OS Tips – Access Mac Menu Bar with your Keyboard
One of my favorite things about Windows is the Alt key. You can access practically every single menu command in any Windows application with Alt keyboard shortcuts. If you notice the little underlined letters in many Windows menus, that’s the key you press in combination with Alt to access that function. This functionality makes it incredibly easy to navigate through menus and prompts with just your keyboard and significantly speeds up your productivity.
For the longest time, I thought you couldn’t do this on a Mac, and I switched to Windows 7 just for this one feature. While most Mac menu items have pre-assigned keyboard shortcuts, not all of them do as with Windows. However, after poking around on Google for a little bit, I discovered that this functionality does exist in OS X – it’s just a little different.
Go to System Preferences and click on Keyboard, then Keyboard Shortcuts, and then Keyboard & Text Input. Make sure to check off the box for “Move focus to the Menu Bar” – this enables the shortcut. While the default option is Ctrl-F2, I changed it to Ctrl-` because I use my function keys to control brightness and sound. From there, hitting that key combo sends you straight to the Apple menu from any application. Two things to watch out for: 1) If you accidentally hit Ctrl-F1, that disables all Keyboard and Text Input shortcuts, so hit it again then try the menu bar shortcut. 2) Sometimes, the assigned shortcut simply doesn’t work for whatever reason. Try holding down shift in combination with your shortcut and it should work again.
To navigate the menu bar with your keyboard, you can either type out where you want to go – B for bookmarks in Chrome for example – or use your arrow keys to move over there. From there, you hit the down arrow key to open up the menu, and then you can use the same navigation system to access whichever command you’d like. The only thing you have to watch out for is two similarly-named menu bar items – instead of typing out “Save As” to get past “Save”, just use the arrow keys.
In no time at all, you’ll abandon multi-touch gestures altogether as you reach an advanced level of keyboard wizardry! In all seriousness though, navigating menus with your keyboard is much faster than using the mouse and very handy.
Has this helped speed up your workflow? Have you encountered any problems? Let us know in the comments!