You guys have no idea how to use a Mac.

I was talking with one of my friends yesterday about how she uses her computer. She has a 13″ MacBook Pro (non-retina). I’ve realized a couple of times that she routinely keeps about 50 tabs open in Chrome, as well as a lot of apps open. Taking a closer look, I also realized that she hadn’t updated to OS X Mavericks (a free update). At this point, I realized that despite her academic brilliance, she’s not really an avid computer user; her routine is basically “flip it open, browse the web, type essays in Word, close the lid. Charge when needed. Realizing this, I asked her if she’s ever turned off her Mac. To my horror, she’s never turned it off after having the machine for over a year. Only when the battery has died has it taken a rest. On top of that, she also doesn’t back up her computer at all. Then it dawned on me: this is perfectly normal for a whole lot of you. This is not good, people. To rectify the issue, I’m going to be giving you all a few tips and keyboard shortcuts for your Mac, as well as why they’re useful. As not to inundate you with a huge list of things you won’t remember, I’ll try and break this up in to three parts (plus this one). I recommend looking back over these when school starts.

LESSON ZERO: Modifier Keys

For most of any of these tips to make sense, you’ll need to know what modifier keys are and how they work. All you do is hold them down while pressing another key (e.g. a number, letter, delete key, or one of the f# keys), and it allows you to complete an action more quickly than if you had moused around to figure out how to do it. You already know the easy ones: Command-X, C, and V for Cut, Copy, and Paste respectively. But there are far more than just those three.

The keys next on the bottom row on the keyboard on either side of the spacebar are your friends. Each of these keys also has an associated icon that represents them in the menu bar.  Here they are from left to right, along with their icons (and a few others):

  • shift (⇧): While not technically on the bottom row, it does serve as a modifier key.
  • ‘fn’ is “Function”. Not too often used, but it does do a couple of things that you’ll like.
  • control (⌃). Note this is not like the ctrl key on PCs.
  • option (⌥). Similar to the ‘alt’ key on PCs, it serves as an additional modifier key. It also allows you to type special characters when combined with a letter (or shift and a letter) such as ⌥0 = º (degree marker) or ⌥X = ≈ (roughly equal to). Give it a try—just press option and a letter.
  • command (⌘): If you’ll notice, Apple took the time to actually print this on the key, which means you have no excuse not to know it. This is the most common modifier, like ctrl on PCs.
  • escape (⎋): It’s good for a couple of things. Plus it has a cool icon.

Armed with that information, let’s see an example of them in practice:




This is the “View” menu in Safari. We can see the icons for Command, Option, Control, and Shift in this menu. If you follow those directions, then the corresponding action to the left will be executed. (Look in your menu bar and give it a try). To let you know that you’ve used a shortcut, the Menu Bar will flash the heading of the command you just executed. So if you press ⌘T right now, you’ll open a new tab in your web browser and see “File” flash quickly in the Menu Bar. See? Cool.

See, that wasn’t so hard. And it’s easy to practice—just do something harmless like Reload [or refresh] the page over and over again with ⌘R to get practice, or start printing things by just pressing ⌘P. It shaves off seconds and helps you to feel more productive. Below are the other topics I’ll discuss with you guys:

1. General Computer things you should be doing (Sneak Preview: Back up your Mac!)

2. Switching Apps Better

3. Special Characters, Cursor Movement, and other Miscellany

Hopefully through this process, I can help you guys (and your computers) to be a bit better at what you do.


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