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On Windows, every dialog box includes underlined letters that you can activate using the Alt key. I use these "Alt" keyboard shortcuts all the time; I'm missing them as I'm trying to switch to OSX.

On OSX, all I can find is Tab navigation, which requires you to press Tab seven or eight times to get anywhere in most dialog boxes. (And even that is hidden by default: you have to enable "Full keyboard access" in the "Keyboard & Mouse" control panel to be able to Tab between buttons.)

Is there some way I can get something like the Windows Alt accelerators for OSX dialogs? I'm willing to write Automator code, download/purchase software, etc.

Specifically, I'm imagining maybe something where you do some shortcut command and then start typing the name of the button, and hit Enter to push the button...?

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Nearly identical question: superuser.com/questions/29660/… –  Andrew Grimm Jan 1 '10 at 4:36

6 Answers 6

up vote 13 down vote accepted

In OSX there's no such thing as the "_" for dialogs like in Windows. However, you have:

esc → defaults to no/cancel

cmd + deldon't save (cmd + d before OS X Lion)

entersave/OK

spacebarclick selected button (use tab to move).

A quick Google search for "osx keyboard shortcuts" will teach you way more than you can memorize in one day, but you should; there are dozens and some are very valuable.

You can always add more/change some existing ones by going to System Preferences -> Keyboard & Mouse -> Keyboard Shortcuts, exactly where you activated "all controls".

But as far as I know, there's no "underscore" thing in OSX.

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Also note the "keyboard navigation" section in the "keyboard shortcuts" tab of the Keyboard & Mouse preference pane, specifically the item "move focus to the menu bar". Not exactly what you wanted, but this allows you to navigate the menu bar and its menus using only the keyboard. –  hasseg Aug 19 '09 at 13:33

In addition to Martín's essential list of shortcuts (which work almost everywhere), you should know that in a File Open or File Save dialog you can press / or ~ to jump straight to a popup sheet that will let you type in a folder path. This is great for if you are a super fast typist, or if you want to go to a hidden folder like ~/.ssh.

That field even does Tab Completion, sort-of—the catch is if there are zero matches, or more than one match, when you press Tab, instead of doing any kind of completion Tab will just jump you out of the text field.

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Fantastic! Had no idea there is such an intuitive shortcut. Thank you! –  kakyo Apr 5 at 21:10

This is not possible in OS/X. And a key reason I do not prefer Macs.

The OP points out a critical failing in OS/X: the ability to rapidly - and with only the keyboard - select any entries (not just "OK / cancel", etc) in a dialog box. None of the suggestions above can do that.

A common example is: within a Find/Replace dialog I want to change from Case Sensitive to Case Insensitive. In Linux (and in windows) I can achieve that using only keystrokes. This is not possible in MAC: you have to use the mouse or fumble around with tabbing multiple times.

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I found this thread because I was searching for an answer for the same issue. I set "Full keyboard access", but this still apparently does not work in all circumstances.

In my example: when attempting to save over a file with the Replace File dialog, there are 2 buttons on screen: cancel and replace. The cancel button is always filled with a blue color, but the blue outline is displayed around the return button by default. It is possible to hit tab to move the blue outline, but hitting return will always count as if you clicked cancel (the button filled in with blue). That sounds confusing, because it is confusing!

I was fumbling around, and just discovered a new keyboard shortcut:


In the Replace File dialog:

cmd + r : selects the "replace" button.


(Adobe seems to be aware of this issue: when you select "Save for Web", a custom save dialog will be used, where it IS possible to simply hit return to use the "Replace" action (no need for tab).

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Ctrl-F7 allows you to toggle the ability press tab to select different buttons in any OS X dialogue window. This has been around since at least 2002.

The setting is under System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Keyboard > "Change the way Tab moves focus" and defaults to Ctrl-F7.

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With soome dialogs like iTunes Song Info dialog, the shortcut to the OK button is fnenter

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