A nice feature that almost replicates the Windows Alt accelerators in an OS X dialog box is to use ⌘ + ⇧ + first_letter.
As noted by Louis, using only ⌘ + first_letter works in some dialogs. For example, ⌘ + D will choose
Don't Save on exiting a file. (This is the same funcionality as first using ⇥ to highlight
Don't Save and then selecting it by clicking space, which works if
System preferences --> Keyboard --> Keyboard Shortcuts --> Full Keyboard Access:... is set to
All controls as described in previous posts).
However, ⌘ + first_letter is not universal. For example, in a
Save As dialog, ⌘ + N fails to select
But ⌘ + ⇧ + N does the trick.
I discovered this feature only recently, so I'm not sure if it is as universal as Windows Alt (which I'm using extensively). But by playing around I seem to be able to select most dialog items that I need. For example, I could use ⌘ + ⇧ + T to navigate in the dialog that opens in Microsoft Excel (for Mac) when I do
Paste Special, and choose
Text from a drop-down menu. So it selects not only buttons, but list items as well.
UPDATE: One limitation, however, compared with Windows Alt, seems to be that it's not possible to press the first-letter key multiple times to move between different objects that share the same first letter. In lists, this can be overcome to some extent by combining the shortcut with the arrow keys ← ↑ → ↓.
By the way, OS X has the shortcut ctrl + F2 for accessing the menu bar, but this is particularly inconvenient since it involves pressing fn to activate the F2 functionality. (What's more, others have reported problems with the default shortcut.)
The default shortcut can be re-defined in
System preferences --> Keyboard --> Keyboard Shortcuts --> Keyboard & Text Input --> Move focus to the menu bar (it must involve two keys; I'm using ⌥ + <, which feels familiar from Windows). Once the menu bar apple
is highlighted, it is possible to accesss individual menu items by pressing a sequence of the relevant first letters. For example, in Firefox, I can go to
File --> Page Setup... with this combo:
⌥ + <, F, ↓, P, ↩
And contrary to dialogs, this functionality does indeed support pressing multiple times to navigate between list items, so that I can access
File --> Print like so:
⌥ + <, F, ↓, P, P, ↩ (equivalent to ⌘ + P).
It is actually not even necessary to press the relevant first letter, it's enough to press any letter to highlight the closest list item in alphabetical order (if no result is found, the search continues backwards in reverse order). For example, I can access
Edit --> Undo (equivalent to ⌘ + Z) like this:
⌥ + <, E, ↓, V (rather than the intuitive U).