Tutorial Thursday

For me using a computer without keyboard shortcuts would be like trying to cut the grass with a pair of scissors. Sure it could be done, but it would take a lot longer to accomplish a task that should take no time at all. One thing that I’ve come to notice is that keyboard shortcuts seem even more important on a Mac than on a Windows machine.

What’s nice is that Apple has not only made it simple to edit many of the built-in keyboard shortcuts, but they also let you create your own keyboard shortcuts. Of course many of the application-specific shortcuts are terribly difficult to remember because the system-wide shortcuts have all of the easy key combinations. Since you’re able to create your own keyboard shortcuts, however, you might be able to get around that.

mac keyboard shortcuts-1.png

The first thing you’ll want to do is browse through all of the universal shortcuts that Apple has already created for the operating system, and then disable/change the ones you don’t think you’ll ever use. That way we can try to free up some of the easy to remember shortcuts for our own use later on.

  1. Open the System Preferences -> Keyboard & Mouse. Then choose the Keyboard Shortcuts tab.
  2. You can double-click on any of the shortcuts listed to change the key combination used, or uncheck the box next to a shortcut to completely disable it. You can always return to the factory settings by clicking the Restore Defaults button in the lower-right corner.

Now we’ll get to the good stuff! What we want to do now is create our own keyboard shortcut(s) that can execute any menu item from within one or all applications. For example, using this method we could override the “New Tab” shortcut in Safari to be Command+N instead of Command+T. Here’s how you can do that:

  1. Open the System Preferences -> Keyboard & Mouse. Then choose the Keyboard Shortcuts tab.
  2. Click the plus sign located in the lower-left corner to add a new shortcut.
    mac add keyboard shortcut.jpg
  3. From the popup choose an application from the list, or leave the All Applications option selected if you want the shortcut available throughout the entire operating system. Remember though, the shortcut will only work if there is a corresponding menu item available.
    Example: Choose Safari from the list of applications.
  4. In the Menu Title box you’ll need to enter the menu item exactly how it appears in the menu.
    Example: Type New Tab into the box.
  5. Assign a shortcut by pressing the corresponding keys on your keyboard.
    Example: We’ll use the Command+N shortcut, which will remove that shortcut from the “New Window” option in Safari.
    mac create keyboard shortcut.jpg
  6. Press the Add button to complete the process.

What’s the end result? In our example we set out to replace the new tab shortcut in Safari with the shortcut that is normally used to open a new window. If you followed the steps outlined above it should have worked, and you can easily tell whether it worked by opening up the File Menu in Safari:

safari keyboard shortcut.jpg

Did you notice how the “New Tab” shortcut is now assigned Command+N, while the “New Window” shortcut has been removed all together? That’s a good sign that the new shortcut should be working.

Now you know everything that’s needed to modify, create, and override keyboard shortcuts on Mac OS X. Don’t forget that you can also create shortcuts for items in the Apple Menu, which includes the ability to sleep, restart, and shutdown the computer. ;)