Have you ever noticed that little dark circle that appears within the close button of a document window in OS X when you have unsaved changes? Yeah, me neither. After years of diligent Mac use, this subtle little element somehow escaped me until now. I guess […]


Have you ever noticed that little dark circle that appears within the close button of a document window in OS X when you have unsaved changes? Yeah, me neither. After years of diligent Mac use, this subtle little element somehow escaped me until now. I guess I remember noticing it at times but never realized it was telling me to save my work. It’s a nice touch and got me wondering about what other subtle elements I might have missed over the years.

I spent some time gathering up a number of these hidden gems and figured I’d list them here in the hopes that our readers could add to the list in the comments.

Save Dialog

When saving a file you can press / at the save dialog box to choose from any point in the file system via a file path.


You can press Shift + Ctrl + Eject to put external displays to sleep. On a MacBook this will force the system to sleep without having to close the lid.


Pressing the Option key when clicking on the AirPort icon in the menubar will display some detailed information about your wireless connection, including the transmit rate.


Pressing Control while clicking on the current location icon at the top of the Finder window opens a menu to let you select any parent location along that particular file path.


Pressing Ctrl + Option + Command + 8 will invert the color of your screen.


Pressing Ctrl + Command + D while hovering over a word in any Cocoa application (Safari, Mail, etc.) will automatically look up that word in the OS X dictionary app.

This list just scratches the surface of what I know are a huge number of hidden gems buried inside OS X. If you have any others you want to add to the list, please share it with us in the comments.

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  1. Shawn Bouchard Friday, January 29, 2010

    These are gems! Thanks for sharing. I love the airport and dictionary tips – seriously awesome.

  2. Command works for the Finder tip too, thats the one I’ve always used.

    1. This also works for Safari, either with control or command.

    2. This finder-path dropdown works in all apps.

      Also, the little file icons at the top of the window can be clicked and dragged. (I think you have to hold the click for a moment before moving away)

    3. To what little file icons do you refer?

  3. cool. i like the inverting one

  4. Pressing Option while clicking on the battery icon on an MBP brings up the battery status in the menu (should be “normal”) – clicking it brings up a help screen explaining the various states.

    Ctrl-Option-Command-1/2/3/4/5/6 changes the order of icons on your desktop (click on desktop before this).

    1. That should be just Ctrl-Command-1/2/3/4/5/6 – see the View > Arrange By menu.

  5. piminnowcheez Friday, January 29, 2010

    Damn, those are great. Here I thought I knew most of this kind of stuff, and every single one of those was new to me.

  6. Another one for your list:
    Holding shift while minimizing/maximizing will make the action execute in slow-motion. Pretty neat…

    1. Yeah, that one works for the dashboard and exposé too

    2. Here’s a strange one: pressing ctrl while minimizing slows it down, but not as slow as the shift key. It only works with the minimization animation, I’ve tried it on as many others as I can think of. Pretty weird, huh?

    3. Try this: Open a terminal. Type “sleep 3 && killall Dock”. Hit return, then quickly Shift-Minimize the window. Enjoy.

  7. Haha. Nice tips. It reminded me of the time a friend in college passed out on my keyboard and somehow pressed the shortcut for the invert screen. I thought my iMac was broken and used it like that for the next month until I realized I could change it back in the Universal Access menu.

  8. I use the dictionary shortcut all the time. This is my favorite shortcut. Another really cool one is Command and space to type directly in spotlight. But you guys probably know this anyway. I hardly ever use dock or the finder any more to start apps…

    1. Man, that cmd + space is sooooo GREAT, I can’t believe I didn’t know that!

  9. Spotlight does easy calculations… no need to go to dashboard or the calculator to add/subtract/divide/multiply some numbers.

    1. Tried this but couldn’t get it to work. Can you give an example? I tried several variations. thanks for all the great tips, guys!

    2. Command+Space to bring up Spotlight, then try typing in “2+2″ or whatever. Calculator will pop up as the first result and display both the equation and the answer.

    3. 5/2 … results in 2.5,
      5/0 … results in divByZero,
      3+2*5 … results in 13,
      (3+2)*5 … results in 25,
      5! … results in 120,
      cos(1) … results in 0,
      tan(pi) … results in 0,
      sin(pi/2) … results in 1,
      pow(2,3) … results in 8,
      sqrt(121) … results in 11,
      log(1000) … results in 3,
      exp(1) … results in 2.718281828,

      Most of these are similar to abbreviations for functions you’d find in excel or numbers. Spotlight appears to know to ask the calculator app (or a built in library) for the result if it fits a certain format. Taking an exponent in Leopard was pow(10,2) but in Snow Leopard a simpler form is 10^2. Haven’t found the right format for taking the modulus (remainder after division) of two numbers or easily converting between two bases (eg. hex and decimal). Definitely handy for a quick result if your desk calculator isn’t out at the ready.

    4. A couple of other things to add about this. It’s great if you need a quick calculation and you don’t want to take your hands off the keyboard. Command+Spacebar opens spotlight. Just type the calculation and wait (don’t press return or enter). Then to get back to typing, press the escape key twice and you’re right back where you were in mid-sentence with your hands still on the keyboard.

  10. My favorites along these lines:

    – Cmd+R while in Open/Save will open a new Finder window for the selected file/folder. (Great for rename/copy/whatever operations while in Open/Save)

    – Cmd+Shift+. while in Open/Save to toggle system ‘.’ files/folders

    1. I couldn´t make the cmd+R shortcut work, does it work on Snow Leopard?

    2. @Steve Breen : I have been missing “Cmd+Shift+.” for years. Many thanks !

    3. Liked that Cmd+Shift+. one—I never knew about it. Here’s a couple:

      • When you’re in the terminal, typing “open .” will open whatever folder you’re in, in the finder.

      • If you’re in an open/save dialog, you can drag a file onto the dialog, and the finder will immediately go to that file. Really helpful, especially when uploading files.

    4. Yup, I’m doing the Cmd+R trick from an Open dialog trick right now in SL…

    5. In Leopard at least, command+R in a Save or Open dialog apparently opens the last folder that was accessed.

  11. Pressing Shift+Control+Eject will sleep only displays, even on a MacBook. Command+Option+Eject is the shortcut for putting a Mac to sleep.

  12. I knew the dot in the close button, and I had heard of the color inversion, but the rest is completely new to me – thanks for taking the time to dig them up! Love the address bar at the Save dialog, really missed this on Mac OS. The dictionary is equally awesome, also works even on Tiger. The AirPort stuff is a bit too techy for me, but nice to know it’s there. (Btw on Tiger, instead of showing the techy numbers, it adds an About AirPort menu item, which displays component versions.) This is the kind of TAB articles I really love. :-)

  13. Oh and check this link, I use these shortcuts on a regular basis. Way better than using a camera to take photos of your screen. *hint hint*

    1. If you are referring to the inverted screen, the reason it was shot the way it was is because all OS X has done is invert the screen colors. If you revert back, then open up the screenshot, it will look normal.

      On the other hand, it would have been just as simple to take a capture, then invert in Photoshop… :)

    2. I’ve known about the screen capture for a long time. Another thing it doesn’t tell you on KsbjA’s link is that if you select Cmd (+ctrl) + shift + 4, then hover the crosshair over any open window and press the space bar, the crosshair turn into a camera you can in turn hover over any open bits of window visible on your screen, and it highlights it. Click on the window you want and it takes a picture of the whole window, even id partially hidden behind another one! I don’t know about you, but I found that pretty neat! ;oP

    3. Aaah OK never mind Josh. :-)

      @Road-Runner – that’s indeed pretty neat, especially when you have many windows open at once like I do.

  14. my personal favorite. When in a Open/Save Dialog, press Cmd+D to change the location to the desktop, very quick and easy.

    1. Command-A gets you to Apps, Command-H gets you Home, and Command-U goes to Utilities.

      And the same shortcuts work in the Finder, except hold down the Shift key too so it’s Command-Shift-A for Apps, Command-Shift-H for Home, Command-Shift-U for Utilities.

      Just discovered Command-Shift-I for iDisk, Command-Shift-O for Documents!! Awesome.

  15. Control+Option+Command+Eject is a shortcut to shutdown… it’s nice and fast!

    The Option+Click for more detail works on more than just the Airport icon in the menubar… it works on the Sync, Volume, Time Machine… experiment clicking with Option! it’s fun!

  16. Holding down Option key while accessing “about this mac” in the Apple menu takes you straight to the system profiler without the extra click.

    Clicking on the version number in the “about this mac” dialogue box toggles between the OS version, the build number, and the serial number of the machine.

    1. And in that menu you can shutdown or reboot the Mac without having a dialogue first too in the same way.

  17. Love ‘em all.

    The ones I use daily? Cmd-click links in emails and RSS feeds to open a link BEHIND mail. (Especially useful if you’re a Craig’s List hound, and have multiple RSS feeds to check for potential purchases showing up in your inbox daily).

    In Safari, Option-Click a link to initiate a download. Cmd-Click a link to open it in a new tab. Also, in Safari (if you frequently have multiple tabs open), Cmd-Shift Left arrow/right arrow will navigate between open tabs in a window.

    When typing text (gasp), Mac OSX allows me to use Option-left/right arrow to navigate backwards/forwards within typed text one WORD at a time, and Cmd- left/right arrow to navigate backwards/forwards within typed text one LINE at a time. Add the shift key to the above two keystrokes, and you can select backwards/forwards within typed text.

    Regardless of what open application – if you have multiple windows open for that app, Cmd-` will switch between all of them (in the order they’ve been opened).

    I love using my keyboard. Sure, a mouse is handy, and gestures are cool. But for either, I have to move my hands from where they already were… Lazy fingers? Whatever.

    1. I love the cmd+` shortcut, but it doesn’t actually work on every app. I would expect it to work on every Apple app (at least those included with Mac OS X) but surprisingly I never got it to work on preview (and I really miss it there)

  18. Wow the first one was very nice, I had seen that dot several times but never imagined what it meant.
    Some useful shortcuts not mentioned yet are the ones to open some Preference Panes: when you press option and one of the F(1-12) buttons you open the Preference Pane related to the F-button you pressed (for example: alt+F1 or F2 (brightness) opens screens Prefpane, alt+F3 (exposé) opens Exposé & Spaces Prefpane, etc.)

    There are also some extra options for changing the volume: if you press shift while changing the volume the click won’t sound (or it will if you had already disabled it), and a much better one: if you click option+shift while changing the volume it will increase or decrease just a quarter of square (I mean those squares which indicate the volume).

  19. Holding down Cmd allows you to drag windows in the background around.

    1. “Holding down Cmd allows you to drag windows in the background around”

      Sounds good, but I cant get it to work


    2. I forgot to mention you need to Cmd-drag the window’s titlebar.

    3. Thanks, it works, even on oldie 10.4. I imagine sometimes this can be very useful!

    4. Great one! thanks

    5. While holding the command key, a window – even if it is not the active window – can be dragged by either the title bar (at the top) or the status bar (at the bottom).

  20. If you are fans of shortcuts like me try Launchbar! It’s amazeing. Once you’ll learn how to use it you’ll never come back!

    1. I don’t know what I’d do w/o Launchbar. The most useful app on my MBP without a doubt.

  21. some more:
    In the Open/Save dialog :
    dragging a folder from the Finder / title bar of the Finder onto the folder dropdown in the dialog sets that folder as current folder

    This is a very old one from the times of system 7 :
    Option-Click outside the current window (onto the destop, other application) hides the current appication (like Cmd-H)

  22. I wrote post 3 years ago, when I was still newish to OSX with my 5 hidden OSX gems. The best one from that list has to be summarize. Although I think the follow up I did would be more useful to the sort of readers of this blog. I love File Merge and getting widgets onto your desktop.

    It says a lot for OSX that it follows one of the key usability principals, that as a user becomes more experienced in an interface they should be able to complete tasks quicker using expert techniques. OSX is full of these.

  23. WOW!! Really cool tips especially the dictionary and screens for me are very useful, and the airport one is the geekiest favorite of mine so THANKS a LOT Cool Article.

  24. You didn’t realize the dark dot within the close button? really? huh.

    1. Kinda what I was thinking but I wasn’t gonna say anything.

    2. Yes, really. We appreciate you pointing out how much better you are than some of us. Don’t worry, you’re mother still loves you.

  25. Another tip you might like —
    When you try to close a document and it offers to save it for you or not — in addition to simply hitting ‘Enter’ to choose save (the highlighted button) – you can hit Command-D to choose ‘Don’t Save’

    I use that all the time now that I found out about it.
    Command-W to close a document I was working on
    Command-D to close it without saving any changes.

    1. And in iTunes use command+C to Cancel and command+M to Move to trash if you don’t want to move the mouse pointer to the appropriate button.

  26. Thanks. Great tips. The option-click on menu items was new to me. Also works on volume. It displays your input and output options. Very nifty if you use AirFoil or SoundFlower or usb audio devices a lot.

  27. Some good ones:

    Hold down Option and click on an application in the dock will hide the other background apps instantly.

    Hold down Command and click a menu item (like the clock) to reorder the menu bar.

    Shift-Option-Cmd-Q logs you out.

    Option-Delete deletes one whole word at a time (instead of one character at a time).

    Grab a file, activate Exposé and move it over the window you want to move the file to. It’s the quickest way to move files around a lot of windows!

    Control-Click on an application’s toolbar to customize it.

    There are zillions of them:

    1. In the Finder, while in column view, dragging the || symbol below the vertical scroll bars will change the width of that column, thus allowing you to read file names that are long.

      If you hold option while dragging the || symbol, the width of every column in every window is affected. And if you use Spaces, this applies to every window in every space. It even applies to List view or Icon view when it is changed to columns.

    2. Does option+delete work in just Snow Leopard? In Leopard, it deletes from the cursor back to the beginning of the word, not the entire word – unless the cursor is at the end of the word.

      Command+delete will erase from the cursor back to the start of the line.

      Fortunately, both of these can be corrected with command+z (undo).

    3. MacDad, In the Finder, while in column view, dragging the || symbol below the vertical scroll bars will change the width of that column, thus allowing you to read file names that are long.
      Double click on it and it automatically enlarges the column.

  28. Hold the shift key while increasing or decreasing the volume keys to mute the annoying blip blip blip sound they make. Works great when you are presenting and you want to increase the volume without adding any distractions.

  29. These are phantasmagorical (I used the Ctrl + Command + D) to ensure this was spelled correctly..thanks again!

  30. control the sound volume more soften acurate.. press the option key+shift then press the volume key

    1. Interesting that this doesn’t work with shift+volume to mute the blip as well…

    2. i have deactivated ¨play feedback when volume change ¨ maybe thats the reason thath dosent work to you …
      but this trick .. is good to make a song sound very low … and go to sleep

  31. great article. i knew about half of these.

    bernard – great tip on the shift key although the sound is nice to have for guidance.

  32. Ronald Bardalez Friday, January 29, 2010

    In order to reveal the location of the file, you have to press Command, not Control.

  33. If all of this is new to you, you never used your eyes or other help using your Mac. Especially the little dark circle in the close button must be so common known.

  34. If all of this is new to you, you never used your eyes or other help using your Mac. Especially the little dark circle in the close button must be so common known.
    Option plus any volume key starts systemcontrols for sound.

  35. It is remarkable to me, i’m going to use it…

  36. Thanks for the tips. If you do a quick search on the net you will be able to find lots of tips. In addition to the first tip with the dot in the close button: notice the icon next to the name of the document changes to a pale version as soon as you make a change and the document needs to be saved before closing it.

  37. Another: Holding shift while using a vertical mousewheel will do a horizontal scroll.

    Essential for those of us who don’t have horizontal scrolling on our mice or find the motion unintuitive.

    Great list.

    1. Shift+scroll can also be used to zoom – quicker than the key combination.

  38. I can’t believe some of you didn’t knew what the dot meant : probably one of the first things I noticed when I switched to Mac. I new most of the tips in the article and that others you guys said. But I admit I’ve been looking for such listing to know all of them. ;-)

  39. the dot was new to me – maybe cos i always relied on the faded file icon in the doc titlebar, i hadn’t noticed it before

    when at work i’m running tiger and i always miss the cmd+r in the open and save dialogues which shows the file in the finder. Find it very useful at home.

    also at times in the file save / don’t save requesters, tab cycles through the options and it’s actually space that is used to select the highlighted option (this behavior isn’t uniform throughout all apps)

  40. links for 2010-01-30 « Mandarine Saturday, January 30, 2010

    [...] OS X Hidden Gems (tags: osx) [...]

  41. command + shift + 8 will give you the answer of a highlighted math problem
    Eg. “45+3*9″ will give you 72
    This only work in Textedit and some other Apple Apps

    1. Command+Asterisk is the shortcut to a system wide service to “Get result of Applescript” in the Services menu. When you activate it, you’ll see the Application’s menu (e.g. TextEdit) flash briefly. It should work in any app that uses the standard Cocoa text interface. It doesn’t understand math the same way the Spotlight shortcut does (e.g. put 5! in spotlight and it will come up with 120, but this script apparently doesn’t know how to recognize a factorial).

      Whole books have been written about Applescript and Services, so if you find something like this convenient, you may want to look into Snow Leopard’s greatly overhauled Automator, Applescript and Services menu features and see if you can make a tool for yourself.

  42. Awesome tips!

    Now i have to look deeper to see if I could find some and post it….

    I never knew what the little red down mean… Most of my elderly students, can’t even see it… Hahahhaa
    Great tip!

  43. Shock horror – not everyone knows everything!

    Those of you expressing disdain at the lack of knowledge of others need to get your hand off it.

  44. Wow these are great. I switched from pc to mac a few years ago and wouldn’t swap my MacBook pro for anything it’s the best computer I’ve ever owned. I guess I just got it and started using it i didn’t even think about those small extras! Some are really useful. Thank you.

  45. OS X Hidden Gems « Morgan and Me | Intuitive Design & Strategy Sunday, January 31, 2010
  46. Nitesh Patel @techmadly Sunday, January 31, 2010

    nice tricks may of them i know but not all
    thanks for sharing

    1. A professor in school once told us a trick is used once, but a technique is used over and over.

  47. Thanks for sharing. Merci d’avoir partagé.
    Greetings from Mauritius !

  48. Airport hint is so cool. Thanks a lot

  49. links for 2010-01-31 « Boskabout Sunday, January 31, 2010

    [...] OS X Hidden Gems (tags: tips apple mac osx) [...]

  50. Love these tips! thanx :)

  51. I don’t think anyone mentioned this yet;
    There’s an old trick that exists since MacOS 7.x, and it’s super-useful:
    In any application, you can command-click the name (in the titlebar) of an open document to show the path to the root of your hard drive; then clicking any of those folders will open them in the Finder..

    1. That is the same as the article’s tip about the Finder – it works since a window is like a document in that it has a pathway to its location. Either command+title or control+title will accomplish this.

  52. In Finder, a double click on the column resize handle in column view will size it to fit the content.

  53. In programs such as TextEdit or Word, there is a thumbnail at the top next to the title of the document which you can click and drag into Mail to add it as an attachment.

  54. I’m sure many of you already know this, but Command+shift+3 takes a picture of your desktop.

  55. Option + most of the F1-F12 (special-)keys open corresponding system-settings.

    Cmd + F3 shows the desktop instead of exposé (i find this very useful!)

    Shift + F3 or F4 slows blending of exposé or dashboard (Cmd + Shift + F3 for the desktop)

    Cmd + esc starts Frontrow

    Thanks for sharing, everyone!

    1. Forgotone: Ctrl + F3 shows all application windows

    2. Since exposé is either F3 or F13-F14-F15, one key does the work of two. That’s what I like!

  56. Cool hints. apple.com/pro has some nice stuff as well.

  57. If you have Bluetooth enabled, you get a few more options when you hold Alt and click as well. Yay for NSMenuExtra… now if only apple would open it up and let 3rd parties do cool stuff too :

  58. Grant Marzette Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    I live to find out all the hidden gems in everything. I love this page!

  59. Control+command+D does not present a definition to me in Safari. Right-clicking a word gives me options that include Look Up in Dictionary. Is this Snow Leopard only or does this have to be ‘turned on’ somewhere before it functions?

  60. Another shortcut is that when editing a name of a file / document on the Desktop, select it (one click) and tap the enter key – the name can be typed without having to wait for a second click … which, if it follows the first click too closely, will open the document / file – and perhaps start / open an app when you didn’t need it opened.

    If you use command+shift+3 to take screen shots, you probably will need to rename those Pictures with something more descriptive.

  61. Not sure what difference it makes whether you’ve seen and know what the dot means. The OS won’t let you quit an application that has data not yet saved, anyway. Perhaps a trivia question? ;-)

    On the other hand, how many have looked at the Universal Access Preference Pane? Lots of ‘tips’ in there, including zooming in any app.

    The basic idea is to try using the command, control, option keys (and all possible combinations of them) with every control you see. And don’t forget command+comma, apparently many will be surprised at what’s available in an apps preferences. 8-)

    Finally, before you start using an app, check every menu and any item that has “…” after the title. At least have some idea of what you can do in the apps menu structure. Most apps are not “jump-in-the-seat-and-turn-the-key” to start driving! There are usually dozens of “accessories” that you’ve already paid for just sitting there waiting to be used. And that even includes Finder. 8-) Explore, enjoy, learn! It’s not Windows! LOL!

  62. But ‘using the command, control, option keys (and all possible combinations of them) with every control you see’ might HURT or BREAK my computer!!!! ;-)

  63. The “dot” has evolved from the close “x” which was changed to the “broken x” when you had unsaved changes. That concept has existed for over 20 years. I remember it on early X Window implementations, certainly on NeXTStep machines. I would bet Windows and Macintosh had it fairly early on, as well.

  64. Not for the mac but for the iPhone and iPod Touch, probably the iPad too, so kind of topical :-)

    When playing music, you can go into other apps but lets say you want to skip tracks, double click the home button and the music controller pops up, skip the track and hit close, your app is still open!

    This also works even when your screen is locked, so no need to unlock to skip tracks, etc.

    I use it all the time!

    Also pressing and holding power and home on one of the above devices does a screen capture to your photos.


  65. I don’t know how common-knowledge this shortcut is; I sincerely love being able to hit the space bar when in Finder, and having a preview window of the file pop up. It is ultra-useful when quickly looking through a list of photos, but also works on other types of files.

    1. That’s called Quick Look. I use it all the time to aid in renaming those Pictures I get from using command+shift+3 and command+shift+4+space to make copies of documents, maps, and other images.

  66. Atajo de teclado para poner la pantalla del Mac en reposo | mecambioamac Thursday, February 4, 2010

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  67. I use the ctrl-option-cmd eject to shut down all the time. Much quicker.

    My absolute favourite though is this gem:
    With Safari open, press Command + Shift + i
    Mail opens with a new message, title the same as the page and a link in the message body. I can’t stop mailing links to people since I discovered this…

  68. shift-option-cmd escape forces shut down of the front most app.

  69. I knew all these gems except for the one about the airport. Thanks for sharing.

  70. mac | Goto Folder im Apple Save Dialog | macfidelity Tuesday, February 9, 2010

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  71. Invertir el blanco en negro en la pantalla de tu Mac | mecambioamac Wednesday, February 10, 2010

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  72. Great list. (Tip 1) If you tab your way around window and dialogue box features, you can use ctl+F7 to toggle between (a) tabbing around all features (à la Windows) and (b) text boxes and lists only. (Tip 2) 10.6-only, I think – Application/Dock Exposé is available in cmd+tab: make sure you have several windows open in, say, Finder, press cmd+tab, highlight Finder, keep cmd down and click up or down arrow key, use all arrow keys to navigate and return/enter to ‘open’ highlighted window. Who needs the Dock? :)

  73. Cmd + Shift + Y places selected text into a new Sticky Note

  74. The dark dot means that the current open window has unsaved changes if anyone wants to know

  75. does anyone know how to get rid of that annoying little blimp whenever I change the audio volume using my keyboard?

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