The option key – also labelled ? or alt on many keyboards – on the Mac keyboard is something of a mystery to new Mac users. Most people have no idea what it does, but it’s actually one of the most useful keys you’re likely to use. With the option key held down, you can access a lot more information and features on your computer that you’d otherwise spend a long time looking for. Here are some of the best…
Give OS X The Boot
If you have more than one operating system installed on your Mac (if you don’t, and would like to know how, then check out our guide to installing Windows with Boot Camp), and want to quickly choose between them when you boot up your machine, simply hold down the option key when you hear the ‘chime’. You’ll be presented with a choice between booting in to Windows or Mac. Simply use the arrow keys to select between them, and hit the enter key to boot in to the operating system of your choice.
The Menu Bar’s Hidden Secrets
The menu bar, located at the top of your screen on every Mac, houses important information such as your Airport connection status, battery life and volume, but when you click on these icons you get fairly limited pieces of information. Take the Airport icon, for example. When you click on it, you can view your current networks and see networks around you, but the information ends there. Try holding the option key, and now click it. Instead of seeing the name of the network you’re connected to, you can now see information about the PHY mode (802.11a/b/g/n), the channel the network is operating on, security information and much more.
The same is true for some other icons, too. If you option-click the battery icon, you can see the condition of your battery. Option-clicking the volume icon allows you to change your output and input devices without touching System Preferences. For power users and normal users alike, this is definitely a great time saver.
Force Empty Your Trash, Force Close Your Programs
There a few things more frustrating than trying to delete a file that refuses to move. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t endorse the mass genocide of bits around the world, but sometimes you just have to let go. For those times when a file is being extra stubborn, you can give it an extra push by holding down the option key as you click on the ‘Empty Trash’ button. This forces your trash can to empty the files inside it and in most cases, unless of course the file is still open in your system somewhere, works well.
The trash isn’t the only place on the dock where you can utilise your option key, though. If an application has crashed, it may be difficult to quit it if the option isn’t there by default on the dock. Most of the time, OS X will recognise that the program has crashed and give you the choice to force quit, but if it doesn’t, you can do so yourself by – you guessed it – holding down the option key when on the app’s menu on the dock. Power users may prefer the killall command in Terminal, but I’m sure most of you would appreciate a nice looking button to click!
On the same menu, you can also choose to “Hide others”, which hides every window except for the application that you have selected. If you need to clear your desktop to help you concentrate or simply make things less cluttered, then this is the best way of doing so!
Have you got any Windows or Mac tips to share with us? Let us know in the comments, or you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.