The Magic of Mac’s Option Key

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode # 389

I was listening to my favorite podcast (Mac Geek Gab) and heard a trick that involved pressing the Option key while selecting a menu item or adding the Option key to a keyboard shortcut. In any case, you get a different result than if you didn’t press Option.

Move or copy files or folders

For example, the tip on Mac Geek Gab explained how to move a file or folder using the Copy and Paste commands. Without the option key, you can use the Copy command to copy most files or folders from one location to another. But that leaves you with two copies of the same file or folder in two different places on your disk. It would be nice if you could use the Cut command to move the file instead of duplicating it, but the Cut command is not available when you select a file or folder …

The solution is to hold down the Option key before pasting the file or folder. When you do, the Paste command in the Edit menu changes from “Paste” to “Move the element here”. Or, add the Option key to the Paste keyboard shortcut (press Command + Option + V) to move the item instead of copying it.

The Edit menu with (left) and without (right) the Option key.

Close all windows at once

Another Option key shortcut works with the Close Window command. If you press Option before choosing FileClose window, the command changes to Close all and closes all open windows instead of just closing the active window. I love this one so much that I memorized its keyboard shortcut – Command + Option + W – and I use it regularly.

To discover even more the magic of Option keys, click to open a menu, then press the Option key and find the commands that have changed. For example, if you click the File menu in Finder and then press Option, these commands change:

    • Open becomes Open and close window, which is useful when you don’t want a disk or folder icon to open in a separate window or tab.
    • Get Info becomes Show Inspector. The Inspector is a contextual rendering of the Get Information window that updates in real time to reflect the item (s) currently selected in the Finder. In other words, rather than selecting an item and choosing Get Information, with the Inspector, you can simply click on any icon (or icons) and the Inspector updates to display the informationon of whatever is currently selected.
    • Open with always becomes open with.
    • Add to Dock becomes Add to the sidebar.
    • Move to trash becomes Delete immediately.

The File menu with (on the left) and without (on the right) the Option key.

The File menu with (on the left) and without (on the right) the Option key.

By the way, this magic of Option key is not limited to Finder: the Option key also modifies some commands in many Apple applications. To find these hidden shortcuts, open a grouped app, open a menu, then press the Option key and watch the commands change. (Tip: you will find most of them in the File or Window menu).

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