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Do you know any hidden or little-known nice feature of Mac OS X? It doesn't matter what it is—maybe just a short terminal command or a keyboard shortcut. Share your experiences on hidden Mac OS X features with us..

Please post one tip per answer. Please also check to see if your answer has already been posted - duplicate answers will be deleted. To search answers for this question use inquestion:400 (or inquestion:this, directly from the question page) in addition to your search terms in the search box in the upper right hand corner of this page.

Also provide details on how to achieve that feature, and if possible, include a relevant image too!

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17  
mac.finerthingsin.com is a great source of hidden gems on the Mac. –  Philip Regan Aug 24 '10 at 23:35
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My collection of OS X tweaks (hidden or not) can be found here: mths.be/osx –  Mathias Bynens May 2 '13 at 18:43
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Does iOS count? I'm sure most people know, but if you pull the camera thingy on the lock screen in iOS 7 up about 2/3 of the screen and then quickly flick it back down again, it will bounce up high enough to trigger the camera! –  RPi Awesomeness Dec 27 '13 at 3:56
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132 Answers 132

Use widget in Desktop:

This allows you to drag widgets out of Dashboard onto the desktop. Requires the dock to be relaunched to take effect, so type "killall Dock" and press enter. Now, if you click and hold onto a widget in the dashboard and press F4 to return to the desktop, the widget won't disappear with the rest.

If you want get it back to dashboard click it and press f4 (show dashboard) and release widget

defaults write com.apple.dashboard devmode YES

alt text

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2  
no click it and press f4 (show dashboard) and release widget. –  Am1rr3zA Aug 28 '10 at 0:16
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When I first switched to Mac a couple of years back, I was using it full time for nearly six months before someone showed me +space to bring up the Spotlight Search. Single best shortcut I've learned.

The Spotlight search field can also handle simple mathematical expressions. No need for Calculator.app for a quick bit of division!

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2  
I use this shortcut all the time for quick lookup of English word definitions (from the built-in New Oxford American Dictionary) –  Jonik Sep 14 '10 at 21:14
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I use Alfred instead, I should try spotlight if it remembers things liek Alfred does. –  Dmitriy Likhten Sep 28 '11 at 20:20
2  
Isn't the default keyboard command Ctrl+Space in recent versions of OS X? –  yusf Apr 12 '12 at 17:13
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@LessPop_MoreFizz It can even handle a bit more than simple division, try sqrt(10), cos(10) and so on. –  Emil Feb 7 '13 at 18:19
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In most Mac apps (TextEdit, for example), you can -drag* to select a rectangular area of non-contiguous text.

You can also hold while dragging to select multiple disjoint areas in a single selection.

*Hold while dragging your mouse over an area

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1  
what determines which apps handle this? –  XAleXOwnZX Aug 3 '11 at 4:40
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Secrets is a database with a huge amount of hidden settings for both the system and some common applications.

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I always find the ++4+space (you must press space at the end otherwise it doesn't work) command is really useful, and one that a lot of people don't know you can do. Upon pressing space, you get a large camera icon for your cursor, and it allows you to take a screenshot just of the highlighted window. The nice thing is that OS X preserves the window drop shadow, with full alpha transparency. So when you paste the images into other documents, they look fab.


More screenshot magic from 3rdparty.

Screenshot Secrets via: http://digitalmedia.oreilly.com/2006/01/01/mac-os-x-screenshot-secrets.html:

  • ++3 Capture entire screen and save as a file

  • +ctrl++3 Capture entire screen and copy to the clipboard

  • ++4 Capture dragged area and save as a file

  • +ctrl++4 Capture dragged area and copy to the clipboard

  • ++4 then space Capture a window, menu, desktop icon, or the menu bar and save as a file

  • +ctrl++4 then space Capture a window, menu, desktop icon, or the menu bar and copy to the clipboard

  • Another useful trick is to hold space while drawing a capture area to reposition it.

  • Hit esc while capturing an area or window to exit capture mode.

Note: I added this because I find it to be useful. I don't mean any offense to anyone's answer in doing so.

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42  
I'd rather describe it as "Having pressed cmd+shift+4, you can toggle between a crosshair snap and a full-window snap using spacebar". –  deceze Aug 26 '10 at 2:25
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I didn't know about the "space" aspect -- very nice! –  khedron Sep 8 '10 at 6:28
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Tried to add a few more but wouldn't fit as a comment - OP feel free to edit your answer: apple.stackexchange.com/questions/400/… –  Josh Newman Sep 14 '10 at 17:22
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If you hold CTRL while taking the shot, it is placed in your clipboard. –  klaaspieter Apr 13 '11 at 8:30
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Also TinkerTool shows some hidden features

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Proxy icons

In a document-based application (like Finder, TextEdit, Preview, Pages…), after a document has been saved, a proxy icon for the document appears in the title bar. It represent the file itself, and can be likewise manipulated:

  • click it for a few seconds and drag to another application to open it, or to the desktop/Finder if you want to copy/move it, etc…
  • ⌘-click (or control-click, or right-click) it to view the path menu, useful to open the folder or any subfolders of the file in the Finder.

alt text

  • ⌘-click on the titlebar in Safari can help you easily move up the directory structure of a web site, too!

    alt text

  • Since Mountain Lion you can edit the document titles:

    enter image description here

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8  
You can also drag it into Terminal. –  Daryl Spitzer Sep 16 '10 at 0:08
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The link you gave (to Apple Human Interface Guidelines) is useful. Lots of interesting details to be learned from there (this was new to me: a dot in the (red) close button means there are unsaved changes). –  Jonik Sep 17 '10 at 23:14
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Proxy icons are like the best thing ever. +1! –  Mark Szymanski Mar 22 '11 at 19:31
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This isn't really a "feature", just a way to customize OS X, but I still think it's useful:

You can edit the icons used by OS X at /System/Library/CoreServices/CoreTypes.bundle/Contents/Resources

You can also change the login screen to your liking here

/System/Library/CoreServices/SecurityAgentPlugins/loginwindow.bundle/Contents/Resources

There are so many ways to customize OS X... the dock, for example (/System/Library/CoreServices/Dock.app/Contents/Resources)

And you don't really need to "resource hack" anything: just backup and change a couple png or tif files!

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I love the fact that OS X will scroll the window that the mouse is hovering over, even if another application has focus. That way I can scroll an example that I am coding in TextMate without having to lose keyboard control on TM

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17  
This is a great feature. Using Command + Click you can even open Firefox links in new tabs without giving it focus. –  David Barry Sep 4 '10 at 17:03
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Katmouse will do this for you on Windows. I installed it a few years back and have been using it ever since. –  Robert S Ciaccio Sep 13 '10 at 10:51
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This is not limited to OS X - this is a feature in many window managers on Linux / Unix - including the one I'm using right now :P –  George Edison Apr 6 '11 at 0:51
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You can also command-click to move a window without giving it focus. –  Neil Fein May 5 '11 at 22:31
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This is a pretty common one, but to show all hidden files you can type the command

defaults write com.apple.Finder AppleShowAllFiles 1

and then

killall Finder

in Terminal.

To reverse, repeat using a 0 instead of 1.

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8  
The only annoying bit is that you see the .DS_Store files EVERYWHERE, like on your desktop. –  mhud Apr 12 '11 at 17:51
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You can increase or decrease your volume by quarter increments by Pressing:

+ + Volume Up/Down

The same also works for brightness.


Note that this feature was disabled in Mac OS X Lion from 10.7 through 10.7.3. This feature was restored in 10.7.4. For workarounds on how to accomplish this on earlier Lion versions, see this question.

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58  
Related to this tip, option+any volume key will open the sound system preference pane, and shift+vol up/down will change volume silently (without the little plink sound.) –  ghoppe Sep 9 '10 at 20:38
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Following up on ghoppe, if you've turned off the preference for the little plink sound using Shift + Volume Up/Down will change the volume with the sound effects. –  Matthew Shanley Sep 14 '10 at 17:58
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This works for the screen brightness as well: Option + Shift + Brightness Up/Down –  Florin Sep 18 '10 at 10:57
1  
I think I love you. –  titaniumdecoy Apr 9 '11 at 8:24
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If you want the tiniest little bit of sound, you can turn the sound all the way down with "Volume Down" and then hit the "Mute" key to turn it up just a little bit. –  Ted Naleid Apr 9 '11 at 19:17
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Hold ctrl and move the scroll wheel (or use two fingers on trackpad). It will zoom in the entire screen.

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I use it occasionally. I wished it was possible to disable antialiasing... To count pixels ;) –  Vincent Apr 8 '11 at 23:10
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@Vincent you can disable AA in Mac OS X 10.7+ by going to System Preferences -> Accessibility -> Zoom -> Un-tick "Smooth Images". As XAleXOwnZX says, it used to be a very handy shortcut key for pixel-counting graphic designers, I want it back. –  simeon Jun 24 '13 at 4:16
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It took me a while before I figured out that hitting the space bar while in Finder launches Quick Look on whatever is selected. VERY handy.

Also note that holding while doing this throws you straight into the full-screen view.

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1  
Alt: no such button. –  rightfold Apr 2 '11 at 15:54
18  
My button says alt on it. I know it's option, but it doesn't say that on it anymore. –  Rich Bradshaw Apr 12 '11 at 19:21
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Show the full directory path in the Finder window.

In the Terminal, run this:

defaults write com.apple.finder _FXShowPosixPathInTitle -bool YES

Then, run this.

killall Finder

There are all sorts of hidden defaults that can be mucked around with but this is my absolute favorite because now no matter which window I am looking at, I know exactly where I am.

You should also check out TinkerTool for other hidden settings.

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1  
I just test this, WOW I really love this one. –  Am1rr3zA Jan 31 '11 at 17:23
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In any Finder window or Open/Save dialog, you can hit ++G (just '/' also works in Open/Save) to get a location bar from which you can directly type in the directory to go to. It even supports ~ for home and tab completion.

The Open/Save dialog has several other useful shortcuts:

  • + R - Reveals the selected item in a new Finder window.
  • + I - Info window shows for the selected item.
  • + D - selects the Desktop folder as a destination
  • + + L - selects ~/Download folder as a destination
  • + F - cursor jumps to the Find text field
  • + . - Cancels and closes the dialog window
  • + + > - Shows/Hides hidden files in the dialog
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2  
nice one! this has been bugging me for awhile now... –  Robert S Ciaccio Sep 13 '10 at 10:53
67  
Typing / or ~ in an open/save dialog will also trigger the file path text field to appear. –  John Siracusa Sep 14 '10 at 18:09
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This basically works like the command line cd command. Type /... to go to absolute paths, ~/... for paths relative to the user directory and ... for directories relative to the current directory. Great for opening hidden directories. –  deceze Sep 27 '10 at 3:21
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In any Open/Save dialog window, hitting +D opens the desktop folder.

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9  
@Radek: There is also Cmd+H for your home directory. –  Harald Hanche-Olsen Apr 2 '11 at 16:35
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In the Finder it's Cmd-Shift-D to go to the Desktop. –  michaelmichael Apr 12 '11 at 15:46
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In Finder: CMD-Shift-D: Desktop CMD-Shift-A: Applications CMD-SHift-H: Home directory –  klaaspieter Apr 13 '11 at 8:32
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Drag and drop files and folders to "Open" dialogs/sheets: very useful to open package contents with other software.

Just locate the file with the Finder

chess.icns

and drag and drop it to the Open dialog

open dialog

Bonus: you can do the same thing with 'Upload file' web forms. (Only with WebKit-based browser)

drop in browserdropped

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1  
Also useful in general for open/save dialogs. –  khedron Sep 8 '10 at 6:31
10  
+1 for web forms with drag and drop. SUPER handy! –  Agos Sep 15 '10 at 0:10
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I love this behavior and hate that in windows, if you try it, the file is moved to the folder that was showing in the dialog. Stupid! –  adambox Sep 16 '10 at 20:12
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This is also possible with representations of files in most applications, you can for example drag a file from the download bar at the bottom of Chrome straight to an upload field. –  Jide Jun 25 '13 at 2:16
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Most animations in OSX can be played in slow motion, when you hold . Works for example to slowly minimize windows if you click the minimize button while holding the key.

Other examples are:

  • toggle exposé
  • toggle dashboard
  • add/remove dashboard items
  • all kinds of animations in Twitter for Mac

From: http://www.eeggs.com/items/29318.html

In MacOS X, while in the finder, open any window & click the minimizie button (yellow) at the top of the window while holding shift.

This will minimize the window in slow motion using the new "genie effect" minimize function of Mac OS X.

The CEO of Apple has shown this egg publicly several times. However, this egg is undocumented & has no system menu equivalent to use this feature. Anyone who has NOT followed the development of Mac OSX & watched the demos at the MacWorld trade shows would not realize this somewhat useless feature exists in Mac OSX.

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1  
The Shift trick can be used to slow down many kinds of animations, too. –  Josh Lee Oct 5 '10 at 18:10
6  
Even better: If you type killall Dock in Terminal, without hitting enter, do this, then go back to Terminal and hit enter, the Dock is quit while the window is minimizing, leaving it in its animated state until next time you minimize it. –  ughoavgfhw Mar 22 '11 at 19:49
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In Terminal (Applications/Utilities/Terminal), open can be pretty handy. It can:

  • launch programs by exact path to the executable
  • launch any program in the PATH directories by executable name

In Terminal, type open -a Application to launch an application that lives in the /Applications folder, or open <exact path to applcation> to launch an application that is anywhere on your computer.

  • open files in default applications

Just us open <file>. open song.mp3 will open song.mp3 in the default audio player (in my case iTunes)

  • open files with other applications

Open a file with Mail.app (i.e. mail the file) open -a Mail homework.txt

  • open a Finder window into a local directory
  • open a Finder window into a network share

open /Path/to/dir/ will launch the folder in Finder, whereas open . will open the current folder in Finder.

  • open any URL with its default handler (e.g. a browser)

open http://google.com will launch the default browser and open the url. It also works for FTP (but i have not tested anything else)

For more, just run man open in Terminal or see this page.

From Super User

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Running

pmset noidle

or

caffeinate

in Terminal will prevent your Mac from sleeping. Press Ctrl+C to stop.

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15  
Great tip! Also, Caffeine does the same thing but in a button in the menu bar, and can also prevent sleeping for a certain amount of time (and it's free). –  Ricket Nov 20 '10 at 0:22
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caffeinate was recently added.. man caffeinate for more info –  InChargeOfIT Jun 24 '13 at 7:42
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In the terminal, you can pipe the output of any command to pbcopy to copy it to the system clipboard. You can also paste from the system clipboard using pbpaste, and pipe that to another command or write the value directly to a file:

Copy a string: echo "ohai im in ur clipboardz" | pbcopy

Copy the HTML of StackOverflow.com: curl "http://stackoverflow.com/" | pbcopy

Open a new buffer in VIM, initialized to the content of the clipboard: pbpaste | vim -

Save the contents of the clipboard directly to a file: pbpaste > newfile.txt

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3  
Dude… vi !== vim –  Mathias Bynens Apr 12 '11 at 9:31
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@Mathias while true, on OS X vi seems to actually be a symlink to vim. –  spacemanaki Apr 13 '11 at 1:17
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You can also use this to turn rich text (HTML/RTF/etc) into plain-text; just "pbpaste | pbcopy". –  caelyx Apr 13 '11 at 23:40
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@caelyx You can use the keyboard shortcut Command + Shift + Option + v to paste plain-text if you have rich-text in your clipboard. –  Buzzy Jun 24 '13 at 9:22
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When you're + between running applications, if you press before releasing command, it will raise minimized windows from the dock. Otherwise, you may be in an application, but without a raised window.

Also, while + goes to the right through the application list, ++goes left. + backtick (`) also goes left.

ctrl++-8 inverts the screen. Sometimes useful for whacky lighting situations, especially with glossy screens.

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1  
Option to raise minimize -- this only works for me if the application has no non-minimized windows. I wonder if this is intentional behavior or a side-effect of something else? –  khedron Sep 22 '10 at 0:35
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Most applications on OS X respect emacs' style shortcuts for maneuvering about in text fields.

  • ctrl+A: beginning of line.

  • ctrl+E: end of line.

  • ctrl+U: delete from cursor to beginning of line.

  • ctrl+K: delete from cursor to end of line.

  • ctrl+W: erase word to the left.

  • ctrl+T: transpose characters around cursor.

There are others that are slipping my mind currently I'm sure. I miss this so much on Linux.

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22  
these are emacs shortcuts more than they are bash i believe –  dstarh Feb 9 '11 at 21:31
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Those are indeed Emacs bindings; bash uses libreadline, which defaults to Emacs style. There are plenty of other bindings: CTRL+f / CTRL+b to move back and forward by character, and OPT+f / OPT+b to move by word (super useful!). Similarly, CTRL+d deletes the character to the right, and OPT+Delete deletes the word to the left. –  ieure Apr 8 '11 at 19:28
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@Will Hardy set -o vi –  Bluu Apr 9 '11 at 3:46
1  
@Bluu: Instant Nerdgasm. <3 –  bastibe Apr 12 '11 at 8:06
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Holding down while using the mouse scroll wheel will scroll the window horizontally.

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6  
If you have a multitouch trackpad, you can also scroll horizontally by swiping two fingers left and right. –  Matthew Apr 13 '11 at 5:56
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If you have a Magic Mouse, you can also scroll horizontally by swiping one finger left and right. –  rightfold May 5 '11 at 16:10
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While Cmd tabbing between applications, without releasing CMD, you can hit 'Q' to quit or 'H' to hide the selected application. Works great with the mouse to get rid of a whole bunch of applications quickly.

The bevel won't go away and you can repeat this for as many applications as you like as long as you're holding CMD.

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1  
Nice one! Really saves precious seconds. –  Jonik Sep 17 '10 at 13:30
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If you hold down option while resizing the Dock, it will resize in multiples of 16 pixels.

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When clicking from one application's window to another's, holding down while clicking will automatically hide the former app's windows.

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My favorite trick is using expose with drag and drop. Once you've started dragging something you can use the expose keyboard shortcut, switch to the app you want to drag it to, and drop it wherever it's needed. It's great for doing things like adding images to a presentation.

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2  
You can also drag it to the app's Dock icon and Exposé will pop up with only that app's windows. –  rightfold Apr 2 '11 at 16:02
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The speech synthesizer, which is available from the command line, with the command say, knows how to correctly pronounce the operating system name:

say Mac OS X

It won't say "MacOSex", but "Mac OhEs Ten". That's attention to detail. It works even if you specify macosx as the argument.

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21  
I use "say" a fair amount -- scripts tell me when they're done, for example. Handy. –  khedron Sep 22 '10 at 0:31
4  
Here’s an example of the details that the speech engine gets correct daringfireball.net/linked/2007/10/28/alex –  Josh Lee Oct 5 '10 at 18:14
12  
say -vz Droid is deliciously ironic. XD –  Bryan Rehbein Jan 31 '11 at 21:08
5  
ls | say to say a list of files –  rightfold Apr 2 '11 at 15:59
2  
the say command is a wrapper over the API to use it from Cocoa (see developer.apple.com/library/mac/#documentation/Cocoa/Reference/…) so I don't see see why it couldn't be used in a service. Also, the accessibility services (VoiceOver) use it as well –  Victor Jalencas Apr 4 '11 at 15:54
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When you drag and drop any file (or folder) from Finder onto a Terminal window, it gets converted into the full (absolute) path to that file.

I find this a small but occasionally useful trick when dealing with files in both Finder and Terminal.

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13  
You can also drag & drop files into File Open dialogs, and it will navigate to the appropriate dialog and highlight the file. –  khedron Sep 22 '10 at 0:30
3  
You can also use Copy/Paste instead of Drag & Drop. And since Terminal knows you copied a folder/file, it knows to automatically escape special characters for pasting into the shell. –  Chris Page Sep 4 '11 at 9:35
1  
As of Mac OS X Lion 10.7, if you drag a folder or pathname onto a tab (rather than into the terminal view) it will automatically execute a complete "cd" command. –  Chris Page Sep 4 '11 at 9:37
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protected by bmike Jan 23 '13 at 23:25

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