Select a menu command by typing

In Mac OS X, when a menu is open you can select a menu command by typing its name. You can actually go well beyond that, but most Mac users are not aware of how to do it. Running menus from the keyboard sounds like a minor feature, but in fact, selecting a command by typing can save you time when a very long menu is open, such as a font menu containing more fonts than will fit on the screen.

Another common example of this time-saving technique is when you’re checking out of an online store and you have to enter your state from a pop-up menu. Let’s say you live in Wisconsin, which is usually represented by its abbreviation WI. The normal way to get to WI in the pop-up menu is to tediously and carefully scroll all the way down to the name of their state, which is way past the bottom of the screen. If you accidentally release the mouse, you have to start over. The quicker way to do this is to open the menu and simply type “WI” which selects the command. Now press Return to confirm the command selection.

Long font menus are another place where typing the name is much faster than scrolling the menu with the mouse.

Compared to Windows users, Mac users are often less familiar with selecting commands with the keyboard, because the Mac generally emphasizes the mouse much more than the keyboard. In Windows, each command contains one underlined letter that you can press together with the Alt key to select that command. Because Mac OS X doesn’t have those underlines, many Windows users don’t think you can select commands with the keyboard in OS X. In one way, the Mac version is actually easier, because you only have to know the name of the command you’re typing, and type that. In Windows, you have to know which single letter selects the command, and that letter is often not one of the first couple of letters because so many commands start with similar letters.

The last missing piece in selecting commands with the keyboard is opening the menus in the first place, if you don’t want to open menus with the mouse. In Mac OS X, you can select the Apple menu by pressing Ctrl+F2. Once you’re there, type the first letters of the menu you want to select, press Return to drop the menu, and then type the name of the command. Once a menu is open you can also use arrow keys to navigate the menus, or abandon the menu by pressing Esc. If you think this is too many steps, see if the command has a keyboard shortcut listed to the right of the command on its menu, and just press that. If the command doesn’t have a shortcut, assign one yourself. Many Adobe and Microsoft products let you customize keyboard shortcuts, and for other products, you can often use the Keyboard Shortcuts editor in the Keyboard & Mouse system preference.

When you’re in a dialog box or palette, you can normally press Tab or Shift+Tab to move from one text entry field to another. To be able to select any control with the Tab key, including pop-up menus, radio buttons, and check boxes, open the Keyboard & Mouse system preference, click the Keyboard Shortcuts tab, and select All Controls. When All Controls is on, as you press Tab, a selected control displays a soft outline, and when a control is selected you can press the spacebar to select or toggle it. For example, if a pop-up menu is selected, press the spacebar to pop it open. If a checkbox is selected, press the spacebar to enable or disable it. You may not be able to use the Tab key to select dialog box and palette controls in applications that use special code to draw dialog boxes and windows, such as many Adobe products.

In Safari, you can use Tab to select controls on a web page. Open Preferences, click Advanced, and select Press Tab to Highlight Each Item on a Webpage.

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