I’m typing this into a half-shrunken Firefox window. It’s an awesome joke to play on someone, btw.
    You can escape it by minimizing again (cmd-m)

    • This made my day. Thanks

  • Another shortcut: ctrl + option + command + 8 – that’s kinda fun!

  • the google search is a real killer ,
    dictionary is great
    and slow motion is the coolest
    thanks

  • Youtube doesn’t allow any more to download video files. They come as text documents now.
    If you add .flv at the end they work on adobe media player but if you want another format you have to go through http://keepvid.com/ to transform it.

  • Loved the text snippet trick!

  • Hiya! Thanx for tips and short-cuts!!! I would like to know more about Automator??? I’ve watched the “veggie recipe/help” on mac and youtube – and.. haha … I just really don’t get it!!!
    Wondering if maybe u have a short/easy explanation?

  • Quick Define and Snippets are my favorites. A couple did not work for me. I probably did something wrong. Thanks.

  • Wow I didn’t know a lot of these functions….thanks a lot for that.
    But did you know click.to? (http://www.clicktoapp.com) I found it a few weeks ago. It is a free tool with which you can get so easily to so many pages. You just press apple C and you can choose to which page you wanna for example upload a pic or search for a word, for example in youtube or wikipedia. Try it…it is definitely fun and helpful!

  • cmd and + zooms in. cmd and – zooms out

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  • It’s actually a cool and helpful piece of information. I’m glad that you just shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

  • I knew of most of these, but the youtube one was something I didn’t know and have been searching for an answer to since yesterday. Thanks mate, it was exactly what I needed :)